We are on the verge of a defining moment in our history. The oil spill in our lagoon has shone a light on the structurally incompetent government that was democratically elected, albeit through a flawed process, to guide us through these troubled times. On the other hand, undeterred by the sadness and anger plaguing the whole country right now, Mauritians are taking it upon themselves to help minimise the devastating impact of this tragedy. There has rarely been such a quintessential example of what it means to be Mauritian.
As is often the case, we have been let down by those leading us. Kavy Ramano, whose only credentials as Minister of Environment seem to be that he’s a man and that he exists, stood up in parliament to downplay the chaos just two days before the first pictures of oil in our lagoon flooded social media. He argued that “the present risk of an oil spill is low” and that they would be ready with their National Oil Spill Contingency Plan in any case. By the end of the week, it became clear that the plan was just to act surprised in the face of impending catastrophe and beg for help. While the government was still trying to figure out how to tie its shoelaces, hundreds of volunteers gathered on our coast to help contain the massacre of our marine ecosystem.
During the weekend, the smirking prime minister held a press conference to warn against some of these volunteers who were trying to do more harm than good. For once, that is something we can definitely all agree on. We have all seen those “volunteers”. They tend to be politicians and close allies of the ruling coalition. They are rarely wearing masks and are seen posing for photos with big smiles. They have the per- verse desire to hog the spot- light and hashtag their own names on their social media posts, possibly as proof of presence ahead of future elections. They seem to find pride in having finally reached a level of power where people are simply not allowed to laugh at their ineptitude anymore, at the risk of being arrested for dissent. Yes Prime Minister, we will be wary of those volunteers.
The government is usually comforted in its belief that catastrophic incompetence has little importance as long as it controls the institutions meant to impose checks and balances. Now the whole world is watching. The bulk carrier had around 4,000 tons of fuel oil and 200 tons of diesel on board but the authorities have done very little since the ship crashed near our shores two weeks ago. In many ways, that is criminal behaviour and we can only hope international accountability will set a new threshold for what our politicians can get away with.
As we set out to face this nightmare together, it is crucial that we don’t forget or forgive those who have led us to this ecological disaster. We are on the edge of the ocean and this is the reckoning for all those responsible. We will come for you.