Protest Politics


The National Security Services (NSS) must surely have been in the field this week at Camp Levieux and its surrounding areas, and earlier in the south of the island, particularly at Chemin Grenier then Plaine Magnien, following citizens protests in these places with each incident coming simultaneously within the last three weeks. If the Plaine Magnien protests had to do with the continuing problem of floodings there and in other localities around the island following heavy downpours due to faulty or inexistent drains, the street protests at Camp Levieux must have jolted the authorities given that these protests appear to be a first in many decades for reasons of economic hardships encountered by the population, in particular low income households that are hit hardest by the rising prices of essential commodities, fuel and pharmaceutical prices, etc.

There is always the suspicion of sinister and underhand manipulation by the opposition and other forces whenever citizens take to the streets to voice out different grievances, or worse, to challenge the established order. It is not known whether the NSS investigations have been able to come up withevidence other than suspicions of any such manipulation in the incidents at Plaine Magnien or at Camp Levieux, but it should be a matter of concern to the political party/alliance in powerwhenever such spontaneous citizens protests occur. Almost two years ago, there was social unrest with the poor planning and implementation of lockdowns. Today the public expressions of the people’s sense of growing frustration about their abandonment in heavy and repeated floodings despite billions reportedly allocated to drains in the last budget add to the anger felt when those in Bambous Virieux had to street-vent recently for prolonged lack of drinking water and were subjected to police crackdown.

This week’s spontaneous eruptions at Camp Levieux are clearly linked to anger at falling standard of living due to rising prices compounded by what they perceive to be abuses and wastage of public funds in prestige projects and a lack of accountability and good governance. We would not be surprised if NSS field officers would conclude that they emanate from deep down from the ranks of the working classes themselves rather than instigated by political opponents. A hungry man who has a family to clothe and feed, and who feels he has no other outlet or means of being heard, does not respect the rule of law. A French idiom sums it up as “la violence insurrectionnelleestprécédée de la violence institutionnelle”, and politicians who do not listen to genuine and legitimate popular demands have good reasons to be concerned.

Without going into alarmist conjectures, it would however be well to remember that research conducted in different societies afflicted by conflicts and tensions indicates that it takes only four percent of the population to challenge the established order. In times of prolonged economic hardships, growing frustrations eventually translate into street protests that result in forcing issues affecting the common man on the political agenda and can also have a politicising effect upon the rest of the population – the bystanders – leading eventually to generalised protests all over the place. We are not there, and the government’s reaction to date has been a textbook application of police intimidation. It can easily backfire as testified by the latest bout of arrests and provisional charges for a public Radio One event that rapidly turned sour for government and mayoral representatives with the hilarious exchanges on the term “gopia”. That familiar creole word has been used previously in the National Assembly by no less than the PM himself without causing a furore and only the most intellectually challenged will act upon or take such a matter to courts.

The authorities will hopefully find ways and means to alleviate real hardships faced by the lowest rungs and the frustrations of the middle classes as no institution currently offers any outlet or hope that their grievances will be attended to now and not two months down the road. Many concrete suggestions and avenues have been raised by past Finance Ministers Sithanen and Xavier Duval and many prominent economists, will they keep falling on deaf ears?

Mauritius Times ePaper Friday 22 April 2022

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