Who benefits from geopolitical tensions?

“Breaking out to a higher practicable platform is the need of the moment. What do we gain if we keep asking ourselves the question: who among our political class is better than the other? We are surely missing the forest for the trees. The future of Mauritius is at stake”

While we are busy fighting it out among ourselves, tensions are building up at the global level. Not only is China asserting itself more strongly than ever in the South China Sea – the principal target being America -, Russia is also asserting itself in Europe and in the Middle East – the principal target being America. Already, experts in international affairs have started believing that, since the upsets in Ukraine in 2014, the ‘Cold War’ between the two global nuclear superpowers – Russia and the US — has turned into a ‘Hot War’.

In international affairs, however, one should not jump to the conclusion that any one of the three major powers engaging in the struggle for power is blameless. In this arena, power is acquired by trimming down each other’s influence and position. The status quo becomes untenable. Conditions which were accepted yesterday need not go unchallenged and this is where America is facing difficulties from the two other contenders of global power. Aside from such considerations, however, there are a number of domestic factors in each one of the three major powers behind this unsettling position for the whole world. Not being able to deliver on the domestic front as much as expected, the play out at the international level is helping to stoke up domestic support against the outsider, the intruder.

As usual in such power games, the culprit must be found. For China and Russia, it is America which has wrenched away their international clout by posing as the sole global superpower. America, on its part, is very much in the condition of Mauritius – though not comparable in terms of scale and global stakes – weakening itself by an unending futile internal belligerence that has kept undermining its collective strength by targeting individuals, not the real economic and social challenges facing the country.

Both China and Russia find in America the perfect scapegoat for all that is not going on well at home. Besides, the need to rebalance poles of power at the global level is never a forgotten agenda for ambitious countries and their peoples. That’s why Ukraine’s bid to join the European Union became the opportunity par excellence for Russia to challenge NATO’s supremacy in Europe and elsewhere. Similarly, America’s resolve to extricate itself from others’ battles in the Middle East tilted the balance in favour of a Russia-Syria-Iran configuration against the customary US-Saudi Arabia-Israel tie-up. We don’t know when and how past decades’ global power struggles will resolve themselves.

It should be quite evident that the escalation of geopolitical tensions of the sort will deter rather than help the development of places like Mauritius and Africa. Why? During the erstwhile days of spreading global economic growth, tensions were low. This situation was conducive to opening up of markets and prospects for development. Today, in the wake of the post-2008 slowdown of economic growth, Africa’s growth has halved from what it was during the fairly recent years of commodities’ boom. Who then do we turn to if the international situation goes on deteriorating?

Situations like this make competition for securing markets even stronger. Countries which have developed a technology edge or have successfully re-skilled their workforce cut the edge and penetrate even tough markets. Those which haven’t are likely to face an uphill climb. It is from this angle that Mauritius will need to consider positioning itself in the present tumultuous global situation.

Should we prioritize infighting at the cost of giving a clearer edge to the economy? Should we concentrate on who should be in power rather than on all the efficient restructuring we should do to breathe new life in our economic structure?

We have just seen how vulnerable we can become at the level of our domestic food security by the unexpected outbreak of the foot-and-mouth disease affecting cattle and the salmonella hit against poultry. It’s risky to operate with an economic base that is taking too much time to adapt to emerging global exigencies.

The production structure of the country cannot build up further layers of production – which is what we need when the global structure threatens to break down should international tensions increase — if its existing layers prove so vulnerable at one stroke. For example, where focus was necessary, we appear to have been too relaxed to be able to cope with sudden outbreak of diseases which, we are told, was partly due to lack of the required action to stop the thing before it spread out. It is just an example to show that rigour in administration is not a luxury which we have the option to set aside as it suits our pleasure.

We have no say in the struggle in which the big powers are engaged. If the next US President is not skilled enough, international confrontation may aggravate the situation of vulnerable countries like us. But, independently of what happens there, we have a say in sculpting a resilient economic production base of our own, irrespective of how the big powers resolve their issues and when exactly the world economy will become serene enough to give us fresh opportunities for growth and further development. We should attend to this.

It will be wrong to be pessimistic on this score. We have enough resources and determination to forge ahead despite global difficulties. We can identify all those who can help lift up the production stage and how to proceed along this path. A Ministry of Planning would have already thought out the strategy to adopt in the given circumstances and produced a roadmap to undertake. Fine, we don’t have one.

An objective think-tank that is listened to would have concentrated energies on directions which hold out scope for us to go into. If we don’t have a home-made team for this, the World Bank could have helped us chart our future course, given constraints but also from possibilities it would be aware of out of its regular interactions with different countries in our position. The country badly needs to collect itself and make progress.

Breaking out to a higher practicable platform is the need of the moment. What do we gain if we keep asking ourselves the question: who among our political class is better than the other? We are surely missing the forest for the trees. The future of Mauritius is at stake.

Anil Gujadhur

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