Mauritius: Protest March - Sociopolitics of August 29

7 September 2020

PKJ's response to the historic protest march of August 29 is an aberration. He comes on TV to tell us that he has the same preoccupation as the population and that our democracy is kicking and alive. Our preoccupation is the search for a functioning democracy where rights of people and nature are respected, development is delivered, where information flow is possible and citizens' right to know is upheld, where accountability and transparency prevail, where justice for all is the norm. In short, our preoccupation is searching for the TRUTH.

Our preoccupation is also about finding solutions to the complex problems our society is confronted with, and how to ensure the nation's security. But for now, the main preoccupation of the people is that PKJ must go, since each extra minute that he remains in power constitutes a threat to the nation and to future generations.

PKJ has failed the nation on many counts. This is perhaps why what we heard the most during the protest march of 29August was 'B... li deor". I was there with thousands of fellow patriots, wearing my black T-shirt carrying the message: 'I am proud of my country but ashamed of my government', honouring our quadricolore, flying high in the sky. Not like those 'learned' politicians and cronies of PKJ defacing the Mauritian flag, flouting section 5 (c) of the National Flag Act (2015). Will PKJ say "So what" this time?

29th August will remain etched in our memories. The protest march brought people of all ages, ethnic background, religion, 'ability', gender and class together, once more highlighting the capacity of Mauritians to come as ONE. Transcending all barriers, Mauritians walked the streets of Port-Louis in togetherness, to say No to the injustices, the incompetence, the arrogance, the authoritarianism of the current regime. As lovers of nature, peace, interethnic harmony, justice, development and dignity for all and "most essentially" as seekers of transparency and lovers of TRUTH, we marched.

Accompanying us were friends and family of the diaspora. We salute them for their support! Our national anthem was chanted a number of times expressing our determination and unity of purpose to save our country from liars, looters, despots, and destroyers of our Mauritianness, ecology and heritage. (...) Governance cannot be effective when a culture of impunity is entrenched and TRUST broken.

At a time when WE the citizens of Mauritius weep for our lost heritage, our dolphins worry for our future since our ocean - (the very source of our livelihoods and the potential that it holds for further development), has been hit, cry for the death of little Mateo who has become the symbol of a heartless state, inattentive to the necessity of a decent roof for all, painfully watch our loved ones cope with cancer and other diseases while many of the equipments remain out of order in the hospitals, witness the frustration of our sons and daughters losing the opportunity of a job because of nepotism and the absence of meritocracy, grieve with our compatriots who are stuck abroad due to closed frontiers while a privileged few are back home to their comfort zones, live in the fear of an arbitrary arrest, bear the consequences of a growing digital divide, struggle to access reliable information, PKJ's cronies and allies are busy looting the country. Pack and Blisters and St Louis gate, amongst many other scandals, will remain on our minds for a long time to come!

While large numbers swell the ranks of the unemployed and workers' acquired rights are being eroded, while families mourn the loss of their loved ones due to drug overdose; while children and women continue to face di- verse forms of violence; three Ministers choose to hold a press conference a few days before the protest march in an attempt to dissuade citizens from participating. (...)

Voice and Agency

The three ministers' 'voices' instilling fear in the population, the derogatory remarks made about those representing some 67% of the population, the false debate about what is political and apolitical were nothing but 'écoeurant, dégoûtant et puant'. They stand in sharp contrast to the freshness, the authenticity, the angst in the voices of citizens such as Veronique Virahsawmy of Mahebourg, Marie Rose Randamy of Riambel and Bruneau Laurette, propelling us into rethinking our democracy. Such "voices' and 'agency' represent hope for a better and more just Mauritius! Hope also comes from the resilience of thousands of volunteers from all walks of life who came together as ONE, expressing solidarity in trying to save our sea and marine life. And HOPE comes from the thousands of citizens who took to the streets claiming for a citizencentric governance and participatory democracy.

The message driving home is that the citizens of Mauritius are fed up with a top down, patronising, domineering, inhumane system. 'Voice' and 'Agency' are relatively newcomers to the governance equation. The Gilets Jaunes of France, the Hirak movement of Algeria, the protest movement in Hong Kong, the Black Lives Matter movement, amongst many others, highlight the imperative of challenging oppressive systems and replacing them by more just democracies. Such protests illustrate the rise of civic engagement and the need for developmental democracy. Electoral democracy is obviously not sufficient. Civic engagement is broader than the notion of citizen participation and /or civil society since it includes a wider range of actors and multiple relationships with them. Participation can sometimes be limited to an event or a series of events but civic engagement is more of a process - a role for citizens in deepening democracy. Civic engagement is about establishing channels for 'voice' with a more responsive and accountable state. But civic engagement can be problematical if they do not take into account imbalances of power, inequality and prejudice.

Whether what happened on Saturday is disruptive enough to ensure a shift from the usual focus on competitive elections and political leadership for legislative and executive office to a new political order is a legitimate question. It is clear that the kind of political representation we are used to will increasingly be perceived as ineffective in accomplishing the central ideals of democratic politics: (1) enabling active citizenry involvement; (2) building bridges through dialogue to obtain and forge political consensus and (3) formulate and implement policies that result in higher levels of human development and where rights of citizens are upheld. What happened on 29th August is also a lesson for all those aspiring to govern the country.

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