Multiculturalism......and being a Mauritian

In 1993, I authored a book entitled "Multiculturalism in the 1990s. Policies, Practices and Implications".  Drawing from a number of case-studies, it argued that policies on multiculturalism have been introduced in order to eradicate ethnic conflict and social inequality.  Societies throughout the world, in Eastern Europe, Africa, Russia, India and North America, are being torn apart.  Countries are divided and new states created because of the inability to deal with diversity. Ethnicity has become a political devise to settle political and economic differences and "ethnic cleansing" is practised in order to extend territories. There have been deliberate extermination of some minority groups as in the case of Bosnia. Some countries like Canada and Australia, where a policy on multiculturalism does exist, ethnic inequalities still persist, but they have provided safeguards and a framework to "protect" the rights of minorities.  What can Mauritius learn from these examples?
The current debate in Mauritius on the "mini amendment" has raised a number of questions. It is a known fact that Mauritian politics is communal and politics essentially is based on self-interests. Since independence in 1968, the country is struggling to develop a common identity. Who is a Mauritian or what defines a Mauritian? It's a question still being asked today. Will the "mini amendment" provide safeguards and make everyone feel like a Mauritian?
Let me give the example of Canada, which possibly provides the best scenario to understand the socio-cultural integration of minorities. Canada is a multicultural society and multiculturalism has been the official policy since 1971. It was enshrined in the 1982 Constitution Act as part of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Since then, Canada has taken some bold steps to accommodate minorities and provide a platform for all groups to practice their faith and maintain their cultural heritage. Federally-funded initiatives have helped ethnic groups to promote their heritage and schools engaged in multicultural education. I was a critic of the policy in the 1990s, but recognized the merits of the Canadian policy and how it has created a society where people are treated  as citizens and can freely declare their ethnic identity and remain a Canadian.  Canada is a country of immigrants and multiculturalism as a policy has been instrumental in breaking down cultural barriers and ghettoization that exist in countries like England, France or the United States. It has its shortcomings, but the important thing is that it works for Canada. It's not perfect but it's a model worth examining.
Let me come back to the Mauritian scenario. First of all, there is a danger when ethnicity is politicized the way it is at the moment. I find a lot of confusion about what political representatives are saying regarding ethnicity and ethnic affiliation. I also find it intriguing about the timing of the debate. A question that comes to my mind is: is it driven by political self-interest? Second, there is a lack of public participation, and in such matters a public referendum is not a bad idea. After all, it is a matter of public interest, so why not let the public decide? In other countries, a referendum would have decided the issue. Third, how will the proposed changes diffuse communalism in the country, when we have political parties affiliated to lobbyists and socio-cultural groups?
What I propose is that one takes a closer look at examples such as Canada. The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms has provided a platform in many parts of the world.  Examine its relevance, its merits and whether it could provide some direction in formulating a policy that embraces co-existence and consensus of all citizens. Social and economic inequality will persist as long as ethnicity remains at the core. Education has a key role to play to break down cultural and communal barriers. Schools have to be engaged and the curriculum must reflect a  truly Mauritian society.  At present, the system  is unable to play this role.  The Malaysian example shows that schools can diffuse potential tension. At the institutional level, meritocracy must be practised, and not merely stated. There has to be a strong national identity that unites every single citizen. Mauritian arts, literature, food and music should be encouraged, promoted and celebrated. Think Mauritian act Mauritian. The first task perhaps should be to define a Mauritian and get everyone to think Mauritian first. Countries like Canada and Australia have re-invented themselves in order to rally the people around a national identity. Today, Canadians and Australians know who they are. United States, a society built on immigrants has one of the highest sense of patriotism. We should be proud of who we are and our ethnicity should not diminish our sense of belonging.
After forty-years, Mauritius is still trying to re-invent itself. It has the ingredients and the nation should be built on its strengths not its weaknesses. Culture, language, arts, literature, sports, music, dress and food define who we are and these should be the basis to build a common identity that is unifying. It should be devoid of politics. It reminds me of the role the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) played in defining and promoting a common Canadian identity. In particular, I admired Peter Gzowski, the Canadian broadcaster and writer, who took his radio show Morningside, across Canada. Before he died he commented: "I love this country, its people and its landscapes. That's what makes me a proud Canadian".  It can happen in Mauritius too. Institutions have to re-invent themselves and be part of nation-building.


Commentaires

Great article, great piece, thank you! We constantly need to be reminded of the treasures that we have as a Mauritians, so that we don't take those for granted. Many sayings come to mind, such as "united we stand, divided we fall"... all with the common undertone that the competition, the "threat" is not another community or another culture, but rather the global wave of aggressive capitalism and consumerism that is considerably more potent than any inter-communal tensions. I also think one thing that defines us as Mauritians is the land we live on - in the literal meaning of the word. We have, after all, only a 40x50km jewel in an ocean, for which hordes of tourists come every year to visit and enjoy. We should preserve it, defend it - it is one source of pride and uniqueness that defines us at the global scale. Sadly, we often take it for granted. (As I write those words ad-hoc, IRS's come to mind too - these are great economic development opportunities, but should only progress at a controlled and conscious pace.)

I agree totally with both of you. It is not diversity that is the problem but politics and economics in its original meaning of "taking care of the household". Instead of taking care of the whole household, the whole of creation of which we people are part of, the aim is to wealth and concentrating it. Equity: equal access to and control aver resources, that is what makes a nation of equals.
Based 14 years in france and 8 years in switzerland with international organisations,did i stop being a mauritian" Listening to some of our opinion leaders, it would seem that all those years i was an incomplete human being, acquiring the fullness of humanity only when i make mine their construction of what a mauritian should be in order for them to achieve their goals. I am not talking of those who have done their homework, analysed what has been experimented in other countries, trying to learn from them. By their work i am sure that they are very conscious that all systems are imperfect. They are not the ones convinced of showing the way to the 7 billion spread in more than 190 countries has nothing to do with politics.It is akin to theology. Only in theology can suppressing census recognize the diverse belongings "ethnicity, religion,language, sex and other categories of human concern" UN Rights Based Approach)create a nation. Only theologians after condemning diversity, can, tongue in cheek, declare their community and assure us that all communities will have representatives in parliament. BLS has been treated by some as a mortal sin or as the devil itself while politically it was only a proportional representation system based on communities. The new one will be based on parties. And yes, there is no other way of building a nation if some of the communities resulting from history see themselves left out of decision making.
Since i went to kenya in 1976 and saw the dynamics between ethnic groups created by colonisation, I am convinced that if the swiss model of state would have better contributed to creat a real nations after independence instead of the mess and the rampant violence in so many countries. With its full recognition of the suisses romans, italiens et allemands and the referendums at quartiers to federal levels which allow groups to express themselves on issues close to them inviting others in the debate. Decisions voted parliament can be discussed and changed if need be.
Yes, Canada has has shown the way and is quite an inspiration. And Australia. In the USA where there are 11 categories in the census and an other category for those who wanted to define themselves differently do they not recognize that they are all americans? And i a not aware that there is a body there which defines what being an american should be...Even the Catholic Pope today can no longer excommunicate those who do not think like him...