The Dangers of Divisiveness

More than a decade after the American-led invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan, trillions of dollars of military spending from 2003 to date, after hundreds of thousands of lives lost and people scattered away from their homes, the crisis in the Middle East and around does not appear to be abating.

The latest to get entangled in this war of theological and tribal differences are the Kurds in the Syrian town of Kobane bordering Turkey. Even the West feels threatened by the intensification of unending conflicts in the zone as radicalism of different sorts starts stalking upon a bigger stage over there.

When people start viewing themselves as belonging to distinct groups opposed to each other, for reason of history or cultural differences, they can create a hotbed of unending and destructive conflict. Emotions take the upper hand over everything else and rationality departs the scene with its daily store of mutual destruction. For the present, there is no peaceful end in view in the region.

The “Arab springs” which were seen a few years ago as the new dawn against dictatorships became in fact false dawns. In Egypt, the former military chief has assumed the office of president after ousting the democratically elected previous government by a show of force. Libya has not been torn apart between warring militant factions more than at present. Iraq is on the brink of breakdown as a state as diverse theological factions confront each other politically and militarily. Far from being the cradle of the ancient civilisation it was, Syria has made refugees of millions of its own people sent off to neighbouring countries even as its territorial integrity has been shattered.

This situation demonstrates that when distinct factions are deliberately nurtured in opposition to each other, a day comes when the underlying pent-up passions can burst the banks. The underlying tension, when it erupts, can destroy the work of centuries of cohesion among the people. Single incidents can, in the circumstances, sway emotions to the point of inflicting incalculable damage on populations and put countries on self-destructive courses.

In the period prior to 1967, some establishments in Mauritius deliberately aroused ethnic hatred as part of an electoral ploy. In the process, this device helped to shift the focus of the 1967 general elections from an ideological battle for or against independence to a minority-majority confrontation. In the scuffle which ensued, certain political leaders came thus to be viewed as fidei defensors (defenders of the faith). 1968 and subsequently 1999 showed the destructive potential of this “me-against-you” compartmentalisation of our population due to playing up to communal undercurrents. We may consider ourselves lucky that we managed to arrest this irrationality before it wrought havoc on society.

It may be said that a sense of tolerance has relegated the harmful spectre of this kind of divisiveness to the backseat, permitting our people to rise to the occasion and keep a lid on momentary spill overs by a group or two. The people, guided by leaders who endorsed an overwhelming national objective beyond inflaming of racial/ethnic passions, should get the credit for containing the threat of division. Overall, our institutional setup has upheld the unwritten code of conduct to keep ourselves out of a perpetual state of ethnic conflicting. Consequently, the edifice has held together fairly well and this has permitted a lot of progress to be made despite our not having the natural resources other countries have.

If instead of focussing on nonsensical differentiations, we keep looking at the bigger picture for higher performance at the national level, the rule of meritocracy and law and order as the basic foundations for our future actions, the future will be bright for us. We can make real good governance the central focus of our path henceforward for the benefit of one and all. Life is already tough as it is, battling against external markets for our goods and services. We can profitably keep our mind concentrated on how to deal with such external forces rather than drive forces inward towards self-destruction as we see it happen in other places.

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A better approach to managing our resources

This week the Minister of Renewable Energy and Public utilities made an announcement that there has taken place a noticeable fall in the level of water in our reservoirs. He stated that the situation may warrant a stricter regime of water supply in days to come but he advised that supply will be kept normal in the immediate in view of foreseeable festivities such as Diwali.

We’ve been told from time to time that half of the water that is produced by our water sector is lost between the production site and target customers due to loss of treated water transported by aged and leaking water pipes that haven’t been replaced for decades. One can only hope that the quantification of the loss is not a guesswork and that there are figures at the two ends – production and consumption – establishing such a scale of loss en route to final destination.

This level of waste is attributed to the sector’s lack of funds for replacing leaking old water pipes laid down since more than 50 years. On average, we have an annual rainfall of 2000 mm per annum and this is said to be a comfortable supply of rainwater for a country our size. We can’t complain.

Collecting rainwater is not all however; it is when the rains become inadequate and irregular – as at present — and when reservoir and aquifer levels drop sharply that we reckon with this volume of waste of treated water. If half of the output is lost just the same when such dire circumstances prevail, this situation should have signalled the vital importance to make the necessary capital expenditures to replace the leaking old pipes. No matter if one were to construct new reservoirs, the inefficiency of water transportation would continue to imply that half of whatever is produced goes waste if nothing is done to replace the old water pipes which are said to be the source of the problem.

No private sector enterprise could survive on this scale of regular loss of its production. It represents a case of money being thrown out in full knowledge that an important loss of revenue and an unsustainable waste of finished product is taking place. Of all the priorities, given the primordial importance of water for domestic consumption and upholding industrial activities, replacing those water pipes — the root cause of this problem of wasted water as we understand it – should have been the priority of our priorities. It should be imperative therefore that the water sector be given without tarrying further the financial means to replace leaking old water pipes.

The time may also have come to empower the sector by adopting a proper pricing policy for water since the risk for the consumer is to alternatively see the sector slip into the hands of profit-seeking private entrepreneurs. Many would prefer that water supply remains in a more efficiently managed public sector if only to ensure that we don’t end up paying dividends to foreign owners of a vital sector that should remain in our hands.

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The consequence of Israel’s ruthlessness

The world was witness to the massacre of civilians in the thousands during the latest incursion of Israel’s army in Gaza. History was written in the blood of hundreds of children who fell under the wanton bombing and destruction of the Palestinian strip. As it has been said, Israel’s brute force may have subdued those defenceless civilians but it lost the battle of world opinion in the process.

But Israel did not stop at that. It kept itself busy thereafter, as it was the case before, to grab lands from the West Bank (Palestinian territory) to build new settlements. It has already settled some 600,000 Israeli settlers in the territory grabbed from the West Bank so far. This kind of continuing onslaught by the State of Israel has created a strong feeling of revulsion the world over against the Jewish state.

On Monday last a vote was taken in the British Parliament on a motion asking “to recognize the state of Palestine alongside the state of Israel”. A majority (364) out of the 650 members of Parliament including British Prime Minister, David Cameron, did not take part. But it was a resounding and landmark vote with the motion carried by a majority of 274 for and 12 against.

Such is the tide of opinion in the UK that one member, Sir Alec Duncan, stated that anyone who supports the Israeli settlements in the West Bank “is an extremist (putting himself) outside the boundaries of democratic standards… not fit to stand for election or sit in a democratic parliament.” Israel has carried its action to such an excess that British MP Sir Richard Ottaway, a Tory member usually supporting Israel through thick and thin, abstained during the vote angry at Israel’s impunity in its latest grab of another 950 hectares of West Bank land. He said: “I have to say to the government of Israel that if they are losing people like me, they will be losing a lot of people.”

In politics as in many matters of life, taking extreme self-seeking positions can upset the applecart. The impunity with which Israel’s government has been proceeding against all norms of civilized behaviour risks turning the tide against it for good. For the present, America’s Congress is among Israel’s last remaining pillars of support at the global level.

* Published in print edition on 17 October 2014

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