Creativity, imagination, innovation, hardwork and the right attitude can work wonders. Today the younger generations are educated, mature and have the brains and the mastery of technology to build a new and better world. We have the responsibility as a nation to unleash their potential
Given the slow growth of the world economy, the Mauritian economy has done reasonably well and we no longer hear of thousands of jobs being lost as was the case a decade ago. However, difficult and challenging times are still with us, and it was wise on the part of the government to take an array of measures in the last Budget to help the poorer sections of the population. Still there is the nagging feeling that we are not doing enough and more needs to be done in the coming year. There are four areas which we should give special attention to.
Regarding our foreign policy, it appears that it has not changed a lot since it was first crafted in the years after Independence. We continue to strengthen our relationships with the governments of those countries with which we are bound by some traditional and historical ties; we do not seem to be doing as much or enough with many other countries of Africa and Asia. This is not to deny that we have strengthened our relations with countries such as Japan, Malaysia, or with Kenya or South Africa and that more than 70 Mauritian companies have invested in Africa. But these efforts remain relatively timid to this day. The private sector, rather than the government, has been more proactive in exploring new trading relationships/ partnerships and our embassies are not functioning as we would have liked them to.
Yet Africa and Asia provide endless opportunities for market, raw materials and other economic opportunities including jobs. Attracting investments has not been easy these days in a sluggish world economy, particularly when investors shy from risk. FDI in Mauritius has been limited mostly to hospitality and property development. Foreign investors are no longer interested in greenfield investments and are looking for partnerships, but these have been too few and far between.
We like to present ourselves as a bridge between Africa and Asia, but Asian governmental organisations will continue to establish direct contact with Africa. Hence getting Asian private organisations and companies which need to be lured into using Mauritius as a platform will remain an uphill task. Seeking to deepen our relationships with both Asia and Africa will require us to build our knowledge base of these two continents which presently remains at best superficial.
Some years back a high powered-delegation of both the government and private sector, which went to Mozambique with great hopes of unlimited opportunities for small farmers, tourism and other sectors to be developed, had to come to grips with the fact that natural calamities, land mines, protection gangs as well as lack of infrastructure remain insuperable obstacles to Mauritian investors.
Our knowledge of the history, geography, language and culture of these countries is extremely poor and we would not be able to seize the trade, employment and other economic opportunities which Africa and Asia offer unless we have a firm grasp and understanding of these two continents.
Only recently Japan realised that the number of Japanese students studying in the US had been halved and decided that more of her students must be sent abroad for short courses to become globally- minded students equipped to function in a global world. Mauritius must do the same in facilitating short courses and placements for our students in universities abroad. Perhaps we could start by setting up a Nelson Mandela School for African and Asian Studies if we really want to maximise our strategic location between Africa and Asia.
Unless we increase our knowledge base with regards to these two continents, we will not be able to create the kind of students, entrepreneurs and population who can understand our neighbouring countries and consolidate our economic and cultural ties with them. At the moment we rely on SMEs to create employment. In addition to all facilities afforded to them, we have to find ways and means to make available to them affordable raw materials where there is a demand to enhance the value-added and innovative products.
Africa has all the raw materials we require to bring about an expansion of our SME sector. There is no reason why the Ministry of Industry or that of Cooperatives cannot import selective raw materials in bulk through the STC where such a need has been identified just as it does in the case of cement for the construction industry.
Finally there is a general outcry, though it remains muted, about the quality of goods and services produced locally. Lack of professionalism, poor workmanship, quick money and lack of ethics and discipline are quickly becoming our local brands and this constitutes a danger for the country. Everybody is conscious about it and we are both perpetrators of this crime as well as its victims.
Everyday as I travel from St Jean to Phoenix roundabout, hundreds of cars unashamedly and unethically use a bypass just to jump the queue. The attitude of many professionals and our workers towards work even when they are self-employed is disgusting. Perhaps it will be pointed out that such reprehensive behaviour prevails amongst a minority, but it remains a big minority which risks corrupting the majority.
At a time of festive season, such remarks may be uncalled for. But the New Year is also time to take stock of our weaknesses and although generally the country has done well and the majority of our population work hard and deserve their monthly wages, we cannot gloss over our foibles nor can we rest on our laurels. A major shake-up is needed in all our institutions if we really want to unleash the potential of our nation especially that moderate growth in our economy in 2014 is nowhere near enough to make any significant dent on the problems of poverty and unemployment.
Mauritian ‘exceptionalism’ which characterises our successes in many walks of life has stood us well in the past and has helped to overcome many obstacles which we may have thought at one time to be insurmountable. Creativity, imagination, innovation, hardwork and the right attitude can work wonders. Today the younger generations are educated, mature and have the brains and the mastery of technology to build a new and better world. We have the responsibility as a nation to unleash their potential and provide them with the necessary guidance to lead meaningful, satisfying and moral lives.
* Published in print edition on 27 December 2013