Before and during the 1967 campaign for independence, there were people, led by the PMSD, who were not confident we could survive as an independent nation. Taken by apprehension of the future, they preferred that we should stay associated with Britain. There was apprehension that we would not be able to survive independently as an economy. There was also the fear that a democratically independent state would be ruled by a dominant majority and that this might give rise to disharmony and instability.
The majority of the people decided however that we should be able to take up our destiny into our own hands. Independence came in 1967.
Did the original fears about our economic weakness and national cohesiveness materialise? Not so. The challenge of development ahead of us was so daunting that we decided to face it together, instead of engaging in mutually destructive factionalism. Political and social stability helped us go in quest of a higher economic and social adventure. Our energies did not get dissipated in trivial disputes.
The world we live in today is completely different from what it was in the 1960s. There were fewer economic opportunities then. Interconnectedness was very low. Things were made even more difficult for a small island state not having natural resources to exploit, at a time when the advanced countries were busy raising their industrial production based on their superior know-how and import of mineral and other commodities from their erstwhile colonies. Almost a quarter of Mauritius’ population was unemployed in a predominantly agricultural society. The future looked very bleak.
But we overcame this situation. Given the huge dimension of the challenge we faced, our politicians and public servants rose to the occasion out of deep dedication and commitment to the national cause. Together, they did the most extraordinary things for the country.
Roads were built. Almost the whole country was supplied with electricity. Water was supplied everywhere. Education of the highest standard was dispensed despite our limited means, with high school students aspiring to succeed and study in the world’s best universities, for example Oxford and Cambridge. Capable public servants saw to it that public institutions fulfilled the mission for which they were designated. There was a conviction that if other countries were breaking away from the shackles of widespread poverty, we should also be able to do so.
It is this positive mindset that has created the numerous economic and social infrastructures which have seen the country through during the past 49 years. A constant aspiration for the better, ambition for the nation to make progress, a dominant rule-of-law environment accompanied by a better spread of opportunities across the board – all of these have gone in as essential ingredients into the making up of modern Mauritius. Would our tourism industry, Air Mauritius, international financial services centre, the ICT sector and so many others have emerged as mainstays of progress without committing the necessary human and material resources for their uplift?
It involved overcoming numerous handicaps before we broke these new grounds. The quality of the men and women who made this successful transition from what was believed to be a basket-case towards a higher evolved society cannot be denied. The exceptional drive of such men and women broke down the barriers standing against our progress. We need the same calibre of leaders now to take us to the next higher station.
The challenges of today’s world are different from what they were yesterday. One of these is adapting to a geopolitical power redistribution which is shaping itself at the moment. We have to foster the same economic connectivity with other friendly nations as the one we groomed up in past decades so as to be able to shift from a purely agricultural economy to manufacturing and to the provision of international services.
Let us contemplate the next 50 years.
Mauritius will perforce have to overcome a number of inefficiencies it has accumulated along with its past development if the aim is for us to be able to converse in the same language and on a par with the best performing countries of the world. Not only will we need a subtle mix of the best of global talents in our midst to drive such an agenda. We’ll also need to maintain a well differentiated simple attractiveness of our location to be able to stand out among competitors, while performing at the top.
Leaders of our society – political, economic and social – will have to shine out in the global firmament. It means we should groom them up to the highest standards, moving increasingly towards a merit-driven society, not one based on cheap social fracturing. While we’ll identify and deal with our domestic flaws effectively before harm is wrought, we’ll not project our internal failings to gain the needed esteem and respect for our transactions with the rest of the world. That would be self-defeating.
A deeper foundation for undertaking ever more challenging international activities can alone come to our successful global re-positioning. We need to be very agile, mentally, adapting to changing global situations and demands so as to maintain our scope. The ability to adapt comes better with renewing continuously our political, institutional and social leadership. This hasn’t been happening.
We seem to be stuck into a non-performing model that doesn’t have the flexibility, drive and dynamism to elicit new ideas and launch the country on new paths of progress. The sooner we set aside the serious handicap coming to us from this front, the better we’ll be able to invite ourselves into the “brave new world” of tomorrow which has been beckoning us for many years now. The next half century will be even more challenging than the previous one. With the right resources, we should be able to make it again, as we’ve done in the past 49 years despite having performed below our potential.