Leaving behind the festive mood of the Xmas/New Year celebrations and entering into a new year replete with challenges and uncertainties of diverse kinds, requires that we reflect on where we are heading as a nation. 2018 being the year in which we celebrated our 50th Independence Anniversary, incited many people to express their views on the achievements of our society. Some people also asked important questions related to an unfinished agenda of nation building such as: Have we managed to develop a strong Mauritian identity? Have the wounds of history been healed? Have we been able to get rid of ethnic cleavages and grow as one united? How prepared are we to face emerging challenges associated with the reconfiguration of globalization and the multiple crises that the world is confronted with? Are we investing enough to cope with the vagaries of climate change? Isn’t it time that we have a new constitution as well as an electoral reform which speaks to the plurality of voices and democratic consolidation? Is our system of law and order functioning effectively? Are policies being made to create a more equal and fairer society or do they smack of some forms of a Mauritian brand of populism?
In responding to the above questions, many people evoke the quality of leadership and governance arguing that governments of the recent past as well as the current regime are not delivering sufficiently on development and fail to ensure inclusive citizenship. Little was however said about ethical governance, the necessity of morality in politics and ‘servant leadership’.
Economist Intelligence Unit Report 2018
What we have experienced since 2014 is far remote from the notions of ‘servant leadership’ and morality in politics. Promises made have not been kept – hence their growing unpopularity.
The Economist Intelligence Unit Report 2018 draws our attention to this:
‘The already modest popularity of Alliance Lepep among voters is in any case likely to decline as the election approaches, given relatively sluggish economic growth and an increasingly popular perception of cronyism and corruption within government…..’
but what the report does not spell out is that Mauritians are no longer prepared to accept the politics of opacity, greed, waste, arrogance and incompetence of governments.
The Introduction of a national minimum wage, free tertiary education, modern infrastructure are all very good but certainly not enough to address the fundamentals of an increasingly polarised society and indebted economy, the pains and sorrows of families destroyed by drugs, violence, lack of adequate food and nutrition, absence of decent shelter and running water.
Populism and populist measures have drawn the attention of several authors. Cas Mudde is well known for his views on the subject, suggesting that populism is a set of ideas which shares 3 core features: anti-establishment, authoritarianism and nativism. Leaders like Donald Trump, Marine Le Pen, Nigel Farage, Bolsonaro to name but a few, thrive on their populist policies but at the same time they show us how such populism can kill humanism and humanity.
Even Emmanuel Macron who was initially touted as engaging politics ‘autrement’ and representing ‘anti-establishment’ has declined very quickly in popularity. The ‘Gilets Jaunes’ movement speaks volumes about the need to revisit and rethink politics. Political discourses should be shaken from the nadir that they have reached so that they can be revived meaningfully.
“Never should the fruits of action be your motive”
Mauritian leaders may not be exactly like the ones mentioned above but increasingly it seems that they are developing their own brand of populism and populist measures. The latter are however not enough to promote social justice.
The latter requires that diverse facets of inequality and inequalisation be addressed, the wounds of history be healed so that every Mauritian feels that he /she truly belongs. Social justice is a blend of curriculum justice, environmental justice, linguistic justice, economic justice, gender justice, climate justice, political justice and so on. In other words we need leaders who understand and appreciate the intermeshing of these different elements and can deliver on a ‘projet de société’, embracing these values and built on a humanist ideology. Righteous action is central to the above.
Can we hope for a new political class which can resonate with the central and recurring teachings of the Bhagavad Gita which is to act righteously in the present moment without regard to any future rewards. Chapter 2 verse 47 of the sacred text tells us:
“… Your right is to action alone; never to its fruits at any time,
Never should the fruits of action be your motive:
Never let there be attachment to inaction …”
Righteous action is not only spiritually transformative for the individual but also liberating for the nation. No populist policies can actually liberate a nation since such policies are not about ‘service’, selflessness and Truths but rather about ensuring short terms gains, preserving power and one’s vested interests.
Truth, as Hannah Arendt tells us:’…though powerless and always defeated in a head on clash with the powers that be, possesses a strength of its own: whatever those in power may contrive, they are unable to discover or invent a viable substitute for it…’
I wish to suggest that Truth can only surface up when we get rid of populism, and when we factor in morality and ethics in governance. Can we defeat leaders who argue that ‘moralite pa ranpli vant’ or ‘mo p… ar zot’.
Can we reinvent ourselves as a nation? Yes, we can but for this to happen there is a need for a relevant captivating and implementable ‘projet de société’, ethical governance and righteous action. Only servant leadership can cater for these.
When we think of the word servant and leader, they are usually thought at 2 ends and as being opposites. In coining the term, Robert Greenleaf made it clear that the ‘servant leader’ is servant first. It begins with the natural feeling that one wants to serve. Then conscious choice brings one to aspire to lead. The best test is: do those served grow as persons: do they, while being served, become healthier, wiser, freer, more autonomous, more likely themselves to become servants? And what is the effect on the least privileged in society: will they benefit, or at least, not be further deprived?
Major characteristics of a ‘servant leader’ include: listening, empathy, awareness, foresight and vision, stewardship, commitment to the growth of people, building communities etc. Arrogance, opacity, greed, cronyism, waste and incompetence have no place within a ‘servant leadership’ model of governance. Is Mauritius likely to see the emergence of ‘servant leaders’?
Political analyst Jocelyn Chan Low is right: that the next elections will be largely determined by the ‘Moralisation of politics’. The latter usually constitutes of safeguards and prohibitions put in place to ensure a clean, transparent and accountable government. But ensuring the latter largely depends on individual ethical behavior and righteous action referred to earlier. This is why the choice of candidates by respective parties for the next general election becomes an extremely difficult exercise. There is certainly greater potential for ethical governance when parties choose candidates with ethical dispositions and values. The space for such will be much greater if parties go alone in the next elections. It is the quality of men and women who will lead the country in the future and a new moral compass which will help us reinvent ourselves as a nation.