years ago, men and women in flesh and bone, were kidnapped from their villages
To get to the
inmost heart of our liberation struggle from
Rodrigues was eponymously plucked from Diego Rodriguez, a Portuguese sailor
whose brief visit in 1528 heralded the coming of the Europeans. There is some
evidence that Chinese Mariners, Arab and Malay traders, and Pirates may have
stumbled on the island as far back as the tenth century. No record of any
indigenous population exists. By 1638, a council on nearby
Second World War, 300 of our compatriots, my father among them, from our tiny
active population, supported the British in Tobruk and
Yet, in March
1968, we were bound to
In effect, we became the whipping boy, left behind at the mercy of new masters, to foot the bill for the transgressions of others.
Our history has been one long painful struggle against non-consensual governments: from French possession, French colony, English possession, dependency of the colony of Mauritius, ‘district’ of Mauritius, to Island region of Mauritius today.
Neo-colonial labels replaced colonial tags; alien masters took over from foreign rulers, but for our people – the dysphoric cycle grinds on: Adieu l’esclavage – Bonjour l’esclavage (farewell slavery – good morning slavery.)
By 1960, the decolonization
epoch, the ultraconservative Mauritian party, PMSD (Parti Mauritian ‘Social
Democrat’), had been running a campaign of scaremongering, along ethnic lines
in Rodrigues. Besides promises of freedom, its leader, Duval, had managed to convince
our people that the Devil and his Dam would descend on Rodrigues after the
British pulled out. Not surprisingly, in their first contact with the ballot
box in 1967, an overwhelming ninety-eight percent of Rodriguans voted against
being attached to
Of note, in 1967,
Rodriguans were not offered a choice between freedom and colonialism; we had to
face the horns of this dilemma: British colonization or Mauritian occupation … a
foreign ruler or an alien master. Not too dissimilar to
not wish to continue living under a British heel, anymore than we craved the
prospect of living under a Mauritian one. And we certainly did not fancy the
idea of uprooting our families, leaving the bones of ten generations of our
ancestors buried in Rodrigues, to sail into exile in foreign lands. Nonetheless,
in those blood-curdling days in
In 1968, before
the ink was dry on a unilaterally drafted
after the British left in 1968, our hands were not cut off. All the same, Rodrigues
was reduced to a Mauritian fiefdom, where marginalization soon became
institutionalized. We found ourselves with higher unemployment, higher cost of
living, higher infant mortality, higher primary education drop-out rate and lower
literacy and living standard than
In 1976, a separate ministry was set up to deal with Rodrigues’ specificities. So far, only a handful of ‘moderate’ Rodriguans, with their wings clipped, have ever been co-opted to this portfolio. What’s more, no Rodriguan has filled this post in the past ten years, and the likelihood of it ever being different, seems remote. Mauritian politicians arbitrarily choose the minister for Rodrigues and politically-appointed Mauritian bureaucrats govern Rodrigues by proxy – irrespective of our votes.
In 1991, when Rodriguans, had the temerity to demand more control over their own affairs, a token island Council was put in place to placate them. Fellow travellers and party hacks were handpicked and allowed to make recommendations on local matters. But, when the Council, though toothless, began to fuel nationalist pride among those with ‘ideas above their station’ – it was unceremoniously disbanded in 1996.
In 2001, following a long sustained struggle, the idea of Autonomy for the ethnically diverse people of Rodrigues, was first mooted. Finally, 170 years after the abolition of slavery, far reaching devolution from the centralized rigidities of Mauritian control came into sight … albeit briefly.
In 2002, after
much fanfare, after the spin-doctors had recited their precision-tooled sound bites,
after the pig-headed and the big-headed had had their photo opportunities – ‘Autonomy’
arrived. The names were changed from Island Council to Regional Assembly and
from Councillors to Commissioners. A few buildings were erected here and there,
a few factotums got to fly to
Mauritian ministers continued to micro-manage our affairs and we got to elect the lackeys who run their errands. The central government retained all legislative and executive powers and practically everything else. Eventually, even its rusted-on supporters had to concede that our promised ‘Autonomy’ was a dud.
When we peek one inch beyond the chic sophistry, we see one people still ruling another, not only without that other’s consent – but against its will.
Loie sans partage (absolute rule) is alive and well in Rodrigues; it can be seen any day of the year, flexing its muscle and beating its chest in Port Mathurin.
At the risk of belabouring the obvious, one cannot consider limited administrative discretion to be Autonomy, anymore, than one can seriously consider a piglet to be an elephant.
