We had the chance to catch up with Barhka Mossae, our Third Millennium Africa Spotlight for the month of June 2015. Barhka is being recognized for her contribution to sustainable development in Mauritius through her project #SeeingBlue – an ocean resource management advocacy group. Barhka also works with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Mauritius advocating for Environmental Diplomacy. We are excited to have this brillant change-maker as our Spotlight for the month of June.
You can listen to the interview podcast by clicking on the play button above or read the interview script below:
Tell us a little about Mauritius?
Well, as with any developing country it has its challenges but also its beauty, and the pace of development in Mauritius is quite high; so every time you go there you see something new – a new project happening. And at the moment, we are trying to develop our Ocean Academy, which is why I feel a lot of young should get involved on having a say on how our ocean resources should be used. As you probably know, one of the biggest assets of Mauritius are our lagoons, our beaches and our natural environments. But at the same time, we do have quite a tradition of human rights and good governance. And therefore dialogue on the ocean is also quite important. And obviously because we are aiming to go from a middle income country to a high income country, is quite important to make sure that consideration of social aspects and environmental aspects are not laid aside.
Can you tell us about what you do and the projects you’ve been involved with – who is Barkha Mossae?
The main project that I am involved in is #SeeingBlue. Basically it is an awareness project on the marine environment and I am doing it as part of the Global Shapers community. So we launched a project last year on the occasion of World Ocean Day, which is on the 8th of June because we thought there wasn’t enough space for dialogue on the ocean for young people and for fishermen. That was how the project started. Its first component was a competition for young people to express their views on how they relate to the ocean in whatever medium they wanted to write, draw or paint their ideas. We had a really nice response. The more important aspect was that we ended the competition with dialogue. This was quite unique in the sense that when you talk about ocean you have the small fishermen community on one side, you have NGOs on one side, and then you have the business community on another side. This provided the platform for all of them to come together to actually talk about the aspiration for ocean resources and also the apprehensions, which is also very important. Those were the two first chapters of #SeeingBlue. And now we are having the second part of #SeeingBlue, which we will be launching on World Ocean Day (8th June) in June, and this time the theme will be “To Tackle Marine Debris”. We will be accompanying the project with a capacity building component, and essentially equipping youths with information about our lagoons and how to craft advocacy. This will be the kind of information we will be passing along to all the people participating in the competition and in the dialogue.
You also work with the ministry of foreign affairs in Mauritius. So tell us about your work with the ministry?
My full time job is: I am a diplomat at the ministry of foreign affairs in Mauritius and my portfolio is basically environmental diplomacy. So everything to do with ocean, climate change, and biodiversity. But I took a sabbatical to do my Masters in Environment, Politics and Development in the UK, with the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London.
In your video presentation at One Young World Summit, you spoke about the three barriers to change. One of them you mention is “A flawed economic policy”. Can you enlighten us on what you mean by that and how it hampers talks around sustainable development?
So basically at the moment our economic policies are geared towards growth and not development. What I mean by that is that we are meant to consume products and the way a product is made, there are several degrees of separation between the product and the consumer. In a sense you don’t really know where the product is coming from, what is made of, and what conditions they were made from. These in my opinion are the crux of the matter. And as long as we have economic policies that are based exclusively on growth, without a focus on the environment or the human rights dimension of production, you can’t really talk about sustainable development.
In your video presentation, the second barrier to change you mention was “The gap of dialogue between the older generation and the younger generation”. You say is extremely damaging for sustainable development. Can you also enlighten us on that please?
In a country like Mauritius or in several countries in Africa, you do see an inter-generational gap which is quite pronounced. In a sense, you also see different values and different approach in our startling solutions. A lot of these innovations come from young people but we don’t necessarily have the ecosystem to enable all those ideas to flourish. We also have to take into consideration the colonial issues that came in the 60s and so on, whereby the main focus of the older generation was to get out of poverty and to achieve growth at all cost, which was a laudable commitment. But they assumed that the environments were luxuries that cannot be achieved back then, and that instance led to an assumption that you necessarily have to destroy your resource base in order to get people out of poverty, whereas in fact, your natural resources is the kind of pass-way to enhance development. So here I see a bit of a distance between two different generations: one that believes that you can innovate solutions that integrate both the economy and the environment, and another that discards the environment from the economic radar.
