Nepal is a landlocked country in the Himalayas of South Asia, bordered by Tibet to the north and India to the south, east, and west. One of the poorest counties in the world, Nepal has been ruled by a hereditary monarchy since 1768. Nepal's first experiment with democracy began in 1951 and ended 8 years later when King Mahendra suspended parliament and introduced a one-party system called the Panchayat.
In April 2006, the historic Janaandolan, a 20-day popular revolution, brought an end to King Gyanendra's direct rule. The parliament was reinstated and power was transferred to Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala and the Seven Party Alliance (SPA). The SPA soon entered talks with insurgent Maoist rebels to negotiate an end to 11 years of civil war. On November 21, 2006, after several rounds of talks and intermediate agreements, Prime Minister Koirala and Maoist Chairman Prachanda signed a 10-point Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA), formally bringing an end to the conflict. The CPA promised political, social, and economic transformation, as well as protection of human rights, relocation of internally displaced persons (IDPs), election of a Constituent Assembly (CA), and management of arms and armies under U.N. supervision. Under the terms of the Agreement on Monitoring of the Management of Arms and Armies (AMA), the United Nations completed the first phase of registration of combatants and weapons at 7 main and 21 satellite sites where the Maoists are cantoned. In mid-January, an interim constitution was promulgated and an interim parliament was formed with the participation of the Maoists. An interim government that includes the Maoists was formed on April 1, 2007.
Despite the positive momentum toward peace, the process has been beleaguered by the continuing misbehavior of the Maoists and numerous demonstrations in protest against the interim constitution, which does not deliver on promises of inclusiveness for disadvantaged groups. In late January 2007, violence erupted in the Terai, the southern plains of Nepal, where the Madhesis, an ethnic group that comprises approximately 40 percent of the country's population, demonstrated in favor of a federal state structure, proportional representation, and an end to discrimination. The 3-week strike resulted in loss of life and extensive property damage. Despite some concessions from the government, tensions remain high and violent confrontations continue. Other indigenous groups have also begun to protest and issue demands for inclusion in the new system. Though the CA elections are scheduled for mid-June, lack of political consensus on key issues is likely to delay the polls. A delay in the election poses new risks for the peace process, including a longer cantonment period for the Maoists. Uncertainty about the Prime Minister's health is also a concern.
USAID/OTI Nepal Program
The U.S. Agency for International Development's Office of Transition Initiatives (OTI) began its program in Nepal in August 2006. 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 its diverse constituents.
USAID/OTI has responded in a fast and flexible manner to aid the peace process. The program has supported 45 activities with a total of more than $1,500,000, averaging $214,500 in small grants committed per month. OTI's flexibility and fast response time has enabled the program to support a wide variety of information dissemination, media programming, and radio transmission and inter-station infrastructure activities to promote and diversify debate about Nepal's ongoing political processes.
Support to Government - The program has supported the Government of Nepal by providing funds for information dissemination and technological support to the National Monitoring Committee on Code of Conduct for Ceasefire, the Peace Secretariat, the Election Commission, and the Nepal Law Commission. OTI provided desktop computers, laptops, printers, software, office materials, research materials, and high-capacity servers to the key government institutions responsible for implementing the peace agreement. In addition, OTI supported the Peace Secretariat (now the Peace and Reconstruction Ministry) in its successful effort to distribute tens of thousands of copies of the CPA throughout the country. This effort has been supplemented by the distribution of posters and leaflets about the CPA through nongovernmental organization partners working at the grassroots level.
Enhancing Media - Support to the media has been a key OTI focus area. Technological assistance has been provided to radio stations to enhance their broadcasting capabilities and has included the use of portable technology to bring information to remote, radio-blind areas. In addition, OTI launched a live, national toll-free call-in radio show that provides listeners throughout Nepal with access to elected representatives, government officials, and civil society leaders. The program also funded an awareness drive during the voter registration period. Similarly, a voter education campaign will be broadcast through 40 radio stations. The campaign will reach all 75 of Nepal's districts and will include pre-election reporting.
Response to Terai Unrest - Responding to the deteriorating situation in the Terai, OTI aired several PSAs that featured political and civil society leaders promoting communal harmony amid fears of rising ethnic tensions. A concert with the 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. Other monitoring activities are taking place in areas around cantonment sites to measure impacts on the local population and environment. Gender issues are also being examined and a team has been deployed to assess the voter registration process.
For additional information, please contact: Gordon Shettle, 202-712-1243, firstname.lastname@example.org