As our stock dwindles, we have had many questions about when we will receive our next shipment of jackets. The answer to this question is more complicated than it would first seem, and strangely, it has a lot to do with the Nepali national election, which happened while we were all sleeping last night. This major political event has had repercussions not just among political activists, but in fact across the entire country: national “bandh”s (strikes), transportation stoppages, and some dangerous chaos, lootings and bombings.
And of course, this has affected Rajan, his employees and Jackets for Jasper.
Nepali Politics, Then and Now
Nepal’s politics are very different than our own. Until 1990, in fact, the country was under the absolute leadership of their king and had been for 220 years or so. Since that time, their government has had a tumultuous history: their first elections in 1991, a 1996 Maoist insurgency resulting in thousands of civilian deaths; the 2001 massacre of the royal family by one of the crown princes; a turn to martial law in 2005; followed by the abolition of the monarchy as a leading power. Nepal is now a federal republic, one without a constitution. They have been trying for almost a decade to craft a constitution that everyone can agree on, but talks amongst all parties and representatives keep falling through. And so instead of crafting a constitution, they held an election instead. Last night. Still with me?
For the last few weeks as political campaigning ramped up, the Maoist factions and those who share their political beliefs (an alliance of 33 parties) promised to disrupt the election process. And did they ever try! Although unrest began back in the early autumn, the last few weeks have been particularly fraught by country-wide general strikes, total transportation shut-downs, bombings of any buses or vehicles trying to move about the cities or countryside, and intimidation of those supporting the election. Needless to say that no one was moving freely and safely around the country for several weeks.
A New Jacket Order – But No One to Make It!
How has this affected Rajan and his team, and therefore our little company halfway around the world? Well, Nepal just finished up about a month of on-and-off festivals – sort of like Christmastime here – where everyone goes home to their villages and towns to be with family. Most of Rajan’s staff travelled to their homes outside of Kathmandu to celebrate the holidays with their families, but then the country’s national election campaigns and strikes began. These people are still stuck at home. Rajan now has just two workers where normally he would have between 6 – 10. In addition to all of his normal work, he has had to complete a rare large order for 300 jackets from Qantas Airlines with just two people.
And us? Well, we had hoped to order more men’s mediums and smalls in brighter colours and women’s mediums in some greens and blues before Christmas. So we will check in with Rajan this week to see how the dust settles now that the election is over and to find out when his crew will be back in Kathmandu.
Why Continue to Manufacture in Nepal?
Good question! Lack of consistent fabric availability; frequent and lengthy power outages; regular fuel and water shortages; recent chaos in the streets… truly, Nepal is a difficult place to run a clothing business – any business, in fact. Millions of Nepali work at labour jobs for years in the Middle East to send money home, rather than stay in their own country. For the last few weeks of strikes, it has been very difficult for the Nepali people to make a living. In a country that ranks as one of the poorest in the world, lack of a week’s work really does affect whether a family can afford the basics of life such as food and shelter. The jackets we make and you buy really do have an economic impact: small, but real. Your purchase of Jackets for Jasper jackets truly makes a difference for a small family factory and its staff in Kathmandu. We hope this story provides some insight into why, challenging as it sometimes is to supply you with jackets, we are so passionate about working with Rajan and having the jackets made in Nepal.
And the Election’s Outcome?
The actual voting took place yesterday. A record number of registered voters cast their ballots and had their fingers or hands marked with paint or ink to indicate they’d voted. Although election results won’t be counted and finalized for weeks (all those ballots from the middle hills have to be carried days back to major centres!), more than a majority of citizens have indicated their desires. And the maoist coalition of 33 parties has stated that “there is no alternative to consensus between political forces, and political forces must be used for dialogue and political co-operation.” May the country move closer to consensus and a constitution they can all believe in. We hope the next few years brings some peace and stability.
For the Curious: A Comparison
It is very interesting to view – even just on the surface – the differences between Canada’s national elections and those that just took place in Nepal. Both countries have about 30 million people, but that is where the similarity ends.
- Canada has 3 or 4 major parties. Nepal has 26 official + dozens more minor parties. Talk about a minority government!
- Canada: we have a constitution. Nepal does not and they haven’t been able to agree on one yet.
- Canada: teams of Elections Canada staff set up polling stations overnight nation-wide. Nepal has been delivering polling materials and ballots to remote locations by horses and porters for weeks.
- Canada: polling stations in each person’s home community. Nepal: some polling stations required 5 hours’ walking or a helicopter ride to access.
- Canada: campaigns leading up to an election can be mud-slinging and nasty. Nepal: campaigns leading up to an election can be dangerous or fatal.
But: check out this comparison as food for thought:
- Canada’s 2011 federal election voter turnout: 61%
- Nepal’s 2013 federal election voter turnout: 70% and counting [Update Dec 31/13: the official average turnout was 78%, with one district reaching 89.5%!]