Diplomacy: the BRICS opportunity
At a time when authorities are pointing out to the multi-million dollar grants and soft loans which have been extended to Mauritius by India, China and even the Saudi Kingdom since the current regime took office, government may feel that it is on safe seas and riding high in international esteem. A tribute, say government spokespersons, to the relevance and warmth of the embrace by traditional and newer friends from across the Indian Ocean as we upgrade our infrastructure and aspirations both as a maritime nation with a 2-million km footprint and as an important corridor between dynamic asian economies and the african continent.
Naturally, we do not indulge in looking gift horses in the mouth, particularly from long-standing all-weather friends like India and China even if we are aware that a large part of the Indian grants was to set-off the demise of the DTAA with that country. Concern can also be felt at qui-pro-quos pregnant in some financial assistance packages form regional superpowers that have their own concerns in this area of the world. It is regretful that as a presumed functional democracy, we don’t have a mechanism for such strategic agreements that may have defence, national security and other long-term implications to be shared in strict confidential and secure modes with at least key opposition party leaders.
Government can also point to the undoubted success, under the stewardship of SAJ and government’s specially constituted cell, of winning a clear UN General Assembly vote last year, taking the United Kingdom to the International Court of Justice (ICJ) for at least a moral pronouncement over the festering Chagos issue without which the decolonisation of our island nation in accordance with UN principles and resolutions would be incomplete. We have no reason to doubt that intensive proactive behind the scenes work must be ongoing to garner significant input from Mauritius, Chagossians, other influential voices and key power bloc representatives at the upcoming scheduled September hearings of the ICJ.
As patriots we must pray that the lobbying strategies do lead to a positive outcome that would be of considerable moral import in this long struggle, even if, with the UK Foreign Office’s track record in mind, we may be forgiven to suspect that a satisfactory final settlement might still remain an unresolved issue, an unfinished business, for years to come. As the complexities and realities of geopolitics at stake have been ably commented at some length in this paper, last week, by seasoned veteran diplomat Vijay Makhan, I do not intend to dwell further here, except to query, if the information is confirmed, a rather unexpected diplomatic absence at the BRICS summit held in Jo’burg from 25-27 July.
The regional bloc of Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa (BRICS) has now entered its second decade and the July summit, attended by their respective Heads of State, including Presidents Putin and Xi Jinping and PM Narendra Modi, was under the promising thematic ‘Collaboration for Inclusive Growth and Shared Prosperity in Africa’. Prior to the actual meeting, both President Xi and PM Modi went on separate tours of some African countries where large investments were planned or agreed upon.
As for the host nation, South Africa, sometimes pictured as punching above its weight in that forum of giant emerging economies, its recently elected President Ramaphosa could hail the $50 billion of Chinese investment promised by President Xi at the summit sidelines and the funding of a nuclear reactor facility from President Putin.
And indeed, away from the G20 or other western-dominated fora, away from the brouhaha and protectionist challenges to fair and free multilateral trade being led by Donald Trump, such a summit between emerging nations and power-houses remains, as in this case, particularly focused on pragmatic issues of African infrastructure and trade development. The international and BRICS-specific investment banking structures were in attendance.
Such a summit is important as much for the official meetings, the official funding or cooperation agreements and the elaborately crafted statements of common priorities, as for the opportunity for informal and side meetings where individual participants and countries get to promote their specific agendas, establish personal networking, secure greater beneficial mileage, expose some priorities they would wish addressed or, more simply, appeal or secure funding for large investment projects they cherish in a more relaxed atmosphere.
The first to be organised in our region, the July Jo’burg BRICS summit was therefore an enticingly opportune platform for our diplomacy to be eagerly awaited and planned for. All SADC member countries and some 20 African countries from Madagascar through Namibia to Senegal were invited to the BRICS summit under its Outreach umbrella component. As a usually proactive SADC member state, Mauritius and its diplomatic or business figureheads would have enjoyed a particularly favourable and friendly forum to pursue and garner support on several issues of national or regional interest.
Several topical questions might have been broached at the informal venues and meetings surrounding the summit: our action plans to maintain a clean and responsive financial centre against damaging information (viz. the regional ESAAMLG interim report and the international banks negative proposals at SEBI in India), our strategy to counter unflattering perceptions gathering moss about our role and empathy for African development, the opportunities for our business community in sharing common African development financing initiatives. No doubt, we could also have further canvassed the upcoming ICJ-Chagos issue or invited fruitful collaboration to build our capacities to research, manage and oversee the ocean economy, its fragile environment, its renewable resources potential and its overall security.
If Mauritius Head of State & Government have indeed been invited to the Outreach program, we can only trust that at the very least a high-level delegation was in attendance, although this has not been reported either from the BRICS organisation, by local media or even the Government Information Services. Were that not the case, it would be yet another signal that neither our Foreign Affairs nor our Financial Services Ministry and departments are batting at the level they should.
* Published in print edition on 3 August 2018