Touria Prayag's Blog

Editorial Weekly No. 1

Posted in Uncategorized by touriaprayag on July 30, 2012

The real winning formula

There is nothing definite to support the idea that we are heading towards a second republic yet.

But, if you have to put your money down now, bet yes. Yes, not because you or I want it but because

our leaders are desperate to cut and run. They naturally need the support of the population, which le

peupl admirabl will give unstintingly.

Of course, nobody is a dupe. There is nothing in the koze kozé (chatting) between the prime minister

and the leader of the opposition to suggest that they give two hoots about the interests of the

country. It all sounds like two lovers who, after a period of ‘we can’t live with each other but we can’t

live without each other’, have fi nally found a way to compromise.

Paul Bérenger knows that, given the ethnic realpolitik in Mauritius, he can never be prime minister

by going it alone. Besides, he is nearing the end of his political career. He has also come to terms, for

some time already, with the fact that the remake has been met with public apathy if not hostility. Navin

Ramgoolam, on the other hand, is, as Jean Claude de l’Estrac said in his recent interview, “not interested

in ruling but in reigning”. He has satisfi ed his ambition for ruling and now dreams of rubbing

shoulders with the Obamas, Camerons and Hollandes of this world and playing the political game on

an equal footing. He is therefore happy for Paul Bérenger to fulfi l his lifetime dream of managing and

governing the country. And the latter is cut out for that: he is diligent, assiduous, tireless, disciplined

and rigorous.

Will the marriage last? Yes, we think so. The reason is the same as why the remake did not: Navin

Ramgoolam and Paul Bérenger have affi nities, a lot of affection for each other and – most importantly

– they respect each other. Even at the peak of their animosity, the complicity between them was evident.

Also, while Paul Bérenger has coined unique expressions about almost each one of his colleagues invoking

anything from plants to animals going through utensils (gros feye, ti-cretin, bourique, laké sate,

minis patole, fi gir pot d’sam etc.) one cannot attribute to him a single derogatory expression about Navin

Ramgoolam. You will also recall that on May Day, while the remake was going on full swing, Paul Bérenger,

referring to the crowds each leader managed to attract, could not resist almost congratulating Ramgoolam

for having “kept his head above water”. Navin Ramgoolam, on the other hand, has always been

very mild in his criticism of his ‘brother’, at times even complimentary going to the extent of saying once

that “if Bérenger had been in the Labour Party, he would have become prime minister”.

But beyond the personalities of two people, beyond the here and now, what would a second republic

bring to the country? Apart from the fact that there would be no opposition (some of the 3%

the MSM represents will most probably cross over), when these two sexagenarians pass from the

political scene, we are set for a series of confl icts in case the president and the prime minister are from

different political parties or simply have different interests.

In the meantime, for the two protagonists, this is a real winning formula. If ever there was one.

By Touria Prayag, Editor in chief


Mauritius: A strong democracy addicted to musical chairs ( July 2012)

Posted in Uncategorized by touriaprayag on July 30, 2012

This article was published in Global Briefing

Mauritius: A strong democracy addicted to musical chairs

Mauritius has one of the best records in Africa for democratic practice and institutions, although voters have only a narrow choice of political leaders, who are constantly switching positions, jostling for power and juggling coalition partners.

Foreign visitors could be forgiven for think­ing that Mauritius is a nation of smiling, happy people in a crime-free island sur­rounded by sun-kissed beaches and azure-blue seas. That is the picture the brochures promise visiting tourists and, apart from oc­casional unfortunate incidents, the country has, by and large, delivered on the promise. But behind the smiles, which are wider in the hotels than almost anywhere else, and behind the beautiful green mountains and golden sands, Mauritius is a country strug­gling with issues, many of which are spe­cific to Africa.

Mauritius is an acknowledged leader in Africa as far as democracy and the strength of institutions are concerned, and most Mauritians have faith in the democratic system, the election super­visors and the judiciary. However, the country’s democracy is rather skewed, in particular by two practices that Mauri­tian politicians have systematically been engaged in since independence: musical chairs and pre-electoral coalitions.

While the institutions are on the whole highly respected, and elections are free, fair and held every five years, the choice of candidates has been very limited. In over 40 years of independence, the names of those vying for power at the top have been Ramgoolam (father and then son), Jugnauth (father, son and now the father again) and Bérenger. And these names appear regu­larly in coalitions with each other.

The electoral system encourages politi­cal dynamics and practices that, although legal, are questionable enough to distort the democratic process. The successive pre-electoral coalitions are a case in point. There are currently four political parties competing in the Mauritian political arena: the Labour Party (LP) led by Navin Ram­goolam; the Mouvement Militant Mau­ricien (MMM) led by Paul Bérenger; the Mouvement Socialiste Mauricien (MSM) led by Pravind Jugnauth, who was the natural heir to the party when his father was appointed ceremonial president; and the Parti Mauricien Social Démocrate (PMSD) led by Xavier Duval. Who wins elections depends largely on the coalitions the parties form.

