«Démocratisation de l'économie» :

The balance of power

The public rift which occurred between Navin Ramgoolam and Jacques de Navacelle does not stem from a conjectural crisis. What looks like a feud between this government and the private sector since Navin Ramgoolam came to power is, in fact, a reconfiguration of the ruling economic block. Successive events may lend support to the view that the government is systematically skinning the private sector and is particularly striking at the Whites economic interest. Others will say this government is Robin Hood and is coming to the rescue of the poor. These events have been, for example, the sale promotion of Amul to break Nestle's monopoly, the cement episode with Lafarge, the closing of Desbro, or pressure on the sugar industries to release some 1,500 to 2,000 acres of land and the cancellation of the IBL's project on Agalega with the consequential demise of Catovair. The political discourses held by government Ministers and MPs at the time of these events also add to the strong perception that the so much democratisation of the economy is no more than a revenge against the sugar barons. In its strategy of management of public opinion, it might happen that the Communication Unit of the government deliberately reinforced that perception. But we must look beyond the smoke screen.

Systemic crisis

It is important that we are mindful of the fact that any economic crisis is tantamount to disequilibrium in the balance of power which usually holds the players in society together. When such a situation gives rise to several discourses which go beyond the limits of «economics», we can consider that we are living a systemic or organic crisis. Reference has been made to the colonial days, «isolated voices» and concentration of wealth in the hands of the eight families. According to Gramsci, systemic crises can only be addressed by socio-historical criticism, whose subject is a wider social group, and goes beyond the public figures involved and the top leaders. We may ask ourselves if we are not presently witnessing the disintegration of the ruling economic block. New alliances will be formed. This will inevitably lead to a reconfiguration of local capitalism.

In spite of the sudden anti-capitalist rhetoric of the Labour Party which is characterised mainly by the ethnic overtones of Nita Deerpalsing and Ramesh Jeetah and the neo-marxian phraseologies of James Burty David, it has been anyway the main political party which has consolidated capitalism. The Labour Party played a major role after independence to have the small planters reach a historical accommodation with the sugar oligarchy. Today, it happens that the parts constituting that block (state and traditional bourgeoisie) can no longer identify together anymore. With the end of the sugar protocol protectionist measures for Mauritius, the traditional parties of the ruling economic block will no longer be able to contain the contradictions in their ranks. At the same time, intermediary capitalist classes have emerged. They operate mainly in the secondary and tertiary sectors. As Mauritius steps in a globalised economy, that economic group will be a major stakeholder. As such, the markets are now occupied by three major ruling economic classes.

Array of supports

Some observers have drawn our attention to the fact that out of the 72,911 acres of land for sugar cane plantation, 50;245 acres are owned by the big planters. But some 32% go to the small planters dating back to as far as 1890 with the Grand Morcellement period. For decades, the sugar industry (big and small planters) has benefited from

an array of supports, set up from before Independence and until now. They range from the setting up of institutions (viz, Mauritius Chamber of Commerce, MSIRI, Sugar Planters Mechanical Pool Corporation, etc) to fiscal concessions which have benefited directly and indirectly to both big and small planters. It is important to note that the class of artisans in the sugar industry has been completely ignored and left over. There is no mention at all of the artisans in the debate about the restructuring of the sugar industry. That class is doomed to death. And God knows how important they have been for running the mills. While, the University of Mauritius hosted a seminar on Land Reform in the Democratisation Process in collaboration with the CDE (Commission pour la démocratisation de l'économie), none of the guest speakers were from the artisans. Worst, the Ministry of Agriculture has still not expressed its intention with regard to the setting up of integrated farming for pig rearers. And, as far as the community of fishermen is concerned, there will be further marginalisation with the privatisation of the sea. This is to say how local politics has always gone along ethnic lines. And if we go as far as the British period, the British played the Francophiles against the Anglophones and vice-versa.

New reconfiguration

At a political level, any reconfiguration of the economic block inevitably leads to new alliances. The post independence period led to the alliance of the Labour Party and the PMSD. The economic crisis of the late 1970's resulted in the creation of the PSM of Harish Boodhoo. The «nouveau consensus social» of the MMM was a political program which met the needs for a political alliance of the traditional bourgeoisie and the state bourgeoisie. This was materialised by the MMM-PSM alliance. Today, the new alliances will be amongst the traditional ruling economic block (traditional and state bourgeoisie) and the new economic intermediary capitalist class. In the last electoral campaign, the new alliances of that new economic block were represented by Navin Ramgoolam, Rashid Beebeejaun, Xavier-Luc Duval and Rama Sithanen. Rashid Beebeejaun represents that new emerging economic block which has now occupied new avenues. However, the irony is that it is Rama Sithanen who represents the economic interests of the traditional private sector. Xavier-Luc Duval, whose father has been the main protagonist and staunch supporter of the capitalist interests, will become gradually meaningless to that group. But it still represents a symbolical asset in any alliance.

White syndrome

By the time we reach the next general elections, strategic alliances will be formed to strike the right balance of power, holding the major economic players together. None will be fool enough to follow Cader, Nita, Rajesh and James in their crusade. The white syndrome is almost a socio pathological problem of all post-colonial societies. Unfortunately, even some of our brilliant academics have still not been able to get over it. The best literature on this issue remains Black Skin and White Masks (1952), by Frantz Fanon. It has become a best seller in Europe with its reprinted versions. It can also be read in its French original version (Peau noire, masques blancs). This book can be used as a conceptual framework to understand the Mauritian society.

Jimmy Harmon