By Nita Chicooree-Mercier
Remember the years when Zimbabwe recruited Mauritians to work in the educational, health and other sectors, and how satisfied the latter were with the working conditions and the life they had in that country. Zimbabwe was a prosperous agricultural country and a major supplier of food to the World Food Program. Mauritians were glad to be given the opportunity to enjoy brighter prospects abroad when the future looked so bleak locally.
Today, Zimbabwe is going to pieces as a result of the economic sanctions taken against it, initiated by the British and supported by the USA and the EU after the expulsion of the white farmers in 1996 and the violation of human rights by the Mugabe government. Sure, Mugabe should have first empowered his own people with the technical know-how in agriculture before redistributing lands. The African Union opposed the sanctions as well as the Commonwealth countries except the ‘white ones’ Canada and Australia. The big Caucasian family joined together in unison to punish the “bad guy” who dared to kick out a few of their kind.
Zimbabwe is beset by economic ills, unemployment, disease and its very survival is at stake. Life expectancy has plummeted down to 46 years. Mugabe is no angel, sure. As far as human rights are concerned, there are others indulging in abuses worse than he does but who are the great buddies of the democratic countries as long as the latter’s self-centred interests are preserved. It is just not right to see old Mugabe on his knees begging for sanctions to be lifted. Iran has responded by signing up trade contracts this year much to the discontent of the big powers.
The Minister of Finance recently announced that Mauritius needs to employ foreigners for a Rs 45000 salary. May we suggest that qualified Zimbabweans be employed in Mauritius? One salary is enough to feed eight to nine people in such harsh economic conditions. That will be most helpful to the people who are badly in need of jobs, money and the basic requirements to survive. Not only qualified jobs but work in factories, as security guards and wherever there is a shortage of local workers. People who are badly in need of jobs will work seriously. So far, Mauritius has recruited from Asian countries and Madagascar in the low-paying jobs, and many South Africans and European nationals in the high-flying sectors.
We should reach out to those who are badly in need. Zimbabwe helped Mauritians when the country was going through hard times. We have a moral duty to do what we can to help Zimbabweans out of the quagmire they are bogged down in. Let there be no fear of offending the British especially when we know the contempt their leaders display towards small islands like Mauritius. Will Mauritius help?
A few years ago, Mugabe stated that Africa should turn to Asia because ‘they think like us, they dream like us.’ You can’t blame him. At least, China will not impose embargoes on poor countries and ruthlessly starve whole populations. Zimbabwe is rich with natural resources and its once flourishing tourist industry is falling apart. Mauritius can position itself to be a viable trade partner in a few years’ time. Elsewhere, Africa’s economy is on the move. It is up to Mauritius to carve out the best part it can play in the region.
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We are flabbergasted to learn from bloggers in the press that the Central Bank generously paid two foreigners around Rs.900 000 and more than one million for their participation at two and four meetings. Divinely rich Mauritius. No wonder the whole country is made to live above its means with soaring debts as if we were one of the G8. Pray, may we have more details about the qualifications of the participants so that we may advise those who are in search of mega salaries in their choice of career.
If it is acknowledged that the banking sector makes huge profits and that the State Bank can take the right measures to trim the too liberal profit-making policy, it is to be hoped that they would take the bold step to bring in competition in the sector as soon as possible.
Last week, one economist suggested in this paper that Air Mauritius put an end to its monopoly in Asian destinations. The national airline has been charging very high tariffs, and consumers will benefit from the competition with other airlines from Asia. This will prompt Air Mauritius, which has been performing well for years, to review its policy, enhance its services and polish its image that has been tarnished by cases of insubordination and mismanagement recently. Air Mauritius has had an excellent image in the region and abroad for years. In so far as it is a major player in the tourism sector, it cannot afford to run down the image of the country. Time to brace itself.
For a viable tourist industry
We cannot but encourage the Minister of Tourism to carry out his plans for the setting up of a quality tourist industry. That industry in its present state bears the imprint of the spirit of the sugar industry, which who invested in it initially. The hotel industry has bred powerful lobbies that have been blowing hot and cold in the orientation, regulations and the evolution of the sector, keeping huge benefits in the hands of a few groups which have infiltrated every nook and cranny of the tourism sector.
By the way, the Minister suggested that Mauritians should take advantage of water sports facilities. Never too late to think of the leisure of the inhabitants. What percentage of Mauritians can swim in the island? That’s why Laurent, one of the Forces Vives in Mont Choisy, volunteers to give swimming lessons to young ones. First, the question is: are there going to be enough beaches left for locals given the sort of apartheid that prevails in the use of beaches in Mauritius. In Seychelles and Reunion, the local people are made to feel part of the development of tourism and they are invited to enjoy its benefits. In Mauritius, only disasters (like the chikunguya, etc.,) urge a panic-stricken hotel industry to open its doors to locals. Otherwise, they are generally unwelcome. Such discrimination is not tolerated by Creole societies in the neighbouring islands. Unlike the docile Asians here.
Water ski, sailing, windsurfing, diving, surfing and other sports should be made available at affordable prices to the local people.
Personae Non Gratae
It is to be hoped that the Minister will not be intimidated by the reluctance of some hotels to welcome Asian tourists. One reader in the press comments that European tourists will never mix with those from Asia. So what? Should we passively take this attitude for granted? If they do not want to mix, they may as well stay at home.
Some Mauritians are used to being told by Europeans how sweet and nice they are and how lucky they are to live in such a paradise. Such compliments often turn sour when the same tourists are disgruntled for some reason. They will not hesitate to use disparaging terms to describe the country in press articles back home. Asians deal with us as equals, and not as patronizing well-off westerners showering compliments on sweet natives and turning contemptuous and aggressive according to their whims and fancies.
Food and clothes are much cheaper in China and India, so why should they buy in Mauritius? Prices in many shops and restaurants are just not reasonable. What do some people mean by the ‘quality’ of tourists? Well, it will be more difficult for Mauritians to fleece Asian tourists, that’s for sure.
Let the Minister see to it that a new mindset prevails in the hotel industry.
* Published in print edition on 10 December 2010