While in more advanced democracies, contenders run the electoral race riding on their manifestos, here the main preoc­cupation is with the division of constitu­ency candidacies between each party in a pre-electoral coalition deal. Agreements are based largely on ethnic considerations. At the last general election in 2010, for exam­ple, the MSM, which commanded no more than 3 percent of support in opinion polls, managed to get 18 candidacies alongside 42 for the LP, the island’s leading party.

As these unnatural alliances, born out of political expediency, rarely last for a whole legislative term, the democratic process is corrupted by turncoats who are quick to jump on the bandwagon of the ruling coalition of the day, or switch to the opposition benches if they see a likelihood of the latter getting into power. Some poli­ticians hold the record for somersaulting, and those who have faithfully stuck to one party are rarities. The present LP/PMSD government owes its continuity partly to two former members of the MSM who re­inforced its benches in exchange for min­isterial posts.

The most recent political crisis serves as a good example of the habits of the politi­cal class. Anerood Jugnauth, then president of the republic (a largely honorary role in Mauritius’s Westminster-style polity), be­gan publicly criticising the government – his government – while holding office, soon after his son, Pravind Jugnauth, re­signed as finance minister last year in con­nection with a corruption scandal which is still under investigation. Under fire from the press and public opinion, 82-year-old President Jugnauth was also forced from office, but the next day Mauritians woke up to the sight of the pitch-black-haired elderly statesman, with shaking hands and a waver­ing voice, waltzing back into the political arena and standing to challenge the current prime minister, Navin Ramgoolam.

As if reinvigorated, the Jugnauth fam­ily’s MSM party has now finalised a new deal with the MMM, which is said to com­mand a substantial 40 percent of voter sup­port, whereby the former has secured half of the candidacies in their coalition for the next election. The basis for this arrange­ment is best justified by the complex ethnic politics of Mauritius.

The press, the other major pillar of de­mocracy, generally manages to handle these complexities and sensitivities. In a small society, where everyone knows just about everyone else, it is not always easy but Mauritius still has a largely independ­ent, trusted and vibrant press. Some poli­ticians, however, have a habit of resenting criticism; they perhaps dream of newspa­pers that fill their pages with praise for their actions. Occasionally, inaccurate informa­tion gives them ammunition they can use to hit the press – which unfortunately some­times shoots itself in the foot by publishing false accusations or presenting opinions as facts. In spite of this, the media remains a strong institution that plays a major role in keeping both the government and the op­position in check.

Winston Churchill’s oft-quoted words – “democracy is the worst form of govern­ment except for all the others” – have rarely been more apt at describing a situation as they do today’s Mauritius.

Touria Prayag in Global Briefing

Extract from l’express Weekly July 6 2012

Posted in Uncategorized by touriaprayag on July 13, 2012

Writing for fun by John L Roberts

The bookshops in Mauritius, have mostly in the past dealt in school texts, with supporting volumes such as dictionaries, encyclopaedias and grammar and occasional romances for teenagers of all ages. For there has yet to emerge a wide commercial trade in books of literature. Thus writing in Mauritius is either for school, offi cial purposes, or just for fun.

Now this is not to say Mauritius has no singular proponents of literature but this is largely confi ned to French, whilst its English equivalent is just approaching its infancy, though carefully nurtured by a small coterie of the local literati with the indomitable Shakuntala Howaldar in the fore, bustling the shyest would- be poets, dramatists and essayists from their private fancies into the tougher world of public appraisal.

Beyond the fi eld of national journalism, tourist guides and an occasional political biography, writing in Mauritius is hardly a profession and certainly not a commercial venture. It is for fun, not fortune: yet despite this some such as Bhishmadev Seebaluck, with his witty column ‘ Dear Shakespeare’ and the poet diplomat Joseph Tsang Man Kin, have become national treasures.

The principal parent organisation for the developing child of creative writing in English, has been the Mauritian Writers’ Association ( MWA) which took its very fi rst steps in 1999 under the guidance of Shakuntala Hawoldar and Bhishmadev Seebaluck. Its objectives are to bring together local writers for common activities in the fi elds of literature and allied artistic creativity. It sponsors new writers, organising showcases of readings and conferences, linking writers to ways of publishing their work.

A series of monthly MWA evenings for reading fresh texts is now being revived for both writers and their audience seeking something deeper in their lives. The MWA is also planning its 8 th International Conference in mid 2013 with the United Nations Educational, Scientifi c and Cultural Organisation ( UNESCO), on the theme ‘ the role of culture in a globalized world’. This will serve to broaden the perspective from creative writing per se, to the UNESCO vision of heritage. Writing then has the greater task of recording and reviewing the wider role of the arts, painting, sculpture, music, design, theatre, fi lm, archaeology, even sports, culinary and other activities, whose patterns depict and promote the peculiar life of a nation which defi nes its cultural identity in the face of the dominance of global change.

The private sector is backing the venture with a souvenir publication of current work. So be bold and put pen to paper, or open a new Word fi le and tap- tap for publication next year by the MWA as a souvenir of writing for fun.

Road madness

Posted in Uncategorized by touriaprayag on July 13, 2012
The thinking is delusional.

