A New Elan
At all times in the history of mankind, groups of people have gathered together to stand for a specific cause. Unions of like-minded people believing in a particular religion are one example of this type of grouping. From free masonry through literary and artistic circles to workers’ unions, people club together to stand for different causes or ways of thinking which are distinct from the rest. This has not affected the pre-eminence of the state. The state is seen as a bigger bloc with which individuals who are its citizens identify themselves. The question has frequently been raised whether Mauritians feel that they all belong to one nation and whether commitment to national efforts is sufficiently deep across the board when matters of national interest are at stake.
When Mauritius sought and obtained independence from the British, there took place an aggressive political campaign centred on pitching one part of the population against the other. The vote showed that nearly half the number of voters had voted against independence. This has been taken to mean that a lasting communal divide has come to stay in the local landscape. It is believed that this divide among the population has been taken forward from election to election and that therefore no genuine integration of the population into the national fold would have actually taken place. In other words, we would be finding ourselves frozen in the pre-1967 mould.
History shows that many countries which were bitterly divided from within at some point in time have overcome this factor with time and have successfully forged their shared national identity. A few only among the countries having divided internal loyalties have fallen apart, victim of internal dissensions and violence. In contrast, there are scores of African countries which, being tired of warring inside their borders over extended periods of time, are moving today in the direction of looking further afield towards achieving integrated national progress. Many modern states in the post-colonial era saw their boundaries arbitrarily drawn up by colonizers so that different tribes, linguistic and cultural tendencies were uncomfortably huddled together in single countries.
Even in such cases, after surmounting initial fissiparous tendencies exhibited when diverse elements were put together at first into a single seemingly amorphous construct, most states have found common expression at some stage of their evolution in what can be called a shared national feeling. Surprising as it may appear, a bond of solidarity is forging itself as of today among the constituents of many African countries caught up in uncomfortable cohabitation in the beginning, transcending differences of language, culture, religion, social stratification, etc. This is being accompanied by a change in the quality of those countries’ leaderships. Leaders are casting their vision beyond their self-importance and embracing something bigger than themselves. The infrastructure is improving to facilitate growth. The world is acknowledging that in the current environment prevailing in those modern-looking African countries, economic horizons are set to expand. Africa is seen today as the fastest growing continent in the world. A stronger view is being taken on the future economic potential of the countries which are moving away from the past culture of self-destruction. The combined effect of all of this is to put down sterile internal strife and focus attention on more productive activities.
But things appear to be changing fast nowadays for Mauritius as well. There have been hundreds of occasions in past years when people have expressed their collective appreciation or dislike for certain events at the national level cutting across the divide which prevailed at election time in 1967. There is no distinction, for example, when people protest against employers who put undue pressure on workers’ wage compensations or resort to tricks to seek the best vantage points for themselves alone to the detriment of the population. Everyone applauds indistinctly when one of our sportsmen or women achieves feats of success in the international arena. Shared public entertainment programmes are attended by young and less young across the whole national spectrum.
When crime increases or assumes unexpected proportions, when drugs proliferate, when children are victimized by irresponsible parents, Mauritians across the board ask for all of this to halt and for action to be taken to stop social degeneration. Everyone was horrified by the killing of Michaela Harte in one of our hotels. No one is at ease when freedom of expression comes under stress. Environmental concerns hit one and all indistinctly; all rally around to protest against abuse. Irrespective of partisan considerations, people of all callings manifested their desire lately to participate in the national celebrations of 12 March, a legitimate right everyone has irrespective of how they or their parents voted in 1967. An élan appears to be gathering over here just as in the advanced countries of Africa to cast behind shackles of the past, sterile divisions and strife that have embittered the lives of generations past.
There may be a few who are reticent yet to join the national mainstream, preferring to stay in their own straitjackets, but the majority of the population does not appear to belong to this small group. Like Africa, we have enormous potential to re-invent our structures of production. Aren’t we surrounded by vast territorial waters? Don’t our people need to be empowered to generate wealth for the nation from the sea just as Africa is doing today exploiting its vast natural resources and commodities, putting behind its less glorious past legacy?
There comes a moment in the life of nations when they can transform themselves beyond what was once thought possible. We have achieved this in the past with economic diversification. We can do it again. All we need to do is to bring about a greater dose of optimism in the population so that it doesn’t keep driving edges internally. Anyone who does not believe in this has to look into British history. Though a much smaller island compared with various European continental countries, the British ruled over far wider expanses of sea and land at the height of the British Empire than any other European nation, building upon strings of successes. The sense of pride and national belonging the British developed towards their country at the height of their global sway has kept their head high to this day whereas when Britain was under the sway of its various tribes in an earlier period, it had been subjected to a series of conquests by other Europeans. The equation may be changing for Mauritius at this moment. We may not go as far as Britain did because the world is so different today. But we can at least think out everything of our concern as a nation rather than as fragments of society opposed to each other for God knows what reason!
* Published in print edition on 15 March 2013