The terror attack at the Westgate Mall in Nairobi, Kenya about two weeks ago by the Somali al-Shabaab outfit compels our attention if only because of the government’s decision to allow the trial of pirates locally, and we know that most of them are of Somali origin.
It probably does not matter to al-Shabaab whether or not the pirates ally to their cause. Simply because they are Somali puts the country at risk, and we must seriously question the wisdom of the decision regarding their trial, given that we are a small country with limited resources. Surely our decision-makers will not want to take such unwarranted risks that threaten the security of the people, and for that matter even that of the decision-makers.
It is a fact that, despite the ‘axes’ of hatred/violence/evil that seem to proliferate around the world, dedicated people from several walks of life and varied disciplines in many countries are plodding on to consolidate all that the human mind has discovered, invented and constructed to allow us to reach our present state of material well-being and comfort. Others are busy innovating in diverse fields of human endeavour to extend the benefits of the developed world to the lesser fortunate masses, and provide them with the means to make a better living and to enhance, if not necessarily enrich, their lives. Any number of examples can be cited to illustrate this, such as marvels of engineering and technology, the vertiginous strides in the communications sector, advances in the medical and health sectors to name but a few.
However, at the same time we are face to face with ground realities which trail us like a shadow. Although people keep travelling and moving across the continents, there is a background apprehension. Gun attacks in the US and terror attacks everywhere are directed at soft targets, innocent civilians who have nothing to do with the self-prophesising frustrations that individuals or some groups of people have decided to inflict upon themselves for reasons best known to them only.
Thus it can be seen that while many people are busy constructing, others prefer to specialize in destroying, and preferably violently, in many cases not sparing their own kind. How then can we expect such people to show respect for others’ lives and values? It is a sad comment that while the vast majority of people all over the world would like to be left to live in peace, a comparatively fewer others are sworn to put all sorts of obstacles in the way and revert to mediaeval times and mentalities. As mankind evolved from cave life, it was hoped that it would leave behind the barbarian, atavistic impulses and become more refined, accommodating to others in a mutually sustainable manner. This hope is, tragically belied. The problem is that it is those who have nothing to do with either party – governments, administrations or the attackers – who are the poor victims.
But there are also other concerns. Thus, although as a whole, the world is undoubtedly making progress, yet its fruits are not equally or equitably distributed. There are many reasons of course, simple or complex as the case may be, but in WTO negotiations, for example, restricting the markets of the developed world by unfair and asymmetrical tariffs and generous one-sided subsidies puts in jeopardy the livelihood of millions in the developing world, especially farmers many of whom have had to commit suicide in sheer desperation. The days of mountains of butter and rivers of milk going to waste while there are starving millions elsewhere seem not to be over as yet.
Food security, the primary condition for survival, is indeed a major issue all over the world. Distributive policies – or absence of such –, trade practices and rivalries, hoarding, all these contribute to create an uncertain environment, and growing numbers of people become left out in the cold as a result. Allied to this is of course energy supply. We have seen how this has affected local prices, which keep going up uncontrollably as a result of a chain effect when the prices of petrol and electricity are raised. Down the line of the chain, the price rise of goods is usually out of proportion to the triggering cause, and households find themselves spending proportionately more on food, leaving little money for other expenditure, effectively thus preventing social emancipation of families.
Personal security is also no longer guaranteed, what with the civilian law and order situation almost everywhere around the world deteriorating. It is not necessary to list the individual cases that we read about everyday, but as we are aware the danger lurks very close to us all the time. Cases of abuse of children have surfaced with a nauseating regularity, and all manner of crime are committed on them including sexual violence frequently followed by murder. How some people – relatives and close ones in many cases – can bring themselves to go to such extremes is beyond the comprehension of the ordinary mortal. Rationalisations that are bandied about after the crimes are committed are that many pretexts which are all the more condemnable the louder they are voiced. We had thought that human depravity had reached its limits with Hitler’s extermination machines and machinery. We had, alas, reckoned without the preying instincts of parents on their very own progeny. Mauritius must rank pretty high on the notorious league table that this category of crime falls into.
On the environment front, the news is not much better. Despite some controversies that exist among experts, there is mounting sufficient evidence, provided by the latest report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) that global warning is indeed a reality. Developed and developing nations are locked in a battle about trade-off of carbon emissions, and rapidly developing countries do not take kindly to the moral high-ground of the rich country emitters of carbon dioxide. Biodiesel and other energy sources, and hybrid cars are not yet sufficiently commercially viable to allow them to make a significant impact. And it is not known when this will happen.
These facts are not meant to scare but to create the necessary awareness that we all have a stake in doing whatever we can in our own way to prevent them from worsening, for it is the very future of mankind that is at stake. We are a planet and a species in mortal danger, more from our own doings than from nature. But we are not willing to accept that!
* Published in print edition on 4 October 2013