Social Renaissance: Why?


Articles do not reflect government policy but are contributed to encourage discussion on this national process.
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It is just over one year since President James Michel launched a National Dialogue on Social Renaissance. Since July 2011, 54 discussion sessions have been held over Mahe, Praslin, La Digue and Silhouette with just under 5000 people taking part. In all districts, every secondary school and post secondary institutions as well as selected work places, people have expressed their views and proposals on the social challenges facing Seychelles.

In itself, the exercise reflects democracy in action. People have had the opportunity to participate and engage in solving problems that are touching everyone in Seychelles. Recommendations of the dialogue have since then been presented to government and validated in a National Symposium organised earlier this year to integrate viable proposals into national programmes and activities.

But most importantly, the end result of the national dialogue is the development of a National Plan of Action on Social Renaissance which President Michel promised would form the basis of government’s programme over the next five years. This plan will be presented for approval to the Cabinet of Ministers in the coming weeks. As it has been remarked many times by the public in the dialogue and the President himself, the time for talking is over; it is now time for action.

Some people may question why it has taken so long to produce this plan. The best person to answer this question is Designated Minister Vincent Meriton, the chairperson of the National Social Renaissance Steering Committee.

“We need to realise that it has taken years for Seychelles to slip into this social degradation that we see around us today.

There are no easy answers or solutions on how to turn the situation around. The problems we face are present in many countries over the world. We have to be realistic and realise that it will take time to change things. But what we, as government, have a duty to do, is to make sure that we build a national movement for action - this is what Social Renaissance is about, that we get people engaged in the process and that we ensure that we are moving forward in a coordinated manner.

The problems have become too big to be treated in isolation or in a sectoral manner. We need to see the bigger picture and not just concentrate on problems but also plan for the future. We need to do this with everyone because everyone has a role to play. That is why we have taken time to meet with our partners to discuss and ensure that as much as possible, we have reflected the aspirations of every stakeholder in this plan. It has been challenging and sometimes we have encountered some resistance but this is the only way forward.”

Perhaps we need to remind ourselves at this point why we are talking about social renaissance and what is the goal of the programme. What is happening in Seychelles that has propelled government to launch such an initiative?
The only thing that is clear and can be agreed upon by everyone is that things have changed in Seychelles and are different today than what they were 30 or 40 or even 10 years ago. And another thing we can be equally sure of is that change will continue. We cannot prevent change; sometimes we embrace it wholeheartedly, at times we adapt to it, sometimes we reject it but most of all we learn to live with it.

If we are talking about social renaissance today it is because as a society, we are not happy at some of the changes we see around us. Everyone has an opinion on the ‘rampant social ills’ or ‘alarming social situation’ they see in Seychelles today.

We speak of crime, substance abuse, increasing prostitution, child abuse, a culture of irresponsibility and dependency, poor work ethic, bad parenting, youth anti-social behaviour, community apathy and unstable families. These are the main ‘social’ problems that people talk about and that were highlighted in the national dialogue.

But the important point to note is that these are just end-products. These social problems have their origin elsewhere. They are in effect the fruits of the seeds that were sowed yesterday. And these fruits are being reaped in society today. Their effects are being felt in full force as social ills or social problems. It is thus futile to concentrate purely on social problems because we will just be addressing the symptoms. We need to address the root causes.

Here again we need to remember the concept of change. Things will inevitably change. But can we influence change? Can we bring about the change we want rather than be victims of change? This is the crux of the Social Renaissance programme.

It is evident that our traditional institutions like the church and the family unit have lost considerable influence today.

As a result of losing influence, they have lost the influence to effect change. It is widely recognised that there is today a void in most modern societies. People have never been more free, more independent-minded, more inter-connected and with greater access to information today than at any point in history. At the same time, materialism and the pursuit of instant gratification have reached new proportions.

This is the world our children are growing up in. Where once there was the strong guidance of the family and church, today the child is bombarded with conflicting messages through countless magazines, television programmes and other forms of what is known as popular culture. Children are under pressure; they are being forced to grow up faster and to indulge in activities that were once considered adult.  That they do so and do so badly and with serious repercussions for their future should not reflect badly on them; it is society that is bringing this kind of change in our children.

Minister Meriton was pragmatic in his assessment of the work ahead. For there is no easy solution to the answers facing Seychelles. Many point out that government should be more effective in tackling drug trafficking and crime and all will be well. But will it? What about those who are concerned with a loss of traditional values and who mourn the death of morality? Will banning the internet and mobile phones resolve the questions of immorality? Others point out that society is too lenient. That we should be stricter with prostitutes, drug addicts and criminals. But what about human rights and the dignity of the human being? What kind of society are we if we offer no chance of redemption to the fallen?

There is no easy solution to the problems ahead. The National Plan of Action on Social Renaissance will not magically solve all the problems we face. This is because we are not dealing with just problems but questions that run deeper, about the kind of world we are living in today. It is certainly a changed world. But government has started something important. Through the Social Renaissance Programme, Seychellois are being asked to reflect and to realise that we have a role in determining our future. There are endless choices before people today where in the past there were none. It was easier then to conform and follow the right path. The difference today is that we have to educate and empower our children to make the right choices.

Times have changed. Maybe we should be positive and see that despite all the negatives we see around us today, mankind is today the master of his destiny. Our parents and grandparents had a path to follow and they followed it well. Our job today is to forge our own path.

That is why the Social Renaissance Programme is relevant to the challenges of society. We can be contributors and agents of change. We are being invited to help create the society and future we want to see. The word ‘renaissance’ can be defined in simple terms as ‘rebirth’ or ‘revival.’ This means we are talking about a social rebirth or social revival involving people because it is people who make up society. At the deepest level thus, social renaissance is about each individual, each human being, their values and beliefs, their actions and the way we live our lives. Once we realise this fact, it is clear that government after all has a secondary role to play in such a process because it is a personal issue. Such a realisation should be empowering. It should prompt us to ask “what can I do and not what government is doing.”