The taxi, bus and lorry drivers’ reaction to the amendment to the Road Traffi c Act to introduce the penalty point system presented in parliament this week is surreal. It goes something like this: since we are on the road more often than other road users, we should not be penalized for breaking the Highway Code and endangering other people’s lives. And, if we continuously break the law and we have our licences suspended as a result, it would be unfair because we would no longer be able to make a living. Push the reasoning a little further and we would need no prisons in this country as inmates can no longer make a living and feed their families once they are locked up.

If ever there was a fi rst sign that immediately tells the visitor that we are in a third world country, it is undeniably the chaos on our roads. We can almost compete with the most disorderly third world capitals like Mumbai and Nairobi. So, the government fi nally took it into their hearts that it is necessary to introduce the demerit point system. That puts us on par with more developed countries. Do I, however, think it’s going to solve our traffi c problems? No, I cannot quite bring myself to say that.

An average of over 10,000 drivers are booked every month. However, out of the 193,000 fi nes dished up last year, none was for undisciplined driving. When you exceed the speed limit on our roads, our cops go at you for king and country. Whether you are off the mark by one or 50 km, the fi ne is the same. And so is the sadistic smile on their faces as they hand out the ticket to you. That may fi ll the government coffers, but it is unlikely to reduce the number of accidents on our roads. Remember that in countries with the lowest rate of road accidents, like Germany, there are no speed limits. The real issue is the total lack of discipline on our roads, coupled with the opportunism that is a cultural trait which runs deep in our upbringing. Anyone who wants proof of this just needs to stand in front of the MacDonald’s in Port Louis any day of the week and admire the spectacle: drivers who are smarter than you, take the lane going into Port Louis and swerve back right in front of you to head south.

In the meantime, they block the lane for those who genuinely want to make their way into Port Louis and endanger the lives of those who have been waiting patiently in the proper lanes. And while these practices are taking place, there are two or three policemen too busy talking to care.

As motorists repeatedly get away with malpractices, a noxious message spreads to other drivers: take risks, overtake on the wrong lanes, keep zigzagging on the roads. So, we are not targeting the real problems as these go far beyond driving schools, licences and fi nes. They betray a culture of casual dishonesty.

So, unless there is a thorough change in the mindset of the police, I don’t think those who break the Highway Code have anything to worry about. As long as they respect the speed limit. So, penalty point or not, we will continue to drive like third world people and taxi, lorry and bus drivers, who are responsible for the most deadly accidents, will continue to suggest, without blushing, that our roads belong to them.

In the name of God

Posted in Uncategorized by touriaprayag on July 7, 2012

Through her parliamentary question, fi ghting until the last ditch, about inserting the word ‘ secular’ in our constitution, MP Nita Deerpalsing has opened up a whole new can of worms. Not that we did not know the worms existed and that they were eating our society from within. We ruddy well did. We just did not want to confront them. Now that an icy draught has been sent through the insulated corridors of religious groups, we have to. New avenues for mature dialogue have opened up and, in the interest of society, we have to explore them. We have to decide what kind of society we want: one which tolerates all religions but also all manner of non- religious ethical beliefs as well or one where religion regulates everything in our lives. A society where faith is kept where it should be, that is in the private realm to be used as a source of solace for the individuals seeking comfort, or one where the only aim is to make a show of one’s religion at every possible opportunity.

The answer to our question is obvious and is implicit in the constitution. The reality of things is, however, skewed by different personal interests.

Some religious fi gures are already up in arms against the MP. As it is, I doubt that she represents the ideal picture they have of how a woman should be. But more than that, they probably already see their interests being threatened. So before long, the debate will take on dimensions which were never intended. Before it does, here’s our two pennies’ worth.

For us, secularism means a secular state, not a secular society. We are the fi rst to recognise that faith has an important role to play in the private sphere. By secularism, we mean respect and appreciation of all the faiths which have come from different places of the world and found a home in this country. But these faiths should remain private and should in no way be used for personal gain. Unfortunately, far too many opportunists have, in the name of religion, banked on widely held sentiments to catapult themselves to power helped by politicians of all boards who, in their hunger for votes, have encouraged abhorrent practices.

In the name of God, we have seen representatives of religions being parachuted to the helm of parastatals to do jobs they have not been trained for. In the name of God, we have seen others being given crown land to set up hotels and granted permission to exploit our natural reserves no questions asked. In the name of God, some of these selfproclaimed representatives of God have bestowed on their benefactors the title of “ en ti git pli ti pti ki bon dié ” . ( A little less than God.) In the name of God, an enormous patronage mill was created.

What saddens us in this rush for power and show of religion is that we have lost the essence of the reason why religions exist. By focusing on rites and rituals and making a show of them, we have forgotten that ALL religions preach the same things and that there are more things uniting individuals than dividing them. Because the spirit of religion has been nibbled to death by special interests, we have moved away from each other instead of getting closer.

Maybe becoming a truly secular state will highlight the commonness we share and have a soothing effect on society. So, let the debate begin.