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LALIT holds Colloquium on Smart Cities Danger


LALIT’s colloquium on Smart Cities last Saturday 12 March was under the heading of three questions:

- The end of the reign of King Sugar, and the concretization of arable land.

- The multiple dangers of Smart Cities.

- The need for land reform.

Held at the Mother Earth Hall in GRNW, Port Louis, it was a resounding success with the participation of eight speakers as well as vibrant small groups and then a plenary which led to an action plan.

The colloquium was held on Independence and Republic Day in order to highlight the dangers Smart Cities represent of a new form of colonization, speakers highlighted, in particular a kind of colonization on the model of Israel’s setting up little colonies on Palestinian land and linking them together by big highways.

The chair, Anne-Marie Joly put emphasis on the form in which LALIT was holding the colloquium because it fitted the multi-facetted and very confusing issues around Smart Cities. In particular, we chose to have seven different topics introduced by seven different leading members, each having seven minutes, and three minutes for questions. Then going on to discuss in small groups, and finally the one-hour plenary session.

The first speaker was Rada Kistnasamy and he made the case for the Smart Cities strategy being a continuation of the centuries long tradition of the State arranging society so that the sugar estate bosses make a profit. Every time the price of sugar falls, the State acts to increase the real estate value of their land: in recent times, first the Illovo Deal, then IRS and now Smart Cities. A simple bit of paper, signed by a Minister, increases the value of the sugar estates capital by a factor of 10 to 100. The Smart Cities strategy is thus not meeting the needs of the people of the country, but of the big bosses.

Rajni Lallah then outlined the actual law on Smart Cities, Government Notice no 128 of 2015. She put emphasis on both the complete de-taxing of land transactions and even of VAT for materials, while working people  pay these taxes. She also explained how the Smart Cities law gives millionaires citizenship after two years.

Alain Ah-Vee then spoke of the international “push” for Smart Cities, how it is linked to two kinds of reality: once again land speculation, just as in Mauritius, and also selling electronic gadgets and thus giving the name “smart cities” to both newly created and existing old cities that get re-named. He put the strategy in a historical context showing how Napoleon III had wanted to re-design Paris, in part to create big prestige building projects to symbolize empire, and in part to get rid of the working people of Paris. Alain said how this backfired in the Paris Commune some 25 years’ later.

Shabeela Kalla gave the positions of the MMM and Labour Opposition Parties to the Smart Cities projects, as well as other lesser parties stands or non-stands. In particular she exposed the MMM’s usual strategy to criticize the Government plan (Heritage City) and to support the sugar estate Smart Cities. She showed how the Smart Cities were causing opposition from other sectors of the bourgeoisie, naming three or four big bosses, and were meanwhile embraced by most editorialists in an abject way. She also briefly outlined some of the urban planners criticisms of the strategy.

Lindsey Collen then spoke on the difference between a living, organically growing city with its democratic traditions that predate those of the nation-state, and the imposition of new cities thought out by an elite and placed upon the landscape from the outside.

Kisna Kistnasamy gave the last speech which linked together LALIT’s profound criticism of this Smart Cities strategy with our own proposal for popular control over land, work and food. We propose a strategy based on the need to use land for the benefit of everyone, to produce work for everyone in the country, and at the same time to produce food. – not just for us to eat, but to be able to supply people in the region who need food.

Ram Seegobin sent apologies – he had flu, now over it – and his theme, the different kinds of Smart Cities in Mauritius (sugar-boss-led, other-boss-led, imperialist-led and lime Heritage City, Government-led, was taken up by other speakers.

The participative part of the colloquium was very dynamic, leading to leaflet distributions all over Mauritius, and to plans for localized meetings.