By keeping on battering on the pillars of the State, there comes a dramatic moment, a tipping point when things can take a turn for the worst
“It often happens that we get to hear about brand new cars speeding at more than 120 km per hour that end up crashing in broad daylight against a tree by the roadside at a particular time of the day when there is almost no pedestrian or traffic. The most reasonable conclusion to draw in such cases and in the absence of other factors is reckless driving… In the same vein, political scientists have looked at State destruction in many developing countries… They usually attribute the collapse of the State to the loss of legitimacy, the manipulation of the media, the discrediting of the judiciary, the politicization of the army, ethnic conflicts and the political ambitions of the elite…”
When an accident occurs, those attempting to find its causes will look for a number of factors in order to establish the responsibility for the accident. Such factors are numerous – ranging from defective braking system, poor street lighting, carelessness of pedestrians, defective road works or careless driving.
But it often happens that we get to hear about brand new cars speeding at more than 120 km per hour that end up crashing in broad daylight against a tree by the roadside at a particular time of the day when there is almost no pedestrian or traffic. The most reasonable conclusion to draw in such cases and in the absence of other factors is reckless driving. This suggests that instead of explaining a disaster by so many causes, one major factor is enough to account for a catastrophe.
In the same vein, political scientists have looked at State destruction in many developing countries and they have identified a number of factors – both long-term and short-term as well as an immediate trigger – that go to explain how this takes place. They usually attribute the collapse of the State to the loss of legitimacy, the manipulation of the media, the discrediting of the judiciary, the politicization of the army, ethnic conflicts and the political ambitions of the elite.
In Mauritius we do not have any example of the collapse of authority except perhaps during the revolutionary period in Isle de France. Then, the Jacobin club, called the Chaumiere became so powerful as to force the Governor to provide them with a sloop and a detachment to be sent to Bourbon Island, so as to arrest some government officers and to bring them to Ile de France for imprisonment at Line Barracks. That did not last long as the Colonial Assembly, learning of the downfall of the Jacobins in Paris and the fall of Robespierre, released the officers and deported the most radical members of the Chaumiere.
In the 1930s, a fall in sugar prices and subsequent cut in wages and cane prices led to unrest lasting a month, but the colonial state withstood the onslaught and brought about a sea change in Mauritian society. The other time when the State was on the verge of collapse was in the 1970s, when the MMM engineered a dock strike which evolved into an unintended general strike and which could have resulted in the collapse of the post-colonial state.
Though unintended, the general strike was mostly welcomed by leftists of every hue and colour who had hoped for a disintegration of the bourgeois state, and build a socialist state instead. But the postcolonial state proved resilient and survived. With hindsight, the island had been spared what became a major feature of the postcolonial state in Africa in the 1960s: ‘one vote one election’. Since that time all radical forces had been tamed and had come to accept parliamentary elections as the only road to political power.
Today, things have changed. The bourgeois state is no longer questioned. The capitalist economy has been generally accepted though its most neo-liberal form is being resented particularly during difficult times. The welfare system is a crucial part of the survival of the capitalist state. The working class is no longer visible although the struggle of the working classes for decent living has become more and more challenging within the new world order – or the new world disorder as it has been recently described.
We pride ourselves that we have a strong state and numerous other strengths such a Constitution, a bureaucracy, an independent judiciary, a legitimate government and a diversified economy. However we cannot assume that, despite these many strengths, political and social stability are guaranteed forever. Recent institutional conflicts constitute a threat to stability as a fractured bourgeoisie launches itself in a struggle to achieve its political ambitions, neglecting its moral responsibility to the nation and future generations.
The consequences of this fractious struggle may not be visible but present problems plaguing Mauritian society – such as a declining middle class, unemployment, a waning faith in our institutions and low morale in various sectors of the economy and society – will be put down to the excesses of a malign ruling elite whose machinations and manipulations are seen as a cloak for political ambition.
We may still argue that the grassroots are still very contented with the spectacle which the media provides them on a daily basis, or at best are indifferent to the political drama unfolding before their eyes. This is still a valid point given the fact that there is a time lag before the seething discontent of the middle class seeps down to the working classes. Already the one who has lost his job is asking why he has to suffer for what has happened, while those young people coming on the job market will be asking what is in store for them in the future.
To return to the analogy of the car accident, we do not need all the pillars of the State to weaken before a crash happens. It is sufficient for just one major pillar to come down to bring the rest crashing to the ground. The crisis of governance is already weakening the other pillars of the State.
A divided political class and the poverty of national leadership are undermining the functioning of State institutions. Our bureaucracy appears to have come to a standstill and unless it functions normally, crucial decisions regarding the economy and society cannot be taken and implemented. Even a most sensible and experienced minister can take seven months to revert to a past decision on road traffic and that only after the increasing number of fatal casualties in a high number of road accidents. What about those Ministers still groping to find their way?
We know how the conflict between the Lehman Brothers and Goldman Sachs plunged the world into an unprecedented financial global crisis. By keeping on battering on the pillars of the State, there comes a dramatic moment, a tipping point when things can take a turn for the worst. The last thing we wish to happen at this juncture of our history is to reach that tipping point, which would lock us in a vicious cycle of state destruction as a result of the failings of the political class.
- Published in print edition on 31 July 2015