There are those whose names are written in bold on the pages of history
To many, the celebration of the country’s independence is a number game. Which anniversary of independence are we celebrating? The assumption is that the higher this number, the more there is reason to be proud of the length of time travelled since liberation from colonization.
Yes, many independent countries were born with high hopes. Society came to the conclusion that once we hold our destiny in our own hands, free from the shackles of colonizers, we would be able to aim at the stars. Much more would be achieved by the “salt of the earth” and with greater equitableness, according to this understanding of the advantages conferred by the independent status of the country, than what colonizers bent on their own interests would have achieved for social and economic betterment of the country.
It must be said that the first generation of leaders of Asia, Africa and Latin America who led the way out of colonization, were held in the highest popular esteem. There were among them men and women of the highest calibre and integrity, inspired by nothing other than the cause of the people. That is why, despite some errors he may have made on the way to Indian independence in 1947, Mahatma Gandhi was revered like a saint. Compromises were made along the way which were seen as unnecessary give-aways but the benefit of hindsight shows that India has been spared a turmoil that could have made it ungovernable today.
Gandhiji was not alone to blaze the trail of a new dawn for India. There were also leaders like Sardar Patel and Jawaharlal Nehru, unmistakable visionary leaders of a global stature who made modern India possible. Asia has produced likewise clear-headed leaders standing above the lot, who have marked the pages of global history, leaders like Lee Kwan Yew of Singapore and Deng Xiao Ping of China. They have transcended the boundaries of the countries they were in charge of by pursuing transformative politics with an eye less on the past than on the future being of the countries they were in charge of.
Similarly, there are indelible footprints left behind by selfless leaders of the first generation of African emancipators. Names like Julius Nyerere, Jomo Kenyatta, Patrice Lumumba, Milton Obote, Kenneth Kaunda and Nelson Mandela are remembered with great fondness, not only by the peoples who were benefited by their rule at home. They were also regarded with awe outside of their countries for being great architects in the art of nation-building and projecting the image of their countries beyond their puny egos. Their credit is all the more because they had to overcome intractable messes left behind by the colonial process to give common expression to immense geographies inhabited by people who had not tasted prosperity – and, oftentimes, the sense of being together as one national entity.
In Mauritius, Sir Seewoosagur Ramgoolam (SSR) was able to lead the way to independence on the promise that we, as an independent nation, would be more people-centric than those who preceded us at the helm of state but were not deeply rooted in the population. His feat was to bring together social cohesiveness in a country fractured into distinct groups that had heretofore been taught to live in deep distrust of each other across ethnic barriers. He brought in this trail people like Sir Abdool Razack Mohamed, Sir Gaetan Duval and the Bissondoyal brothers and, along with them, men of great worth and commitment to the national cause. The latter included committed persons like Sir Harold Walter, Sir Satcam Boolell, Sir Kher Jagatsingh, once the co-editor of this newspaper, Bickramsing Ramlallah, the first Editor in Chief of Mauritius Times, and the current Prime Minister, Sir Anerood Jugnauth, once a member of the IFB. They were all men who could think for themselves and had a clear vision of where they wanted the nation to be in time to come. Not content with theory, they went on to put into practice higher milestones putting in place safeguards at the micro level for achieving a brighter future for the country.
All these forces were consolidated towards one common struggle to get to the higher objective of launching a new, effective and inclusive as well as socially stable state enterprise, based on fairness to all. Many had seen a desperate and basket case for Mauritius. That was without counting with the men and women of conviction of this country. If Mauritius projects itself today as holder of a much higher potential than what it has already demonstrated over the years since independence, it is thanks to those remarkable men and women who have led us so far and some from the original batch who are still sharing a common vision of better days to come. Mauritius owes a lot to the liberal and socially inclusive framework it put in place and actually implemented in practice.
The journey from 1968 has not been smooth all the way. There were days when we did not have the foreign exchange to pay up for our essential imports. The number of jobless was at one time a quarter of the workforce. Cyclones devastated agriculture in particular from time to time when we had very little by way of alternative resources. We had to labour our way through strenuous IMF and World Bank Structural Adjustment Programs with little foresight whether we would extricate ourselves from the serious predicaments facing us. People endured numerous hardships in a bid to insulate themselves eventually from misery and wretchedness. Our free education and our free healthcare systems proved to be the essential mainstays towards our social and economic improvement. We are here not out of chance. We are only reminded from time to time that we will have yet many more battles to deliver and win for sustaining the well-being of our people.
Many are the political and civil society bodies of Mauritius that have understood that the emergence, from time to time, of men and women of extraordinary stature from within their ranks, saves entire populations from a life of deprivation. And, what is more, such persons have the vision and sense of self-abnegation enough to project their countries into the higher regions of achievement and prosperity. From Europe to America, from India to South Africa, from China to Latin America, outstanding leaders have come up on the global stage to blaze a better trail of success for entire populations at the most testing of times. It appears that, at this moment, as we are celebrating our country’s independence with the Prime Minister of our beloved Mother India, such a new dawn will break for both countries, full of promise and hopes for the better for the greater numbers of our peoples. Maybe, we are also at the dawn of a brilliant leadership in both the countries that will be remembered for long on the indelible pages of history.
* Published in print edition on 13 March 2015