Modern day historians challenge the story of the ‘Potemkin Wall’, claiming it is largely fictional. It is said Grigory Potemkin, Governor of Crimea, fooled his mistress by setting up a pompous façade along the banks of the Dnieper river during her visit back in 1787. Philosophers and political analysts have since used the expression to depict illusionary tactics and masquerades. Had Potemkin lived today, surely he would be proudly waving a Mauritian flag and his wall would be all but a lie.
Looking around my countrymen, I stand convinced the philosophy of ‘Positivism’ has been indigenously crafted on our land. The string of wonderful stories illuminating the celebrations of the 50th anniversary of our independence constitute an amazing piece of evidence of hallucinations smoking our minds. No wonder we failed to understand the sally of Mark Twain. Over 123 years since and most of us still believe the famous American satirist really meant to say “Heaven was copied after Mauritius”. Who needs synthetic drugs to get high?
Though the idea of sovereignty is gradually losing its significance in a globalized world, half a century since independence remains nonetheless an important milestone for us, Islanders. A moment of joy and mostly of self satisfaction. Certainly we are far from being the only independent country in the world, despite some of us tending to behave like the only damsel at a packed stag party. The way forward rests in our ability to draw a truly honest Mea Culpa. It’s time for the test which most of us fear – that of truth.
1968 was not only the year of independence but also that of the country’s first ever riots seemingly sparked by… a pimp. The combined effect of diverging views surrounding the independence and that of the riots resulted in making Nation Building the top post-independence priority of the country. The fundamental question prior to hoisting our 50 year old flag would be “Have we, half a century later, succeeded in building a nation?’ Or is the mass still bolted to the bottom of the mast?
As one nation…
As we pull our lungs together to yell out ‘As one people, As one nation’, we would be sweeping the iniquitous discriminative thoughts & practices based on community, caste and creed which drive our choices of daily life. Once the cease fire over, we will be back at it in full swing. Back in 1968 it was like ‘Malbar’, ‘Lascar’, ‘Creole’ etc. Fifty years later we are even more deeply rooted in wider ethnic considerations such as sub castes. As we speak of nation, let’s flash back and recall the Egyptian flag flying high during the Zamalek match or even Ashoka’s chakra being waved during the visit of Mohan Baghan. Let’s not forget the game against a visiting South Korean team played on a Thursday so that countrymen of Chinese origin would be free to attend (shops are usually closed early on Thursdays). It’s been years since and I am still wondering what the hell Chinese had to do with South Koreans.
The lack of knowledge is precisely what’s killing our nation. Try telling somebody from the Tamil community “Eta malbar” and for sure your head will be knocked off. Yet they are the genuine migrants from Malabar hills. While trying to understand how come members of the Rajput community are considered as a low caste in Mauritius, since it’s not the case in Incredible India where the definition of Rajput (from Sanskrit raja-putra, “son of a king”) differs, I came across somebody who explained “Rajputs of Mauritius are not genuine sons of Kings”. Would that mean our so-called Brahmins are descendants of the great Ved Vyas or Aadi Shankaracharya? Then again, centuries later, the debate on whether the founder of Hinduism was a Vishwakarma or a Namboothiri Brahmin is yet to be sorted out. So strange our learned people have never heard ‘Caste is attributed by Dharma and not by Birth’.
Assuming the madness of clustering people is nonetheless a fundamental right, it still does not justify the distortion of facts. Even our proudly called Dholl Puri is a savoury version of the Gujrathi ‘Poli’. We have had the knack of adapting ‘Idlis’, the famous South Indian breakfast, into a Deepavali sweet.
But our mind is far more gangrened. Many writers and bloggers often blame our insularity for our choices and customs. Which, to me, is an understatement. Maybe it’s simply the vast extent of salty water surrounding our tiny piece of land which has corroded our mind. Right from soft drinks to cars, our choices are greatly influenced by ethnic considerations. We are probably the only country in the world where Pepsi Cola is favoured because of the ethnicity of the local franchise owner. How ironical is it for people to support the greatest funders of Zionist ideology and yet feel sorry for the dreadful fate of Palestinian children? The Japanese would be surprised to learn that some of us prefer their cars because they believe we share some ancestral linkages.
