One of the few silver linings of this extended lock-down is the unprecedented opportunity it provides the country for deep contemplation and consultation about the direction our nation will take once this crisis is over. But before we begin to consider this, we must anticipate what kind of world we will emerge into. A few things are likely:
- International tourism will take a long time to recover as destinations remain closed to countries still infected..
- Globalisation will be reversed as supply chains are shortened, simplified and made more resilient.
- Foreign direct investment will be curtailed as nations, businesses and individuals concentrate on economic recovery at home.
- Foreign aid budgets will be focussed on assisting the poorest countries as they struggle to deal with the aftermath of the crisis.
All of these will have a negative impact on Mauritius’ open economy, which is dependent on international trade and travel, investment and income support from overseas. The knee jerk reaction is to extend vast amounts of credit to established businesses in the hope that they can survive until the global economy recovers. However, a wiser approach would be to redesign our corporate landscape to fit a new world that will probably never return to business-as-usual.
Mauritian companies that provide goods and services for the Mauritian market absolutely need to be assisted to weather the crisis until local demand recovers. However, rather than put the companies that rely on global markets onto long-lasting life support, it makes much more sense to let them die and utilise their assets, especially their people, to create something new. Reducing our own dependence on importing goods that we could make at home must be the priority and encouraging entrepreneurship to achieve this is the key. Developments in 3D printing allow us to make almost anything we can imagine.
Green the economy
Governments have repeatedly told us that sustainability is too expensive and changing people’s behaviour is impossible. Enormous bail-out funds and an extended lock-down have proven these mantras to be lies. Where there is a will there is a way. Investment in renewable energy, environmental restoration and healthy food production can no longer be refused. Failures to recycle our waste or care for nature can lo longer be excused.
Slaughter sacred cows
Perhaps the greatest barrier to change in Mauritius has been the sugarcane. Obesity, diabetes and high blood pressure are three underlying conditions that make Covid-19 more deadly and sugar causes them all. Burning bagasse to make electricity handcuffs us to coal. As a result, Mauritian electricity is one of the most polluting on the planet.
Freeing up our fields to grow nutritious food and more versatile energy crops that can be converted into methane will improve our health, reduce our imports and allow us to integrate more solar and wind, making our electricity cleaner. If the rich sugar estates refuse then it is surely time to nationalise them.
As a global crisis temporarily interrupts our normally busy schedules, we finally have time on our hands to consider the future we want and the future our children need. We have the money to transform Mauritius and we have the will to change our behaviour. Let us not waste it.