Independence and post-colonial Mauritius 1968-1982

The Cuban missiles crisis, revolved president Kennedy and Nikita Khutschev heavily impacted on the U.S decision to set Diego Garcia base.

The historicity, i.e, the historical authenticity of the Mauritian Independence has been misunderstood or has been deliberately misinterpreted. This article is based on recently declassified papers of the British National Archives at Kew Gardens with as usual a rational analysis of both events and evidence. We will get our history in perspective at two levels, Mauritian and international. First, colonialism in Mauritius did not come from the outside. It was built in the very fabric of Mauritian society. We are all descendants of immigrants, willing or unwilling. There were no original inhabitants here neither conquerors nor conquered. Here through the colonial configuration of power, ethnic pluralism and a correlated economic hierarchy got entranched in the colonial genesis. Communalism, ethnic and class conflicts, not nationalism, constantly manifested itself. Second, there was no nationalist movement here nor fight for independence. The fight, if any, was to get control of the State and administrative apparatus by two opposing ethnic-based political groups. In March 1968, there was a transfert of power to a well-groomed, for nearly three decades (1937-1967), Indian Western-educated elite created in the image of the British. This elite became the colonial legatees of an independant state in 1968. But once in power this group of gentle Macaulayans became Machiavellians in response to persistent juvenile protests and sustained political militancy. Post colonial Mauritius emerged, from 1969 to 1982, with all the ugliness of the colonial.
In History, maritime powers has always been an inspiration to rising world powers. It gives them strategic advantage. And Britain’s role in the Indian Ocean has always been strategic. By 1815 with the acquisition of the Cape, Ceylan, Seychelles, Mauritius, Rodrigues and the Chagos, Britain firmly secured the route to India and laid the foundation of what is known as the second British Empire. However, Britain in its colonial strategy, constantly resorted to dismemberment of one entity to form another to suit its naval, military and, generally, it’s broad mercantile needs. Seychelles main islands were removed from the administration of Mauritius in 1903 and formed into a new colony. IN 1908 Coetivy Island and in 1921 Farquhar Island were also detached from Mauritius administration and added to that of Seychelles.

Guy Ollivry’s attempt for a detachment of Rodrigues
The Chagos archipelago, Agalega and St. Brandon remained with Mauritius. So did Rodrigues Island, but it was kept in constitutional abeyance because the Colonial Office also considered it’s detachment. Recently released Foreign Office and Defence Office documents reveal a decision for the detachment of Diego Garcia was made in 1957. In fact, Governor Sir Robert Scott, accompanied by experts, visited the Chagos in April 1957 and reported confidentially to Whitehall. On August 1961, at a top level meeting held at the Foreign Office attended, amongst others by Sir Edmund Huddleston, representing the Chief of Air Staff, it was decided to make a survey and report on Tromelin and other islands for British strategic needs and defence purpose. France had earlier an airstrip and set up a meteorological station on the island. British reaction was probably prompted by this. A month earlier, in July 1961, Governor Deverell, while in London, had discussed the future of Rodrigues and the Oil Islands with three top brass at the Colonial Office, namely Rogers, Hall and Thomas. The discussions were fully commented and minuted. A possibility of detaching Rodrigues from Mauritius was considered in the image of Cayman, Turks and Caïcos islands relations with Jamaica. Alternatives of detaching islands from Mauritius to attach them to Seychelles was also envisaged. In hindsight one can understand the unwillingness of successive Governors Mackenzie-Kennedy, Hilary Blood, Scott and Coleville Deverell to refuse representation of Rodrigues in the Mauritius legislative despite renewed demands from Rodriguans as far back as 1947. However, following legal challenge of the electoral validity of constitutional instruments by the Parti Mauricien Social Democrate in 1966, the British Government resorted to an Order in Council to rectify any lapse (note that the legal challenge here mentionned was triggered by Elais Oozeerally, a young and dynamic barrister, who initiated the debate within the PMSD on his return from his studies in London). Rodriguans went to the polls for the first time in August 1967. In early January 1968 when the Mauritius Independance Bill was being drafted to be debated soon in the House of Commons and House of Lords, Guy Ollivry, first member for Rodrigues was in London. He met the British minister of State for Commonwealth, Lord Shepherd and asked for Rodriguan autonomy. Lord Shepherd hurriedly came to Mauritius for consultation with Seewoosagur Ramgoolam and Gaëtan Duval to solve the Rodrigues problem and other constitutional issues like citizenship and safeguards of minority rights. He cabled London on his observations and also advised that Princess Alexandra should not come to Mauritius as representative of her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II on Independance Day (much to the dismay of Seewoosagur Ramgoolam) because of the explosive racial conflit between creoles and muslims. The British Government was adamant that Rodrigues remains an integral part of Mauritius. It is argued that Guy Ollivry even latter called at the French Foreign Ministry at Quai d’Orsay and at the Palais de l’Elysée where he tried to meet Président Charles de Gaulle who, it rumoured, was keen to the attachment of Rodrigues with Reunion island as a French Department.

