The world is poised for change, and we need not get distracted from our real objective
Many are shocked by the uncertainties spawned by present times. The relatively smooth sailing which marked the world before 2007-08 is no longer here. Instabilities of different kinds have appeared on the stage. Some of them are political. Others are geopolitical. Quite a few relate to the stability of persons put in charge of conducting public affairs.
But there are good things as well. The world is closely interconnected as never before. Distance between peoples is being abridged, not solely by better mechanics and speed. The rapid spread of digital technology, putting smart phones and such internet-linked devices in the hands of nearly half the global population of 7 billion, is also part of the story. Extensive international trade links wrought among countries as distant from each other as Australia and Zimbabwe is another factor.
International culture has become more pervasive than ever. Life expectancy has increased substantially all over the planet. Health care has shown that it can tackle serious problems in relatively short periods of time, e.g., the West African virus of Ebola appears to have been mastered already. There is little talk nowadays about the pace of spread of the Zika virus which manifested itself in Brazil before the last Olympics.
Agricultural production has progressed sufficiently to support a near doubling of global population. Ceaseless effort and constant striving have overcome the bleakest of prospects.
Nevertheless, in the face of current events, the predominant feeling is one of insurmountable obstacles in the way of our common progress. This may be reflecting a hidden bent in the human psyche to overplay the negative elements.
What we should take away from history
In the aftermath of the Second World War, there was a similar feeling of desolation. A good part of the world had been laid waste thanks to Man’s cyclical destructive inclination. Infrastructure as it had existed before the War was nearly fully destroyed. Entire centres of civilisation, notably prominent cities of the then world, had been bombed beyond recognition, e.g., Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Common policy understandings which had governed relations among nations had all but dissolved, creating new uncertainties.
This led nations to hold on to whatever remained after the massive destructions caused by the War. Colonies disintegrated due to former colonizers having been utterly depleted of the resources with which they had at first expanded across the world. Nations isolated themselves in the security of their own boundaries, e.g., the Soviet Union bloc. Others like America emerged as the victors from the War and imposed themselves as the “new normal”. This is how “Pax Americana” became the dominant platform in the “free world”.
Not for long. It was in 1978 that China started moving out of its isolation. On the basis of a fundamental re-engineering of its domestic potential by the pursuit of highly-coordinated policies and advanced research and development, which reinforced each other to establish a solid domestic economic base, it became, after a couple of decades of dedicated pain and effort, world economy number 2, just after America. It has bright technocrats and entrepreneurs matching the best in the world and a huge new middle class, the very substance on which economic progress is usually built. Discipline. No time to waste on useless distractions.
Russia has surged again on the global stage after the Soviet empire’s breakup in 1989. Its economy is not in great shape, given its excessive focus on politics but it may pick up still with its vast human and technological resources.
Current changes taking place at the global level are given as an excuse for making global progress unpredictable. The evidence is that not only have new actors come upon the global stage despite all the havoc, quite a few of them have eradicated entrenched poverty and diseases. They have brought facilities within the reach of their people who wouldn’t have dreamt of them a generation ago.
On balance, there’s a better sharing of the benefits of global growth and development than before or immediately after the Second World War across nations.
History teaches us that new configurations of power and centres of activity act as a spur to spread out global welfare. All that’s needed is not to clash them against each other as it happened during the two world wars. No single nation has the monopoly of becoming the sole provider of global well-being. They can travel divergent paths, yet contribute to lift up the global stage. Things will eventually be better once self-imposed limitations are discarded.
It is therefore beside the point for a country like Mauritius to plead that there’s not much we can do to improve our conditions in the upside-down global situation. Even if we don’t take the initiatives that need to be taken, we have to make ourselves ready to catch up with developments as they will roll out on the global stage. It was difficult to predict before the economic reforms of India in 1991 that we would one day become one of its chief purveyors of investments when most it needed them.
We must follow global events very closely. Not to feel shocked at their sharp departures from the past. Or accept a situation of hopelessness because things are not changing the way we think they should. It is not for international re-configurations to adapt to our requirements. It is for us to remain in a state of preparedness by watching developments closely and positioning ourselves to be present on the stage at the right time as we did by becoming an international financial services provider.
It will be no excuse to blame it on prevailing uncertainties and do little or nothing about it. On the contrary, pragmatism and the right alignment of our structures and interests with the best resources we can mobilize, whenever opportunities open up, should play in our favour.
Focus on real issues will keep our attention off from secondary issues. Too much energy and attention are being wasted on decisions not taken or useless dithering for the sake of power games. Some of the wastage is the consequence of an unwholesome past legacy. Just see how several otherwise promising nations in Africa which, with a bit of good governance, could have become new poles of global activity in current global economic conditions are actually shunned by international investors with the potential to transform the continent into a new global hub. We need to bear this in mind.
We could build constructive economic linkages with countries, however disparate their global pursuits may be from each other. Penetration of markets hasn’t been easy. Yet, during the past so many decades we’ve built bridges with numerous countries, raising our domestic resources ingeniously to be able to transact with them. We’ve gone to Europe, America, Africa, India and numerous others in our quest to increase our exports of goods and services. This has been the foundation of our economic success.
Now that the international platform is due for unforeseen changes, why can’t we re-invent our economic production apparatus instead of continuing with politicking of all sorts?
Despite all the ravage and destruction of world wars, development all over the world transformed the worse hit countries and a few others to unrecognizable degrees of success today (South Korea, Singapore, Japan, China). Despite our small size and limited economic outreach, striving after new practical projects to undertake at the regional level can help us deploy our resources constructively to our own future benefit. No one loses in the process.
Mauritius needs first to conceptualize the challenges the new global situation poses for its future interactions with other countries. Then, it needs to identify and implement areas of activity in tune with the upcoming global stage. This will leave little time to indulge in futile temporary pursuits.