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Friday, 18 January 2013 10:22

Ramgoolam at the crossroads

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The name of Mohamed Bouazizi, the hawker who immolated himself in Tunisia, is usually associated with the fall of the Ben Ali regime and the beginning of the Arab Spring. In fact, Bouazizi was but a bombshell.
The fall of Ben Ali was anticipated as soon as he came across the one who was to become his second wife, a hairdresser with a breathtaking beauty, Leila Trabelsis.

Nobody was shocked in that Muslim country, where Bourguiba brought modernity, that Leila Ben Ali became a wife of the president. The machos even found that he had good taste. It was the aftermath that shocked the nation and paved the way for the ‘objective conditions’, as they say in Marxist terms that would lead to revolt and subsequently to Ben Ali’s fall.

Leila Ben Ali, an ambitious woman, forgot that she was but the wife of the President and she worked, with the help of her family and courtiers, towards building a real centre of power around her. She became the ‘Queen of Carthage’ as Tunisians began to call her, to make fun of her. No business opportunity was possible in Tunisia without going through the network of Leila Ben Ali. WikiLeaks, quoting a report from the U.S. ambassador based in Tunis, reported at the time: “Seemingly half of the Tunisian business community can claim a Ben Ali marriage connection and many of these relations are reported to have made the most of their lineage. Ben Ali’s wife, Leila Ben Ali, and her extended family – the Trabelsi – provoke the greatest ire from Tunisians.” The rest is history.

Of course, the small island of Mauritius has nothing much in common with Tunisia. And although some values tend to erode in Mauritius, they have not assumed the magnitude (and we hope not) they took in the police state of Ben Ali. But history is an open book and it may prove useful to those who want to derive lessons.

In Mauritius, the population rejected the regime of Sir Anerood Jugnauth, “The man behind our economic miracle”, at a given time. Not because of his economic record, of which he could be proud of, but because of sheer extravagance by his close ones, the epitome of which was the 20 rupees banknote, designed by a courtier who incidentally happened to be the Governor of the Central Bank. Navin Ramgoolam runs the same risk, despite the acceptable economic record of his government, if he does not pay attention to the activities of his numerous cronies.

Political leaders probably do not like being reminded of certain truths, but the reality is what it is, often merciless towards those who attempt or pretend to ignore it. Both Sir Anerood Jugnauth and Navin Ramgoolam have tasted the fruits of victory and the bitterness of defeat. This shows that Mauritians, in their collective intelligence, do not appreciate that those who govern them strike deep roots in power, especially when their entourage make an abuse of it.

Navin Ramgoolam, whatever his weaknesses, has two advantages over his opponents: 1) having lived long in Britain, he is considered as a liberal and is well seen, especially among young people from various communities, and (2), he has no apparent heir, and therefore escapes the stereotypes attached to those suspected of perpetuating dynasties.

The second feature should have helped him to affirm that he is not motivated by personal interest, but instead he has a "sense of mission" in the national interest. But does he really have an ambitious project of a modern Mauritius, transforming the country into a sustainable hub in the region? Is there a project to motivate Mauritians? A national project which aims to ‘deepen democracy’ as we say, through policies, structures and cultures that converge towards more transparency, more accountability and more empowerment of independent institutions (as recommended by the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund)?

It’s so doubtful! And it is a pity, for example, when the Labour party removes from its government program the basic right of citizens to have access to information through a Freedom of Information Act. By the way, what happened to the philosophy of ‘economic democratisation’? And the 1,000 acres of land expected from the sugar estates for social housing?

Navin Ramgoolam is indeed at the crossroads… He is doomed if he continues to blindly or willfully pay heed to his courtiers, who, in their quest to feather their own nest, will, of course, push him towards using repression as a solution to real problems. It will only be a premature escape. Whatever the government of the day, at mid-term, people are not afraid of those in power. It is the opposite which is true. Navin Ramgoolam cannot deny being aware of or understanding that a passive resistance is slowly but surely gaining ground in various quarters.

He must be asking himself how a complaint against the leader of the MSM has turned into a real charge sheet against his own government, in the midst of a cyclonic night at the Line Barracks and why crucial and sensitive information still reach the former Prime Minister and former President of the Republic. He is wrong if he underestimates the relays of a13-year reign of Jugnauth in various government departments.

One of our colleagues last week quoted the strategist Kautilya and the author of ‘The Art of War’. Fortunately, we are no more in the era of cruel wars that once blood bathed India, China and Japan. We are today in an age of emotional intelligence, where, through subtleties we can rally opponents, allies and potential supporters. Will Navin Ramgoolam take the lead in cleansing his inner circles while at the same time bringing the necessary reforms towards the making of a true Second Republic of freedom and fairness?

Particularly, reforms that ensure greater transparency and accountability in political spheres, including a code of conduct for elected members and their cronies; a law on the financing of political parties and politicians and limiting the number of mandates in order to renew the political class. He may well need to revisit his Senate project to allow ex-dignitaries, professionals and representatives of civil society to play a prominent role in supporting young politicians and officials. In the same breath, he should seriously tackle the daily scourges of Mauritians (water, insecurity, unemployment, cost of living ...) instead of endless bickering with his opponents and reacting according to their agenda.

In the absence of a heir, Navin Ramgoolam must decide whether he wants to be queathe a legacy worthy of the name to the nation and to posterity. Or else, as stated by trade unionist Jack Bizlall, he will simply enjoy or allow his entourage to enjoy power before being kicked out of the game on the crutches of History!

Zero Tolerance

ZERO Tolérance

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