What I am about to write may appear rather convoluted. Many of you may feel that I am beating about the bush. But before I come to the Nepal-centric point, I need to highlight the backdrop of this article.
I have more than once stated in my writings that thanks to globalisation, the world has become a village. Geography has become history. Distances no longer matter. Unexpected advances in the cyber and digital world have shrunk the world of business. Corporates can conduct transactions without face-to-face interaction. This has led to the emergence of a new discipline – connectography.
While this rocket-like growth of communication tools has lent a new momentum to global business, it has also brought in its wake daunting challenges. The world is so intricately connected that developments across oceans have gained the ability to majorly impact countries and businesses thousands of miles away.
With this perspective, let me dwell upon the effect of the USA recently pulling out of the Iran nuclear deal and imposing sanctions not only on this Islamic nation but also on entities doing business with it.
You may inquire about the impact President Donald Trump’s decision may have on Nepal? On the face of it, the query appears genuine and justified.
Now look at it this way. European countries like Germany and France, which had built robust business ties with Iran following the US-Iran deal during the presidency of Barack Obama in 2015, find themselves in a soup. Multi-billion dollar deals are falling apart because the European countries do not have the guts to defy the USA and that too with a maverick like Trump ruling the roost.
In fact, members of the European Union are paying for the scant attention they gave to their security needs and concerns over the years. They are heavily dependent on USA which virtually leads and funds the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) which has been the bulwark of Europe’s security ever since the days of the Cold War after the World War II.
The country’s corporates and different chambers of commerce should try their level best to make the government and the entire political class understand the urgent need for upgrading our education.
What can be the other repercussions of Washington-Tehran fallout? Of course, Iran will get back to building its nuclear bomb. And that will prompt US-backed Israel to make pre-emptive strikes against Iran’s nuclear facilities. Such action will be nothing exceptional for Israel which has done so successfully in the past particularly against Syria. It is an existential issue for Israel which is surrounded by hostile Arab-Islamic countries.
The Israel-US assault on Iran is bound to ignite sentiments in West Asia, which we often describe as the Middle East, and North Africa. Iran-backed rebels in Yemen will up their ante against Saudi Arabia. (Qatar may also be willy-nilly pulled into the fight as it has already been boycotted by Gulf Cooperation Council members and Egypt at the behest of the Saudis; the allegation of the Sunni countries was that Qatar was getting far too close to Shia-dominated Iran.) The Palestine-based Hezbollah, supported by Iran, may turn more aggressive against Israel.
The declining Islamic State (ISIS) may find this a good opportunity to once again emerge as the head of Sunni Islam. This is a perfect recipe for disaster in the very heart of the Islamic world which continues to be riven by the Sunni-Shia divide.
The immediate outcome of this wave of violence and mayhem will be an upsurge in prices of petro products which will upset the global economy. More grave will be the impact on global geo-politics. New and unpredictable international equations can emerge.
But what about Nepal? That is the main question for us, the people, and our government.
What will happen to our young migrant labourers who slog in the sun and heat of the geography we have been talking of? Will they be forced to flee from countries which turn into war zones? This is the most vital question for Nepal whose 32% of gross domestic product (GDP) comes from our migrant labour remittances. While the situation should be a nightmare for an economist, our political class is too short-sighted to be bothered about challenges staring us in the face.
According to World Bank’s successive Country Economic Memoranda (CEM), only one in four Nepali households figured in national economic statistics in 1996 as recipients of any remittance. By 2004, this figure had risen to one in three households. By 2008, every second Nepali family benefitted from remittances. We can see how our dependence on remittances has been growing. In 2017, the six Gulf Cooperation Council countries accounted for remittances worth $4.894 billion.
One can imagine the situation Nepal would be in if the above described changes in international geo-politics start turning real.
Even otherwise, the future scenario is not too rosy. The need for menial labour for which Qatar taps our largely unskilled youth will gradually dry up as the 2022 FIFA World Cup draws close. All infrastructure work related to FIFA 2022 should be over well before the world cup begins. Our migrant labour there will then be rendered redundant.
The returnees may find fewer job options except in Nepal itself. Qatar’s relationship with the Taliban is an open secret. India would be wary of offering employment to those returning from Qatar in view of their possible religio-terrorist radicalisation. This is a security risk which no country would take at this tumultuous juncture.
Saudi Arabia is undergoing reforms under the leadership of the Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman Al Saud. Other issues apart, the prince is in favour of larger employment for his countrymen. He has come down heavily on corruption even if that involved putting his cousins and relatives under house arrest. Though it is unlikely that Saudi Arabia will see its citizens taking up menial and unskilled jobs in the foreseeable future, employment for foreigners will shrink.
Malaysia, the south-east Asian destination preferred by Nepali migrant labour, is facing an economic crisis which effectively means fewer opportunities for outsiders, according to the latest World Bank report. As per WB forecast, Malaysia’s growth rate will be 5% in 2018 and fall to 4.8% in 2019. While most Asian economies are on an upswing, Malaysia is declining due to its failure to adapt to both global and domestic economic conditions. High local unemployment also forbids hiring foreigners. No wonder, 92-year-old former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad stepped out of retirement and won the parliamentary election this May. Known for his dictatorial temperament, Mahathir will tighten the economy’s screws. This will not bode well for Nepali and other migrant workers.
So what should one expect from Nepal’s corporate world in face of the looming challenge?
The country’s corporates and different chambers of commerce should try their level best to make the government and the entire political class understand the urgent need for upgrading our education. Things will not change overnight and our youth may still need to seek employment abroad.
But we can and should vigorously launch public-private partnership (PPP) schemes in vocational and skill training so that Nepali youth are able to get gainful employment abroad. This should be simultaneously followed by budgetary hike for the education sector.
The education provided henceforth should be relevant to the times. Creating more cramming schools will serve no purpose and fetch no respectable job. We do not want our youths to be virtual beasts of burden in foreign lands for ever.
Our youths need to move up the value chain in education. To accomplish this objective, all resources – public and private – should be marshalled. The government needs to repose trust in the private sector with facilitating regulation to give our education sector the edge it needs in these times.
One came across the prime minister’s recent instruction to his ministers to learn the use of laptops within six months. There was also a recent media report about installation of bio-metric systems in community schools to ensure that teachers arrived on time. This is heartening. But Nepal needs to do much more to transform into provider of knowledge than of mere labour.
Basant Chaudhary is a Poet, Writer, The Chairman of BLC and Basant Chaudhary Foundation. (firstname.lastname@example.org)