Nepal

USAID/OTI Nepal Field Report Jan - Mar 2007

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Program Description

In August 2006, the U.S. Agency for International Development's Office of Transition Initiatives (OTI) began a program in Nepal. The goal of the program is to bolster the current peace process, strengthen governance mechanisms, and support positive, nonviolent community engagement in the country's political, social, and economic future. The objectives of the program are to:

1.- Increase access to information and diversify public debate on issues critical to the peace process and democratic norms, and

2.- Increase engagement between government, civil society, and communities to support government responsiveness to diverse constituents.

The implementing partner for USAID/OTI in Nepal is Chemonics International Inc., and the current FY 2007 budget is $4,395,000. The program funds small grants and short-term technical assistance activities to support Nepal's transition process.

Country Situation

Consolidation of the Peace Process - On November 21, 2006, the Government of the Seven Party Alliance (SPA) and the Maoists signed a historical Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA), bringing an end to 11 years of armed insurgency. The agreement established a timeline for the cantonment of Maoist forces, the promulgation of an interim constitution, and the formation of an interim parliament and cabinet. The timeline also provided for Constituent Assembly elections in mid-June 2007. On January 15, 2007, an interim constitution was promulgated and an interim parliament, with 83 of the 205 seats reserved for Maoist representatives, was formed. However, due to disagreements between the major parties on the distribution of portfolios, the interim cabinet has not been established. Currently, talks on the formation of the interim government are underway.

First Phase of the Registration of Maoist Soldiers and Arms Completed - In accordance with the tripartite deal on arms management signed by the United Nations, the Government, and the Maoists, the first phase of the registration of Maoist soldiers and weapons was completed on February 23, 2007. The U.N. Mission in Nepal (UNMIN) registered a total of 30,852 soldiers and 3,428 weapons in 28 cantonment sites. Early reports suggest that many of those registered by UNMIN are underage and only recently recruited to the People's Liberation Army (PLA). The second phase of the arms management process, focusing on verification of combatants' ages and combat history with the PLA, was scheduled to begin on March 15, but has been delayed. It is estimated that up to 30 percent of the force may be sent home as a result of the verification exercise. Negotiations are underway with the Maoists on this sensitive point. Meanwhile, UNICEF is setting up transit centers, anticipating that large numbers of children will require assistance to return home and reintegrate into their communities.

Violations of the CPA Continue Unabated - Maoists leaders have recently boasted that they have weapons and soldiers "in the thousands" beyond the reach of the cantonment camps. In addition, the Maoists flagrantly, and with complete impunity, violate the terms of the CPA. Maoists continue to openly carry weapons; extortions and abductions continue across the country; and threats and violence against other political factions, the media, and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) are routine. Thousands of Maoists have temporarily deserted the cantonment sites to protest a lack of amenities and the recent killings of 28 of their compatriots by Madhesi People's Rights Forum (MPRF) activists in the Terai. Perhaps most worrisome, the Youth Communist League has been mobilized to increase Maoist influence in urban communities through the use of tactics that include both public service and intimidation. In response to the Maoists' practice of meting out extrajudicial punishments and imposing fines for labor disputes, protests led by federations representing commercial and industrial interests have been held around the country.

Doubts over Constituent Assembly Elections - Even though key leaders of the SPA and the Communist Party of Nepal-Maoist (CPN-M) insist on holding the elections as slated in mid-June 2007, the Chief Election Commissioner has warned the parties of the difficulties of holding the elections on time. Several key pieces of legislation are yet to be passed. The CPN-M has threatened to launch a popular protest to remove the monarchy if the elections are not held on time, while the Communist Party of Nepal-United Marxist Leninist has threatened to walk out of the Government. The first phase of the voter registration drive has been completed. To complete the registration process in the more remote districts, a second phase will begin on March 23. This second phase will also accommodate citizens who were registered during the recent citizenship distribution drive.

Unrest in Southern Nepal - In a serious setback to the peace process, activists of the MPRF led a 3-week demonstration in mid-January. The event shut down much of eastern Nepal, caused crippling shortages of basic goods in Kathmandu, and resulted in significant destruction and a number of deaths. The MPRF is demanding a federal-state governmental structure, the redrawing of constituencies based on population, a system of proportional representation, and an end to discrimination. The demonstrations took a violent turn on January 18 after Maoist forces shot and killed a MPRF protester in Lahan. Over the following 3 weeks, a total of 29 people were killed, mostly by police trying to quell the violent protests. The violence resulted in extensive damage to property and increased ethnic tensions. In two national addresses, Prime Minister Koirala promised to meet MPRF demands, but these assurances failed to end the disturbances. In the most recent clash on March 21, fighting between the Maoists and the MPRF in Gaur (Rautahat District) left 28 Maoists dead, the highest 1-day death toll since the ceasefire. Tensions remain high across the region, and the Maoists have demanded that the MPRF be banned.

