A friend of mine, Wesley Oxenham, hails from Mauritius and has written an article in what I can only guess is a news journal of Mauritius. The main site is in the native tongue (?) of French. But Wesley’s article is mainly in English and its speaks of his dream for his home country. A dream many Singaporeans like myself sometimes forget and take for granted in our cushy environs.
“I have a dream for Mauritius; but the desire is not enough for a dream – a vision – to come true.” …
I believe we need to build up new and sturdy foundations for our country and people, and the best way to achieve this turning point is to learn from successful case studies from around the world, one of which is Singapore: a country with absolutely no resources, about 3 times smaller than Mauritius and with 4 times more people. Yet Singapore today is referred to as one of Asia’s economic “tigers”.
Wesley goes on to talk about how a culture of poverty and corruption handicaps the social psyche and perpetuates a subculture of hatred and criminal violence. He highlights the importance of meritocracy and how it might stem the brain drain of talented native Mauritians who choose not to return to their home countries.
Reading this article makes me think of the many Mauritians I have met in the past few years. I distinctly remember a guy called Joy from my undergrad years in NUS – a person who dreams of learning what he can from Singapore in order to join politics back in Mauritius and contribute to his society. His friends laugh at him but his spirit and mentality is admirable. His career pursuit is guided by a socially responsible compass and the outcome is one which will lead to benefits that goes beyond his personal domain.
Such thoughts always make me come back to the “Idealism vs Pragmatism” debate I think plagues young Singaporeans today.
Our society here today has been brought up through 4 decades of government-directed labor and vision. The very best intellectual brainpower, that we can squeeze out of our small population of 3-4 million in the past, are tasked to lead, motivate and manage the rest of the population. These efforts have paid off indeed. Singapore boasts the most developed and technologically advanced economy in the 500 million strong Southeast Asian region. A historical first for a region that had seen and perhaps long forgotten its glory days of the Majapahit Maritime Empire (if i rem my history correctly).
A well-oiled economic machinery, Singapore might also have been a victim of its own success as we continue to strive for excellence. Born and bred in a society of comfort and affluence, with an almost invisible economic underclass, we tak our material comforts for granted. The lack of exposure to the poorer people of our SEA region, many of whom live below the poverty line, might have given rise to a superiority complex some of our neighbors label us with. An argument on validity is not the point here. What I want to stress is the culture of pragmatism that perpetuates our culture today. Few young Singaporeans of my generation aspire to be leaders of our society. Most are trapped unconsciously in the race for money with no understanding of why. The 5Cs debate (Cash, Car, Condo, Credit, Club) is one example. We lack the idealism of our Singaporean forefathers. And if we had to depend on the recent deaths of our founding fathers like Rajaratnam et al to spur such national interest in our own histroy again, we are far from achieveing the idealism these brilliant men possessed in raising a small island to our current position in the world today. How we make the next leap from Singapore today to Singapore of 2100 is a big question mark.
We need to bring back that idealism. But not at the expense of pragmatism. It is time for civil society to step up, a civil class that is now educated enough to work alongside the government to form another pillar in our national growth.
How many of us have ever thought of a better Mauritius? A Mauritius where meritocracy prevails, where economy reigns, a safe country, an educated nation, a country praised by other countries, a country with non-corrupt politicians; To this question many will simply give a smile, others may think for an instant but will soon forget and the rest will keep on hoping without acting