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Rodrigues: A Colonial Outpost Longing To Be Free – OpEd


By Alain Leveque

You want to leave the family home to make your own way in the world but you’re too poor. Or you’re stuck in a poisonous marriage that you can’t escape because you’re not economically independent. You’re broke. What do you do? Do you wait until you’re cashed up? Do you wait, until your one moment in all of eternity ebbs away from you, or do you bite the bullet and leave the nest?

Though many countries that once lived under a colonial yoke faced pretty much the same dilemma, most have slipped their bonds and flown the coop – with some exceptions. The Indian Ocean outpost of Rodrigues is one such exception.

Decolonization never visited this island of black pain. In fact, 180 years after the abolition of slavery, trapped in colonial inertia, our people seem fated to remain on the end of a colonially attached leash to Mauritius. Here, our leaders, some more loyal than the king, have barely twiddled the dials of the status quo.

Using the old economic independence chestnut as pretext, our leaders lead us not towards our dreams, but towards our fears. Rodrigues is too small, too poor and not yet ready for independence, they say. Stay or starve. As you can imagine, to the uncritical cast of mind that comes from blindly following the party line, it’s a powerful argument.

But if truth be told, for most countries economic independence is but a pipedream. In reality, it’s a never-ending struggle. And history shows why it shouldn’t take precedence over political independence. Otherwise, more than half the world would still be living under the heel of one colonial master or another. How many countries now free were economically independent at the time of their political independence? Moreover, how many are now self-sufficient? Almost all are buried to the eyeballs in foreign debt, which will take generations to repay, if ever. Today, with an IMF ring through the nose, most are being carted around and told to denationalize anything that moves. Land supposedly being held in trust for their people is frittered away to service mounting interest on foreign debt. Even countries like Spain, Italy, Portugal and Greece are going under. Yet, after 300 years under the boots of three foreign masters, puppets want us to wait for economic independence before our children can start reclaiming their homeland, which incidentally their ancestors paid for with life and limb. Admittedly our leaders are handcuffed but still that is no reason to incite this country to be less than it can be.

By less than it can be, have a look at the long term outlook for this country – Mouvement Rodriguais (MR) is inclined to think that instead of free association a sort of tentative federalist system (in say 700 years) where Mauritius would still rule the roost but where our subservience would again take on a different name – is the way to go. Why? As MR tells it, because the world is regrouping. But last time I checked, the Balkans and the Soviet Union had fragmented, and only in the last 40 years, 63 other countries had obtained independence. An independence referendum is forecast for Scotland in 2014 with a bankrupt Ireland getting in on the act in 2016. Even the European Union is on shaky grounds to see out the decade intact. Regrouping indeed.

At least with Organisation Peuple Rodriguais (OPR) the vision is less vague. It goes something like this: Let’s repaint the rusted autonomy bicycle, add a new bell and take it down the same road we’ve always taken and see if we can fly it to a new destination. And mustn’t forget integration too, even though in our case it amounts to a cultural suicide pact.

Then we come to the new kid on the block, Front Patriotique Rodriguais (FPR). Depending on what treatment our political monarchs in Port Louis decide to dish out in the future, it half-heartedly prosecutes an iffy claim for self-determination. But since self-determination is not of itself a political status but the right to choose, such a proviso diminishes the rightful aspiration of our people. Dig one more inch and you hit mud. Despite 97 per cent opposition to it, FPR recognises the 1968 annexation of Rodrigues to be legitimate.

That’s the whole trouble; apart from aspiring to be the Mauritian prime minister’s lap dog, there is no vision except for more of the same with a fresh coat of slogans. Chicanery aside, that’s not a vision – it’s an affliction.

Finally there is Mouvement Independantis Rodriguais (MIR) which is basically a grassroots movement comprising ordinary men and women who wish to redress the wrongs of the past. MIR, of which I am a proud member, operates on a shoestring budget with the help of selfless volunteers. We do not solicit nor will we accept any dirty money and thus are beholden to no one. Independence is our destiny, that’s MIR’s vision.

We hold the view that a people can never be too poor to be free, nor can one be half free anymore than one can be half pregnant or half dead. You are either free or you are not. The Rodriguan people cannot grow in the shadow of the Mauritian state. For the descendants of the ill-fated who ended up here against their will, independence is not a favour sought but a right owed. We do not want affirmative action or a bigger budget – we want our homeland. All people have a right to government by consent and to have a hand in the making of the laws which govern their lives. It’s a fundamental principle; otherwise it becomes possible to sustain the argument that force majeure is a divinely ordained concept which intrinsically holds rational legal and moral authority.

Ever since the hellholes and dungeons of Senegal, Mozambique and Madagascar, the long-suffering people of this island have been at the beck and call of foreign masters and have had to undergo a bone-crushing apprenticeship to be free. How much longer will it take?

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