All manner of political forces, local and world-wide, are converging on Mauritius now, in the aftermath of the Wakashio shipwreck oil spill, coming during the strange times of a Coronavirus epidemic and causing an acute form of mass hysteria.
There was already some base-line hysteria, and near-despair, in the middle classes. It is the precise kind of despair that fascism feeds off. This is the danger.
The middle classes have, indeed, been cruelly squeezed for some years now. It is true. Not as much as the working class, of course, but a good deal.
We must keep our heads cool in such times.
Yesterday someone who I esteem and who is close to the Church “invited” me via a personal WhatsApp message to a demonstration organized by a Israeli-linked hit-man Bruneau Laurette. She did it by sending me two files: a photo of the man’s “approval” letter for his demonstration (1) and his audio-clip in French announcing he has employed a “communications and PR firm” to handle preparations. I at once replied by SMS, asking my acquaintance if she can vouch for this man. She replied, thanking me, and asking me if I have details on the demonstration. But it was she who was inviting me. I was not inviting her. This confused situation is a sure sign of hysteria in a society. The invitation she sent me does not mention the theme of the demonstration, let alone the demands. Yet, she invites me. This, too, is a sure sign of lurking hysteria.
Earlier yesterday, a Mauritian friend abroad asked if I would participate in an on-line event, a consciousness-raising and fund-raising effort by reading a poem. I encouraged her to go ahead with the consciousness-raising, but said I was not in a position to encourage fund-raising. Given all the vested interests converging, I said, I would be rushing in where angels fear to tread.
The contrast is sharp in the country. All this sudden burst of activity, even a frenzy around the Wakashio is strange. By contrast, we have seen strictly no help, no action, no empathy, from the petty bourgeoisie, for example, for all the 2,000 working class families living in toxic asbestos housing for years, raising their babies and children in these conditions, caring for the sick and aged in these conditions, however much these families have demonstrated in the streets. Many live in the same area as the oil spill. In general, opposition parties have no problem ignoring this suffering. Horrible as it is to say this, it is as if it is not exciting enough.
This article is to give some idea of the immense vested interests at stake in Mauritius today, as they all converge. They may be contributing anba-anba to the hysteria.
There is nothing new in all that we will describe below. Only our own forgetfulness in times of hysteria. These background facts are of paramount importance. And in times of anxiety and even mass hysteria, we must never lose sight of them.
The first thing to not forget is that the UK and USA are just waiting to punish the Mauritian State for humiliating them over the Chagos and Diego Garcia issue at the UN last year, and for Jugnauth rightly accusing the British of “a crime against humanity” for their deporting the Chagossians. That is the big picture. (2)
Anyway, no time is wasted after the spill.
On 12 August, as soon as the spill gets to be big news, the BBC reporter Samantha Simmonds is on the air demanding an “apology” from the Mauritian Prime Minister for the spill, as though the Mauritian Government, not a Japanese ship bearing a Panama flag, rammed the ship into the reef. The BBC is “balanced” only when UK-USA interests are not concerned. On the Iraq war, for example, it was atrociously biased and lost international viewers.
Then on 14 August the BBC’s Christian Frazer introduces Navin Ramgoolam as Leader of the Opposition when the man is not even an MP. Talk about misinformation. Then Frazer has to cut Ramgoolam off (rightly) because he brings up an alarming allegation, no facts to bolster it only hysteria. This allegation was never to our knowledge taken up with facts afterwards by even anti-Government media, or the Opposition under cover of Parliamentary immunity. It is dangerous and, of course, it gets perpetuated on social media e.g. a mash-up of a 2017 L’Express Menteur Menteur video and a photo of someone on a ship.
Soon a British back-bencher kas lakle. MP Henry Smith says that “the very slow response” of the Mauritian Government “does not bode well for their sovereignty claim (sic) they could protect the Chagos Islands pristine waters”. That tells all. (I’ll not comment here on the filthy military base, which services nuclear submarines, and that is housed there illegally by the UK’s tenant, the USA military.)
Meanwhile, on 14 August, plum in the middle of all this, US ambassador David Reimer is photographed purchasing 11 acres of land for Rs10 billion (sic) from the ENL sugar conglomerate. From a floor or two in the old Rogers Building, the Embassy now plans to upgrade to an 11-acre plot to get its grip a bit tighter on Mauritius. (3) Just bear this in mind too.
