LALIT held a Press Conference at Mother Earth Hall today 17 March at 11:15 am.
Speakers for LALIT were Alain Ah-Vee, on Mauritian Politics and new events surrounding the Free Diego Garcia campaign, Rada Kistnasamy on Food Security with emphasis on Rodrigues, Jean Yves Dick on what the Government is doing and not doing on Mother Tongues, and Rajni Lallah on the Government’s delay in bringing in Electoral Reform including the abolition of the communal best loser system, and also on LALIT’s adoption as a working document of the New Women’s Manifesto. This article covers Alain Ah-Vee on Mauritian politics today, in a society where very many people, young and old, follow politics very closely.
The Press present included: Radio Plus, Radio One, Top FM, MBC TV, Le Matinal, Week-End, lexpress.mu, Le Defi, L’Express and Le Dimanche.
Alain Ah-Vee said that the political situation in the country is characterised by a state of agitation, with outbreaks of localized hot-spots in different areas or at different work sites. This seems, in broad terms, to be, he said, the result of a build-up in frustration, anger and anxiety in people who are faced with such uncertain futures. It is difficult to imagine one’s future. So, people have started to become volatile, once again. The Government and the powers-that-be in general seem oblivious to the fact that they are sitting on a social volcano. They neither sense it, nor realize it, nor even guess the truth of what is building.
This kind of agitation is taking place in the context of huge uprisings in the Middle East at the moment, including in Tunisia and Egypt.
What is provoking this agitated situation in Mauritius at the moment?
The answer lies in the series of successive crises, which are not just isolated and happening one after the other in an unconnected way, but they have a combined effect on each other, and then on us all.
For 6 years now, LALIT has been warning of the systemic crisis (that is to say a structural economic crisis, not a conjunctural one that rights itself automatically within capitalism) that is caused by the end of protection for sugar, especially, and also for textiles. These have been the main employers and the main sectors of the economy since Mauritius became a society during the Colonial period. Neither sector of the economy is viable any longer. This means that the whole of society is shaken.
This systemic crisis, Alain Ah-Vee continued, has been aggravated by an ongoing energy crisis. Mauritius has not developed its own sources of energy. LALIT has been calling for this for years. The world financial crisis and the ongoing world food crisis are against a background of a world economic crisis, the most recent expression of which is the Euro crisis which has come and made things even worse, especially for export and for tourism, putting downward pressures on exports and revenues.
He said that despite the seriousness of these crises, the Government continues with ad hoc patching up methods of addressing the symptoms as they arise. They continue to prop up the very sectors, trying to make them profitable again, sectors that they, themselves, know not to be viable or to be very fragile i.e. cane, textiles and tourism.
There is no overall thinking. No overall plan as to how to re-orientate production into new sectors, into alternative products that create jobs, stable jobs, fast and in large enough numbers to affect the problems. While the Government has no big thinking and no big action, the MMM Opposition puts forward no real alternative for the economy with the end of sugar and textiles as the backbone. The MMM just hangs around until it can somehow get into a coalition Government of some kind.
LALIT today proposes, and has for 6 years been campaigning for large-scale agricultural diversification into food production and into agro-industries that are integrated and sustainable. We call for the State to ensure food security. The Prime Minister has conceded that over 75% of food is imported, but proposes no large-scale plan to end this dependence. Only timid moves.
So, we are suffering from the crises and from the lack of any plan from Government or the Opposition. Workers young people, poor people are seeing their standard of living falling. They are reacting by mobilizing in ways they can. The CTSP demonstration against high prices was well attended. The derisory 3% wage increase has been eaten up by a huge wave of price increases over the months of December January and February. People are contesting the politics of the parties in Government and of the inertia of the opposition. Women in different parts of Port Louis have held big street demonstrations when flooding in their houses cost them their small food stocks, and they are not happy with the small some that Social Security offered them in their distress.
This is forcing reaction from the State. Both President Aneerood Jugnauth and Prime Minister Ramgoolam in their Independence Day speeches spoke about the price rises, and Government is now promising some form of price control now.
Unemployment is officially at 9%. The new measure to allow SC students with only 3 credits to move up to HSC, keeps hundreds of young people off the job market for another two years, while courses of all kinds and training are being offered. And, as we all know, the unemployed on so-called Voluntary Retirement Schemes are not counted as unemployed at all. The Business Processing Outsourcing sector and ICT are now showing their fragility. The Infinity debacle makes it clear what kind of sector it is. LALIT supports the workers who have not been paid for work done, and who are now on a 3rd hunger strike, and we call for an Anti-Slavery Law to make it a serious criminal offence for bosses not to pay workers who have already worked
The Government’s main response to the crisis, is to use repression against the demonstrations that crop up. Trade unionists are prosecuted. Those in the para-statal sector suffer repression, there are more police officers being recruited, and new prisons built, while cameras are put up all over the place to survey us all.
In the circumstances, there has been a re-enflaming of communalism, not helped by the town-countryside split in the results of the last general elections. Governments have given increasing recognition and give constant funding to all kinds of communalo-religious sectarian so-called “identity” groups. Today, these groups have become relatively loud, and can see fit to intervene on more general social issues, provoking dangerous situations.
As the frustration and anger has risen, as young people have lost confidence in their future here, there is some panic immigration once again.
Faced with such serious problems, isolated battles are not enough. NGOs will take no-one very far. Isolated struggles in work-sectors, at union level, amongst women, need to develop the collective shared consciousness of a broader more political program. Mobilization is important, but it has to be behind a unifying program that makes it clear where we are moving towards, otherwise it will not get us far. The program will need to put into question the economic system that is in place, and not just call it into question, but also put forward alternatives to the present capitalist system. So, the solution is, in LALIT’s view, a political one. And not just the politics of patching up a broken system, nor of following some leader or guru. The solution is to link the local struggles here to an internationalist and anti-imperialist movement, as it builds world-wide.
This is the work of LALIT now, and has been building over the past few years, in LALIT, and through our links with organizations that mobilize on workers rights, women’s emancipation, mother tongue promotion, and decolonization.