OTI Highlights

A. Narrative Summary

During the quarter, USAID/OTI has responded in a fast and flexible manner to aid the peace process. The program supported 23 activities with grants totaling $1,031,427. USAID/OTI has focused its activities around media and strategic communication, engaging with governmental bodies responsible for implementing the terms of the CPA, fostering communal harmony in the face of rising ethnic tensions, and bringing communities into the political process by disseminating information and encouraging participation.

Support to the media has been a key focus area. Technical assistance has been provided to radio stations to enhance their broadcasting capabilities. Activities have included providing portable technology to bring information to remote, radio-blind areas and establishing toll-free numbers so listeners can express their views. The program has also funded public service announcements (PSAs) to encourage communal harmony in the Terai and a radio and television initiative to raise awareness during the voter registration period. In addition, a voter education campaign that enlists 40 radio stations is planned. The campaign will include pre-election reporting and will cover all of Nepal's 75 districts.

The OTI program has supported the Government during the quarter by providing funds for information dissemination and technological support to the Peace Secretariat, the Election Commission (EC), and the Nepal Law Commission (NLC). The support includes the provision of computers, printers, software, office supplies, research materials, and high-capacity servers to the EC and the NLC, both of which are key government institutions responsible for implementing the peace agreement.

Responding to the deteriorating situation in the Terai, OTI aired several PSAs with messages from well-known and respected political and civil society leaders promoting communal harmony amid fears of rising ethnic tensions. A concert featuring an American band, Ozomatli, was organized on a similar theme, bringing more than 10,000 people into downtown Kathmandu. OTI also funded a media-monitoring project amid complaints of media bias during the unrest in the Terai.

Four assessment trips were conducted outside of Kathmandu during this reporting period. Assessments were made in the Kathmandu Valley, the Morang and Dhanusa districts in the East, and Kailali in the Far West. The main purpose of these trips was to evaluate the effects of the conflict on different geographic areas and identify needs to address during the transition period. The assessors that went to Dhanusa, following the Madhesi uprising in January, concluded that rising communal tensions and the issues of the Madhesis will be critical to how the peace process proceeds. OTI has received concepts to address some of these issues and is working to implement solutions. A field office in the eastern area of the Terai is also under consideration.

B. Grants Activity Summary

OTI has worked extensively to publicize and disseminate copies of the CPA. To date, a total of 55,000 CPA booklets have been distributed in Nepal's 75 districts. This effort has been supplemented by the distribution of posters and leaflets and by community dialogues about the CPA organized by NGO partners with a grassroots-level reach. OTI has also supported the Peace Secretariat in its effort to formulate a strategic communications strategy and media outreach plan by hiring a media consultant for a 2-month term.

Speed and flexibility have allowed OTI to fill key gaps at a critical time. The EC's last-minute, January 22 request for 25 mid-range printers, 50 low-range printers, and 75 UPS units to support the voter registration exercise was honored immediately. When combined with desktop computers provided by the Danish Embassy, this equipment gives each of Nepal's district offices the ability to compile and print the current voter roll. In addition, OTI identified a critical weakness in the EC's computer systems, which were not capable of processing the huge amount of data collected during the voter registration process. The purchase of new equipment to replace an old, outdated system will favorably impact the EC's ability to prepare the electoral rolls and avoid delays in these crucial elections. The new equipment will also minimize the risk of data loss, which could undermine confidence in the election process.

Recognizing that the exclusion of various groups from the political process has been one of Nepal's major problems, OTI has conducted several activities to promote inclusive and participatory democracy. Dialogues and interactive programs have been held in different regions of the country, and a media dialogue on ethnicity and politics was organized in two locations in the Terai. Similarly, several grassroots mobilization and awareness campaigns have been conducted in Dhangadhi, Kailali. Activities have been focused on women and Dalits, who are among Nepal's most marginalized groups. OTI is also working with a local student group in an effort to help discourage protests from turning violent. The group has received national media coverage for its activities. In addition, OTI is supporting a traveling photo exhibition that features the work of local journalists and portrays - in images of destruction and human suffering - the enormous costs of the conflict.

