This Week's Focus-The Place of the Intellectual (2): The Building Blocks of Agency

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From left to right: Tim Taylor (Chairman of Scott & Co and Chairman of the National Committee on Corporate Governance), Roukaya Kasenally (scholar and democracy activist), Paula Atchia (pedagogue and author), Yvan Martial (journalist, historian and writer), Francois Ip (medical Doctor and man of ideas), Jean Claude de l’Estrac (General Secretary of the Indian Ocean Commission), Jane Valls (Director of MIoD), Vidula Nababsing (sociologist and thought leader).

From left to right: Tim Taylor (Chairman of Scott & Co and Chairman of the National Committee on Corporate Governance), Roukaya Kasenally (scholar and democracy activist), Paula Atchia (pedagogue and author), Yvan Martial (journalist, historian and writer), Francois Ip (medical Doctor and man of ideas), Jean Claude de l’Estrac (General Secretary of the Indian Ocean Commission), Jane Valls (Director of MIoD), Vidula Nababsing (sociologist and thought leader).

From Discourse to Action

My previous article seeks to open a multi-faceted complex debate, it does not and cannot hold an authoritarian pretence. In my following conversation with Megha Venketasamy (Consultant and Metacoach), Kamlesh Dookayka (Astrophysician and Founder of Café Scientifique Maurice) and a group of young professionals I spoke to informally, we get away from nomenclature into action. The intellectual is, above all, an agent of change engaged in meaningful action. The prerogative is to work towards common interests rather than fall prey to division and particularism. The urgency is the empowerment of ordinary people as the overall goal, through the application of knowledge and a willingness to awaken society.

We discussed a necessary revisioning of the basis on which we live our lives, political engagement, the obstacles and elements of hope. I wrap up with catalytic items in this process of re-visioning.

Re-visioning and paradigm-shift

For Megha Venketasamy, “Intellectual are brains, the heart and most truly the strategists of the future. A whole bunch of young men and women with transforming values, men and women who have shifted within and yet we do not see or hear loudly of them. Unlike the usual conformists, the new age intellectuals have a vision of this whole new Mauritius, where words like empowerment are not just words but deeply rooted and grounded in action. They are the strategists, the shapers, the dreamers and most importantly the doers.”

Kamlesh Dookayka speaks of intellectual activity as being a re-visioning of the values and basis on which we live our lives. “Development and growth are not to be measured (only) in economic terms; there are so many (intangible) indicators about well-being, health, self-satisfaction, happiness. We should strive towards a more holistic value-based development for individuals, especially for our younger generation.”

The ‘shift’ of values, ethics and perspective that Megha identifies is key to Kamlesh too. Moving “from ego-centric living to eco-centric living” (where the ‘eco’ refers to ecology and not economy) is not just the tagline from one of the NGOs he volunteers for, it is a practice, a paradigm-shift that we need to transform into action.

Kamlesh Dookayka seeks hope from “the fact that deep within us, we all seek positive and fulfilling things in one form or the other, but are often misguided in the direction in which we strive for happiness and by which yardstick we measure our progress. There is a need to align our ambitions and prosperity based on the right universal values.”

Politics: Responsibility and Agency

And the intellectual’s relationship with politics?  The lack of engagement of the young in politics is partly to do with the absence of inspirational leadership, the absence of values that they wish to relate to and the fears and threats generated by the system. “Why such timidity from intellectuals? Why so much reluctance?,” asks Megha Venkatasamy. When it comes to politics, Megha acknowledges that “I’m digging hard to recall when I last encountered one of those strategists. Barriers to entry are high, set by the politicians and maintained and enhanced by the political guardians and the people themselves.”

But this does not mean that there is an absence of political conscience. We are in a time of transition looking for a movement encompassing enough to bring together the different voices wishing to reconstruct.

Kamlesh highlights a sense of personal and collective agency: “Political leadership should and can drive initiatives that have long term positive and sustainable impact but the voice and participation of the civil society has to continue to play an important role in defining the kind of future we want. We should all be strong enough to be good leaders in our own capacity and at whatever level.”

