Touria Prayag's Blog

Left behind?

Posted in Uncategorized by touriaprayag on February 24, 2013

“Chewing gum,” the small boy with the smiling face and skinny legs offered as we walked into the Ethiopia National Museum. “No, thanks.” – “Later?” he insisted. “Not really. Thanks.” – “Maybe when you come out,” he said as he was walking away.

Hope when there is hope, hope when there is no hope, hope against hope. That is the spirit of Africa. And that is why there is every reason to be optimistic about Africa.

It is not our intention to romanticize Africa. Ethiopia is still a heartbreakingly poor country and the rather comfortable – luxury is still an alien concept here – hotels of Addis Ababa overlook slums which display indescribable poverty and malnutrition. And, until recently, 45% of Ethiopia’s GDP was swallowed by war. But that is a side of the country you already know as the western media has made it its stock in trade to highlight all the misery year in and year out. The fairly well developed infrastructure, the wide roads and spacious pavements, the buildings which seem to be springing up from everywhere, the leaps made in health and education, the peace and serenity which engulf the city are not sexy enough to report on. And that is what we invite you to discover with us.

The city wakes up early. A young and vibrant city. Life is not moving fast but things are happening quickly. The scorching sun starts to pierce its way through the dry, icy morning. Many of the boys who used to sell chewing gum are now selling telephone cards. Still a terrible verdict on youth unemployment but an indication nonetheless as to the way the country is moving. The shoeshine boys – and surprisingly girls too – offer to shine your shoes before they dismiss you with a smile. They are not pushy or violent, and crime is incredibly low in spite of the rampant poverty. And there is not a single cop in sight. People simply seem to be too busy trying to eke out a living against all odds to think of crime.

The weyalas (conductors of minibus taxis) have half of their bodies out of the window calling out at stops to get as many commuters as they can, at times arguing with other weyalas to get more passengers. The worn out clothes sported by many of these passengers are a manifestation of a lack of the basic necessities. But the smiles do not fade, neither does the pride they have in their history, culture and country.

Late Prime Minister Meles Zenawi’s photo adorns the streets, office buildings, hotels and shopping centres, at times accompanied with messages of affection. There isn’t a single photo of the current prime minister, Hailemariam Desalgene, who took over a few months ago in what the world hailed as a smooth transition – in fact smooth only in appearance. He has not been seen or heard anywhere but Ethiopia today is among the three fastest growing economies in the world! Surely that did not happen by accident.

The opportunities this country has to offer the world are unlimited. And, while we are still talking about fine-tuning our Africa strategy, the Chinese have made the place their home. They are everywhere. Many are selling vegetables in the markets!

Being the gateway to Africa, we opened the door for many investors in Africa, waved them goodbye and good luck. While we stood and watched, they seized the opportunities we did not dare jump on. Today, in hotels and restaurants, the menu is written in English and…Chinese! While we are wallowing in our prejudice and inaction.


The tiger that purrs

Posted in Uncategorized by touriaprayag on February 24, 2013

Wednesday’s torrential rains which slammed into our island were a reality check. And it is a reality we have to stare in the face. It has highlighted just how ill-equipped and inadequate we are to cope with disaster – any type of disaster. So, they should be a wake-up call.

When the rainstorm started hurtling towards our island in the early hours of Wednesday morning, it would seem that our meteorological station did not see anything coming. If they did, the communication was terribly poor. So, we had to wait until 6am before the nation was told that children had to be kept home. Some were already in the vans on their way to school. Still forgivable, one might say, considering that, in the past, it was only when our kids were in school that they were told to find their way back home; an incident we still cringe over when we remember, as it had resulted in the death of two of our youth.

As we crawled towards Port Louis in an unprecedented traffic jam, we thought our woes would be over once we had swum through the Venice-for-a-day capital. Then we were told to go back home as the rains were going to get worse. Perhaps the communiqué put out by the civil service and the MEF should have had an additional note asking us to take our swimsuits with us. Those who managed to make their way home through – this time predictably- hellish traffic and reached Flic-en-Flac for example, were pleasantly surprised to see tourists sunbathing. Good for our tourism industry. Pity we were not told to be prepared to join in the sunbathing for a day out which cost the country Rs300m.

Perhaps this is an opportunity for us to take a second look at our navel-gazing culture. When it comes to bragging, we are unbeatable: the Tiger of the Indian Ocean, the best in Africa, the Cybercity, the communications giant…It took only a few drops of rain too many for our whole communications system to come to a total standstill. And we suddenly were more isolated than people living in Timbuktu!

