The street march of Saturday last brought together a huge crowd, unseen for a long time in the country, made up of the different communities as well as many young people in the 20s-30s age-group of the Facebooker generation. For the first time ever also were seen a large participation of the business and corporate world rallying behind protagonists belonging to the working class who were leading in the forefront, with supporters shouting anti-government slogans as was to be expected. Undeniably, the march was well-planned, orderly, arousing, and ended without any scuffle. The only dark point in that otherwise disciplined and well-articulated protest that has marred its shine is the chorus titled ‘B…. li deor’, of which a picture of a CD of the same name is circulating on social media. Its vulgarity and aggressiveness is a totally unnecessary indignity flung at the population, and it is left to the people to judge for themselves whether this kind of offensive language is an appropriate one in which to frame demands of a serious nature.
The explicit objective of this protest was to oust the government, and the slogans were aligned accordingly. Two aspects come to mind in this respect. One is the persona of the leader of this movement, Bruneau Laurette. In media interviews, he has presented his strongman credentials, which are principally capabilities to wield weapons such as rifles in which he gives training to security and military personnel, and knowledge of surveillance techniques including satellite trackings. Although he has declared that he will not join politics, on can never know because with so much seeming popularity this possibility cannot be excluded altogether. Which brings us to the next issue, which is that he has not spelt out how he plans to run the country – within the parameters of the Constitution – if the democratically elected government (though the latter’s legitimacy has been challenged in court by opposition parties) is thrown out. Besides, thinking Mauritians will surely ask themselves whether his credentials can qualify him to make the leap from leader of a street movement to leader of the country, whether, in other words, brawn should trump brain in assuming such a heavy and important responsibility. Jocelyn Gregoire’s similar movement fizzled out, with him retreating back to the US after placing la main lor le coeur.
The leaders of the three main opposition parties who failed to get elected have been riding on the waves of the Wakashio incident, trying to make their comebacks. Without surprise, they saw in Saturday’s protest an opportunity to restore some of their lost credibility, and they were duly thanked for their support to the movement by its leader among the other thanks expressed for Georges Ah Yan and Bye Cassam ‘Zoulou’. Whether it is Bruneau Laurette who will instrumentalise them politically or whether it will be the other way round the future will tell as they all pursue their respective political agendas – independently or in alliance.
The most intriguing presence was, as we noted above, the large presence of the business and corporate elite in the midst of what is clearly a working class movement. Historically, that elite represents the economic forces which have to do with money and profitability, which has gained even more traction in the liberal-capitalist model. As such, it is hard to imagine this class to be mobilised simply for an environmental issue. After all they have been doing much of the ‘betonising’ of the country’s greenery, so is this a belated conscience call? On the other hand is the pressure they are putting on government to open borders despite the clear risks that this will mean for the country, as the WHO has highlighted and is evidenced by the surge in Covid cases in even the best managed countries such s New Zealand, the UK, France, etc., when they opened up – and then had to lock down again. The Prime Minister’s emphasis on the re-opening issue during his address to the nation, broadcast live on radios and MBC-TV yesterday evening, and the scheduled phased re-opening, would suggest that this has and remains a bone of contention between the corporate sector and the government. The national interest will hopefully prevail over profitability concerns.
Another issue that has not been flagged by the Prime Minister and which might also constitute another bone of contention relates to the bailout funds being made available to the corporate sector and the conditionalities attached thereto. As has happened elsewhere too, the government has dug into taxpayers’ money in the Bank of Mauritius to bail out the business and corporate world comprising the hotel industry among others. The packages have been generous, amounting to billions, and the Mauritius Investment Company chaired by Lord Meghnad Desai has been charged with the responsibility to oversee disbursement. But what are the conditions under which this is taking place? Are there any? Is the MIC setting standards of accountability and transparency that are as rigorous as the private sector demands and claims to be exemplars of, at least in theory? That’s what the people would like to know – whether there’s any link here to the Saturday event, where momentarily the class divide that has increased rather than diminished – according to French economist Thomas Piketty in his widely acclaimed book – was apparently forgotten.
* Published in print edition on 1 September 2020
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