Charting a New Course
— Dev Virahsawmy
Capitalism, as we know it, is driven by two negative impulses: cupidity and selfishness. It has TWO opposing expressions: a mild one called social democracy and a very aggressive one best known as turbo-capitalism or market fundamentalism under the sway of corporations which put pressure on vulnerable countries to adopt the classical neoliberal doctrine with its wide assortment of deregulation and privatisation. BUT world capitalism is no longer monolithic. The USA-Western Europe bloc which has been imposing itself on the rest of the world since World War II is now constantly challenged and thwarted by BRIC countries (Brazil, Russia, India, China) and by Asian capitalism led by China and India. Moreover western capitalism is in the throes of crises and the stranglehold of convulsions.
So far Mauritius has been able to maintain links with the old capitalism (western capitalism) while developing new ties with the new rising Asian capitalism. If we could benefit from this situation in the short and middle run, for long term benefits we must think anew. Global warming and climate change will force us to develop a different ‘survival strategy’ and chart an altogether new course. For this reason it has become imperative that in whatever we do now, we must put into place some elements which can ease the transition from one reality to another. Take for example the building and upgrading of roads. We could now start including in all road plans, cycle lanes and parking facilities for bicycles and concurrently promote the use of bicycles with special emphasis on health benefits.
More importantly we must choose which expression of capitalism we want to opt for: social democracy or neoliberalism. It would be irrational and senseless to choose neoliberalism although social democracy is not the be-all-and-end-all. It is just a lesser evil. In the long run, the MID (Maurice Ile Durable) concept is without any doubt a progressive idea full of great possibilities but it has not one iota of chance of success in a neoliberal environment; it has only a weak chance of debatable success in a social democratic environment. But the further we move from the ‘quick buck mentality’, the closer we get to an environment based on the opposite of cupidity and selfishness, i.e. Sharing and Solidarity, the greater will be our chance of survival. Yes, MID is our survival kit if it becomes our vision and energy to make life meaningful in the wake of global warming catastrophes. Let it be clearly understood, MID is certainly not just another way to become rich.
MID’s success depends on nothing short of a cultural revolution.
When the full impact of global warming and world economic recession is felt, reality as we know it will change in such a drastic and dramatic way that it will no longer be a question of minor superficial reforms. Gone will be the days of ‘manz banann dan de bout’ (have your cake and eat it/avoir le beurre et l’argent du beurre).
World tourism will shrink; purchasing power in the so-called developed world will decline; the price of oil will become prohibitive; the internal combustion engine will have to be banned. As a consequence of all this, protectionism will become the key policy throughout the world faced by floods, draughts, storms, massive refugee problems which make Darfur a fait divers.
The political power and institutions supporting MID must be very strong and not just be facilitators of neoliberal greed for easy money. They must be based on grassroots democracy and need economic clout and resources to ensure survival, security, justice, social and cultural development. Market forces will have to play second fiddle. Politics must take the helm. We will need new priorities.
Land is our fundamental resource. We will need it principally to ensure food security and for the building of homes for all. Speculation and the use of precious land to build sumptuous villas for the world’s super-rich is certainly out of the question.
Food security does not merely mean producing what is traditionally consumed but rather exploring new possibilities. I am convinced that a slow shift to breadfruit as the staple will boost up national food security efforts. We should also seize this opportunity to adopt a new nutritional culture to fight obesity and diseases connected with it.
Gender equality should replace patriarchy. Sustainable development based on sharing and solidarity means a new kind of relationship between men and women and also a more humane and tolerant attitude towards people with different sexual orientations.
MID’s success depends also on universal literacy and this can be achieved only if we are prepared to face the truth. Primary schooling in its present form does not generate a high level and rate of basic literacy; most Mauritians are semi-linguals, having a meagre smattering of two or more languages, but unable to master any of them properly; a dynamic bilingualism featuring Mauritian Creole (MC) and English can be achieved with a judicious language policy… This universal literacy and MC/English bilingualism will promote learning as a continuous life enhancing process and favour greater creativity.
Technological development and the use of renewable sources of energy are necessary but inadequate if economic, political, social and cultural activities are conducted the way they are today. The concept of locally centered economy is well worth investigating into. For example we could reorganise Mauritius into 20-25 autonomous municipalities endowed with various economic, political, social and cultural activities and institutions. Within a municipality people will use muscular power (walk or cycle) and solar-powered public transport would service inter-municipal travels.
People must be empowered and grassroots democracy be made to thrive. Representative democracy is insufficient and must evolve into participative democracy. Democracy is not to be conceived just as a system of government but rather as a way of life which fuels good living at economic, political, social and cultural levels.
Are we ready for this? Certainly not! But when the worse comes to the worse, we will have to change course and mindset and adopt new values and strategies. The need for a radical cultural change is already behind the door. We will have to invent our future. There is no ready-made recipe.
When the national creative genius is freed from the fetters of greed, selfishness, obscurantism and conservatism, thousands of new ideas will emerge to help us face our growing difficulties. In the process we will certainly become the rainbow nation where ‘UNITY IN DIVERSITY’ will not be just a slogan but the very essence of our identity made up of both centripetal and centrifugal reflexes in harmonious dialectical relationship.