So, with the biggest military base in the world sitting with all its equipment right on Mauritian soil on Diego Garcia, and with money to throw around on real estate, neither of these two, UK or USA, had even a teeny weeny tug to offer to help in the oil spill after the Wakashio shipwreck at Pointe d’Esny. They sat and watched, maybe stirring hysteria here and there, who knows? Then came timid offers of help, too little, too late.
The French state, almost as quick as in Beirut, sent a Minister in person, boots on the ground, to offer aid to a former colony. France always manages to act like a colonial power, even though it left Mauritius 200 years ago (4).
The Indian State, expanding its influence in the region, has sent a team for the cleanup, too. And Japan has, too, the ship being Japanese.
So we have to bear in mind that all these forces have vested interests that operate on the ground.
Ship owners and Ship Insurer’s Money Interests
Obviously, the more the Mauritian Government is blamed for acting incorrectly in the clean-up, the less the ship owners and ship insurers will be liable in money damages for the oil spill. This is, you might think, an elementary vested interest. But, it was only when Kris Valaydon drew attention to this in Le Mauricien 17 August, that some circumspection crept back to replace the hysteria.
And this brings us to one of the strangest articles we have read. Le Mauricien 17 August again publishes a bit of text purporting to come from the Japanese ship-owners’ official communiqué (5), and which is so outrageous that it can only be some kind of mistake. If not, everyone should be up in arms. But no-one is up in arms. Nor has anyone to our knowledge published any correction. Yes, under conditions of mass hysteria, life is such that appalling things like those said in this article can exist without explanation and then melt away for no reason, disappear without a trace, as though they didn’t exist.
Facts about the Clean-up
The facts about the clean-up are: There were 4,000 tons of oil that could have been in the spill. Pravind Jugnauth’s strategy led to 1,000 tons of oil being spilt, of which the government, helped by volunteers, then collected 800 tons and is still cleaning up, now with international aid. 3,000 tons of oil were pumped out of the ship in time. The oil spill was bad, 1,000 tons is bad. Fishermen and all those involved in life and work around the sea in that part of Mauritius have been affected, marine life and ecosystems harmed. 4,000 tons would have been four times worse.
Facts about the Shipwreck
The facts about the shipwreck are: the ship is owned by a Japanese company but sails under a Panama flag, it went off course twice on its way from Singapore to Brazil, it did not reply to radio calls, some of its crew had been on board for far too long (not being able to disembark because of Coronavirus), it crashed into the Mauritian reef, causing a serious oil spill that will damage the environment a great deal. The Japanese company has apologized. Two top crew members, the Captain and another, have been arrested and charged.
Facts about the Jugnauth Government’s response
LALIT criticized the Mauritian Government early on by asking a series of questions about its strategy (6). The Jugnauth Government’s response relied on “experts” that were not brought to press conferences. There was a decision based on this opaque expert advice not to get the ship off the reef at the next high tide after the crash. There was then a delay until the ship began to spill its oil. The Government responded by repression, banning L’Express and Top FM reporters from a press conference, cutting broadcast of his BBC interview where the reporter called on him to resign, and declaring a prohibited area around the site of the wreck, keeping volunteers away. This kind of repression is the only response the MSM government has to any problem.
Israeli-Linked Hit-Man Bruneau Laurette becomes Press National Hero
Enter the national hero, Israeli-linked hit-man and bodyguard Bruneau Laurette. 13 August, a respectable newspaper like L’Express publishes his statement that the Wakashio wreck on the reef is an “acte de guerre (stirring up war)” as if the Wakashio was an invading army. Two days later the newspaper publishes a pin-up photo of Laurette posing on some ship, swinging a stengun of some kind. By 18 August, again in L’Express, Bruneau Laurette is “porte plainte” before the CCID against not those doing the “acte de guerre (stirring up war)” but against two Mauritian Ministers! He has on 21 August launched a media-stunt high-profile private prosecution against the Ministers. Meanwhile, by 20 August, I receive a WhatsApp invitation to a demonstration he is calling in about a week’s time. The entire Mauritian press pumps up this man as a kind of savior when he is none other than an Israeli-trained professional security guard.
How can this be? What is this? Let us now look at the national political background for hints.
