— Nita Chicooree-Mercier
The overall impression is an atmosphere of permanent bickering, gossip, palabres and flexing muscles for more power that smacks of aggressive male ego competition
Well after the sound and fury of the floods that claimed a heavy toll in the capital and the blame game subsiding, the tug of war between high profile politicians and the press is going on. Now that all protagonists have got their newspaper, akin to a cyclone the constant fighting has gained in intensity and has unleashed a furious spree of spiteful denunciations of today’s opponents. They all look dead serious about threatening the very survival of their enemies. Thus the press is responding by underlining its long-standing ideology and historical achievements and by singing its own praises on its own private radio.
In the battle of mutual extermination, calumny and mudslinging are gleefully used as a means of destruction. The continuous boycott of newspapers is deeply resented among key players in the media business. In addition, the issue of democratisation of the economy is pushing more fighters into the arena and giving sleepless nights to those who are getting concerned over the ethnic undertone of the whole debate. The overall impression is an atmosphere of permanent bickering, gossip, palabres and flexing muscles for more power that smacks of aggressive male ego competition.
First things first, the international week of the press will soon be held worldwide. Let us remind our readers of the importance of a free press in a democratic society, the necessity of a counter-power to act as an intermediary between the public and the different authorities who hold a lot of power, and the prime importance of being daily informed of all the issues concerning the country.
45 after years of Independence our society is mature enough to realize what would have happened had there been no free press to inform the public of all sorts of malpractices, wrongdoings, mismanagement of public funds, nepotism, cronyism and corruption that take place in a system of checks and balances that are supposed to guarantee transparency and equity.
By now, as a post-colonial society, we have taken full stock of the propensity for self-interest and self-aggrandizement amid politicians of all hues who fight for leadership every five years, of how the thirst for power whets the appetite of all sorts of dubious and shady characters in the political class. Mauritius is not Haiti or Madagascar, for sure; but we should be wary of any attempt to conduct public affairs in all opacity and muzzle the freedom of the press. For all these reasons, we would rather promote pluralism than support any strategy that aims to make newspapers disappear from newsstands. Live and let live. Ideas and not individuals should be targeted.
As regards revelations that come belatedly, if anything, the public is made to conclude that family or clan-based favouritism and grabbing state lands become serious issues only when yesterday’s allies fall apart. Otherwise, no revelations would have been made. Such partisan stances speak volumes of a lack of genuine integrity that is sadly conspicuous among our leaders. Generally, most of them are bound by a culture of secrecy.
Over decades, some of our representatives have developed their own strategy for democratizing the economy by generously giving away handouts to cronies, clans and family in terms of lands, contracts, etc. There are enough examples that qualify us for the status of banana republic. What is meant by democratizing the economy in an ultra-liberal system is yet to be explained clearly. Huge disparities in income are widening gaps in lifestyle and purchasing power. Workers’ rights and welfare are not respected by employers in various sectors.
Big hotels employ and dismiss employees after eleven months to avoid paying them one month bonus, and re-employ them later thus depriving them of one month’s salary to pay rent and meet the needs of their families. Women employees in the catering industry are unscrupulously exploited. Not to mention those who are employed in private homes by Mauritians hailing from different ethnic groups, outrageously by some very rich people. Giving days off and yearly holidays to their employees never crosses their minds. Exploitation of workers is deeply embedded in the local work culture.
Fertile agricultural lands are being given away to real property projects whereas self-sufficiency in food should be a priority. This country suffers from too much importation which siphons off hard-earned money to other countries. As things stand, focusing attention on one particular group for democratization of the economy may sound like a diversion from our own shortcomings and failings.
While in the highest sphere different protagonists are getting at one another’s throat, average citizens are more concerned with down-to-earth issues of unemployment, insecurity and rampant crime. For the past ten days a crime has been committed almost every single day.
A Mauritian expat comes back home to meet a most tragic end in the hands of young burglars. Women are mercilessly killed by their husbands, young men settle scores with knives and cutters and alcoholism and drugs are causing serious damages among the younger population. The metaphor of the rotten fish head that contaminates the whole body is the answer that the man in the street gives you: ‘Ou coné kan latet la pa bon…’. Like it or not, to most people the root of the issue lies in the quality of governance.
Socio-cultural organizations should rather channel their energy to attend to the ills that are besetting members of their flocks than defend politicians who are powerful and mature enough to face criticisms. Overt coverage of their interventions in the political arena is compromising the very principle of secularism besides bringing shame and disrepute to the community.
A lady MP firmly stood up against religious activities being patronized by politicians. All criticism is immediately silenced and dismissed by politicians and religious leaders. So the hurly-burly over the organization of religious festivals goes on. Let the public make a suggestion to give votes to the party which puts an end to the unhealthy amalgam between religion and politics at the next general elections.
How much progress has been made to promote sex education is yet to be assessed. People tell you that sex is still a taboo subject in our society with all the hypocrisy that underlies the issue. Suppressed desires, frustrations, emotional imbalance, sexual abuses, violence and a survey of inadequate feel-good social factors call for uninhibited analysis. Educating young men to adopt a healthy approach to sex so that they would not throw themselves on women, young and old, to fulfil their desires is one of the challenges.
If anything, all parties including socio-cultural organizations who really care for the advancement of society should be fully employed all year round to tackle social ills and prevent further decay of the social fabric, rather than indulge in the poor shows of noisy partisan stances that are regularly dished out in the media.
* Published in print edition on 27 April 2013