Berguitta and its Consequences

While the country takes pride in the accelerated rate of growth of Gross Per Capita income, the stark reality is that these figures actually hide an unsustainable two-speed growth model — By Rajiv Servansingh

2018: Turbulent Beginning

As one travels across the island during this post Berguitta week, one is overwhelmed by the desolating spectacle of often decades-old trees lying defeated on the grounds after having put up what would have been a last fight against the fury of the winds associated with this natural calamity. Demoralizing as this may be at first sight, one can still take heart in the fact that “Mother Nature” has its own in-built cycle of creative destruction. The fallen trees and cracked branches will soon regenerate into new plants which will continue to diligently play their part in the wider scheme of things.

What is really despairing remains the level of human suffering which has manifested itself as a result of the prevailing dire climatic conditions. A large number of citizens seem to have been caught unawares by the existence of these pockets of absolute poverty and material and moral misery in a country which for the best part of the past two decades has been running some form or the other of “poverty alleviation” programmes or Corporate Social Responsibility Schemes.

While the country takes pride in the accelerated rate of growth of Gross Per Capita income over those same decades, the stark reality that these figures actually hide an unsustainable two-speed growth model has hit us in the face.

Some of the reactions which have been observed as regards the mini “refugee crisis” during and post- Berguitta smack of the perilous tendency to indiscriminately reduce every social phenomenon to its least common denominator. The blunt reality is that these should serve to illustrate the great, widening and potentially dangerous divide between the haves and the have-nots, the mainstream and the excluded and lead us to question the very foundations and long-term viability of a model of economic growth which lies at the root of such disparities of wealth and misery.

In this context, the utterly unacceptable and infuriating statement of Minister Sinatambou, the spokesperson of government, as regards the water and biscuits “protocol” for cyclone victims is likely to haunt him for a long time. It will remain the perfect illustration of one of the distinct characteristic of what is wrong with the decried “growth model” and its accompanying governance structure.

Claiming that he was merely stating a fact as regards the prevailing “protocol”, the Minister seems to be blissfully unaware of how the use of such purportedly technocratic and “depoliticized” language serves to make governance less a matter of politics and more of administration, a business for experts bereft of humanism rather than for citizens’ representatives.

The chasm between the governed and the establishment could not be more obvious as demonstrated by the overwhelmingly negative reactions to the Minister’s statements.

* * *

One Year of a Schmuck at the White House

How symbolic and fitting that the celebration of one year of Donald Trump’s presidency should coincide with a “shutdown” of government in the United States. What better proof that the one whose claim to fame has been his uncontested aptitude to negotiate great business deals has been confronted with and generally failed to grasp the complexities of the decision-making process in government.

This president has been embroiled in a controversy regarding the supportive role that an affirmative, resurgent and nationalistic, not to say xenophobic, Russia has played in his election to the White House. His administration has been marked by numerous departures of his nominees and counsellors. The constant efforts of the President to single out one particularly religious community for discrimination in obtaining necessary visas for visiting the US has been condemned by anti-racist organizations as well as the justice system in the US.

Donald Trump continues to avoid the press corps and chooses to tweet with equal profligacy about his moods as well as policy options on serious issues to the dismay of his staff and officials who then have to scurry around trying to explain ex post facto. Finally there is no love lost between women’s organizations in the US and the new president because of his alleged predatory sexual inclinations.

The above list, which is far from exhaustive, is a clear indictment of the presidency over the past year. It shows utter lack of the basic abilities which one would normally expect from a leader of the United States especially in this volatile and dangerous era.

On the global front, President Donald Trump has been almost enthusiastically fanning the fires of instability in two of the most unpredictable and violence prone areas of the planet. By choosing to officially declare that it recognizes Jerusalem as the capital of the Israel state, Washington threatens with one stroke of the pen to undo the already fragile framework that has been so painstakingly put together over decades by a number of stakeholders.

The persistence in this direction, as confirmed by the US Vice President during his recent visit to Israel, will certainly push the extremists on both sides of the conflict to achieve what they have been dreaming for: an end to the Oslo accord in letter and spirit.

Similarly the handling of the North Korean threats of nuclear deflagration is frightening – the amateurish if not childish tit-for-tat between the two leaders would have been laughable had it not been for the seriousness of the consequences of such behaviour.

It is a sign of our times that in spite of all these evident signs of dysfunctionality in the leadership and administration of the unique superpower around, the stock exchange in the US has been jumping to record highs over the past year. There is no doubt though that at some time in the near future we shall all be convened to the “banquet of consequences”.

 

* Published in print edition on 26 January 2018

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