Nine months of Local Politics: Hysteria about Election Results
The hysteria was already high in Mauritius after November’s election results, in particular in urban areas. With a 3-way split, Pravind Jugnauth’s MSM-ML-exMMM alliance won some 2/3 of the seats in Parliament with some 1/3 of votes. That means nearly 2/3 of people voted against the Government parties. Jugnauth’s alliance took most of the rural seats, while their defeats were more urban. This further weakens Government – from a communal and urban-rural point of view.
But, the election has, curiously, brought an even weaker Parliamentary Opposition.
Thus the hysteria.
All three parties in Opposition – Ramgoolam’s Labour, Bérenger’s MMM, Duval’s PMSD – have no programmatic challenge vis-a-vis Jugnauth. So, they found themselves reduced to following Trump-like allegations of voter fraud led by hysterical petit-bourgeois individual and smaller parties like Reform Party, 100% Citoyen and others. In case you think we are exaggerating, just look at this low-grade middle-class production making a mockery of elections in a scurrilous clip from the L’Express online (https://www.lexpress.mu/video/365934/lareggate-reconstitution-elections). Around the same time, odd-bods, no doubt orchestrated, kept popping up, one after the other, for days after the election, each with a “discovered” ballot, causing much titillation on private radio. The hysteria over these ballots “discovered” outside of urns only evaporated when it became clear that the ballots were pre-prepared and when Opposition parties put cases into the Courts.
The MSM and the Government has, meanwhile, been weakened further with the revocation of Vice Prime Minister Collendavelloo after the CEB scandal over the tender for generators. This was a knock-out blow for the MSM’s ally, the ML. While weakening the MSM Government, it has not exactly strengthened the Opposition, which still has no programmatic challenge against the MSM.
The Labour Party is weak. It has two leaders, the discredited Ramgoolam and the Parliamentary Leader Boolell, walking with legs tied together at the ankle, often in different directions. And as for the other two parties, it is the first time since Independence, that both the MMM and PMSD have at the same time been out of Government with no prospect of getting in again soon. The urban middle class (the PMSD’s base, part of which the MMM took over), with its history of severe hysteria – the worst was actual panic emigration after communal campaigns against first universal suffrage, then Independence, even filling ocean liners – is again insecure, feeling its hysteria mounting, and somewhat handicapped by a tendency to grow only by becoming more communalist.
Then came the novel Coronavirus epidemic. All the ambient anxiety increased exponentially. The epidemic, having caused the tourist industry to close down and other sectors to go into slow mode, brings unbelievable insecurity and suffering. Working people are without jobs. The capitalist class has prepared no new job sectors, but hogs the capital. The middle classes have been overtaken by further hysteria, even despair.
Imagine if you have hefty loan re-payments for a pleasure craft costing millions, for a brand new van for carrying tourists around, for a big lorry, whatever. You feel panic. Yet, this feeling is, in the petty bourgeoisie, a lonely, individual feeling. Each person cannot easily arouse sympathy amongst the broad masses for an individual’s loan re-payments – not reasonably anyway, from people who own nothing. They cannot be expected to mobilize for the middle class. Thus the need for the petty bourgeoisie to whip up hysteria. In any case, the middle class considers itself an elite with all the trappings of entitlement of the colonizers before them, and into whose boots they stepped.
Opposition parties try their darndest to represent this hysteria politically. They then tried to find fault with the Jugnauth Government’s handling of the Covid epidemic, but that didn’t work. There have been no new local cases, after all, for nearly four months. The three doctors who master-minding Government response (Gujadhur, Gaud, Musango), the Bureaux Sanitaires’ work with contact tracing, testing, isolating and then the treating of all positive cases as admissions in universal and free hospitals, have meant the epidemic was contained and halted in Mauritius. In masterly fashion. So instead, the Opposition faulted the Government, with good reason, on how they spent the emergency money – either not having enough stock-piled, or alternatively having too much stockpiled, and what firms were given what contracts. One big order, though paid for, has still not materialized. This also didn’t really catch on.
But hysteria in the middle-classes remains. It is, all the while, on a look-out for something to hang on to. It could not hang on to the electoral fraud bandwagon because it was mainly invented, and is now in the judiciary. It has had difficulty with hanging it on to how the Government handled the Covid epidemic, because the results have, so far, been so astoundingly good.
Right now, it might hang on to the tourism bosses’ persistent call, in the face of all the contrary indications, to open the frontiers up for tourist business. This call does have a big social base, consisting not only of those whose jobs were in tourism but also the families of thousands of Mauritians stranded all over the world, waiting their turn for repatriation. The health services in Mauritius – although the tourism bosses couldn’t give a damn – are already over-stretched even with no new case for 4 months, just busy keeping up with the quarantine centres they are manning as Mauritians return and thus depleting the hospitals of their usual staff. So, this is a new danger ahead.