Communication problems compounded by fear, uncertainty and bad decisions served to remind us yet again that we do not have a decision-making process independent of politicians. And when it comes to politicians, the shameless pas-moi-sa-li-sa is in order. Vasant Bunwaree blames the meteorological station; a station which, amazingly enough, deals marvellously with cyclones, just failed to even predict the intensity or the duration of the rains. But the cherry on the cake is Tassarajen Chedumbrum Pillay putting the blame squarely on Mauritius Telecom! What an excellent opportunity for our minister to settle his scores with his sworn enemy. At the expense of the nation. And, at the end of the day, no one is to blame of course.

Lack of information leads to bad decision-making which itself leads to a delayed response when time is of the essence. We are grateful this time around that there was no loss of lives. In future, let’s look less amateurish. A rainstorm is no different to a cyclone. We need to have similar systems in place.

And these need to be independent of politicians. Until then, let’s call ourselves the Cat of the Indian Ocean. And that’s not being humble.


Posted in Uncategorized by touriaprayag on February 24, 2013

Some 20 odd years ago when you and I were at our desks writing airmail letters to our boyfriends/ girlfriends and waiting for up to six weeks to get a reply, we had no idea that our children would be involved in sending instant messages to theirs. Nor did we know that we would be sitting in our dining rooms literally having dinner with our relatives across the world. Such is the pace of change.

While we are dazzled by this change and are perpetually struggling to cope and remain relevant, we tend to forget how much more progress we will live to see. With such changes, there are opportunities, some of which were not even in the realm of dreams yesterday. The challenge is to whittle down these opportunities.

As the excitement of the HSC results which characterized the beginning of this week starts fading away, the dilemma of choices being thrown at school leavers start dawning upon them. The difficulty of choosing a course leading to a career is made more difficult with the generation gap which seems to be getting bigger and bigger between students and their parents. Looking out for something new, creative, out of the box, generally meets with the strong apprehensions of the parents who are keen on pushing for careers they have heard of before. There are many new and exciting opportunities out there and, naturally, there will be even more in the future. The problem is that the future is unpredictable and the truth is that no-one knows for sure what types of career opportunities there will be in the near future. Some of the students who have just completed their HSC today could perhaps have a job title that hasn’t even been invented and some others may find themselves working in an industry which doesn’t yet exist. The complexity of the situation in Mauritius is compounded by us parents, with the best intentions, getting in the way and finding it hard to adjust to the diversity and novelty of the items on the menu.

As the students reading this edition look at the various fields we have explored for them, one main thing they need to bear in mind is: three or four years studying a subject is a long time, so it had better be a course they like; a course which matches their interests, career aspirations and talents; subjects they can face on Monday mornings after a weekend hangover.

And every student is unique. While some have always known that they wanted to become doctors or lawyers, for most, deciding is something which comes at a much later stage. Others may opt for subjects that are not taught in schools or colleges. Our aim is to help our young readers narrow down the thousands of courses to just a few or combine courses from different subjects to construct a study programme suitable for them. Many combinations and study pathways are possible. While making a choice, it is perhaps, however, worth bearing in mind that, these days, no-one expects a ‘job for life’. Most people only realise what career’s right for them when they’re in their 20s, 30s or even later. So do not get stressed about your future. Face it with serenity. There are countless careers out there just waiting to be snapped up. The world really is your oyster. And you are the one in the driving seat. So, yay!

Transparency at its best

Posted in Uncategorized by touriaprayag on February 2, 2013

Par:- Touria Prayag

On 01/02/2013

So the board of SICOM sat to review its purchase of Rakesh Gooljaury’s property in Ebène. So, they themselves questioned everything they themselves did in the whole transaction and they unanimously agreed with themselves that what they themselves had done with taxpayers’ money
was absolutely fine and that buying the building in fact has economic merit.

We are not investors but using some of the little common sense we have, we find it hard to see economic merit in SICOM buying a building yet to be built when it has a brand new building in Port Louis which is still vacant. But it is not our place to decide for them. We do not mean to claim more knowledge of real estate than the learned members on that same board when we say that there is a glut of office space in Ebène and Port Louis with thousands of square metres lying vacant and that rentals are continuously nose-diving. They have their own experts and advisers to whom we bow in humility, so we will not dwell on that. Let us rather look at the cherry on the cake.