The colonial legacy of authoritarian bureaucratic dictatorship was never dismantled in Rodrigues – it was reinforced. External bureaucratic-warlords command and our people obey without question. The chief of police, the judge, the minister for Rodrigues, all the principal heads of department, all the lawyers, all the policy makers, all those who actually govern Rodrigues – all come from Mauritius.
When our Creole language, in which is stored the experiences and struggles of our people, is spurned in our Assembly – when seventy percent of our people are disqualified from political office, because they do not speak a foreign language –
when half-nourished, half-educated and half-free schoolchildren are forced to learn three languages – when there is a dearth of educational material on our African culture in a curriculum designed for us, by others – when our children mimic cultures, beliefs, languages and traditions dissimilar to their own, in order to validate their sense of self-worth – when our civil service which represents ninety percent of our educated, is effectively gagged from political discourse – when our people speak of Independence in tentative muffled whispers, for fear of government spies – when everything is controlled by external forces, there is no freedom … only domination.
Constitutional guarantees of no ruling caste, of no second class citizens, of consent of the governed to govern, seem to apply to all, except in respect to Rodriguans.
The Rodriguan citizen is like a beleaguered character, hopelessly trapped inside an eternal nightmare of suppressed resentment, being forced to watch helplessly, as his culture crumbles into dust.
Much water and much blood have flowed into the Indian Ocean, since our brothers and sisters in Madagascar, India, Sri Lanka, Comoros, Africa, Maldives, Seychelles and Mauritius were freed (at least in theory) from the wretched web of Colonialism.
But for us Rodriguans, the on-going ignominy of Mauritian Occupation still haunts our daily lives.
In the 21st century, the island of Rodrigues, one of this regions’ last remaining manifestations of Colonialism has become the ‘sick man’ of the Indian Ocean, forever bonded to an artificial welfare drip, and still begging a foreign kleptocrat to let us go.
It is argued
that because on
If we follow this line of reasoning, then we also recognise that all colonially-imposed arrangements are forever binding on all future generations. And when this thinking is extended retrospectively, then, Mussolini’s 1936 laws could still be cited today, as justification to go on bedevilling the lives of Ethiopians, forever.
Mad-Dog-Morgan’s governorship of
never any 11th Commandment, which accorded
people were not
Unitary rule was
part and parcel of British colonial policy. As a result, despite underlying
divisions among different geographical ethnic groups, territories were
artificially forced into a unitary state. For example,
There were plans
afoot to group all British East-African colonies under a federation. And it was
only the selfless vetoes of
truth, however unpalatable, is when colonial rule ended in 1968, the
On March 12th
1968, there should have been two proud islands, side by side, in free
association, both celebrating their freedom. Alas, there was pride on one side
in the dismemberment argument is that it is predicated on the false premise
that Rodrigues was a legitimate
propaganda, unremittingly repeated and embedded in school children as fact, is
extremely difficult to unlearn. The untainted truth is Rodrigues was part of
It is no
deal, whatever collusion took place between
It was akin to a departing pirate rewarding his faithful slave, with a slave of his own.
the shameless advancement of one country’s territorial ambition at the expense
of its neighbour.
In 1968, our
economic or political unpreparedness should never have been used as an excuse to
deny us our independence.
Under a mutually agreed-upon constitution, with suitable opt-out clauses, we could even have remained in free association with Mauritius, rather than being perpetually entrapped in the existing abomination, euphemistically known as ‘Autonomy’.
If historical debts, legal or at least moral responsibilities, abrogated in 1968, are made good to some extent, past injustices can be belatedly rectified. We remain hopeful.
It is not our
lot in life, to be perpetually governed by other people. We did not accept
non-consensual rule from
The majority of Mauritius’ 1.3 million population are descendants of Indian indentured labourers, mainly from Andhra Pradesh, Gujarat, Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu, Bihar and Uttar Pradesh, brought by the British to meet labour shortages on Sugar cane plantations; whereas, ninety-five percent of Rodrigues’ forty thousand strong population are direct descendants of African slaves.
We are as distinct, as say Mexicans and Kenyans. This ethnic heterogeneity differentiates the one island from the other.
Rodriguans are not an indigenous group or an ethno-national minority seeking piecemeal internal self-rule; we are a separate people with a fervent aspiration to self-determine our future. Our case for full sovereignty is an exceptionally strong one. More to the point, we can never give up our homeland – our forefathers paid too dear a price for it!
Until recently, Rodrigues’ small maximum carrying capacity (approx.50,000) and its geographical isolation, have managed to preserve its cultural identity to some extent. However, the past few years have seen Mauritians, in ever-increasing numbers, being fast-tracked onto crown land in Rodrigues.
