HISTORY AND MINDSET
How old is Mauritius, not in geological terms (10,000,000 years) but in terms of human settlement? Less than 400 years if we include the brief Dutch settlement (1638-1710). In that short period of time, the Creole Island of Mauritius has gone through all the great events of human history from slavery to neoliberal capitalism via a form of semi-feudalism and two world wars. What can the impact of this rapid succession of historical events be on the people’s mindset? Would it make people more open-minded, more predisposed to changes or rather less ready and less prepared to accept changes? Moreover, the country and its people have undergone 3 types of colonisation (Dutch, French and British) in this rather short time? What can the impact be? Now, if we add to all this, the peopling of the Creole Island with different waves of immigrants from different parts of the world, namely, France, Great Britain, Mozambique, Madagascar, India and China, what would the outcome be? A biological and cultural melting pot or rather a chequered mess of clannish and tribal loyalties? A rainbow nation or a rather a complex network of ‘noubanns’ and ‘bannlas’? ‘Enn sel lepep, enn sel nasion’ or ‘Bef dan disab, sakenn get so lizié’.
A thorough and honest study of the sixties and seventies can help us see some light through the fog. In 1967, when we had to decide who would run the country, social-democrats or pro-apartheid forces powered by big-white money, the country was divided into 2 clans: the pro-Hindus and the anti-Hindus. Half a century later, not much has changed.
CENTRIPETAL VERSUS CENTRIFUGAL FORCES
There is a constant conflict between a marginal centripetal force which aims at developing a national, supra-ethnic identity and dominant centrifugal forces, powered by ethnic loyalties which are dead against supra-ethnic values. When we have to face natural calamities, we do see some positive reflexes triggered by solidarity and sharing. But when the situation is back to ‘more-or-less normal’, we go back to ‘business as usual’ and take Metro Express to ‘Bef dan disab, sakenn get so lizié’?
Neoliberal capitalism, based on cupidity and selfishness pushed to its upper limit, is presented by its proponents as TINA (there is no alternative), the only system which offers solutions to all problems. Since its inception and first use by the dictator Pinochet with the support of the USA, this system supported by far-right leaders has given power and wealth to the very rich and has plunged the planet into chaos.
But now Covid-19 shows that neoliberal capitalism is a giant with Achilles heel. Trump boasted that the USA would not be affected by it. We now know that the first world power is the most vulnerable. Bolsonaro of Brazil insists in denying that there is a problem although hundreds have died so far and Modi thinks that a lit diya will force the disease to quit India.
Neoliberal capitalism which believes that state power is incompatible with growth, seeks state bailing out each time there is trouble. The present crisis has seen increased state power using taxpayers’ money to rescue the economy run by a handful of giant corporations.
Positive humane attitudes have also emerged. Intraethnic solidarity has been overshadowed by supra-ethnic generosity. Will this new phenomenon grow even when Covid-19 is something of the past? It is to be hoped that we will not relapse into ‘Bef dan disab, sakenn get so lizié’.