LALIT has pleasure in publishing correspondence between LALIT member, Lindsey Collen, and Gilbert Ahnee, Editor in Chief of Le Mauricien. Both letters are on 29 November.
As you will see Lindsey Collen was responding to the disarray in the Press around the economic crisis they suddenly have no option but to admit to. She requested nothing of him.
Her aim was clearly to deepen debate as to why the press finds an economic crisis is "suddenly" upon the country. (See our News Archives 17 August for an analysis of the role of the press during the 2005 general elections: It is exactly about hiding the economic crisis from democratic scrutiny during an electoral campaign. See after the letters a couple of slightly longer quotes from what was in editorials in Le Mauricien and L'Express, to which Lindsey was responding.)
You will note that Gilbert Ahnee is content to skid off into a frenzied little outburst against Lalit and Lindsey, instead of getting into the question at hand.
LINDSEY COLLEN's LETTER
Dear Gilbert Ahnee,
Just for the record: You express concern that des mentalites "insulaires" lead to an incapacity on the part of Mauritian society to "anticipate problems" like the economic catastrophe upon us.
I was wondering if it would help to pose the question another way. What happens when people in Mauritius do anticipate problems? As Lalit did? What is the reaction of the State? What the reaction of the press?
The answer is partly visible in Ms. Cavalot's confession in L'Express of Sunday 27 November, that behind a pretence of ignorance lies something else. It would have been politically incorrect not to "defendre les interets de la nation" (for interests of the nation read short term interests of the sugar barons).
Did vested interests cover up the impending crisis in the hope of improving their bargaining position vis-a-vis Europe? Just a childish hope? It certainly a strange mentality that tries to get away with that.
Was it consciously done?
What was the role of the press in the collective blindness?
In Lalit we have been calmly aware of the impending catastrophe. We don't suffer from the "insulaire" malady you think explains the blindness in the face of the obvious. And, curiously we were not secretive about our concern. We have been explaining the crisis in great detail and from rooftops.
What reaction did we get? The rot in society goes back a long way, but let's limit ourselves to the present crisis.
In 1983-4, when we ran our very early campaign "Disik, Ki Lavenir?" as the present economic problems first became burningly clear, our very popular slide show (on the world sugar problem, from beet in Europe to Brazil's huge industry, included) got off to a fine start, all over the country. Only to be outright banned. Under censorship laws. We were charged. And when we were about to win the legal battle, the relevant law was changed in Parliament to make the slide show illegal.
Throughout the world, including in Mauritius, there has been a 25-year battle against international capital and its institutions (IMF, World Bank, GATT-WTO). The press has been part-silent, part-scathing, part frivolous about this campaign. Often even facts, specially local ones, not mentioned. Events not covered.
Then for our 2003-2005 campaign, the Press has blatantly boycotted Lalit's efforts to inform the press's own reading public of the gravity of the crisis. I accuse you, too, Gilbert Ahnee of being part of this hushing up. During the run-up to the general elections, in particular.
Lalit has run a nation-wide campaign for well over a year on "an economic alternative" to sugar and textiles. We even suggest a political road map to this alternative.
Everyone knows, but the editorialists pretend no-one knows.
Thousands of Mauritians in poor areas are aware of our program. In their wisdom, those who see jobs closing down before their eyes, sense disaster first. Lalit has held open meetings in Petite Riviere, Grande Riviere Nord Ouest, Grande Riviere Sud Est, La Brasserie, Malherbes, Camp Cavale, Forest-Side, Surinam, St. Pierre, Cassis, Rose-Belle, to name a few. In small clubs and village halls, in people's houses and under trees. And public meetings with posters announcing them and over loud speakers, from Bambous to Cite Attlee, from Stanley, Rose-Hill to St. Hubert, from Port Louis to Dagotiere.
Most of our twenty TV and Radio political broadcast programmes in June were about the impending crisis, and how to prevent it. Ram Seegobin, Rada Kistnasamy, Rajni Lallah and I all dedicated our entire time to the subject, while other members referred to the economy en passant. The programmes were listened to by hundreds of thousands of people. People with functioning memories.
Our public forum on the political path to alternatives to sugar and textiles (held in August in Grande Riviere) had a paid advertisement in both your and Ms Cavalot's newspapers. It was well attended. Debate was rich amonst the planters, trade union members and ordinary citizens present. But the press was not there.
We sent 2,000 copies of an open letter to electors about the economic crisis, and distributed 20,000 newspapers in all areas, with an article on the two major problems before us, sugar and textiles. Our bye-election, Municipal and Village elections campaigns have also been on this economic crisis.
If ever there was a case in point of someone publicly predicting the present economic disaster, it was Lalit's campaign. To pretend otherwise is not to do justice to the truth.
And there was even a careful build-up, before our this year's campaign.
During 18 months of neighbourhood meetings (literally dozens of them) based on an initial 8-page document called "Kanpayn lor Lagrikiltir, Agro-indistri ek Elektrisite" (June 2003), we prepared for the publication in January, 2005 of our 80-page booklet An Alternative Political Economy. A one-day congress in January launched this year's campaign. The campaign has been guided by the booklet. Its 1,000 copies are nearly all sold. Again, we had repression. Both Ram Seegobin and I had completely trumped-up charges to respond to, over the exact same period as Lalit was running the campaign on an alternative economy. We also faced a calomny campaign. But neither repression nor slander could prevent Lalit from running this huge campaign on the urgent need for an economic alternative on a vast scale. A campaign that continues apace.