At the crossroads: education and political awareness

Our young participants conclude that at the current crossroads in Mauritius and across all sectors, we are being called upon to be bold. The patchwork policy of dragging out on systems that have worked in the past rather than reinvent can only go so far, as we have seen with our dependency on past preferential trade agreements and an obsolete education system.

I felt a strong sense of untapped potential from the younger generation in their intellectual ambitions for Mauritius as defined above. But education was deemed to be an important inhibiting factor in the preparedness level of people for change. This prompts me to conclude by asking a timely question.

To do or not to do, Mrs Dookun

Will Mrs Dookun be remembered for having improved the form of our children’s education, relieving some of the exam stress and putting together a regional and more inclusive set up? Or will she, in a necessarily disruptive innovation mode, address the fundamentals of content and pedagogy?

Will we see the opening up of our children’s minds to philosophical tool kits, to the complexity of our own and other histories without which we know not who we are and without which we remain at the mercy (so as not to say ‘manipulation’) of socio-cultural organisations with their own agendas? When our children will be taught the meaning of freedom, equality, the right to life, then we can expect nation-building around Republican values. When they will be in a position to understand enough in matters of politics and state then they will demand un “Etat de droit” across all Government action. A population that fully understands its rights and responsibilities will not allow its rights to be violated by politicians.

Could Mrs Dookun be a pivotal agent whose action will contribute to that tipping point in the future? It’s a tall order, one that she may not be willing to embrace, let alone be allowed to deliver.

Conclusion: Renewal in action

Hope of a meaningful engagement exists in groups of 20 and 30 year olds who choose to live by a sense of love, community, belonging. Young energetic people wanting passionately to be catalysts of change, wanting a sense of grounding in Mauritius through action that impacts on and improves the lives of people who desperately need it. Young people independent enough to not follow blindly into the shoes of their fathers. I am seeing small groups of people engage in social work quietly without the ‘bling bling’, out of that sense of fraternal reaching out, seeking satisfaction from the little actions while the bigger political actions spin out of direction or are not always comprehensible. Hope is scattered  across those actions, in the authenticity of the sentiment that triggers these acts of love in the first place. Hope is scattered in the dreams of a younger generation which believes in building community and building nation on other terms than we have been dished out since independence …. until such a time when a single platform is capable of pooling together all this political goodwill and giving it a structure for mightier tasks.

And if this platform of intellectuals as defined here, that is agents of change grounded in action, were to meet, in a decade or so, a generation of young Mauritian voters equipped with the educational tools to meet the 21st Century, with discernment enough to know where their best interests lie, with enlightenment enough to base their vote on policy and the competence of their representatives in Parliament, then this will be the revolution many would have been waiting for. Or rather, one that many would have been working towards tipa-tipa, some less visibly than others.


Intellectuals and politics

Politics is not a spectator sport. There was a strong awareness that whether we voice out or not, whether we ever rise to demand more from our politicians than we do or whether we continue to give them license to do as they wish, itwill come back to bite us at the end. Belall Maudarbux (Consultant in Intercultural Dynamics) makes a pertinent reference to Chomsky : “In his seminal 1967 essay ‘The Responsibility of the intellectuals’, Noam Chomsky denounced the intellectual culture of the US, which at the time was largely subservient

to power. War crimes by the rulingelite were justified by technocrats and social scientists. (…) The current Mauritian situation calls for the same question asked by Chomsky: to what extent are the people (a fortiori the intellectuals) responsible in the scandals committed by several governments?”

As to the silencing mechanisms identified in the previous article and that inhibit the entrance of the young into politics, my participants’ response was that in a Small Island Developing Country where our main resource is a human resource, decimating that human capital on the basis of a political penchant results in the unforgiveable waste of their professional and intellectual competence. A leap of faith towards a fairer framework in employment practice is not impossible. Irrespective of our personal views of the dependency dynamics between the private sector and Government, a change from within one sole public or private organisation can and will have a catalytic effect. The commitment to privilege the competence and voice of the intellectual man/woman will ultimately be to the advantage of the whole country.

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