Who Has Built This Nation?

Let us continue to build our nation by doing our bit. Let us each be a little bird…

“There need be no completing claim or chest thumping about who did more and who did less in the building of Mauritius, because everybody contributed according to his capacity. That is a fact that we must accept and acknowledge. In recent times political parties have liked to play the game of ‘paternity’ of specific developments, and this is fair game when the election campaigns are on. That too adds to the local folklore of political brinkmanship, which is grist to the mill of popular jokes and conversations. Like the vire mam was, but it also had a game changing impact!”

In his acceptance speech for the Nobel Peace Prize last year (shared with Pakistani girl Malala Yousafzai who was shot by the Taliban), Indian child activist Kailash Satyarthi narrated the following story: during a forest fire, all the animals were running away, including the king of the jungle, the lion. Then he saw a little bird flying towards the site of the fire, and asked it: what are you doing, why aren’t you going away like everyone else? And the bird replied: I am carrying a drop of water in my beak to drop on the fire, doing my bit…

Doing my bit – the Nobelist said that he too did his bit, and that everyone only has to do his bit. When all the bits add up together things happen. Like the drop of water that falls from the cloud on earth and into the river and goes on towards building up the mighty ocean.

There need be no completing claim or chest thumping about who did more and who did less in the building of Mauritius, because everybody contributed according to his capacity. That is a fact that we must accept and acknowledge. In recent times political parties have liked to play the game of ‘paternity’ of specific developments, and this is fair game when the election campaigns are on. That too adds to the local folklore of political brinkmanship, which is grist to the mill of popular jokes and conversations. Like the vire mam video clip was, but it also had a game changing impact!

And so from those who discovered the island centuries ago to the Dutch who unsuccessfully tried to settle and left after bringing sugarcane from Batavia, to the French who exploited and expanded the sugarcane industry, and the slaves followed by indentured Indian labour that stepped in after slavery was abolished, to the British who ruled after the French until political emancipation led to independence in March 1968 – the saga kept unfolding over these hundreds of years and will go on with new players as long as the future lasts.

Of course the Dutch also hunted the dodo to extinction – but even that has given us some notoriety with the expression ‘as dead as a dodo’ having come into mainstream English. Not to speak of the tales on the dodo theme and the search for its remains that keep some researchers busy and add to a certain reputation of the island. Even the extinct dodo has its role as we can see!

Building from this macro picture there are innumerable historical documents that have analysed, and quantified in various ways, the detailed contributions of specific groups and communities. In the process the settling down of the latter with all their struggles has been revealed, and this is a work in progress that has many promising years of interesting discoveries yet to be made as the story unfolds further.

During the International Conference on the Indenture Labour Route that was held on November 3-5, 2014 at the Mahatma Gandhi Institute, for example, several aspects were brought up that clearly needed further exploration by dedicated, specialised and multidisciplinary teams using more sophisticated (e.g. archeological) tools to advance their work. Similar endeavours about the other communities too will no doubt uncover findings that will enrich the collective narrative of the construction of our country.

Even the struggle for independence can be construed as a process of mutually reinforcing antagonisms which pitched two views of the country’s future – one socialist (with accusations of ‘communist’) and the other capitalist – in which the former eventually won at the ballot box. But once independence was obtained, although the antagonisms had highs and lows, the country nevertheless moved on in its developmental path.

Today we know that ideology has had to take a back seat and all forces must be conjoined to tackle head-on the common enemies and issues that stare at us – corruption, unemployment, infrastructural issues, bureaucratic and decisional bottlenecks that must be removed, the challenges of globalization, competition for FDI, and so on and so forth. These will require the goodwill and concentrated energies of everyone, instead of wasting them in otherwise vain pursuits that can, if pushed to extremes of overkill, leave the country more bruised than soundly credible at the end of the day.

At an individual level, each one of us can share a narrative of family struggle and sacrifice to secure the basics of living: good health, food, clothing, a peaceful social environment, a roof over our heads. The path to this was through jobs appropriate to one’s competencies, which meant skilling oneself through apprenticeship, training and education from primary to tertiary.

The educational structures comprising buildings, programmes and people had to be brought together and made to function. Who does not have stories to tell about teachers who came in all sorts? Even the harsh ones who beat us with the wooden la règle carrée left their imprint of discipline that carried us through the rest of our lives! As regards those who gave special attention, or free help to deserving pupils whose parents could not afford – stories are legend. Legendary almost too are teachers who inspired us to rise to heights and egged us on to draw out our potential. The intangible knowledge transmission through the educational chain went on to be translated into concrete benefits for the country. Further, can we imagine that we would have reached a situation where today there are so many graduates on the market?

Coming to my own field, health, we would not be in the position where we are today, with the best indicators in the Sub-saharan region – why, on a number of counts, such as waiting times at Accident and Emergency departments in our regional Hospitals, we do better than even some developed countries – had it not been for universal health coverage from the very beginnings of our health services, and the dedication and commitment of the thousands of health professionals and workers who, again, ‘emerged’ from our institutions. On the other hand, from only two ‘regional hospitals’ (Civil and Victoria) at the time of independence we now have five such hospitals, along with the other specialised ones, and the consolidated Primary Health Care (PHC) network that has further facilitated access to the medical and health services.

These are but a few of the facilities that have ensured that our citizens are healthy, itself a sine qua non for economic development because only a healthy person can be a productive one. This is the reason why Dr Margaret Brundtland, when she was Director-General of the World Health Organisation had successfully advocated to place health at the centre of human development.

The bottomline therefore is: let us continue to build our nation by doing our bit. Let us each be a little bird… and make a cosy place for everybody in this little nest of an island that we are and of which we are proud inhabitants.

 

* Published in print edition on 13 March  2015

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