SICOM’s chairman, Kushal Lobine, suggesting that there is nothing wrong with an associate sitting on a board taking decisions about one’s own associate’s property. And the worst part of this whole issue is that there isn’t anything legally wrong with that.

But is legality what the debate is about? Naturally, we are not talking about ethics here; we stopped dreaming ages ago. The question is that the perception of bias created by this whole saga is the worst possible thing for governance? The perception that some are working hard and, while their living standards are being continuously slashed through enforced austerity, others are having a ball with their tax money, is enough to dampen the morale of the most serene citizen.

Having said that, we are far from impressed with Pravind Jugnauth, who still has not answered for the Med Point scandal, standing as a justiciary trying very hard to look like our local Mahatma.

All this happened on his watch. He himself, perhaps preempting any information which may leak out, admits that he did call Rakesh Gooljaury into his office – now hold your breath – to tell him that the deal was not right. Seriously? A minister of fi nance calling an ordinary citizen to tell him that the undue benefi ts he is about to receive are not a good thing? All this under the very nose of our prime minister who keeps hammering on about transparency.

The long and short of this whole disheartening episode we are going through is that we have had enough of our intelligence being insulted and we no longer have any stomach for politicians committing the worst possible types of corruption together when they are in the same bed and denouncing each other only when they jump out of bed.

Time has never been riper for real reform: limiting the mandate of ministers, including that of the prime minister, having more transparency in all the matters which involve the money we work so hard for, the allocation of contracts and recruitment, access to information and banning the practice of rewarding cronies with jobs for the boys. Also, and perhaps more importantly, regulating the fi nancing of political parties. That is the root of all evil. Short of these reforms, we shall just be replacing one corrupt politician with another more corrupt one every five years. Don’t we deserve better, damn it?

Say a prayer

Posted in Uncategorized by touriaprayag on February 2, 2013

Par:- Touria Prayag

On 24/01/2013

“Alan Ganoo has, for years, been the go-between in – and privy to – all the kose-koser sessions which have taken place between the prime minister and the leader of the opposition.”

Paul Bérenger’s news about his illness is heartbreaking and we hope his ordeal will be short-lived. But, emotions aside, in a world of lies, covered by more lies, being open about his condition is dignified and commendable. It heralds an era of transparency which will hopefully prevent any wild speculation and rumour-mongering which may have resulted from the absence of the leader of the opposition from the political scene. Any lack of information concerning the lives of political leaders inevitably results in the gap being filled with the wildest speculations. An open approach nips that in the bud. Paul Bérenger has shown a great deal of transparency and courage by just giving the straight goods.

This also sparks new questions about when the private lives of politicians intersect with the public interest of Mauritians, a matter which is becoming more and more relevant, particularly considering the age of the players on our political scene. In this country, our politicians have generally had a far easier ride than their counterparts in other countries. They do not get any slack from the media for hiding their ill health. Yet, the state of health of prominent politicians may have huge ramifications on the country as a whole as it may directly impact their ability to carry out their jobs. So, they cannot legitimately keep it secret and the hue and cry which sometimes follows media revelations about the health of some political players, at times followed by a total denial of the seriousness of the condition in question, is against the interests of the country. Demanding to know about the health of those who are sitting in our national assembly has nothing to do with mere voyeurism.

What does the news about Bérenger’s health mean for the MMM? Nobody before yesterday morning suspected that Bérenger would announce such news, not even his closest collaborators who woke up to the same shock as the rest of us. Many were frantically phoning each other yesterday to find out whether what they had heard on radio channels was true or not. Bérenger, like everyone else, is aware of the ambitions, some more justified than others, of his front bench. We will recall that this very week, the elections to the MMM’s central committee were postponed to avoid the very conflict which might arise as a result of ambitions and frustrations.

Alan Ganoo is already deputy leader of the party and it is therefore easier for him to step into the leader’s shoes and hold the fort during his leader’s period of sick leave. He is not exactly a boat-rocker and, symbolically, he is one of the few MMM members who has cut it in rural constituencies. But, more importantly, he is one of the closest people to the Labour Party and one who has never made any secret of his aversion to the remake. He has, for years, been the go-between in – and privy to – all the kose-koser sessions which have taken place between the prime minister and the leader of the opposition. We will also recall that, in 1992, the MSM/MMM alliance broke up because of a dinner with Navin Ramgoolam which Alan Ganoo had attended. So, a lot is likely to happen on the political scene. But, for the time being, say a prayer for Paul. You won’t be the only one privately praying.