How do you think we can create a bridge of dialogue between these two generations?
I do believe in a lot of dialogue. To be honest, setting out a table and actually talking it out makes a lot of sense. I feel that in the wake of the crisis of 2008 (the financial crisis and worldwide recession), people have started to realise that something is not going right. And that means that both parties – both the younger generation and older generation – are more open to talks about what can be done and what was done wrongly. For example, there was this instance when young people and older people came together and talked about what they feel should be the way to develop the ocean. So in that way I am quite hopeful that dialogue can achieve this bridge between these two generations.
In regards to talks on dialogue between these two generations, what do you think the focus should be in terms of defining what should be sustained or developed in the context of sustainable development?
Talking specifically about Mauritius, I think the main thing that needs to be sustained is our connection to the natural environment we are born in. In the case of Mauritius that would be our connection with the sea. The natural environment shouldn’t become something that you become very distant with nor should it be seen as a holiday spot. I was reading a book by Wangari Muta Maathai, and she mentions that this connection with nature heals human beings. By healing nature, by planting trees and rejuvenating your environment, you are also rejuvenating yourself. So this human environmental effort should be at the core of what we sustain. Talking with some elders in Mauritius as well, I found out that they did have this unique relationship with nature. Because it was the raw materials that they got use too in the past. They were not use to sophisticated products – they had a relationship with nature that was quite unique. But now obviously, the younger generation have a different type of relationship that both center on how we connect, how we emphasise and how we idealize nature. For me these should be at the core of what we sustain at the end of the day. This also points to environmental diplomacy because I think any diplomacy or any foreign policy should be grounded in some philosophy and set of principles.
The third barrier to change you noted in your presentation was “the absence of confidence”. Can you tell us how this factor impacts sustainable development, with focus on environmental diplomacy?
I think the “absence of confidence” is a very importance issue, because a lot of the environmental issues are so big that you think you can’t tackle it on your own. And then that kind of thinking also land itself to a sort of passing the “bulk attitude”. Thinking that I as an individual cannot make much of a difference as compared to a corporation or government, and that is not true. Every person has the ability to influence choices around them that can have a ripple effect. Lack of confidence also comes from an overabundance of information that you don’t even know where to start. And I feel that this is not only true for the field of environmental diplomacy but also for NGOs and the advocacy sector, and even the common man who has a huge role to play but does not know where to start. It’s important to know that no matter how small what you are doing is, it is actually contributing.
What are your plans in the future – especially now you are done with your Masters?
I’m going back to Mauritius to join the ministry because I took a sabbatical and obviously needs to resume work. I feel like right now is quite an exciting time to be joining the ministry again and there are quite a lot of shifts and change happening under sustainable development at the international level. So it is an exciting time to be in the Foreign Service and to be passionate about sustainable development, especially when you come from a small Island and a developing state.
If we are to get down on a personal level, what would you say is your weakness as a person?
I think my weakness as a person is that I get attached to people and I trust people a lot. But at the same time, I kind of fail to delegate tasks to them. In a way it shows that I trust them but not enough to delegate tasks to them. This displaces the burden upon myself to get a lot of work done and other people might not feel involved, whereas they should. This is my greatest weakness.
In your own words, what is your dream of a third millennium Africa – your Africa of the future?
My dream of an Africa of the future could be summed up in this sentence: I want to see an Africa, and I think it is possible, which manages its environmental resources, its energy resources, and its financial sector for its people and by his people as opposed to through external influence without legitimacy and transparency. And I totally agree that this is achievable.
A word of advice for our audience before you leave?
It comes back to the issue of confidence, which is to believe that your actions matter and therefore go out, be informed, and take action. Don’t wait for someone to give you approach because you could be the person that inspires other people to actually do something.