Monday, June 12, 2023

A systemic knot

Now that the term “system” and its collapse resonates within the Mauritian political scene, more precisely within the extraparliamentary fringe, Mauritians who are disenchanted with this “system” in place must breathe a sigh of relief. 

Ironically, mainstream politicians would score an “own goal” should they embrace the “system” discourse as, to a large extent, this broken “system” bears their signature. Still, nothing prevents them, in a burst of elusive humility (and practical intelligence), from expressing a mea culpa and laying the foundations of a real “sanzman” with an action plan that is as comprehensive as it is coherent and convincing. Fortunately credibility loss is not always carved in stone. Otherwise, they would continue to pave their way to a not-so-glorious memory in the history books. 

By “system” we mean the national network that is connected to the international world within which we constantly interact. The healthier it is, the more our individual well-being radiates within the national and global community. The more toxic it is, the more it ignites our tribal instinct to seek refuge in a self-absorbed community. The world in which we have been living since the 1980s bears the seal of “ultra-liberalism”, which boils down to a race blinded by material quest, even if it means perverting the means to achieve it and depleting our habitat. Depending on our lifestyles and the country we live in, somehow we all suffer the consequences. 

Two groups have emerged among the few to have crafted the conditions to minimise the impact of globalised “ultra-liberalism”: the Nordics (Sweden, Denmark and Norway) and the Confucians (China, South Korea and Singapore). It is not about idealising one or the other, but about deconstructing their relative “success”. In short, these nations thrive with a mindset that generally instills confidence in the “system” and a spirit of collaboration – essential connections in the building of a nation which, for instance, succeeds in its branding exercise organically, without resorting to fatly paid consultants. Although philosophically different in their approach (individual freedom first for the Nordics, enlightened paternalism among the Confucians), the two groups demonstrate that their moves are driven by pragmatism, not ideologies. 

Baby blues 

Alas, Mauritius is one of the many countries struggling to cope with global “ultra-liberalism”. Our creativity, our bent for innovation and our entrepreneurial spirit being inhibited by narratives as divisive as they are heavily Euro-centric (Westoxicated), in effect Franco- French-centric (Frenchtoxicated) since our “républicain” status. Forces of conservatism cannot be more disconnected from grassroot realities. If global “ultra-liberalism” has lifted many citizens, especially in “developing” countries, out of absolute poverty, it has simultaneously globalised internal economic inequalities, health, humanitarian and environmental disasters. To respond to systemic challenges, the desired strategic and interdisciplinary approach is worryingly missing. ChatGPT, namely, will certainly expand the information load available, but we are fooling ourselves if we believe we shall invariably meet our objectives without being discerning and making intelligent use of it. 

Slayers of the “system” have so far not shown that they are exploring the root cause of our malaise: the disproportionate concentration of national wealth generated. Is it out of intellectual laziness, complacency or reluctance in the face of a taboo – an economic oligarchy coming from a small ethnic minority descending from our former colonisers? Sooner or later, desperation will unleash the self-determination for effective “sanzman” but it can be a painful transition. We better wise up and be proactive. What is obvious on the other hand, one does not heal a patient through stigmatisation or, even more critically, without a cutting-edge diagnosis. 

How did we practically go from the monoculture of sugarcane to that of concrete? Why are we so obsessed with export activities while in the same breath claiming that a “competitive” rupee, a junk currency in truth, not productivity gains and a welltrained and motivated human capital, would be the engine of our competitiveness and our progress? Why, in return, we deindustrialise the country; we ignore the fact that local food production can also help improving our balance of payments; we subsidise smart cities that are as smart as ineptocrats can be, dedicated to foreigners mainly seeking tax optimisation, and make housing unaffordable to locals; and finally, why do we confer a tax haven the virtues of economic democratisation or focus on taxation rather than wastage and corruption to balance our national books? 

We have built a country that operates at conflicting paces with predominantly substandard delivery of goods and services. Only another “miracle” can make such a disastrous model viable. Globalisation and the market economy can be devastating when institutions such as watchdogs against corruption and for competition do not bite continuously, fiercely and indiscriminately. At the international level, the time has come for the World Trade Organization to play a less lame, more impactful role. In order to be empowered to punish and contain abuses within the supply chains (raw materials, oil, pharmaceuticals etc.) and maritime and air carriers. 

The current surreal governance is unbearable. The leadership that can send the right signals capable of reining in enablers and producers of systemic inequalities while synergising all progressive stakeholders will end up rescuing us. Meanwhile, let us act quickly within our circles of influence and keep hoping for the vital turnaround. Above all, we must stay wary of turning “systemic” into another buzzword.

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