The fragility of multiethnic societies can be evidenced from the number of conflicts that have paralysed or even destroyed otherwise viable societies, and even prosperous ones across the world in the course of its history, including recent history. The monster that maims or destroys can only be tamed through the application of appropriate and undiscriminating enforcement of law and order, and for as long as vigilance and informal rules of cooperation and engagement governing the interactions among all stakeholders are maintained. But the dangers that that hydra-headed monster represents can never be underestimated.
Multicultural Mauritius can draw comfort from the fact that except for a few instances where the lid almost blew off, we have generally been able to learn to live and be comfortable with each other, irrespective of class or religious/ethnic origins. We have always maintained that there is an ambient, non-definable ‘Mauritianism’ that sustains our polity, and it has come to the fore again. Hence the reactions of the vast majority of Mauritians to the unfortunate incidents which occurred last weekend in the Amma Tookay Kovil, and to what ensued thereafter in one or two villages in the south of the island, which again speak eloquently about the maturity of our society.
It may not be amiss to recall that, much as it was needed, the cleaning-up action of the government driven by a degree of overzealousness had led to unintended consequences which had started to have a negative social and economic impact, with both civil society and investors appearing to lose hope that things would be righted. The climate of moroseness had set in because the perception was spreading that the hunting for defaulters had relegated the economy to the backburner.
Against this backdrop came the Economic Mission Statement, presented by the Prime Minister himself to the major stakeholders of the business, economy and financial sectors. This gave a clear indication that the economy was again placed at the centre stage of the government’s concern, with the focus on growth, transformation and job creation.
Despite some naysayers, which was expected and is also in accord with the democratic spirit, generally the EMS was welcomed by all concerned. It was laid out as a road map concerning all the important sectors of activity that had decided on goals and objectives and set out parameters, including some timelines as well, and an ambitious job creation target. There was some scepticism about the numbers advanced, but at least there is a clear sense of direction that emerged, with the monitoring structures proposed and set up, bringing in a welcome sigh of relief.
Suddenly, this bright sky is clouded by the incidents in the South, and for a brief period it seems as if we are again sliding backwards. However, it must be acknowledged that the swift response by the Police, and the no-nonsense message delivered by a Prime Minister clearly in full command of the situation, has sent the strongest signal that was required at this juncture – that nothing will be allowed to disturb our peace and social harmony, a sine qua non imperative for the country to march ahead, develop, grow and prosper. He made it more than clear that this is a country of law and order: the police will do its job in rounding up the culprits and charge them before the law, and the justice system will mete out the severest punishments to the potential pyromaniacs so that no others dare to derail the path of development on which the country has set itself.
And this is as it should be. If in the heat of the moment the possibility of imposing a state of emergency was brought up, we hope that it was more as a deterrent signal than a genuine intention. For that would risk derailing the EMS agenda, which surely no one let alone the PM wants. It is true that this is not the time for street protests of the Occupy Wall Street or Arab Spring type – for they did not lead to anything positive. Instead, they left massive damage to people (including deaths) and property, and this is not a scenario that we wish to be replicated in Mauritius.
However, by the same token the democratic right to free expression must not be denied, as long as this freedom is not stretched into a licence to say or do anything. Hence the need for a strict regulation so as to curb such a tendency, and here the role of the authorities in overseeing social media that has a very far outreach is unquestionable, in a bid to prevent excess and provocation. All this forms part of the broader law and order situation that must at all times be secured.
We will venture to be optimistic, and aver that overall what the prompt return of the potentially destabilising situation under control has shown is the broad consensus among all our citizens that nobody wants a disturbance of the comfort of peaceful living that is allowing us to prepare for a safe and sound future for our children. We are a mature society that has come to accept that social harmony is an absolute must, and we realise that we sink or swim together – after all, we have nowhere else to go. And why go, why not build together the common future that we all aspire to?
The opportunities for that kind of future are shaping up and neither the authorities nor the citizens will allow them to be undermined by forces based on prejudices and reflexes that belong to another age and time, and which have no place in our scheme of things. Peace is what we need, and want, and peace is what we must constantly promote. There is no other way forward for the country – for any country for that matter.
- Published in print edition on 11 September 2015