MK, we shall overcome
29 avril 2020
Darsheenee Raumnauth is a Social and Cultural Affairs Officer at the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA) Secretariat, in Lusaka, Zambia. She comes from a Law and Psychology background. Disclaimer: All views are personal and do not represent any institutional instance.
« Ladies and Gentlemen, this is your captain speaking. We just took off from the South East Coast of Mauritius and we will be flying at an altitude of 35000 feet above sea level over the magnificent shining Indian Ocean. I request you to kindly bear with us while crossing some turbulences, rest assured we will do everything possible to make your journey as comfortable till we reach our destination. »
Air Mauritius, 20 years ago on my first flight, you taught me I could reach the skies. Today, you are taking that dream away.
15 July 2000. Throwback 20 years ago (minus some months to be exact). I was on my first ever flight. Air Mauritius A 340 direct from Mauritius to Hongkong. My 10 year old self was super happy, eager and excited to discover a new country. I was a CPE student from Roches Noires Government School who was selected to represent Mauritius at the 4th Po Leung Kuk World Mathematics Competition in Hong Kong. My first flight was a free flight since it was paid by the Ministry of Education. I was not accompanied by my parents but I travelled with 2 representatives of the Ministry of Education and 2 other selected students, one now a doctor and the other a psychologist, both working in the lovely paradise. It was a 13 hour flight — almost empty and the way I ran up and down the aisles from sleeping to one row or the other, I still think the crew asked themselves who is this hyper kid? My first take off ever and seeing the clouds from above gave my 10 year old self the wings to fly and the belief that I was unstoppable.
Fast forward to 20 years down the lane. 24 April 2020. ‘Air Mauritius is under temporary administration and a very bleak future lies ahead’ or so appears on my news feed. The 30 year old me, now working as an international civil servant with the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA) in Lusaka, Zambia, asking myself ‘what the hell did just happen?’ Well, it’s undeniable that we have all been hearing issues of mismanagement and MK being in dire situations for a long time, but somewhere the hope was there that it will sort itself and emerge victorious. Some visionary managers did come to the rescue indeed and then politicking reared its ugly head. Irrespective of all the issues that our island has faced, we have witnessed Mauritius handling its challenges be it through visionary leadership and hard work of its citizens. ‘As one people and as one nation, in peace, justice and liberty’ says our national anthem and the spirit of it has been tested over and over again.
I do not come from an economics, trade or financial background which makes my financial analysis of the situation rather limited. I did not even understand the proper implications of temporary administration (blame my incomprehension of corporate or insolvency law). But as an average Mauritian citizen, all I can admit to is that I often found it difficult to find seats on Air Mauritius when I wanted to travel back home. Flights were always full. What I also fail to understand is the root cause of the situation- how did MK find itself in neck deep trouble? The questions that I have are: is it about personality clashes between political appointees and career technocrats, is it about corruption and lack of accountability, is it about lack of sound financial practices, is it a lack of vision and ownership of an institution that is supposed to be the emblem of Mauritius in the skies? what actually is the situation? News outlets sometimes covered the issues that were gnawing the core of management practices and decision making in MK, but the complete picture was never really presented or maybe I did not read enough on the subject matter. From an organisational psychology perspective, all the issues at the management level have solutions to them. Even though the situation may look extremely terrible right now, it is not an absolute helpless one- at least not from the perspective of change management and re-strategisation (Read: That definitely does not involve the sale of MK).
In June 2019, the water cannon salute of our newest fleet acquisition by MK of the A330-900 gave me thrilling goosebumps. Even though I watched it on TV, it was an achievement that happened on the soil where I was born. The cherry on the pie was that it was given the name of Chagos Archipelagos, which reiterates the strength that Mauritius demonstrates when we are united as a people- when we think of the country first, rather than filling our pockets first.
Coming back to my story, the reason behind writing this piece is that nothing matches my pride when I fly MK. Or when I see an Air Mauritius flight taxi in an airport. Of course the treatment while flying with MK has not always been extraordinary but the treatment has been the most humane. The view, from above, even more extraordinary. Be it from when I suffered from motion sickness, till sharp shooting unbearable ear pain during take off and landing, the crew members have been extremely supportive. In my line of work which is multilateral diplomacy, I have flown countless number of times to a number of countries with several airlines. From receiving extraordinary treatment in Premium and first class on long flights to praying for my life in local flights during field visits, I have seen and experienced it all. I have had some of the best landings where passengers clapped and hooted. I also have had terrible landings to where I thought that hell or heaven was ready to open their doors for me. Still, amidst all the chaos of airports and the exhaustion that travelling generally brings in its strides, my most cherished memory remains my first one 20 years ago and the most recent one with MK’s newest acquisition, the A 330-900. To describe the experience, these French words describe it best: Quand on décollait, j’ai eu l’impression que mon âme s’élevait (Translation: I felt like the take off elevated my soul).
To cut the long story short and to rekindle my love story with MK, this is an appeal to whoever this may concern not to give up. Please do not let your ego, incompetence and greed come in the way of an asset that makes the pride of our little island. Air Mauritius and the Mauritian quadricolore on its tail is the glory of the motherland in the skies. For years, MK stood strong against hawks — those hawks are praying earnestly for MK’s downfall. I have personally seen how relentless they can be in their pursuit. Currently, the COVID-19 has highlighted humanity’s vulnerability in all forms. Maybe there was no way we could have prevented this pandemic from occurring. Or maybe there was but humanity had a nonchalant attitude towards it. Biologists are saying other similar pandemics will occur soon. But the downfall of MK is definitely preventable. (Many of) The average Mauritian citizen is being criticized for not listening to instructions and going against authorities during this lockdown but the downfall of MK is reminiscent that its not only the average citizen who refuses to listen, authorities, especially those in position of power can be very stubborn too. All it takes is an introspection to see how many wrong persons are at the wrong places. The days to come are going to be tougher than expected. Mauritius is lucky to have citizens in many corners of the globe (be it from stewards on cruise ships or diplomats in international organisations or Mauritian citizens settled in other countries), who genuinely think of the welfare of the country and yearn for the nation. I am certain that most of the Mauritian diaspora and the citizens in the island will tell you to do all it takes to save MK. The pride of having a national carrier who stands undaunted in the face of challenges is unmatchable. If MK slips from Mauritius state ownership due to human error and misjudgment, we will have only ourselves to blame and this time, it is not going to be the fault of the average Mauritian citizen. Remember the reference to the hawks I made in the fourth line of this paragraph, dear MK, do not be like them but learn from them. Their airline is their national pride and sustaining an economy 100 times bigger than ours.
To end on a lighter note, just remember in the 1990s’ MK became the first airline in the southern hemisphere to fly the brand new Airbus A340-300. If that does not show MK’s resilience in the face of adversity, I do not know what else will. And oh yes, lest I forget, MK’s policy also allowed for discounts on air fares for parents to attend graduation ceremonies of their children. My parents travelled on MK to South Africa when they came for my graduation ceremony in December 2014.
Thank you for shaping my dream and pride in my parents’ eyes, MK. We shall overcome.