Diego Garcia in the context of the Cold War
On the international scene, some events of the post World War II period would have an impact on Mauritius constitutional future, finally unwittingly, leading to its independence. First, India will become independent in August 1947 and will evolve to become a major naval power in the Indian Ocean. Second, in July 1956, Abdel Gamal Nasser will nationalize the Anglo-French owned Suez Canal and in August 1956, a joint Anglo-French expedition to Egypt humiliatingly withdrew after American President Dwight Eisenhower’s firm diplomatic intervention. Third, in 1961 British Prime minister Harold Macmillan agreed with Eisenhower on a future joint UK-US naval strategy in the Indian Ocean known as the «East of Suez  Policy». Fourth, and the most, was the October 1964 Cuban Missile crisis, the climax of the ideological confrontation, the Cold War, between the West led by the U.S.A and the East led by the Union of Soviet Socialist Union (U.S.S.R). An apparent nuclear confrontation was averted when Soviet President Nikita Khrutschev bowed down to US President John Kennedy’s ultimatum and withdrew its nuclear arsenal from Cuba. America vowed to prevent any such future show of Soviet nuclear capacity anywhere in the world by embarking in sophisticated surveillance programme using earth orbiting satellite to collect data on Soviet military and naval build-up and to respond quickly. American strategy analysts knew that U.S.S.R dreamt of access to the Indian Ocean. They had to be resisted. The strategically located Chagos Archipelago would then immerge to become a prized location for American military operations.
One has to dissect the state of mind of each of the three main protagonists in this real life drama: (a) the Americans (b) the British and (c) the Mauritian colonial leaders. The Americans set to outface the Russians and wanted to become the leading military power in the Indian Ocean, if not of the whole planet earth. Great Britain had to face the reality of the Sun setting on it’s empire and had to desperately solve domestic political problems and a monetary crisis. Mauritian colonial leaders were aspiring legatees of the British in a possibly decolonized or integrated-to-UK Mauritius.   
    
     To be continued


Commentaires

It's good to see a clear account of this period of history rather than the usual myth-making, led by those, such as Navin Ramgoolam, who like to make believe that independence was granted only after some kind of heroic struggle against a brutal oppression. As the records clearly show, it really wasn't like that; by 1968 Britain was only too glad to get Mauritius off its hands.

The British Empire was run a little like a modern-day multinational corporation, in which each colony was a kind of profit centre. It's clear from colonial-era correspondence at Kew that Mauritius was expected to at least break even, if not make a profit, but cyclones, the surra outbreak and other disasters often meant it had to ask for funds from London, which hardly made it popular in Whitehall. London also doubted the loyalty of the French plantocracy in times of crisis, sometimes with good reason. Mauritius - specifically Port Louis harbour, which was really all Britain had wanted to control in 1810 - had lost most of its practical value to Britain after the opening of the Suez Canal in 1869. Had the island simply been producing sugar and spices rather than acting, or potentially acting, as a base for enemy shipping, it's unlikely that Britain would have bothered to take it over or, having done so, to have held on to it.

By the 1870s, Mauritius was already a relic of a past era in the history of the Empire, and one that wasn't very profitable. Nevertheless, it was a useful foothold in the Indian Ocean, as it still is to India - as Narendra Modi's visit reminded us. The Anglo-French rivalry in the Indian Ocean is being replicated today in Indo-Chinese rivalry, and Mauritius, Seychelles and the other islands are being used by the big powers as places from which they can secure their trade routes and keep an eye on their military rivals.

As the writer says, island groupings were revised over the century and a half they remained under British control. (Hardly unique to Britain; all nations owning disparate bits of property around the globe did, and still do, exactly the same thing.) Seychelles was detached from Mauritius largely because its remoteness from Port Louis meant that it was being neglected and ever since the days of Governor Gordon (whose love of Seychelles contrasted with his distaste for Mauritius) it was felt that a degree of self-rule would help the archipelago thrive. It, too, struggled for funds, but it has survived and I certainly haven't heard any Seychellois ever express a wish to return to Mauritian rule!

It's interesting to compare the development of the remote islands of the Seychelles archipelago with the neglect of Agalega. If Agalega were today part of Seychelles, you can be sure it would have a luxury resort or two and be served by regular air flights from Mahe. And this is important, because what is true for Agalega today would surely have been true also for the Chagos had it remained under Mauritian control at independence. The Chagossians' fate would have been neglect - just as they were neglected when they got off the boat in Mauritius (apart from when the government of the day has found them useful as political pawns in the ongoing dispute with Britain).

A dispassionate observer, then, might think that if the Chagos were to be handed over to any Indian Ocean state it ought to go to Seychelles rather than Mauritius!