A fact-finding mission on media bias during the Terai uprising is currently underway. Other monitoring activities have included gender-based monitoring in areas neighboring cantonment sites. Similarly, journalists have been reporting extensively on the impact the camps are having on local communities, publishing in newspapers and magazines and airing reports on local FM radio stations. In addition, a survey on the first phase of the voter registration drive is currently being conducted in 66 of the country's districts. The survey will provide some independent information on the voter registration process, which has been contested in many areas. The release of the survey and recommendations based on its findings will be the first test of a newly formed domestic observation group.

One of the goals of OTI's media activities is to provide mechanisms to support a two-way dialogue between Kathmandu and the rural areas of the country. The Antenna Foundation received a grant to develop a live, national talk show with toll-free call-in capabilities that gives listeners throughout Nepal access to elected representatives, government officials, and civil society leaders. The program is being aired around the country and, reportedly, is extremely popular. The program focuses on topical issues and has hosted personalities such as the Deputy Prime Minister and agitating Madeshi leaders. In addition, OTI has supported several training activities that focused on increasing the capacity and ability of talk show moderators and journalists to report on the peace process and transition issues.

Subsequent to the unrest in the Terai, OTI has focused on fostering communal harmony. Ten PSAs featuring national-level leaders from across the political spectrum, civil society leaders, and public figures have been aired in the Terai areas. Response to the PSAs has been overwhelmingly positive. In addition, a television show focusing on post-conflict issues is scheduled to air in early April. The show will feature Nepal's leading comedy duo and is slated for 12 episodes. A questionnaire also has been developed to help OTI monitor problems that internally displaced persons (IDPs) face, and an orientation providing information about international policies on IDPs will be held soon.

Grant Approval Summary

Nepal Office
New Grants in January*
New Grants in February*
New Grants in March*
New Grants This Quarter*
Grants
Amount
Grants
Amount
Grants
Amount
Grants
Amount
Kathmandu
11
$447,137
6
$290,802
6
$293,488
23
$1,031,427

* As of March 25, 2007

C. Indicators of Success

Speed

The request by the EC for technological assistance to support the voter registration process was met within 48 hours, as was the request to disseminate information. OTI also moved quickly to air PSAs to foster communal harmony during the unrest in the Terai.

Re-targeting/Flexibility

OTI continues to remain vigilant in ensuring that its programming is responding to the real needs of the ongoing transition process. Through team building and strategy sessions, along with weekly political analysis meetings, OTI grounds its activities with an awareness of past and unfolding events and targets windows of opportunity to fill key gaps in the transition process.

The development of a flexible activity agreement to broadcast PSAs on any relevant issue has allowed OTI to address emerging issues, such as the Terai unrest and voter registration, quickly and effectively.

Resource Leveraging

To date, implementing partners have contributed 14 percent of total project resources while other donors have contributed 13 percent. OTI has developed an extremely successful and crucial relationship with the Open Society Institute (OSI) on activities undertaken with Communication Corner (CC). Two activities with funding totaling more than $550,000 are currently being implemented at the following approximate contribution levels: $226,000 from OTI, $74,000 from CC, and $252,000 from OSI.

Policy Leveraging

OTI has assisted in the hiring of a media expert who will formulate a strategic communications strategy and media policy for the Peace Secretariat. Additionally, a recently approved survey to elicit views on the voter registration and election process will provide data for a final report that will be shared with the EC. The report will provide the commission with a guideline for developing strategies and improving voting procedures.

Next Steps/Immediate Priorities

Emergent issues:

- Unrest in the Terai hindering activities in the region and creating uncertainty in the peace process.

- Lack of information and inaction on the part of political parties with regard to Constituent Assembly elections.

- Lack of information on and monitoring of CPA compliance and arms management agreements.

- Rapidly changing political environment where windows of opportunity can emerge quickly.

- Political will of main actors, as related to efforts to effect change.

USAID/OTI Nepal will:

- Increase the level of program activities and expedite activity approval and implementation;

- Continue to identify critical gaps and windows of opportunity in the transition process in order to target appropriate activities;

- Identify key change agents and implementing partners;

- Pilot several activities outside of Kathmandu and the Kathmandu Valley, particularly in the Terai; and

- Identify gaps in roles and responsibilities of the team and fine tune the operational side of implementation.

For further information, please contact: In Washington, D.C: Gordon Shettle, Cognizant Technical Officer, 202-712-1243, gshettle@usaid.gov