If this trend (or government policy) continues, it is a mathematical certainty that it will dilute our ranks to a moribund minority. Much like mixing thirty bottles of beer with one bottle of lemonade – the lemonade disappears.
Once our culture, traditions, language, and way of life are gone; once we have lost our identity as a people; once our claim for sovereignty has been forever extinguished – we would have become a nation of semi-Slaves and half-repressed Serfs, stuck at the bottom-end of a Mauritian vertical class structure.
The once proud people of Rodrigues would have been reduced to a motley mob of untouchables, straw hats under the arm, bowing and scraping in the demimonde of Mauritian ghettos or eking out a living on the mountain ridges in Rodrigues.
We could never again aspire to be anything more than just half a people; we would be forever playing catch-up to other cultures. As a people, we would be dead.
For Rodriguans, this is an existential challenge. If we do not meet it, if we wait for the time that must come, we will surely follow the Dodo. This, I do not believe – I know.
Portuguese name Rodrigues (son of Rodrigo) was poorly chosen for us, by old
masters, in evil times. I suspect that if faced with being branded with it
forever, that even the brotherhood of Goblins, Gnomes and Gremlins would reach
for the AK47. Seriously though, ‘Rodrigues’ is an old relic, fossilized in
another era, clearly disconnected from and incompatible with the essence of our
people. And not to mention, the blood-spattered images of
We have lost a country; our body politic is being trampled underfoot; the stench of humiliation is everywhere; cultural oblivion looms large, and yet, we are still blighted by a small clique of bloated puppets and ‘well-assimilated’ latter-day Uncle Toms, wanting us to accept foreign domination.
Strangers overseas, who we do not vote for and cannot remove, design our electoral systems and electoral boundaries, decide our laws, taxation, tariffs, decide our health, education, foreign and economic policies. Strangers, decide our children’s future –
Strangers decide – Strangers have been deciding for the best part of 300 years.
It is time – we decided! For, we too, have a brain and a backbone. Yes, it is true! We too, have dreams and hopes of our own.
It is time to cut the neo-colonial umbilical cord sharply adrift, to take active steps to decrease dependence on others, to believe that if we reduce our wants and work hard, that self-reliance is possible and indeed desirable.
It is time to stop depending on built-in assumptions, on ideas and systems that have been partly responsible for our ongoing subordination. It is time to try other ideas, other approaches, perhaps invent new ones which better adapt to our circumstances.
It is time to stop imitating others and trust in ourselves – for who we are, has worth.
Rodriguans are a resilient people. I say this, because contrary to popular belief, it is our people who have worked the land and fished the seas and kept farm animals and kept this small economy afloat – generation after generation. We have done it before, we are doing it now – we can do it better. Let’s not hesitate to continue drinking from the old well (the land and the sea), until the ghost of globalization arrives with the magic potion.
It is time to
dump the usual too-poor, too-small, and not-yet-ready arguments. They are like bad
records that have been played over and over again. They are intended to shackle
rather than liberate. Fortunately, oppressed people the world over have ignored
them, otherwise most islands in the
Our leaders must re-connect with the poor and dispossessed in this country, re-establish links with our ethnic kin in Africa, re-organize our people at the grassroots and demand that which was stolen from us in 1968 ... our Country.
Let us not be
discouraged by the indifference of a dog-eat-dog McWorld, let us not dither, let
us steel our resolve and demand our
Our task will
not be without sacrifice, but if we turn our back on
Our people have been the human Guinea pigs for some of the world’s most cold-blooded social experimentations. We have been at the painful-end of the whole monstrous gamut of Slavery, Colonialism, neo-Colonialism and ‘civilising missions’ of Missionaries. Despite the inhumanity, the degradation, the indignity; despite the loss of our grand African names, our sense of self, our traditional African clothing, our beliefs and our relationships with our kinfolk in Africa – we have already forgiven and moved on.
Perpetual domination is not a destination to where we want to lead our children, or as the late Pope John Paul II used to say to occupied people everywhere “you are not what they say you are; let me remind you who you really are …”
Our people have undergone a long-enough apprenticeship to be free. The time has come for us to climb out of the abyss of serfdom and view the world through our own eyes.
As children of this flying planet, it is our incontrovertible right to self-determine our own future; let us exercise that right and reclaim our heritage in the human family.
With this firm wish warming our hearts, with our heads held high – let us brace ourselves to face a hopeful future with fortitude.
Vive Rodrigues … Libre