The birth of a nation is a unique and overwhelming occurrence, as it confers legitimacy within the world community and is an irreversible fact of history. The privilege of nationhood frees its people from past baggage, to be replaced by an absolute identity, with its citizens having integrality of being, with social, economic, political and spiritual freedom.
Since acceding independence, Mauritius has advanced towards a cultural-political community that has become conscious of its autonomy, unity and particular interests. Our civic nation albeit young is centred in a willingness to « live together », this producing a nation that results from an act of affirmation.
We bow in respect to our history and in gratitude to the people who found the courage and resilience to toil the soil, and maximise the potential of the inhospitable terrain to develop the pre-independence ethos and machinery for a multi-ethnic group of people from different corners of the globe to work and live together. It is an inspiration to all of us when we examine and acknowledge all the achievements of the 19th century Mauritius, in infrastructure, institutions, state apparatus, and the incredible construction of roads, sugar cane factories, hospitals, schools, airport and harbour facilities, reservoirs, magnificent churches, temples, mosques and places of worship dotted throughout the island in respect of all faiths and ethnicities. These structures have stood the test of time and the rigour of natural disasters and catastrophes – it is therefore a salutary testament to the people who colonised that piece of land – solitary in the Indian Ocean. Our forebears also learnt the ethics of work, integrity, respect and discipline. The freedom to enjoy the comforts of modern living is in part due to the long term planning of our forefathers – for 20th century achievements pale in comparison.
My adolescent schooling years in a remote village in the northern part of the Island was rich in the simple pleasures of country life, reflected in community cohesion and activities of the « baitka », solidarity and sincerity of friends and neighbours sharing in good times and hard times with absolute respect for nature, our teachers and elders.
The 1960s saw an outflux of our youngsters migrating to the mother country as we had British passports, to counteract the acute shortage of work. The pain of separation to travel to distant lands for a better future still resonates in our hearts today, but generally the diaspora has fared well – sustaining the economy of the time by sending hard earned pound sterling to our parents which converted to a sizeable sum every month. The majority of the 60s and 70s cohort have exceeded expectations in fulfilling rich professional lives, contributing proudly to the various institutions in the adopted country. Whatever our backgrounds, we were proud to be MAURITIANS and delighted to be ambassadors of our small island in promoting its diversity and beauty. It will be remiss of me not to mention the generous financial and material support Mauritius received from our mother country – not to mention the number of higher education scholarships enjoyed by so many of notable citizens.
The post-independent years witnessed several global factors which impacted negatively on the world economy, but Mauritius negotiated through those harsh realities by maintaining its well developed diplomatic alliances, and resisted from engaging in international rival politics. Striding progress has been made in education, health, social mobility, reduction of poverty, citizenship rights and modern infrastructure. There remains much to be done, but the last 50 years have witnessed a more sophisticated and assertive society, thus enhancing the quality of life for the majority and a country at ease with itself – that is from a global perspective when you are faced with a factual reality that 65 million people are displaced – some with no identity and babies and children dying of starvation on a daily basis.
This young, energetic nation has much to be proud of and is the envy of several in the African continent in spite of all their natural resources. The 21st century has seen an explosion of the use and abuse of modern technology, but on a global comparison our citizens have been responsible and respectful of this incredible facility. Although there has been internal conflicts in political ideology, and some practices and behaviour have not been flattering, overall we should be satisfied with what we have achieved in the short span of 50 years – democracy and a Westminsterial style of parliament, a woman president, a high literacy rate, low unemployment and a peaceful and stable environment to enjoy and fulfil our daily responsibilities. It can be argued that there could have been more progress in some areas to promote a fairer and more equitable climate for the socially and economically deprived, and this remains the challenge and responsibility of our elected government.
What of the next 50 years…there are several emerging black clouds on the horizon.
Post-nationalism – that is the process or trend by which nation states and national identities lose their importance relative to supranational and global entities (the CHAGOS example). Several factors contribute to its aspects including economic globalisation, a rise in importance in multinational corporations, the internationalisation of financial markets, the transfer of social-political power from national authorities to supernational entities (I refer here to the amount of debts incurred to countries like China and India and challenge the authorities to state whether they will be able to fulfil their obligations to even pay the interest on the billions borrowed) such as multinational corporations, the advent of new information and culture technologies such as the impact of the Internet. The process of robotisation on a global scale is of grave concern to a small nation as ours who has become increasingly dependent on foreign investment. We must however, in the face of these unknown forces, retain our attachment to citizenship, patriotism and national identities which remains important for our survival as a small nation in the big wide world.
To finish on a light note – I would like to conclude by quoting Yves Duteil:
« …oublie ton passé, qu’il soit simple ou composé…participe à ton présent pour que ton futur soit plus que parfait… » Let us stride to emulate the small Kingdom of BHUTAN where the king measures contentment of his people in terms of gross domestic happiness.