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The Empires Strike Back

A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away…

A tiger-class merchant ship was making its way with the rest of the fleet towards the Golden Dawn of the New Age. Without the added weight of weaponry, it was one of the fastest craft around, it’s path illuminated by a state-of-the-art 4-sight navigation system which resembled a balanced tripod supporting a bright spark. All would have been perfect, except that three officers coveted the captain’s chair and the fickle crew regularly mutinied in favour of one or the other.

The first was an old Jedi Knight, who had turned completely to the Dark Side. The second was a short-sighted son of a former captain, who had lied about his lineage, assassinated his rivals and betrayed the most vulnerable members of the crew to get the post. The third was a rejected member of a race of condescending albinos, who had deceived the crew into believing that the ship could not operate without them, even though they did little work themselves. They had been the first to board the ship and, though few in number, still controlled most of the trade. Somehow they had managed to convince everyone that they had a divine right to occupy the best quarters and live in luxury while others lived in squalor.

Shortly after an unusually traumatic upheaval, the Dark Knight was reinstated as Captain. Once in control, he ripped the tripod apart, giving each leg as a prize to his key supporters and jettisoned the bright spark. The merchant ship meandered aimlessly. Half-hearted attempts were made to copy the trading strategies of others and unprofitable sectors were subsidised, mostly in the interests of the albinos and their fratres, whom many suspected of secretly manipulating the ship’s controls. Caring less about the lack of progress, the wannabe captains continued their feud for the captain’s chair.

A nearby mother-ship took pity on the merchant ship and donated an information system enabling it to trade in new sectors. But the crew were not re-trained and the cargo hold dedicated to the new sectors became littered with useless containers belonging to the captains’ supporters. Instead of making its own way, the merchant ship ungratefully exploited leaks from its benefactor, much to the annoyance of the mother-ship’s crew, who expected it to help plug them. Meanwhile, the bright spark found a new role atop an isolated tower and, falsely accused of growing dim, secretly searched the merchant ship for apprentice Jedis who could help install a new navigation system…

Of course, that’s just an imaginative story and any resemblance to persons living or dead is purely coincidental!

In the early 1990s, the Dutch Government initiated the National Long Term Perspective Studies (NLTPS) to guide sustainable development in a host of African countries. In Mauritius, responsibility for this was given to the Ministry of Economic Development, Productivity and Regional Development (MoEDPRD). After broad consultations with stakeholders and with the assistance of the Commonwealth and UNDP, it produced Vision 2020. However, within a few short years, the MoEDPRD was no more and Vision 2020 and a follow-on report were consigned to the dustbin.

Where the Dutch venture had failed, the French thought they could succeed; a peculiar repetition of the past that few remarked. They persuaded the Leader to launch Maurice Ile Durable (MID) to steer the nation towards sustainability. For reasons unknown, Rodrigues and the outer islands slipped their minds. Bizarrely, the process duplicated one that had been less than successful in France and failed to assimilate the lessons learned from Vision 2020 or to build on its solid foundations. Talk about re-inventing the wheel! And yet MID was proclaimed by everyone, including UNDP, as a pioneering project. Have we developed collective amnesia?

Let us review MID with regard to the lessons of the NLPTS:

1. A shared vision is of paramount importance. After national consultations, a vision statement was delivered in the MID Green Paper but was so feeble that it had to be completely rewritten by the Ministry of Environment and Sustainable Development. However, this final vision statement was not effectively communicated to the population and cannot even be found on the MID website. Why not?

2. The formulation phase must include consistent scenario-based and quantitative methodologies that take account of external factors. Scenarios and numerical modelling were not considered by most MID working groups and global influences such as economic volatility and climate change were largely ignored. Why?

3. Implementation must involve the private sector and civil society, who should be fully included in the formulation phase. Despite having a wealth of local expertise to draw on, the government has decided to outsource major parts of the MID process to foreign consultants. Moreover, civil society and the private sector are largely excluded from the final stages of formulating the strategy and action plan, the implementation of which appears to be the exclusive responsibility of the government. Why?

4. The formulation phase must be short, incorporate concurrent studies and implementation should include research as part of an iterative learning process. The MID process has dragged on for years. The Truth and Justice Commission has severely criticised MID, notably for the glaring the omissions of land reform and culture, but there is no mechanism for addressing these nor to enable the strategy to adapt and evolve over time. Why not?

The Ministry of Environment and Sustainable Development has, no doubt to the great annoyance of our French donors, invited the British to sort out the MID mess, neatly consummating our voluntary dependence on Mauritius’ three ex-colonial rulers. Even if the British manage to save it from disaster, will the strategy they write for us reflect our unique aspirations and cultural diversity? Will it be embraced by the population and will it stand the tests of time? As we celebrate 44 years of independence is it not high time to take our destiny into our own hands and create our collective vision independently, without political interference – or better still, interdependently, with our brothers and sisters in the region?