Dr Jimmy Harmon
Item N0.2 of the Cabinet decision of 5th January 2018 reads as follows: ‘Cabinet has taken note of the activities that would be organised to mark the 183rd Anniversary of the Abolition of Slavery in Mauritius commemorated on 1 February. In this context, the Most Honourable Andrew Michael Holness, ON, MP, Prime Minister of Jamaica will be the Chief Guest.’ There is no mention of the Intercontinental Slavery Museum.
This sounds most suspicious given that the UNESCO Slave Route Scientific Committee had its working session in November 2017 in Mauritius. Hon.Roopun, Minister of Arts and Culture even announced proudly and with conviction at a press conference of the Committee that his government is going ahead with the project. Should we understand the contrary now? Members of the Cabinet are now in their fourth year of term of office. Have they raised the matter? Has it been discussed? Where the matter stands? Is it the end?
As per the recommendation of the Truth and Justice Commission Report (2011), the government decided to set up the Intercontinental Slavery Museum (ISM). Cabinet decision of 7th April 2016 reads as follow: Cabinet has agreed to the setting up of an Intercontinental Slavery Museum, as recommended by the Truth and Justice Commission, at the Ex-Labourdonnais Military Hospital in Port Louis. The Museum would give more visibility to slavery and the slave trade in the Indian Ocean, promote slave history, and emphasize the contribution of the African Diaspora in the world development. The functions of the Museum would be, inter alia, to – (a) study slavery and slave trade in the Indian Ocean; (b) gather, collect and preserve documents and oral history on slavery; (c) create and preserve a catalogue of artifacts related to slavery; (d) host a permanent exhibition and organize regular roving exhibitions; and (e) promote curricular development, scientific research, as well as the production of educational and pedagogical materials. In fact, the Military hospital is a site of conscience.
It is located in an area highly impregnated with the history of slavery. It is situated in a central, commercial zone on the waterfront, where there are already three other museums: the Blue Penny Museum in Caudan (celebrating French and British presence in Mauritius and the Indian Ocean), the Postal Museum and the Beekrumsingh Ramlallah Interpretation Centre (history of indentured labour). It is therefore not only a commercial area but also a cultural one. It is therefore important to give the history of slavery its due importance by being located in the capital city and in a central place. It is also a site of honour to our interculturality which has the potential to promote remembrance and reconciliation. French sailors, African and Malagasy slaves, Indian slaves were treated there, where many died.
It goes without saying that the envergure of the ISM project requires the setting up of a High Powered Committee chaired by the Prime Minister or his designate. This is the normal and usual course of action. But such has not been the case for ISM. It seems that in this case policy makers and high calibre cadres did not know how to proceed. They have all been racking their brain that until now the project is not even in its infancy. When asked, nobody knows what to do. What should be our reading? Could this be a case of racial discrimination?
The United Nations has launched the United Nations Decade for People of African Descent (2015-2024). The theme for the decade is: recognition, justice and development. The World Conference against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance in 2011 which was held in Durban contributed to the United Nations’ formal recognition of slavery as a crime against humanity but also the emergence of a new call for recognition of the existence of people of African ancestry as a distinct group; the recognition of their cultural, economic, political and scientific contributions in the countries where they live.
The special diary 2015-2024, An agenda for ten years, History, Memory, Heritage makes mention of the Creole people as part of the African diaspora. The United Nations Decade acknowledges that populations of African descent are victims of persistent racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance and hence should receive special attention. Although Mauritius has a good record on human rights, yet it might unfortunately happen like in other countries where there is a high level of democracy people of African ancestry experience institutional racism which is more subtle. The Truth and Justice Commission Report (2011), Africa Peer Review Mechanism Report (2010) shed light on the situation of the Creole minority group in Mauritius. It seems that further progress is still needed.
As Hon, Pravind Jugnauth has the privilege to be the incumbent Prime Minister on the occasion of celebrations of the 50th Anniversary of our independence, it is his utmost duty to demonstrate the willingness and determination of his government to combat all forms of discrimination. Please, do needful for your country.