*By Mwalimu George Ngwane

Political engineering is as contentious as defining and adapting democracy in contemporary society. Both processes can, by omission or commission, polarise the very society they seek to build. Nepal is therefore no exception.

Our field work as Rotary Peace Fellows to Kathmandu and Pokhara in Nepal for close to 10 days (March 14 -22), was about identifying conflicts and making contributions to solutions already crafted and initiated by local actors in search of common ground on the field.

Kathmandu being the political capital of Nepal and Pokhara being the eco-tourism live wire of Nepal, were, by design, our main epicentres of conflict and peace discussions. Even though we had had background knowledge of the political context of Nepal, the field visit reinforced the glaring dichotomies expressed and translated in Monarchy vs.

Republic, intra-party and inter-party divisions, robust party politics vs. civil society impotence, corporate views vs. citizens’ voices, caste vs. the “clean, women’s empowerment vs. human rights, health issues vs. conflict, religious stereotypes vs. modernity, police vs. civilian relations, extreme ideologies on federal architecture, garbage collection vs. garbage disposal and finally the oscillating pendulum between constitutional writing vs. constitutional implementation.

Simply put, the search for common ground is about the divergent views between the Nepali party elite over a consensual constitution.
Against this backdrop, peacemakers seek to look for connectors rather than dividers that build social cohesion. From the various interventions by the local actors on the field, the task of searching for common ground in Nepal, especially in politics, remains elusive.

Even in the presence of State Ministries like the Ministry of Peace and Reconstruction, the Nepal Peace Trust Fund, the Nepal Transition to Peace and civil society groups like Martyrs Foundation and Search for Common Ground, bridging the political divide has not been easy.
The result is a Nepali society with a constitutional hold up in the iron grip of party politicians.

During one of my dinners, I engaged a conversation with an ordinary Nepali on the future of democracy in his country. While expressing hope, he cautioned that as long as power and authority were wielded only by politicians without the involvement of grassroots community and non-State actors, the divide between intentions and fulfilment will become more yearning. His anecdote was; “we did not oust the monarchy only to install a tyranny.” Asked whether he was aware of all the efforts different bodies were making to search for a common and peaceful outcome in the peace process, he said; “the peace process had been transformed into an industry with talks on talks rather than walking the talk.”

I also had the privilege of talking with a high ranking military officer who, more or less, shared the same views but strongly reminded me that he also knows that it took an African country 14 years to finish her constitution writing process. So, the search for common grounds is also psychologically in-built albeit with timid outer manifestations.

But where there is hope there is a way. There are many lessons to be learnt from the Nepali experience, but two stands out. First, in the face of all odds, resilience, especially among the ordinary people, is important.

As NGO workers, we sometimes get frustrated with slow outcomes and with conflicting donor interest. More so, we cannot expect to find common ground in all issues no matter how hard we try. Second; local ownership through all stakeholders and broad-based consultations are relevant in the conception, formulation and implementation of any project that involves State and non-State craftsmanship
*Mwalimu George Ngwane is a Rotary Peace Fellow at the University of Chulalongkorn, Bangkok, Thailand