We would be hard put to identify the statesmen we need for our future generations amongst the contenders who are at each others’ throats to wrench power, once more, and fool the people, yet again
It is said that a politician thinks only of the next election and a statesman of the next generation. As the wind of change blew across the world after the Second World War, the colonial powers had no choice but to let go of the countries which they had set out to conquer and exploit during the preceding centuries.
The transition was never smooth. Many countries had to wage fierce independence wars. Others may not have fought actual wars, but they still had to engage in a hard struggle to negotiate the independence or the conditions for the independence of their countries. The latter was the case of Mauritius.
At the time of our independence we were still locked in an exploiter-exploited mentality. Sugarcane was the mainstay of the economy. The oligarchy which ruled the economy saw in independence a threat to their existence from the emerging political configuration. Through another political platform, an imagined fear – of communal, specifically Hindu hegemony – was spread to others. The result was that many Mauritians left for other shores: South Africa, Zimbabwe and Australia.
Shortly after independence was obtained, its opposers came to their senses. They realized that their fears, especially that of hegemony, were unjustified. The new dispensation was genuinely interested in the welfare of all Mauritians, believed that everybody had their place under the sun, that everybody’s contribution would be vital in the building of the new Mauritius. Everybody was wanted, everybody was to have a role and a share.
They therefore set out to build. The bases for the future were laid: health, education, social welfare were set at a premium, broadening the access to one and all, especially those who previously had been left at the bottom of the heap.
Existing institutions were consolidated, new ones were created and given the necessary autonomy to function robustly. Checks and balances were provided so that aggrieved parties could seek justice. Highly qualified and dedicated people were put on a learning curve to take over from the departing British officers in the administration and institutions of the country even as new pathways, diplomacy for example, were being forged.
On another but equally important level, that was the time when a junior officer after trying out all avenues could get an appointment with the Head of the Civil Service, put across his case, and get redress. I talk from experience, because this happened to me. In 1976, I was left with no option but to meet Mr Simpson, then the Head of Civil Service. After receiving me very politely over a cup of coffee and listening patiently, the first words that came out from him are still fresh and etched in my memory: ‘No government can treat its employee like this!’ This was the Secretary to the Cabinet speaking!!
This was the mettle of such high-ranking officials of those days. They were anything but yes-men, and did not hesitate to stand up to their masters with the blunt facts – and the equally blunt truth. Over the years since, there has been an emasculation – again, which I have personally witnessed — such that with rare exceptions officials who ought to take a stand prefer to cower in indifference or take the easier road of crawling for personal gain: after all, who cares – “Après moi, le déluge”…
On the other hand, although the exploiter-exploited mindset which Karl Marx decried has not altogether disappeared in some sectors, today it is rather the political class that, through its zigzags, posturings and opaque doings has created fear and uncertainty in the hearts and minds of many Mauritians. This apprehension currently prevails and extends to the future as well, which looks anything but bright for them, especially the youth.
It is a fact that across the island, many people are feeling that the country holds no future for them and their children. The politicians keep shouting that our only resource is our people. Yet this is not preventing those who get a chance to prefer other shores, even though this may not be on as big a scale as it was around the time of independence. The unemployed who number in tens of thousands are justifiably worried about what will happen to them whatever the outcome of the election. Will their chances of gainful employment commensurate with their qualifications and skills really improve? Talk of training and reskilling does not impress them because they have heard this before, and they have seen for themselves what the situation is despite that.
They are also worried, even angry, about perceived, anecdotal or experienced accounts of political interference in institutions which are supposed to be more than a notch above any manipulation or lobbying. They are concerned about the mainmise over institutions, and about the centralization of control, decision-making and actions that flows therefrom.
Statesmen understand the crucial importance of the separation of powers and of non-interference in the workings of the respective institutions that derive from them. We are today witnessing increasingly the blurring of this separation and the rise of incestuous relationships instead of the consolidation of these institutions.
The youth are expecting to have statesmen who set out to unite the country and the people. Who spell out the vision and the agenda, and rally the people — ALL the people, not only their presumed voter-base – around common goals of construction and reconstruction, such that no one feels excluded or marginalised. No new marginals are created. They lead by example of morality and probity, and make everyone feel that they are participants in the national effort.
Politicians, on the other hand, play fully the divide-and-rule game. The few are favoured at the expense of the many. Despite sweet talk and promises galore during electoral campaigning, people get thrown off the economic bandwagon and are left to themselves. The result is an increasing gap between haves and have-nots, pauperization and insecurity of the many as a direct result of politically-motivated policies. Official statistics invariably confirm this.
Statesmen put a premium on hard work. They tell people and demonstrate too that hard work pays. They incite people towards self-effort, and they create the conducive and enabling environment and seek out the newer opportunities that can move their people and their country forward.
Politicians encourage la facilité, the mentality that you can get things without putting in hard work. They indulge in robbing Peter to pay Paul. Or simply robbing. They increase the burden on the future generations. Who will pay for the largesse and the debts that are being incurred? The national debt has already reached nearly Rs 195 billion.
Statesmen have foresight and farsightedness. Thus was, for example, the Lome convention negotiated to ensure a guaranteed price of sugar that allowed the country to consolidate its build-up. ‘Competitiveness Foresight’, the discussion paper that was produced after profound discussions organized by the NPCC some years ago, demonstrated that there had not been either foresight or farsightedness to speak of.
Briefly, in the mid- and late 1980s, it was thought that statesmanship would continue to steer the country forwards. Too briefly, alas. Hopes were soon dashed. We have not recovered, and the majority of youth feel that there is no glimmer to light up the future.
Some of the newer politicians, promising at first, too soon became pure political animals. Appeasement and politically-correctness took over. Instead of steering the course and making strategic choices. And seeing to it that things happen.
We would be hard put to identify the statesmen we need for our future generations amongst the contenders who are at each others’ throats to wrench power, once more, and fool the people, yet again. It is for the youth to identify them, and we pray that they will.
Cry, My Beloved Country.
* Published in print edition on 21 November 2014