In this globalised world, we cannot help being impacted by events that take place at the global level in more ways than one – in all aspects of national life: political, economic, social, and cultural.
Communication of course has been key to this evolution in human affairs, with radio and cinema playing a role in the initial stages: this was certainly the case in Mauritius too, especially after the Second World War. Matters speeded up when television was introduced in the 1960s, but the real dramatic turnaround has happened with the advent of the internet, followed and accompanied by the explosion in electronic technologies that have spawned the now invasive, intrusive and pervasive 24/7 social media. Not only are we connected at individual levels, we are also literally networked on an unimaginably large basis with all the world.
Two major events that are currently playing out are bound to have significant impacts on our country: the forthcoming general election in America, and the decision of Britain about leaving or remaining in the European Union. Our economy in particular is tied up with both these countries, as well as with the EU, and whatever the outcomes of the American election and the referendum being held in the UK today (Thursday 23rd June), we have cause for concern.
The common factor in these two events is that never has the divide between opposite camps seemed so deep and the positions so entrenched. In America, Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, the two nominees to Presidency of their respective Republican and Democratic parties are practically at couteaux tirés, so virulent – almost violent at times – have the shots they have fired at each other. For us in Mauritius, the main concern is about our exports to America, which are governed by AGOA and which so far is in our favour. There is bound to be uncertainty, perhaps even fear, as we await the outcome at end-November, barely five months away now.
The previous government had some rapport with the Clintons, and Hillary Clinton had even expressed appreciation of the overall track record of Mauritius when she was on a tour of Africa at one point. So if she is elected, we can assume that there is some advance goodwill as regards our relations with America. Should Donald Trump carry the day and become President, will there be some continuity or a break, so that we may have to start all over again?
Brexit vs Bremain
The more immediate concern, however, is the UK referendum, and tomorrow we will know. Bur there again, in the UK, the Leave (Brexit) and Remain (recently dubbed Bremain) camps have been at daggers drawn.
In ‘Social Europe’, Vivien Schmidt, who is Jean Monnet Professor of European Integration and Professor of International Relations and Political Science at Boston University., concludes an article on this issue as follows: ‘… one has to wonder why the UK is so angry with the EU, and why it blames it for immigration. My argument here is that the EU and immigration have ended up as scapegoats for the real problems of the UK. Neo-liberalism, once seen as the way to save the UK from imminent decline, has produced a country in danger of imminent implosion. Rather than leaving the EU, the UK should begin to confront its real problem: a neo-liberalism that has gone too far.’
In fact, when we look more broadly, we can see that ultra neo-liberalism as a matter of fact is probably responsible for the deep currents that are shaking the UK, Europe and America. This is what neo-liberalism has entailed: The revolt against the political parties, the rejection of the experts, the distrust of the elites more generally. So too does the venting by working and middle class people against the worsening of their life chances due to stagnant wages, growing inequality, and the increasing difficulty for the young to get a foot on the real estate ladder, or a steady well-paying job.
We will find that here too we have felt the effects of the neo-liberals who in many ways have influenced government policies, touting ‘the market as the solution, the state as the problem; civil servants as rent-seekers not to be trusted; believing that financial market players were rational actors who deserved little or at most ‘light touch’ regulation; and promoted a growth model focused on debt-based real estate speculation rather than rising wages, and on service industries in place of manufacturing’.
The result of this discourse has been that working people lost faith in their politicians, and went for an alternative.
We voted for our alternative in December 2014, and a series of nettoyage campaigns has not so far delivered on the promises made, with investor confidence in free fall and the people getting ever more disenchanted. A glimmer on the horizon has been the declaration by the Prime Minister in the context of the forthcoming budget that the accent will be on manufacturing and away for land speculation. How this will fit into the smart cities project is not known at this stage, for there is a seeming contradiction. Nevertheless, the ‘manufacturing’ signal is a positive one and it is hoped that the budget will strongly reflect as well as incentivize that swing.
Further, energy production and contracts with the IPPs have to be looked into with a fresh eye, as well as emphasis and incentives given for efficient and sustainable agricultural production. This budget is therefore going to be even more crucial, even as we await the outcomes of the events in Europe and the US.