2024: Annus horribilis looming on the horizon


Events that unfolded both locally and on the global stage in 2023 to date force us to concede that it is going to be yet another annus horribilis – horrible year.

By Dr R Neerunjun Gopee

Much as we have no option but to hope against hope that the year 2024 will be a better one, yet events that unfolded both locally and on the global stage in 2023 to date force us to concede that it is going to be yet another annus horribilis – horrible year.

For those too young to remember, this was the term that was used by Britain’s late Queen Elizabeth to refer to what shook the royal household in 1992 during a speech she made in November of that year. Three of her children separated or got divorced, Prince Charles and Diana’s taking place shortly after that speech, publication of photographs and accounts of infidelity that shattered the lily-white image of the royal family, and a massive fire in Windsor Castle, one of the Queen’s official residences.

Locally, the overwhelming opinion aired widely in the media by authoritative legal voices is that, with the passage of the Financial Crimes Commission Bill by Parliament and the assent given by the President of the Republic, not only has a crime been committed against democracy, but that democracy is effectively dead. A forerunner of annus horibilis?

In fact, for a number of years now it had been considered in so-called mature democracies that democracy is in crisis, notably in the US after the election of President Trump, and more so following the events on Capitol Hill in January 2021, two months after his defeat in the 2020 presidential election. According to Wikipedia, ‘the House select committee that investigated the incident (concluded) that the attack was the culmination of a seven-part plan by Trump to overturn the election when allegedly he interfered with the installation of his successor.’

Legal proceedings against him are still ongoing, even as he is scoring over 50 points in the primaries ahead of the 2024 presidential election, far ahead of other contenders. And yet, his presidency was marked by a good economic record and some bold foreign policy decisions such the Abraham Accords that had begun to ease the tension in the Middle-East or refraining from ‘putting boots on the ground’ as too many American soldiers had lost their lives already in the wars there. It seems that ‘it’s the economy’ stupid’ was – is? – no longer enough to win an election.

Is democracy a system in which people elect their dictator? The possibility seems to be real, if we are to go by an article in The Conversation of November 11, 2019 titled ‘Why tyranny could be the inevitable outcome of democracy’ by Lawrence Torcello, Associate Professor of Philosophy, Rochester Institute of Technology.

He writes that ‘Plato, one of the earliest thinkers and writers about democracy, predicted that letting people govern themselves would eventually lead the masses to support the rule of tyrants.’ And adds, ‘… looking at the modern political world, it seems much less far-fetched to me now. In democratic nations like Turkey, the UK, Hungary, Brazil and the US, anti-elite demagogues are riding a wave of populism fueled by nationalist pride. It is a sign that liberal constraints on democracy are weakening.’

From my layman’s perspective, going by the post-Covid economic recovery as evidenced by the rapid pick-up in the tourism sector with visitor footprints nearing a million and counting, the multiple development projects in both the public (including those dubbed as ‘white elephant’) and the private sectors spanning real estate, a range of financial and legal services, some developments in the health and medical sector, a projected growth rate of 7%, and the generosity of the ruling dispensation in terms of old-age pension and other inducements – the overall future landscape appears very rosy indeed, despite some unfavourable variables such as debt-GDP ratio among others.

But is it? Much has been written about the weaknesses in our national institutions, in particular about their functioning, the critical point being about whether they are truly autonomous or are subjected to undue political pressure and/or interference. In this context, the most watched entity in the coming year – too early to label it institution as yet – will no doubt be the FCC, especially as regards who will head it and whether this will be followed by a hunting for heads, not of the talent variety but rather of the trophy variety favoured by primitive tribes. Local trophies are likely to be of the political genre, potential rivals in the power play as we approach general election later in the year or in 2025.

We can rest assured that the campaign, whenever it is set in motion, is likely to be as aggressive, dirty, ugly and of a disgustingly low level as it has been in recent years, reflecting alas the brutal rather than adversarial exchanges that take place in the Parliament, and that are cause for despair among the citizens.

But there is a larger threat that stares us and that will be upon us sooner than later, cancelling the apparent gains in the purse of gleeful beneficiaries. In fact, it is predicted that costs and prices of all items and commodities are set to rise enormously because of the ongoing wars in Ukraine and Gaza, which is now complicated by another dimension. And that is the choking of maritime traffic in the Red Sea because of the attacks by Houthi rebels based in Yemen. They have already launched several drones on vessels crossing there, and the latest news is that several large shipping companies have decided to stop their vessels plying there, preferring to take the longer but relatively safer route around the coast of Africa instead.

Besides, insurers have also pulled out from giving cover to ships that would use the Red Sea route. And this is despite the US-led coalition of ten countries that has been assembled to ensure security in the Red Sea, which carries over 70% of the global maritime trade and business, including oil transport.

It may not be an exaggeration to say that we may be up for Dickensian ‘hard times’ in the near future. Europe through NATO and the US Congress have become war weary, the later refusing to advance further funding, and indeed President Zelensky came back from Washington empty-handed after meeting his counterpart, Joe Biden.

The cries of war emanating from Europe and the Middle East will continue unabated, driven as much by economic interest and territorial claims, as by the potent hate that underlies the Gaza mayhem. To normal and peace-loving human beings, it is beyond comprehension how one group of people can persist in harbouring such a legacy of hate towards another group to the point of vowing to exterminate them!

But history is testimony that that hate is then turned inwards. Which means that we will ever thirst for that everlasting peace which even papal appeals over the years have never been able to guarantee. Instead, there have been grim portents of things to come.

The beautiful Xmas celebrations cancelled for the first time ever in Bethlehem, a rowdy crowd of 500 violently stopping 5000 devouts from celebrating XMas in New York – and that hasn’t found echo in the woke media…

Sadly, the annus horribilis awaits…


Mauritius Times ePaper Friday 29 December 2023

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