2016: Looking Back, Looking Ahead

As one year comes to its end and another one rolls in, it is customary to take a look back at the year gone and wish or hope for better things to come in the year that will follow. This exercise, which I think most people – whatever their status – do in one way or another, invites the individual to select or highlight those things that impacted him (her also: him will be used for the sake of convenience) the most, depending upon his personal situation as well as upon his occupation and interests. A cartoon on this theme in a US paper shows a couple looking at two boards resting on two separate stands. On one is written ‘ 2015’ and on the other is ‘2016 ’. The caption reads (the man speaking): ‘I don’t know which I should be more apprehensive of.’

Indeed, with the traumatic events that have marked 2015, with terrorist attacks going global, the concern that this caption expresses is not surprising. For my part, I thought I’d go according to a perspective framework that is current in many forums, such as the World Health Organisation with which I am familiar, namely local, national, regional and international or global.

Curepipe: ‘Ville de lumiere’ anew?

Starting with my town I wrote an article during the year titled ‘Ugly Curepipe’, and the opening paragraph read as follows: ‘I am saddened and rather ashamed to have to use this title, but have to face the hard fact that my town of Curepipe is no longer the “Ville de Lumiere” that was its claim to fame many years ago. And with justification too. Given that municipal elections are in the air, this is both a cry and an appeal to those who will be called upon to govern it, come next June, to make it shine once again and regain its rightful place in the Mauritian landscape.’

I am glad to note that there has been a beginning of improvement after the new team was voted in. Several railings along the Royal Road and Chasteauneuf street have been painted in a combination of blue, yellow and white, and this has extended to Jan Palach, along the Sivananda road down to the Curepipe Road junction, and a little further up along Leclezio street, Lees street near the Manhattan complex, and some other sites too. This was really long overdue and has certainly given some colour to the place.

I had alluded also to the Curepipe market, where the concrete wells forming part of the roof had been painted but that that clashed with the sloping plastic roof which was covered all over in a dark brownish grime. It has been washed and looks slightly better – though still a dirty, uneven yellowish – but the aesthetic mismatch persists, and I hope this will be taken care of in due course. One major problem continues to be parking space, and with more cars on the roads this is bound to be a concern, and I look forward to some practical solution being worked out soon enough, especially to help senior citizens like me. There are other matters that I had mentioned, such as the many taxis which are to be found at different sites, the state of the roads, etc., but hopefully as the year goes by the initiatives already taken by the authorities will lead to further visible and tangible improvements in a continuing bid to ‘re-look’ Curepipe.

Cry – or Cry not, my beloved country?

At country level the year kick-started with the arrests and interrogations of several politicians, including the ex-prime Minister and ministers of the previous government, along with several high-profile personalities in the matter of the unraveling of the BAI saga, with its chairman still out of Mauritius. The judgement in the Medpoint affair concerning Pravind Jugnauth sent a shock wave whose denouement is due to be determined at the beginning of next year and that is bound to impact the political scene enormously.

There were issues of a constitutional nature opposing the government and the office of the Director of Public Prosecutions, as well as those related to the Governance and Integrity Reporting Bill that rattled the Bar Association which came out with very strong views. These are matters that are too complex for most laymen, but clearly they touch upon national life so deeply that as a citizen what one hopes is that there is a prompt resolution in the coming year that must prima facie safeguard the national interest rather than individual, narrow or vested interests: a common call across the world in all mature democracies. If we are one, as we claim to be, then… let’s hope we will be swimming in clearer and more still waters as 2016 unfolds.

Africa beckons

As we form part of the African region, naturally events there are of interest to us, although not all may affect us directly. Whenever the subject of Africa comes up I recall a statement made by a friend in Kolkata when I was studying there in the late 1960s. It was at the annual dinner of the Foreign Students Association, of which he was the president and addressed the members in that capacity. He was from Rhodesia-Nyassaland, as Zimbabwe was then known. This was what he said: ‘In the world the most popular game is football. In Rhodesia, ladies and gentlemen, our favourite game is politics.’ Perhaps he could have added a qualification to the ‘politics’: deadly.

As Sub-Saharan Africa pursues its path to development, and there are no doubt many success stories in several of its 52 member-states – such as in Ghana, for example –, unfortunately what has dominated the headlines in 2015 has been the violence associated with presidents trying to manipulate their countries’ constitutions to renew their mandates so as to keep them in power for longer periods if not for life! This happened in West Africa and in Burundi, the latter a country which was set on a development course almost akin to Rwanda after they both came out of their ethnic cleansing tragedy at the turn of the last century. Alas, Burundi is now in the throes of another politically-triggered strife that has already, as in West Africa, caused many deaths, and as a result there is a setback to its economic development. I know of at least one group that has given up hope of a major energy project in that country coming to fruition, since in the present state of affairs stakeholders are reluctant to take a risk.

