In the wake of the two street protests that were held ostensibly focused on the Wakashio shipwreck, which were led by Bruneau Laurette, a number of articles have been published in dailies and weeklies analyzing in detail the composition of the crowd in terms of the ethnic-religious groupings of Mauritius. In the English language magazine The Weekly, for example, there was a whole article discussing the whys and wherefores of the absence of Hindus in those manifestations. Hardly any mention was made, however, about the presence or absence of Muslims and Chinese.
Since these events have taken place at national level and concern all citizens of this country, the honest thing is to come clean by not burying our heads in the sand like the ostrich. Taking the cue, we must therefore ask the related questions. Were there any Muslims? Yes, there were some. Chinese? – yes, there were some too. But as is known to everyone by now, the bulk of the crowds was made up of Creoles, which was not unexpected because it was being led by one who appears to be positioning himself as their leader.
The surprise, however, was the presence of a relatively large number of the Franco-Mauritian community, which is not known to generally participate in such rallies. Traditionally, this community is known to represent the corporate world and what has been called Big Business in this country. What was their interest in backing this movement in such strength? Who else had any part in its planning and organisation? These questions arise because of the concluding remark made by one of the guests at the lunch held in a chassée where Pierre Noel told his joke, to wit that ‘to bisin raconte sa dans manifestation le 29’. Interesting, isn’t it?
Posts on social media in the period before and after these protests, and the speech made by Cardinal Piat at the Pere Laval evening, along with the reported address made by the Prime Minister in the meeting at Sun Trust, have given a communal twist to this whole episode.
To many analysts, taking this angle is looking more and more like a distraction from the burning issues that the country is facing, such as the ineptitude of the government in the handling of the Wakashio incident and its reluctance to answer questions related thereto, the prevailing nepotism and corruption, the failure to properly address the drug problem and so on. Harping on the communal angle may also be a political strategy to similarly polarize the electorate by seeking sympathy from vote banks, though given the enormity of the passe-droits that are taking place one has to wonder how effective this could be.
However, we have to ask ourselves whether an issue of environmental damage that was so limited in extent and of impact yet to be fully evaluated was sufficient to obtain the massive support of the corporate and Big Business? After all, flagging environmental issues has been an ongoing affair for several years, and there have been other shipwrecks too, but they didn’t cause such a stir.
We must not disregard the fact that it has been putting pressure on the government to open the borders so as to allow resumption of tourism activities, which means allowing the hotel sector to operate. And as we know government has advanced bailout packages to corporates and Big Business, but has been more slow – cautious? – in yielding to the demand for the opening up as well as setting down conditions to the bailout packages to Big Business, which have apparently met with resistance from the potential beneficiaries. Given this situation, the Wakashio incident must have come as a heaven sent opportunity to weaken the government’s resolve and force its hands, and hence the significant backing of the corporate and Big Business world for the rallies.
Many countries the world over are facing this conflict opposing governments and Big Business. The first shots were perhaps fired by Theodore Roosevelt post the depression that hit the USA in 1929/30. Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher reversed the paradigm, but it has come to the fore again in the past couple of decades and has gained more traction following French economist Thomas Piketty’s book which has exposed the growing and yawning inequalities between the haves and the have-nots, between the super rich, the rich and the poor, a phenomenon which has echoes in practically all countries, including ours.
What is happening is a battle being led by the corporate and Big Business world using the street protests as proxy, capitalising on the beneficial timing provided by an untoward incident that impacted the environment, an ever catchy theme to rally impressionable youth in particular. We must not be misled by the communal colouration being given to the movement, and be clear that it is an issue of rapport de forces between two sets – and each wants to predominate.
* Published in print edition on 25 September 2020