Letter to Uncle Sam
On television, a young Japanese lady was seen filling her car with all types of food and home accessories. When questioned, she said she had been watching the images of the catastrophe left behind by the earthquake and tsunami in some parts of her country, and felt she could not stay idle and had to do something.
And there she was, acting on her own, packing her car to drive to some remote location and help her compatriots with relief food and clothing.
It is on television again that folks here also have their daily dose of adrenaline with scenes of horror from Ivory Coast and the unending protests and gun fighting in Arab countries. These protests and the ongoing fighting with its killings relate to their demand for democracy, freedom, and respect for basic human rights, amongst other things.
And here we are, Uncle. How is it going with us folks here and Mauritius our country?
Like the US, and over three centuries of human history, Mauritius has come a long way. Like the US, injustice was part of daily life centuries and decades ago; segregation, both mental and physical, was a fact; and so was slavery, institutionalised by colonial masters; indentured labour was another fact of undeniable atrocity hard on the heels of slavery; freedom and democracy and justice all looked as unachievable dreams.
Not long ago, you said something like this – “If you love your country, you can change it.”
In the course of human history, here as well as in the US, Uncle, many men and women, out of love for their country and countrymen, made the sacrifices; sometimes paid them with deprivation and blood and confinement; most of the time they fought with words and songs and poems and protests and writings and petitions; until all these paved the way for timid change, for timid adjustment in the mindset; then there were more protests, more claims for human rights, for freedom, for democracy.
Through decades of hard work, supported by the strong belief that all men are born equal and that every one of them is made of flesh and blood and that each has the same human aspirations notwithstanding country of origin and nationality, men and women around the world did all they could to see their claims prevail.
Folks here did all these. They sacrificed; they endured; many times they suffered in silence; but their work finally paid off.
Today, Mauritius is a sovereign state; a democratic state where freedom of speech and association is constitutionally guaranteed; where institutions act as safeguards to protect the individual’s right to freedom and rights to property; where private initiatives are the master key to promote development and socioeconomic progress. And of course, throughout the years, all is done to continuously perfect our democracy and its vital support institutions.
A quick mental comparison or a quick matching of television broadcasts brings folks around to the inescapable conclusion that Mauritius looks like a heaven on Earth. Thanks to freedom and democracy. Thanks to those who believed that these were important for us and the country and who fought for and left this legacy to generations after them.
But, Uncle, there is something quite important and we cannot take it for granted. It’s about trust; the trust in people and the trust in institutions. Democracy cannot survive and never will in the absence of trust. Ivory Coast is the latest example. Mistrust and the greed for power have set this country ablaze; the toll is high – mass killings, massive migration movements on its borders, lost of hope and the common hope for a better tomorrow is daily brutalised by uncertainty.
And here, we say thank you to all Mauritians, irrespective of backgrounds; we say thanks to the political establishment for always standing on the side of fairness and fair play; grateful to our institutions and those who manned them and for standing firm on the side of what is lawful. Taken together, all Mauritians, regardless of class or other social distinctions, deserve our respect for their belief and trust and adherence to a set of democratic values that keep our democracy safe and secular. Hats off, Mauritius!
Uncle, if anything needs to be highlighted concerning folks here, I would naturally salute their very natural and strong belief in what is fair and just.
Elections here are tough and always divide folks along party lines, ideas, ethnicity and politically motivated emotions. Sometimes they are not that tough; depending on political bedding arrangements, another way to refer to coalition politics. But whatever the outcome, the ballot always does the talking and its opinion always prevails.
The only bad thing with folks here, and this is a trend we are witnessing since quite some time, is their inexplicable sense of individualism. And the fact is that between two elections, they all go back to their daily routine and leave the country to the sweet mercy of those in power. They seem little concerned about issues affecting their lives and the cost and quality of life; about public policies that are unfair and unjust. This is why we always end up with things like Illovo, IPPs, fake privatisation, IRS, RES and all manner of “Mari Deals”. It looks like they have lost the flavour and flagrance of street protests; or the loss of their capacity to publicly demonstrate indignation and frustration even when they come across things that are wrong, most unfair and unjust.
The intellectuals have the best role. They keep enjoying the show from afar while they privately enjoy life and all its delicacies. Uncle, if one happens to meet them at any reception or wedding or within the cocktail circuit, one will be surprised to learn how knowledgeable they are, how much they hate what is unfair and unjust; but their reaction will die out quickly once they leave the room and cross the door leading to their cars in the parking area. The next day they will be back in business and will talk about the nice delicacies enjoyed the previous night. And beware if anyone tries to venture outside this perimeter to raise questions on policies that require fairness and a balanced view on how they can affect balance sheets and the lives of the people.
So, generally, the common man will rely on politicians, NGOs, trade unions and the media but the problem is that they each have their own agendas to serve.
Still this is also about democracy. The right not to serve the general good!
* Published in print edition on 8 April 2011