Abolishing slavery was difficult. "With what will we replace it?" powerful people as well as those who owned slaves at the time cried. But, in the long run, humans do not accept societies that fatten the few privileged people, on the back of the work of slave labour.
Gaining independence was difficult, too. "Giving razor blades to monkeys!" some very powerful people screamed. There too, in the long run, colonization of whole peoples, becomes unacceptable.
And today we have a handful of private companies that have brought Mauritius to the brink of the worst economic crisis of all times, with all its social ills already bursting out like a plague on society. The fight to abolish this kind of wage slavery (where a vast majority of people are supposed to sit and watch the advent of their own ruin in the face of a monopoly control over land and capital that is catatonically hanging on to sugar and cane), and replace it with associative production (where first the people force the government to force the owners to arrange their cane so that, for example, interline cropping be introduced on all their land within a few years, and where, in the long run, everyone's ideas and work are harnessed in economic creativity), is also difficult. "What will be replace cane with? What will we replace wage slavery with?" people with influence and those who benefit cry.
We refer you to our web-site www.lalitmauritius.org for our news archives (click News near the top of the home page, for our archives) for a quick overview of what Mauritians already know as a result of Lalit's economic alternatives campaign.
The kind of political awareness that this campaign is bringing gives hope that when the economic crisis brings social upheaval that, instead of disaster, it brings fundamental change. Despite the reaction of the press to the campaign. Despite the reaction of the state to the campaign.
Yours, Lindsey Collen
GILBERT AHNEE's REPLY
Dear Lindsey Collen,
1.I never suspected that Lalit would feel included in a mention of "mentalites insulaires" which, I'm prepared to maintain, plague many Mauritians, from our political princes to those who are supposed to decide in the business sector.
2.I'm not accountable for whatever Ms Cavalot can write in her paper which, if I may remind you, is my competitor and not my strategic ally.
3.Whenever possible and despite Lalit's militant's penchant for lengthy demonstrations (does it mean that the arguments do not speak enough in crisp terms?) Le Mauricien has done its best to provide your party room for public expression in the media. I'm even tempted to think that his paper could qualify to be the most Lalit-Friendly paper in Mauritius.
4. Just a working hypothesis. Would Lalit not be a political party, would it be - God and Marx forbid - a commercial venture, would you keep on suspecting that you fall victim to a press conspiracy to eliminate a good product from the market or would you start asking yourself a few hard question on the efficiency of your communication techniques.
5. Sad to say - and I would much prefer if it were not case - informations compete to reach the columns of the press. You've got a good product - sometimes an excellent one - but if you keep on marketing your visionary analysis of the sugar market in the same packaging as your well known positions on language, you expose the beneficiaries of your proposals to confusion.
6. There is nothing, today, more ineffective and passe than a press conference. Why do you send me an e-mail only when, emulating Zola, you want to hurl at me: I accuse? Why can't you, like others, just send a friendly note and say : "hey, guy, have a look at that, you may find it interesting".
7. The world - and certainly not Le Mauricien - will not dance to Lindsey Collen's tune, whenever she deems it fit to summon us to one of her concerts.
8. I really think that Lalit has an important role to play in this country. Try to find partners rather than giving a free hand to an old penchant for accusation and demonisation.
QUOTES FROM THE TWO EDITORIALISTS, Gilbert Ahnee and Ariane Cavalot:
L'Express, 27 Nov (Ms. Cavalot): "Nous le savions. Ces privileges que l'on pleure aujourd'hui, ils etaient voues a disparaitre. Bien sur, il fallait essayer de s'y accrocher; il aurait ete politiquement incorrect de ne pas tout tenter pour defendre les interets de la nation. Bien sur, il etait naturel que l'on peine a faire un trait sur le sucre; il se confond tellement a notre histoire que cela relevait presque du sevrage. Mais c'etait une cause perdue d'avance tant ces preferences etaint anachroniques. L'Union europeenne en etait arrivee a importer plus de sucre qu'elle ne pouvait consommer, et l'implacable Organisation mondiale du commerce avait deja condamne les concessions aux ACP comme contraires a ses regles. Nous le savions. Nous semblons pourtant pris au depourvu."
Le Mauricien, 25 Nov (Mr. Ahnee): "Sans doute faudrail-il, tout a la fois, un audit critique des contenus educatifs et de la pedagogie de nos ecoles, une bonne dose de psychologie sociale, voire une analyse sans complaisance des mentalites insulaires pour arriver a vraiment comprendre pourquoi, dans son ensemble, la societe mauricienne semble demunie lorsqu'il s'agit d'anticiper les problemes." And the previous day's editorial: "Quitte a admettre que nous avons peut-etre manque de discernement en ne voyant que nostaligie d'un ordre du monde depasse dans les mises en garde des altermondialistes, force est d'admettre aujourd'hui qur le tout commercial n'est pas viable."