In different contributions to this paper by different writers as well as in interviews, namely by Rama Sithanen who has studied studied the dynamics of political competition and power in several deeply divided societies, it was brought home the conclusion that the average Mauritian’s electoral preferences go mostly towards candidates from their own community. This pattern of communally-based electoral preferences has remained a constant prior to and even after 50 years of Independence and nation-building efforts despite the chest-thumping hypes on Mauritianism. There is no indication that in the foreseeable future there’ll be any departure from this pattern, and we may well have to live with it for more decades to come.
Notwithstanding that constant, Mauritius has made steady progress resulting in the improvement of the well-being of the population across the board, though we have to reckon with some pockets of poverty in some regions and affecting different ethnic communities – not only one in particular. Mature, pragmatic political leadership led to the turnaround of our social and economic landscape in the wake of Independence. There was the ably negotiated Sugar Protocol, an outcome of the political foresight of SSR which which saved the day for Mauritius for more than four decades. Moreover, a diversification programme added new pillars to sustain economic growth. It was made successful thanks to the acumen and drive of local entrepreneurs and those from Hong Kong who set up industries here at a time when their island’s status was about to undergo a sea-change, and which helped to create the conditions for the EPZ to thrive and provide employment to thousands.
In later years, the ICT and financial sector took off with strong capacity built to handle the new demands of the market, and all of the above was supported by a dynamic and forward looking Civil Service which had, even before Independence, been at the forefront of and led the way to economic and social development. There were other factors that allowed the country to take off – some intangibles as well, a major one being the culture of tolerance which made living together a daily reality that is justifiably a hallmark of Mauritian society. We can add to this list the rule of law, a genuine respect of institutions, the farsighted investment in public health and education, etc.
There is a new environment today, as we have to deal with globalization and therefore face competition on a global scale. We are confronted with the geopolitics of the Indian Ocean: the rules of the game may be changing as even traditional friends may have other interests to defend. All of which call for a rethink of the strategies that will see the country move forward on a developmental model that is both sustainable and equitable.
While civil society can contribute to the country’s advancement by flagging issues of concern to the citizenry and provide the space through media and other forums for vigorous discussions on them, in our democratic set-up it is the political leaders who are entrusted to listen to all stakeholders and to come up with policies that translate into actionable measures serving the national interest. The burden of responsibility to build on existing strengths, especially those of an institutional nature, and make the country progress further falls squarely on the shoulders of the political leaders who have been elected and mandated for the purpose by the electorate.
If these leaders are engaged in endless conflicts within their parties and among themselves, clearly their energies will be consumed with resolving these rather than be directed towards cooperating with each other to meet the new challenges that both the internal environment (Covid-19 for example with its system wide impacts) and the rapidly changing external interplay of forces between the global powers are imposing upon us. The hiccups of the last few years have not only scarred the country locally but tarnished its image as well, making it even more vulnerable from the investment point of view.
Unless there is political stability, there will be no economic or social stability, which is the sine qua non condition for development and progress. Which is to say that the powers that be had better sort themselves out and start to act more responsibly for their own sake and that of the country they take a pledge to serve.
* Published in print edition on 12 March 2021
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