Touria Prayag's Blog

Weekly editorial (August 23, 2012)

Posted in Uncategorized by touriaprayag on August 23, 2012

Why charity does not begin at home

 

This week, the Mauritius Commercial Bank, in its MCB Focus, has suggested that Mauritius, among other things, support “the case in regional forums for the design and implementation of a standardised ‘African passport’ which would promote free mobility of people as well as facilitate intra-regional trade and investment”.

 

Indeed, we often talk about Mauritius as an investment route to Africa or as a platform for structuring investment into Africa. And there is no denying the fact that Mauritius has, over the years, established a sound reputation in the Financial Services Sector and become the jurisdiction of choice for channelling investment into Africa. Why is it then that we offer this generosity to other countries by acting as a gateway but do not extend the charity to ourselves by directly investing in Africa?

Admittedly, some investment has gone into a few African countries in economic activities like sugar and tourism, but it has so far been sporadic, circumstantial, ad hoc and unstructured. The bulk of our investment has remained local, serving the European and – to a lesser degree – the US markets. And, for as long as Europe was buying our sugar under guaranteed quotas and the US were importing our textile items tariff-free, we contentedly sat and watched other countries walk past us into the African continent. We did not care to look beyond the gates we have ourselves opened for others.

The reasons are simple: our historical baggage has saddled us with stubborn misconceptions and prejudices about Africa. Most of our compatriots think of Africa as a famine-plagued, war-torn backward continent. Visiting many African countries can be a very humbling experience for those who are willing to undertake it. An experience which is more often than not far removed from the image conjured from our pre-conceived ideas. Unfortunately, most of us owe the little we know about our neighbours to what Western media choose to show us. And these media have been consistent in the images they have been conveying to us, whether innocently or by design. Good news in Africa rarely makes the headlines. Bad news about Africa is sensationally splashed all over the headlines. Ghana’s stable and strong democracy and the recent smooth transition of power there, as just one such example, do not make the sexy news that smug voyeuristic viewers crave for. Famine, disease, pandemics and war make for readily consumable and satisfying news and the media show no restraint in serving them to their consumers. The change in Rwanda from a genocide-scarred country to a safe, organised and civilized haven today does not make good headlines. Continually serving reminiscences of the genocide does. And we sit, watch and swallow.

African peoples have been scarred, decultured and dehumanized by colonisation. The images the Western media have been conveying have comforted the prejudices we already have and increased our ignorance. This ignorance today has a cost. We missed the train which China and South Africa jumped on in the nick of time, while we stood as bystanders waving them goodbye and good luck.

Can we catch a later train? Probably, but that would require exorcising our deeply ingrained prejudices, exacerbated by our insularity and navel-worship. A lofty task if you ask me. Above all, we would first and foremost need to come to terms with, and respect, our own domestic diversity and overcome our prejudices and stereotyping of each other. We have a long road to travel still.

Until then, let us facilitate the route for those who have fewer prejudices than us.

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