By Chetan Ramchurn
The spectacle since lockdown has been eerie. Next to genuine examples of solidarity and compassion, there have been some discomforting scenes laying bare the pettiness of many. Nothing very surprising for it is in the zeitgeist, but it does resonate more profoundly in a time of crisis.
The lure of self promotion on the woes of others has been inoculated in our culture for years with some having made careers, including in the political field, out of sharing photos and videos of their purported magnanimity on a regular basis. This has been going on full throttle for the last 50 days. We know of these shticks designed to publicise those aching for some form of visibility but had hoped that these times would have kept such tricks away. This yearning for the limelight is also present among many with a history of disastrous decision making for our economy. This event should not breathe new life into the careers of former failures.
This crisis will leave in its wake an even more divided society. Houllebecq talks of the “obsolescence of human relations” in his latest article going as far as concluding that “it will be the same world, only slightly worse than before”. What we are staring at is a world with interactions between one another becoming rarer and mistrust among each other rising.
Greed had always been present in our various exchanges but new heights were reached post-lockdown. Masks so crucial in these strange terms were captured by those cruel market forces of demand and supply and became the hottest commodity around. Not a single sphere of our lives is shielded from the very worse of capitalism. Not even basic necessities.
In such cases, you would expect the State to correct the market madness and position itself as the last protection for citizens. When they finally started acting, the harm had been done. Sci-fi writer Alain Damasio outlines how vacuous our lives have become : « Sortir du consumérisme comme unique horizon du désir, retisser des liens humains, proches, plutôt que d’exacerber l’individualisme. Il y a tellement d’autres choses à faire ! »
Most opposition parties and figures had initially chosen to sing kumbaya with the government, keeping their criticisms to a bare minimum. This stance despite the clearly exaggerated preparedness of those in office whenever questioned in parliament, despite the obvious dearth of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), despite the Minister of Tourism claiming that Mauritius could become a refuge destination, showed way too much clemency.
Still, the Government chose to enforce two lockdowns and these are decisions that go in the right direction. Solid planning would help protect us against a second wave. Mass testing along with closed borders for the foreseeable future would bolster our fight against the pandemic.
Often maligned by the mainstream media, public servants have been elevated to hero status overnight. May we hope that this is not forgotten all too easily afterwards for they were our first line of defence and many lives were saved because of them. Will this quell the demands of vociferous privatisation and TINA proponents? No. Political scientist Nicolas Matyjasik warns us against such temptations: « Quand tout sera privé, nous serons privés de tout ».
Leadership is about putting those with the right mettle in the right positions. Already saddled with Covid-19, we also witnessed the results of poorly calculated decisions and incompetence in state enterprises. No one owned up to the hefty mistakes. Who knows? Maybe in some months, those that have failed will be the ones posing as experts as is often the case in Mauritius. Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.
* Published in print edition on 12 May 2020