We once used to be the front fighters of great causes, stood against apartheid, supported the Non Aligned Movement (NAM) and have been a steward of pan Africanism. Today our people are displaying confirmed symptoms of acute schizophrenia, with our minds being very selective or at times evasive on the ‘JE SUIS …….’. Do we have to be a Christian to voice out our anger against terror attacks taking place in Europe? Do we have to be a Muslim to feel for the blood sheds in Palestine, Syria, Myanmar etc.? Do we have to be a Tamil to stand up against the 70-year ongoing genocide in Sri Lanka? Do we need to be Hindus to provide financial aid to victims of calamities in Bihar? What about those who were butchered in Rwanda, Congo, East Timor and Bosnia? How many of our Palestinian & Israeli supporters do know that George Habash, also known as “al-Hakim” was an Orthodox Christian politician who founded the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine? Humanity carries a very simple tagline – ‘Either you have it or you don’t’.
As one people
By trying to find some rational explanation as to the confused minds of our people, I ultimately landed on the foundations of our education system which formats our grey matter. If education is said to be the only tool capable of setting man free, a doctored education system can make him a slave for ever. The ‘divide and rule’ strategy implemented by former colonisers enabled to stay in power for centuries. It is factual to say those who benefitted from the system were actually the rulers, which in our case are the oligarchs sprouted from French colonisation. Obviously, decolonisation for them was a significant concern. Several recent studies reveal how rulers, with increasingly limited state capacity, influenced policies as to increase heterogeneity of the population. Eric Hobsbawm, claimed by his peers to be a man endowed with extraordinary intellectual prowess, or as The Guardian describes him ‘A Historian’s historian’, noted in 1990 “states would use the increasingly powerful machinery for communicating with their inhabitants, above all the primary schools, to spread the image and heritage of the ‘nation’ and to inculcate attachment to it,” and that “the official or culture language of rulers and elites usually came to be the actual language of modern states via public education”.
In our particular case, it is definitely not the language which is the main issue but the content inculcated into the minds of our children. Of course, the promotion of ‘Creole’ as language, in a country totally dependent on the outside world, remains debatable. Which reminds me of an interesting anecdote. That of a lady, stern advocate of the Creole Language, scolding her son for having said “Eta, mari sa”. The lady replied “C’est quoi ce langage?”
However, we still need to recognise the outstanding commitment of many great countrymen who did believe through education, we could have a better yield. Names like: Dhanjee, Patten, Babet, Balgobin, Bhujoharry, Boodhoo, Wong, Bhugaloo, Thanacody, Rault, Roy, Manrakhan, Vencatasamy, Raman, Khadaroo, Jaipal, Napal, Jeetah, Saddul, Gangaram, Obeegadoo, Chan Lam, Sewpaul and few others remain unsung heroes of our country. Today many of our youngsters, and even more those fanatical Berengistes, would be unaware of a daring man named Heeralall Bhugaloo, who resigned barely a month after being appointed as Minister, in protest against the abject education system. He went to the extent of chaining himself to the pillar of a college. The police forces had to intervene to cut the chains. Only to see Heeralall Bhugaloo return the next day with much bigger chains. The pain endured by these great people has been of no use, given today ever more than before, the education system bows to the diktat of the market dominated by oligarchs, the very same rulers of last three centuries. With countries like Finland running one of the world’s most successful education system actually heading towards replacement of traditional subjects by more comprehensive themes of interest, the recent amendments to our schooling can only make us thrive in a league of our own, churning our children into dogged vassals of our powerful masters.
In peace, justice and liberty ….
How dare we talk about Peace, Justice & Liberty when our state has instead of standing resolved on making the Indian Ocean a zone of peace is brokering deals with all military super powers gearing up for war? Absolutely gobsmacking when a minister unilaterally extends the support of Mauritian People to the Saudi led coalition in exterminating thousands of children and women in Yemen. Not a single sound of protest from our MPs, nor from those so called “Je suis Rohingya’ and “Je suis Palestine’.
Prior to spelling out these words, we need to question ourselves on the possibility for Peace, Justice and Liberty to exist in today’s world without economic freedom. In 2012, I met with a major shareholder of one of the six conglomerates running the country. Half way through his croissant, he proudly narrated how “When my ancestors landed on this island 300 years back, they found only trees and monkeys. So, it is somewhat right to believe it all belongs to us”. Staying along that logic, I might as well have argued that the ‘Creoles’ ought to be the owners of the land, being descendants of the maroon slaves who stayed back when the Dutch departed. But I simply wanted to focus on our initial discussion which pertained to power production and distribution. Back then I had foreseen what the next move would be after gulping down the billions donated by European Union towards the reforms within the Sugar Industry. The oligarchs who own over 80% of the economy, not complying with Coal – Bagasse agreed ratio, disregarding the compulsory 5000 acres which had to be under cane cultivation for soil retention purpose, dumping thousands of tons of toxic ashes in cement products presented under an eco-label, are now eager to secure a total control of our energy network.
