February 99…never again

Anyone who remembers the riots of February 99 would surely have had flashbacks while watching the videos that made the rounds on Friday night. Tyres burning, law and order defenders with their shields, tear gas being fired are but reminiscent of a time we would rather hope is behind us. Sadly, and alarmingly, it seems that lessons have not been learnt, whether by sheer arrogance or selective ignorance, it’s hard to say.

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Tensions have been brewing, people have been grumbling louder and louder, those in power have remained resolutely blind and deaf, preferring to lull themselves into their sense of entitlement and false security. After all, aren’t they working for the “public interest”, at the same time suffocating people with ever increasing prices of basic necessities, using Covid and the war in Ukraine as convenient excuses? Despite the damning reports of excesses and largesse displayed in travels, announcing projects to the tunes of billions, anointing ministers as fictional superheroes, the people are still expected to quietly keep about their daily grind without uttering a word of discontent. What took place on Friday was just waiting to happen. However, there’s still some room for salvage, that is, if the will is there.

As a people, having experienced what we went through in 99 and some before that in the late 60s, we do not want our children to have to talk about April 22. We therefore need to raise our voices, make sure they are heard, but in an organized and peaceful manner. We need to rally as communities of Mauritians, of people being in the same boat, facing similar, if not the same struggles. We should not give way to those who are but waiting for opportunities like this for their own devilish designs.  At times like these, where news, rumours and calls for action spread like wildfire thanks to social media that was not present in previous hard times, it is imperative that we remain steadfast in our need and desire to remain united in our differences, no matter what, and not fall prey to those who want to spread even more division along communal lines, for that is a fire that will eat us all alive.

Positions of authority

But us doing our part does not suffice, we also need those in charge to do theirs. Those in positions of authority imperatively need to act responsibly. This is no time for arrogance or playing the blame-game. If the government wants to regain its floundering popularity, it needs to take heed of what the people are saying and not launch into bombastic and accusatory diatribes. It needs to seek the help of those who spend their days and nights with real people and who are aware of people’s grievances and sufferings, and not just those who write reports in their air-conditioned offices. It needs to acknowledge that we are sitting on a volcano, ready to erupt at the least mishap or misspoken word. Most importantly, it needs to act.

As for wannabe politicians or those who are seeking to be in the next government, they need to make sure that they are taking copious notes and not be here just for a show of solidarity only when it suits their agenda. They need to start working on long-term plans to ensure that the systemic problem that has brought us to this situation be addressed thoroughly. They should not forget that we are here today not only because of the global events and its mismanagement by the current regime but also as a culmination of everybody who has governed us before. The entitlement has to stop, accountability has to become the norm, acknowledgement of failures has to be made and humility to seek the advice and assistance of those who are already miles ahead in thought and mindset has to be had.

The system cannot remain in the hands of the ruling power only: it is unacceptable that the municipal councils remain at the whim of the government which refuse elections, for it grinds the progress of our towns to a halt. Building metro lines in towns are not necessarily a dominant marker of progress. Proper roads, public grounds maintenance and other local amenities are more important to urban dwellers than eye sores that are mushrooming in the name of progress. The president needs to be an independent-minded person and not just a mere government-(wo)man. Government bodies need to have the autonomy to function properly without only yes-(wo)men at their helms. It is exhausting to be repeating these things ad-nauseum for these constitute the basis for any democratic government worthy of its name and one would think that by now, scores of years after independence, those who seek to govern the country would have learned that this is the way to go. While this is what is promised in every electoral campaign, it is actually the opposite that takes place and sadly, and irritatingly, governing in this country is still self-serving and corruptible. People are fed up, we are in dire need and want for a government and leaders that have the guts to do away with archaic methods and haul up this country on the road to systemic progress.

While the wishes above are more of a long-term process, currently, people are angry and anxious. People are suffocating. Words are very important at this stage, for words are an indication of what intent is. At this stage, words used have the ability to pour water on the threatening fire or provide fuel to it. Now is the time to listen, not just selectively hearing and making false promises, but listen with the intention to take actions in line with grievances, for let’s not forget that this island is ours, altogether. We need to be working together, and that is a two-way traffic. It is not only a matter of bowing to the powers that be. The latter also has a responsibility to acknowledge what the other side is saying. More important than acknowledging and more than ever, we need actions and not mere words, for what is word given without subsequent action? Only a mirage.

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