But there has been very good news on the health front: the Ebola virus has been brought under control in the three countries where it has caused thousands of deaths, namely in Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia – though there is still a fear of resurgence in the latter. This reminds me of the greatest public health success story ever, namely the eradication of smallpox, which was announced by WHO at the beginning of the 1980s decade, and that illustrates how international cooperation can work for the betterment of mankind. We are about to do the same for polio worldwide.

On another front, the group Boko Haram has also captured headlines, with its kidnappings and killings, and although I read a few days ago that Nigeria had announced confidently that 2016 will see an end to the group, until this happens one will have to hold one’s breath.

A Climate of terror – Change needed!

Terrorist attacks, many of a ‘spectacular’ nature such as the one that took place at Bataclan in Paris, almost all of which are linked to or claimed by ISIS (also referred to as ISIL, IS or Daesch) have dominated the global headlines. IS has gained reputation as a well-organised group, richly endowed with wealth from oil mainly, with the clearly announced objective of setting up a caliphate across the world. It has conquered and controls large swathes of territory in the Middle East and seems to be attracting adherents from a vast pool, making full use of information technologies and the social media. The American-led coalition set up to counter its spread and the latest Saudi-led coalition have both vowed to ‘finish’ it in a foreseeable future, but it has also been observed that this may well be another ‘thirty years war’. The recent success in Iraq in reclaiming the town of Ramadi is kindling hope, but it is probably too soon to say and 2016 will no doubt be witness to more uncertainties, contradictions, and ambiguities in this struggle which looks set to be long-drawn.

The other issue which grabbed the headlines is no doubt the Paris Summit on Climate Change, in which Indian Prime Minister Modi and US President Barrack Obama seem to have guided their respective countries, and as a consequence the others present too, towards fine adjustments that concluded favourably in terms of financing from the advanced nations among other things. Will we have a sustainable world for the future generations? – that is THE question, and we must remember that this is our individual and collective responsibility.

Let there be peace

As we look forward to a better world, we may like to reflect on a short write-up on anthropologist Doug Fry’s important new book, War, Peace and Human Nature, in which he summarizes the findings of ‘decades of research on peaceful societies around the world and argues that assumptions about the war-like nature of humans and the inevitability of war are both erroneous (according to sound archaeological and anthropological data) and deeply ingrained in our culture — and thus need to be countered with a clear alternative vision of a peaceful society’.

He writes, ‘The importance of developing an alternative vision is overlooked in many discussions of peace and security. A common assumption is that a dramatic social transformation away from war is not possible. Such an attitude easily becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. Having a vision of a new sociopolitical system without war is the first step toward bringing change to a flawed existing system.’

Fry’s research ‘suggests that nations are much more likely to evolve in peaceful directions if they have a clearly specified sense of what this entails. Such visions include an ethic of inter-ethnic unity, and care and nurturance of others, that is at least as strong as the view of peace as something that needs be secured and defended. Research has also found that when societies define themselves as peaceful, they are much more likely to behave and organize themselves in a consistent manner. Today, Iceland, Denmark, Canada and Norway provide good examples. Fry finds this vision – where peaceful relations are “the norm, the typical, the behavioral default” – to be an essential condition of peaceful societies.’

December 30 was also the birth anniversary of a great sage from India (1879-1950), Shri Ramana Maharishi, known as the ‘sage of Arunachal’ who gave to the world the grand but simple message of his great life, ‘Know Thyself’ – ‘Enquire who am I? Make the mind calm. Free yourself from all thoughts other than the simple thought of the Self or Atma. Dive deep into the chambers of your heart. Find out the real, infinite I. Rest there peacefully for ever and become identical with the Supreme Self.’ He also said, ‘The world is so unhappy because it is ignorant of the true Self. Man’s real nature is happiness. Happiness is inborn in the true Self. Man’s search for happiness is an unconscious search for his true Self. The true Self is imperishable; therefore, when a man finds it, he finds a happiness, which does not come to an end.’

And happy people are peaceful people. Let us therefore pledge to be happy and peaceful in 2016 – and beyond!

* Published in print edition on 31 December 2015

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