Around thee we gather
50 years back, there were nearly 40 000 farmers / planters and this figure has been drastically reduced by a mix of constraints. Today local food production has shifted to the hands of oligarchs who are on a business grabbing spree. The children of farmers have bartered their cultivations for a tie and an uncertain 9 to 4 office job. This reminds me of Kenya’s first President, Jomo Kenyatta who once said, “When the Missionaries arrived, the Africans had the land and the Missionaries had the Bible. They taught how to pray with our eyes closed. When we opened them, they had the land and we had the Bible.” In Mauritius, most countrymen seem to derive joy from the missionary position. Otherwise how could we willingly accept such domination. Maybe, after all, the Stockholm Syndrome did not originate from Stockholm. Here is a concrete example. Right now, the only onions available on the market are imported from Holland. The retail price in most outlets stands at Rs 45 per kg. The packed ones under the label ‘Medine’ are sold at Rs 74 and in all chain supermarkets belonging to the oligarchs, the onions are displayed alongside each other with the prices of Medine products not to be seen. I leave it to you to guess which ones are the best sellers. This is the time for our countrymen to assess the impact of liberalism. From cement to dairy products, not a single product reflects the real market price.
Still, there will be so many pimping around, writing books, reviews and articles to portray those oligarchs are the great people of the land. It would be truly an amazing feat, if prior to claiming our outer islands from the super powers, we could first and foremost do justice to the victims having stated to Truth & Justice commission that their land had been grabbed by Medine. It goes without saying, nobody would dare to commit the sacrilege of writing on such issues. The banks, hotels and other businesses are, beyond any doubt, holy cows and Independent Mauritius is a vast temple with the oligarchs as main deities. I was hardly in my teens in the 90’s when an Ad depicting a dark-skinned guy rolling out a red carpet for a white, triggered a turmoil. The promoter simply answered back “have you ever seen a white person rolling out a red carpet for a black?”. Anyone daring to challenge the order will be brutally crushed to bits.
Sweet is thy fragrance…
One of the main critics levelled against the BAI relates to the interlinkages between the companies of the group. Interestingly, fellow researcher Tijo Salverda, in his works on Post-colonial reconfiguration of Franco-Mauritians published in the journal of Royal Geographical Society, underlines how 62 out of the top hundred companies are interlinked, with only six not being directly connected to the grid. He further states, “In sociological studies on elites, interlocking directorates are often considered an indication of a high level of elite cohesion. The assumption is that when the boards of directors are linked to each other by individuals holding directorships on several of these boards, interests are more likely to be identical as these linkages imply a relatively strong crossover of opinions, interests, practises and strategies”. It is these strategies which become the national agenda with our politicians, public servants, mouth pieces of business institutions and media far too happy to do the monkey job of satisfying the fragrant oligarchs.
Motherland of mine
With the Land gone forever, what’s left of the Mother? In a few days’ time, the media will be feasting on the latest Audit report filled with facts and figures defeating common sense. Weeks later, the prime minister, also minister of finance, will jog around bluffing on his amazing imaginary achievements. In months to come, doctors and nursing staff at public hospitals will be given Id Cards by a private insurance company, allowing them to benefit from treatment at private hospitals. Our energy grid will be in the hands of the trustworthy oligarchs. We would be blessed to have a foreign strategic partner operating the water valves after we would have invested billions in the upgrading of infrastructures. Growing environmental issues will be dealt by a minister who believes earthquakes stimulates foreplay.
With the middle income class swaying dangerously down towards the 120 000 people unable to access basic amenities, debt & poverty will soon unite most of us. We will be spending hundreds of millions in the celebrations of our 50th anniversary. Most of it would have been borrowed and spent for the satisfaction of a handful as thousands line up in search of a job, house, water and food.
As our prime minister calls upon the youth to take the country forward, I can only be eager to know what he has to say to the parents of the boy who lost his life in an accident while trying to avoid a pothole on the road which makes up for the hundreds of billions of debt our beloved country has contracted?
If ever there was a paradise, we surely must have lost it and I stand as an apostate seeing no real reason to celebrate.