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Prejudice and Sugar by Lindsey Collen


Malcolm de Chazal's famous dictum to the effect that "A Maurice on cultive la canne-a-sucre et les prejuges" is at its most accurate when it comes to "A Maurice on cultive les prejuges sur la canne-a-sucre".

A prejudice, once you've cultivated it, is something blinding. So blinding you can't see past it. Even if it is harming you. Even if it threatens your own destruction.

Let's take a look at what prejudice does to the truth about sugar cane.

Take the European Union. It is offering compensation to assist with the restructuring of the "economies" of its ex-colonies in the African, Pacific and Caribbean group, so that these countries can better face the price cuts in sugar after the World Trade Organization tribunal predictably declared European subsidies illegal.

By the time the phrase about restructuring of the "economies" gets absorbed into the minds of the Mauritian Press, intelligentsia and mainstream politicians, the EU money is being given for restructuring of the "sugar cane industry".

This is what prejudice does to nearly all commentators. They can only see sugar cane. They can't see agriculture. They can't see industry. They can't even see the sea. They can't see beyond the sugar cane on the edge of the road.

We can understand that the MSPA might want the concept of the restructuring of the "economy" to be sneakily replaced by the idea of restructuring of the "sugar cane industry". This transformation would be in their narrowly defined short-term interests, as they see them. The sugar oligarchy is, as everyone knows, a section of the bourgeoisie with its bottom firmly stuck in its molasses for two hundred years. And not about to change. Not without a major social upheaval.

To the sugar bosses, "restructuring the sugar cane industry" means two things: 1. Making the sugar companies profitable, and 2. Destroying employment. It is not just us saying so. They say so themselves.

Obviously the parties in the Government Alliance and the two Parliamentary Oppositions, financed as they are by the bourgeoisie, can be expected, in the last analysis, to act in the interests of the dominant section of the bourgeoisie. But it is still surprising that they do it so blindly. They don't even seem to be aware of their own prejudices. Nor what dangers they might be led into by them.

But what about journalists? What about intellectuals?

Why do they think just like the sugar estate company owners?

It is genuinely hard to understand.

Why do they think Europe wants to make "the sugar companies" profitable? Even when Europe clearly says the opposite. Europe has got too much sugar on its hands and intends to drive companies producing beet and cane sugar out of sugar. Not that one has to submit to their will, but that we understand their aim. Their express aim in releasing funds is precisely to permit other forms of sustainable development.

Which is why they give the funds to the Mauritian State, not the sugar capitalists. The Mauritian State is accountable to the Mauritian people, commentators should point out, and not to the sugar estate company owners. The Mauritian people need the compensation money to go to creating jobs, not to go to destroying jobs. The State has such a clear choice as to how to influence investment. But it acts as if it is bewitched by sugar and cane, and not accountable to the people. And so do most commentators.

And is the Press not supposed to be accountable, in the last analysis, to the people, too? Even though the Press is private companies, running for profit? Are intellectuals not accountable to the people of the country?

The same prejudice affects commentaries on the famous 36% reduction. From its very first communique, the European Union has said the reduction of 36% refers to a time period up to 2009. Why does the press fail even to pose questions beyond the year 2009? Why does the Press stay silent about possible further reductions in the sugar price? And about their effect on the industry? Where is the analysis? How is Europe proposing that prices be fixed after 2009? What if sugar is NOT on the list of socalled "sensitive" products outside WTO rules? Will all the figures in the Government's "Road Map" and its "Multi Annual Adaptation Strategy Action Plan" be wrong?

Why does the Press fail to take up the absolutely normal proposal for restructuring the economy by means of vast inter-line cropping and related agro-industries? For export and for home consumption? Why do they go against all scientific indications and follow all historical distortions, and continue thinking god or the gods made Mauritius to produce cane and sugar?

Pure prejudice.

And it could be a prejudice that costs Mauritius its future.

One journalist recently wrote about the end of the Maya civilization being a warning to Mauritius. He need not have looked as far away. Civilization on Mauritius ended, too. In the 17th Century. The beautifully researched novel, translated into English by the South African writer well known in Mauritius, Andre Brink, "Islands", tells the story of the end of human life on Mauritius and Robben Island under Dutch colonial rule. It is a must read.

Mauritius will be in for truly major upheavals if everyone supposedly "independent" remains blinded by the prejudices that have been so carefully cultivated about cane and sugar. Unemployment will be untenable in 3rd Millenium Mauritius. The working classes no longer have "bred" and vegetables in their gardens, nor cows, goats and chickens in their back yards, to absorb the shock of unemployment. Rations are no longer given out when there is hunger. It is now illegal to go out and harpoon the odd fish to stave off one's family's hunger, as people did in the 1970's.

What is the mechanism through which thinking human beings become so blindly influenced by sugar and cane?

We don't know.

Is it the effects of hegemony on thinking? Of autocracy? A kind of mass hysteria? It used to be clear when Le Cerneen thought exactly as the MSPA thought. It was the newspaper of the bourgeoisie. It said it was, and it was. This is relatively healthy. But in Mauritius today the Press pretends to be independent. And it is not. It is prejudiced in favour of cane and sugar. To the detriment of human life.

What should intellectuals and editorialists be calling for, instead of for cuts in State social spending or for increases in prices of electricity? Perhaps, at the very least, for the EU compensation money to be used so as to restructure the "economy" and not the sugar industry, for a start. They could think up the means for this restructuring. Not just little cliches about marginal changes. We have thought up one such major means: to have recourse to a relatively non-risky agricultural diversification strategy possible through using all existing cane land for annual "inter-line cropping" as well as cane. En masse. This should be coupled with agro-industries to process, preserve and export what is produced in large quantities in the inter-lines. This would be restructuring the economy.

Recent MSIRI studies reported in the Press, though not absorbed by editorialists, point to the fact that sugar production may be higher by coupling lines of cane and leaving a larger space between the twin-lines. This layout could clearly be used to permit annual inter-line cropping. Without even bothering the bosses' beloved cane much. If the sugar companies don't want to do this inter-line cropping themselves, then the inter-lines should be made available to those who do want to develop the economy. If they do not want to use the existing infra-structure of the mills due for closure for agro-industry, then the workers being laid off should be given the chance to run co-operatives for the agro-industries.

The very idea of the State using the European money to float the sugar companies is absurd, if they do not commit themselves to job creation. It is just helping "canard boitee" out of sheer favouritism. And now the MSPA wants not only the billions of European money but another three or four times that to be put at its disposal by the State. And this goes without criticism?

And in any case, specially if all capital goes direct into job destruction, an unemployment benefit for every unemployed person will be essential to keep Mauritian society healthy enough to function. Human beings cannot be left in a state of perpetual insecurity about their food, housing, clothing, schooling. They will rise in revolt. Fortunately, we may say. But revolt is never, on its own fruitful, without a political program. That is what Lalit is proposing: a program to get out of the swamp the sugar industry and successive governments have got the country into.

Lindsey Collen
LALIT member
9 May 2006