The Economic Dimension
Mauritius will turn 50 in a couple of years.
A few years prior to and soon after independence, some doomsday descriptions of and
predictions for the country, including the averments signed by the multi-prized author V.S.Naipaul
in his work ‘The Overcrowded Barracoon’ *, made it well nigh improbable for anybody in his right
mind to wager on a bright future for Mauritius. However, a handful of citizens, both in the private
and public sectors, took certain timely and decisive actions which were to propel the country onto a
progressive and relatively prosperous path that soon gave the lie to the prophets of doom!
Geographically isolated and disadvantaged as it was, Mauritius had no option than to
painstakingly nudge a niche for itself in the concert of nations.
True, a properly articulated official foreign policy, as should have been the case, was never ever
elaborated. Or, if it were, it was never archived for consultation and reference to enable the country
to follow with meticulous and methodical consistency a course charted out on the international
scene in pursuit of our interests. It befell a few actors, at the time, to literally play it by the ear to
advance our interests, for, the only guidelines available were skeletal references in the ‘Speeches
from the Throne’ at the start of a new legislature.
Decisions and actions were taken mostly on a reactive and ad hoc basis to cater for immediate
needs and interests, more in response to the dynamics of the international economic scene,
specifically within our traditional markets, than on planned long-term objectives. However, it cannot
be gainsaid that the seeds sown at that time sprouted profitably and became the foundation for the
subsequent economic take-off.
The fact is that the interactions of Mauritius on the international scene have always been relations between independent states. A thorough knowledge and understanding of the meanders
and intricacies of international trade and the new economic order that has emerged is as important
to the modern day diplomat as is the mastery of the finer elements of diplomatic practice.
In essence, the classical method of conducting international relations by the traditional diplomat
who was a kind of “specialist of general knowledge” covering a wide spectrum of issues from art to
military warfare is long gone. Today, these relations are
military warfare is long gone. Today, these relations are predominantly informed and influenced by
economic interests. What is then required for the successful promotion and defence of the national
and indeed regional economic interests is a new breed of “business diplomats”, that is, specialists
in economic diplomacy, encompassing the skills necessary in international trade negotiations as
well— a factor mastered by the developed nations.
Mauritius should be no exception in this domain. It is absolutely necessary for our foreign service
to provide more space to such likely “business diplomats” in its recruitment exercise. Simply stating
that economic diplomacy will be favoured in a budgetary exercise will not make it happen. Or the
posting in our embassies of individuals, labelled as “commercial attachés or advisers” with no
notion of the complexities and exigencies of the job will not advance the interests of the country. As
much as the policy is the right one to pursue, as has been done, on and off, since independence, it
will remain hollow if appropriate and consequential measures are not taken to translate the concept
concretely and effectively with the provision of the necessary means and instruments for its
Political expediency, for a start, should not be allowed to interfere in whatever manner in its
pursuit. The competition in this field at the international level is simply too fierce to allow an
amateurish approach in its practice. The economic and financial turmoil that the world has known
over the past years makes it even more compelling for properly equipped and highly competent
representatives to be appointed to defend our interests. The Foreign Service should not be
reduced to being a mere post-office or a fire-fighting department. Its professionals should be
allowed the space and leeway essential to advise and deliver and not be subjected to the whims
and fancies of any passing self-proclaimed ‘intelligent’ minister!
“Business Diplomats” in our missions abroad should be able to facilitate the prospecting missions
of our entrepreneurs and be the primary source of economic intelligence and information. Similarly,
we need to set up antennae in capitals best suited to advance our economic and commercial
We can and should play a more prominent role in the cooperation instruments developed by
Asian countries like China, Japan and India in their quest for concessions in Africa, namely the
China-Africa Forum; Tokyo International Conference on African Development (TICAD) and India-
Africa Forum Summit respectively. Our eventual involvement in the Chinese Maritime Silk Route
should be on the basis of a solid mutually accountable partnership that will withstand the test of
time and above all, not be at the expense of our strong bonds with others in the region, principally
India. Using Air Mauritius as a flag-bearer and an instrument of our
economic diplomacy would
serve us well.
Economic Diplomacy, far from being static, is a dynamic process that necessitates constant
adjustments as dictated by the ever-changing circumstances and raging competition for
investments, markets and other opportunities that the globalised world offers.
A word of caution, however: in the pursuit of our economic interests, SourceURL:file://localhost/Users/anandarajoo/Desktop/MAKHAN9MARS2016.doc
not to act in a self-serving manner and appear to be breaking ranks from our continent Africa, the
very same that we ambition to bridge with Asia, lest it becomes a bridge too far!
* Barracoon was used by Naipaul to describe Mauritius.