All this to remind ourselves that, when the Wakashio had its inexplicable wreck and produced a devastating oil spill, there was already a good deal of hysteria waiting to hang on to something.
Again, the big picture
All this hysteria is building during a specific time for Mauritius in global terms, in historical terms.
As China rises in strength, the world’s superpower USA-UK alliance is in free fall. The Mauritian State last year on 22 May exposed this free fall, may even have accelerated it. And the USA knows how to bear a grudge. Superpowers don’t like humiliation. Mauritius thrashed the UK-USA by 116-6 at the UN General Assembly. The UK-USA were left isolated – except for two pariahs Hungary and, importantly in the current context, Israel, and one hanger-on Australia. (The Maldives had cast a tactical vote, issue now resolved.) The UN, remember, declared that Britain should immediately decolonize Chagos including Diego Garcia, and re-unite it with Mauritius, thus leaving the US military base on Diego Garcia exposed for what it is: a huge military base occupying Mauritian territory illegally. The USA exposed as receiver of stolen goods, when the UK thief has been nabbed. And Britain was furious when Pravind Jugnauth accused the UK of “crime against humanity” for forcibly displacing the Chagossians.
Just bear this background in mind.
The real Leader of the Opposition, as opposed to the BBC’s one, reacting to the oil spill had this to say: “Je tiens ce gouvernement responsable de ce crime contre l’humanité,” said Arvind Boolell on 13 August (https://defimedia.info/wakashio-le-pm-patauge-dans-lopacite-je-tiens-ce-gouvernement-responsable-de-ce-crime-contre-lhumanite-dit-boolell). He uses the exact words that Pravind Jugnauth so offended the British State with. As if he, Boolell, is retaliating for the British State. It may be unconscious, but it is, nevertheless, outrageous.
Colonialism dies hard.
Other petty bourgeois parties of less consequence also act strange. On 18 August we read, in all seriousness in L’Express, that the political party 100% Citoyens (sic) “alerte Emmanuel Macron” and “implore” him “d’agir”. What kind of citizens of an independent state go and beg the ex-colonizer to come and put order into our own government? Parvez Dookhy of the “Ralliement Citoyen” is announcing from Paris that France can sue Mauritius for damages if any oil ends up in Reunion.
So everyone is so concerned about not the spill, but the mishandling of the cleanup. In Kreol, there is a handy expression. (Kan kikenn fann k-k-, pa kritik seki pe mal-swiye!)
As always, it is necessary that we think through things, while making political stands and taking political action. What geo-political interests are benefitting from this action? What class of people benefit? What party? What vested interests are behind the political current we are supporting in an action? And we must remember that, while calling for a Freedom of Information Act and while opposing the exclusion by the State of journalists from press conferences, there are nevertheless interests that the different press empires and radio stations represent, especially in times like these. But most difficult of all, is the role of social media, not just because its sources are often not clear or reliable but also because its algorithms direct funnel to sites that are more and more “dramatic” – this increases the profit of the private companies that run the social media.
Lindsey Collen, for LALIT 21 Aug 2020
1. You do not need police “approval” for a demonstration in Mauritius; you need, by law, to inform the Police Commissioner. See Public Gathering Act.
2. Let me state my interest, or rather conflicting interest v/s Jugnauth and the MSM Government. An example, Jugnauth’s MBC last year dis-invited me at the last moment from a TV debate on Chagos. LALIT constantly criticizes Pravind Jugnauth’s MSM.
3. Last year LALIT issued a Warning Class I about how we can expect the US Embassy to act. See https://www.lalitmauritius.org/.../warning-class-i-ndash-do-not-fall-into-usa- traps/
4. Never mind the French Minister is busy shaking hands with Jugnauth, even though he knows Mauritius has not had a single case for nearly four months while Covid explodes in France.
5. Le Mauricien, 17 August, page 5 under title, “La poupe démantelée sur les brisants de Pte-Esny” announces that “it is but by no means a disaster”... “In a year or less the waters around will be clean as they were”, and includes phrases directed at the Mauritian Government, media and people (that they refer to in colonial jargon as “locals”): “Sick agenda, sick media, sick satanic ideas.”