Titbits and Lessons from International News

Three important events which have occurred on the international scene recently do not seem to have obtained the attention they deserved in the national media.

It is true that we have had our fair share of local political, economic and social “happenings” during the same period and editors of the spoken or written mainstream media have per force made choices which, in their judgement, reflect more closely the greater interest of their readers. We have taken up these three subjects in the hope that they are somehow relevant to the context of Mauritius and some lessons can be drawn from them.

The Chilcot Report in the UK

The publication of the 2.6 million words Chilcot Report after seven years of investigations, named after its author Sir John Chilcot, has dramatically revived the great divide between those who wanted to go to war in Iraq to topple the Saddam Hussein regime and the anti-war movement. The report is unambiguously damning for former Prime Minister Tony Blair as it details, among other serious misgivings, the lack of respect for due process leading to the decision to go to war and the cavalier manner in which the then Prime Minister treated his Cabinet colleagues.

Though some have said that the report does not reveal anything, which was not already well known since those appalling events, it is nevertheless significant that this is the first time that such severe condemnation of the process and substance of the decision to go to war originates from the very heart of the British establishment.

The report is emphatic in its statement that “military action was not the last resort” and that the negotiations process under the aegis of the United Nations should have been given more time and a chance to come to an outcome which would have avoided the invasion.

Parents of soldiers who have lost their lives either during the invasion as also during the aftermath have been incensed by the contents of the report and are fast reaching the conclusion that the lives of their loved ones have been wasted for a wrong cause. This sentiment is bound to be more spread as Tony Blair, while still sticking to his stand, admits that there was poor planning and preparations when the troops were sent in for battle.

There are many lessons to be learnt from the Chilcot report when it comes to governance. First among these and perhaps the most relevant for us in Mauritius is that there is inherent wisdom in the process of collective decision-making so fundamental to the Cabinet system of government.

The capture of the process by arrogant, self-serving and haughty egotistical leaders makes a mockery of the system and inevitably leads to catastrophic decisions with damaging consequences for government and country.

* * *

Shooting of Five Police Officers in Dallas

The killing of two Afro-Americans within about 36 hours in two different states by white policemen has provoked an admittedly unjustifiable but to our mind understandable jolt in the cycle of racist violence in the United States. One young Black American, a former service man in Afghanistan, has taken up arms and killed five white policemen in Dallas and injured seven others in retaliation to the too frequent police killings of black men.

These incidents are a throwback to the 1970s and the emergence of the Black Panther Movement in reaction to the activities of the Klu Klux Klan in the conservative southern parts of the United States. This is a particularly incriminatory end to the two terms of President Barack Obama, the first black American President. In spite of the protests of Barack Obama, who is struggling to de-dramatize the racial impact of this most recent bloodshed, the fact remains that the US has been shocked by the potent racial violence and its dramatic consequences.

As usual, it has taken the deaths of seven people over a few days to mobilize the media and public opinion on the issues of racism and violence in the United States. But the reality is that more than half a century after the desegregation protests and black empowerment movements, racial integration in the US remains a hugely divisive issue which for the past two years has manifested itself in several deaths in police custody.

The heavy racial bias embedded in the criminal justice system has deeply divided the country and caused untold grief among the Black community leading to protests and the rising of the “Black Lives Matter” movement. There is clear evidence that the prime motivation of the recent shooter in Dallas was a reaction to an unacceptable state of affairs.

While this is an unjustifiable and condemnable act there is clearly a lot of introspection and action which needs to be undertaken if such acts are to be avoided in the future.

* * *

Party Leadership Contests

One of the unintended consequences of the success of the Brexit campaign during the recent referendum has been the furious leadership contests that it has brought about in both the Conservative and Labour parties. What started as a protest over what some Labour MPs considered was a rather tepid and half-hearted contribution by Jeremy Corbyn to the Remain campaign has now developed into a full-fledged challenge to his leadership.

The main grievance of the MPs, who are now in a vast majority, is that Mr Corbyn looks most unlikely to lead the party to victory in the next general elections in the country. Things have taken a nasty turn for the Labour Party as it has become clear that the issue would diametrically pit the Parliamentary Labour against the Constituency Labour base who could still vote for Mr Corbyn to remain as party leader at the next party convention.

Ironically enough the fact that the anointed Prime Minister, Mrs Theresa May, has announced that she has no intention of calling early general elections may give some respite to the Labour Party to find a sensible resolution to this knotty issue.

The appointment of Mrs Theresa May as leader of the Conservative Party and de facto Prime Minister brings forth the question of legitimacy of a Prime minister under such circumstances. The consensus however remains that, in the Westminster system of parliamentary government, the member who has the support of the majority of members of Parliament becomes the Prime Minister.

It is also true that by convention one would expect the new Prime Minister to call the country to the polls within a reasonable delay in order to “legitimize” the new status quo. In the exceptional circumstances of post Brexit, Mrs May has declared that this Parliament will not be dissolved until its “normal” term in 2020.

One suspects that she has no options except to say this in order to project some sense of stability for the government and the country. The chances are that in the true tradition of parliamentary democracy she will call snap elections in a not too far future.

* Published in print edition on 15 July 2016

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