Rodrigues Island 'autonomy'

by Alain Leveque - Date: 2007-01-31 - Word Count: 1058 Share This!

Rodrigues Island: 'Autonomy'

The first few pages were quite uplifting and left me excitedly eager to read more. But, as the underlying principles of the proposals became more apparent, disheartenment soon replaced enthusiasm. The realisation that the Rodriguan people would once again have to take the shattered remnants of their short-lived hopes and dreams back to the drawing board suddenly dawned on me.

Firstly, I must acknowledge that unlike its predecessor, this Mauritian coalition government is at least in part prepared to experiment with the concept of self-governance for Rodriguans. And I suspect is probably more sensitive to our grievances than the previous administration.

Even so, by any stretch of the imagination, one cannot seriously consider this proposal to be an offer of maximum autonomy, anymore than one can seriously consider a sparrow to be a swan.

If we submit this make-believe autonomy to the most basic scrutiny, we soon find a shameful strategy, contrived to give an illegal occupation an artificial shell of respectability; to justify the unjustifiable and, to desensitize the regional and international community to the abominable dispossession and subjugation of one people by another.

What our marginalised brothers and sisters, expected, and not unreasonably so, was a dignified autonomy. And within the framework of a long-term plan for self-determination, perhaps in free association with our Mauritian friends, we could have managed our own affairs without external interference. In this context, at least in the short term, Mauritius could have credibly retained sovereignty, foreign affairs and defence with some degree of legitimacy.

Unfortunately, once again the wishes of the Rodriguan people have had to yield to those of neo-colonialists.

Without a plebiscite or referendum, the status and authority of a glorified backwater council were thrust upon the powerless people of Rodrigues, who were then forced to accept this maximal autonomy without as much as a single-solitary amendment.

Unanimous support for this make-believe autonomy is a well constructed myth which the Mauritian spin doctors and their puppets push relentlessly.

The reality is that those who tow the party-line will be given administrative powers: clerical - secretarial - bookkeeping and commissioned to administer the day to day affairs of Rodrigues on behalf of Mauritius.

Rodriguans should also not totally lose sight of the fact, that sometimes at the ballot box, the counters are more important to the result than the voters.

The names will change from island secretary to executive officer, from island council to regional assembly, and from councillors to commissioners.

I submit that changing titles of something intrinsic wrong is like changing colonial masters; it will not advance or change the lot of this marginalised people one iota. It will not give them back their island which was illegally annexed by Mauritius in 1968; it will not put an end to the illegitimate occupation of their homeland and it certainly, will not interrupt their political domination.

Under these proposals, the Mauritian government would retain responsibility for the judiciary, police, prisons, education, health, taxation, foreign affairs, defence and anything else that is not specifically mentioned in the Rodrigues Regional Assembly Bill.

It is interesting to note that the unelected Mauritian president will be empowered to dissolve the elected Rodriguan Assembly at any time; that the procedural rules and standing orders of the Regional Assembly should have been decided and designed by the Mauritian hierarchy; and that even the legal advisors for the Regional Assembly will be Mauritians, chosen and appointed by Mauritians.
It leaves me somewhat perplexed as to where, when, how and to what degree will Rodriguans be allowed to practise this illusive autonomy.

There also appears to be some degree of ambiguity as to what role the Minister for Rodrigues will play vis-à-vis the regional assembly.

- Will she/he have to be a Rodriguan resident, elected by Rodriguans as their representative?
- Will the Mauritian government continue to appoint non-resident and unelected Mauritian nationals to govern Rodrigues?
- How extensive will his/her powers be?
- Will she/he be empowered to suspend/sack a commissioner or the chief commissioner?

Consistent with 33 years of phobic aversion to devolution, it seems unlikely that the Minister's role will simply be that of a liaison officer. It is more probable that he/she will be there to ensure that the leash around Rodrigues' neck does not slip.

Given that the speaker of the Regional Assembly does not have to be an elected Rodriguan member, therefore, the position could quite easily be stacked with a Mauritian party hack in the future.

It was with renewed interest and emotion, perhaps even with a sense of irony, that I read the PM's speeches on slavery.

Here is an excerpt from Jardin de la Compagnie on the Feb 1, 2001: nous bann histoiriens bizin fer recherhes approfondi lor bann lutters parmi bann esclav, surtou bann ki ti revolte contre system l'oppression. Zot mem veritable hero dan l'histwar nous pays.

Excerpt from Max Boulle Art gallery on January 29, 2001:

Quand nou pense esclavage, ki vinn dan nou l'esprit? l'oppression, exploitation, politique dominere ...nou comprend zordi la douler ki enn grand parti dan nou population finn sibir.

Noble sentiments, poignant words, that resonate particularly close to the Rodriguan psyche; people who have not exactly been impervious to the nefariousness of slavery, having themselves been slaves to the French, slaves to the British and since 1968 annexed against their will by Mauritius.

Today, 166 years after the abolition of slavery, on this occupied island of black pain, sit a proud people patiently waiting for their liberation.

For a fleeting moment in time, before being overtaken by old age and decrepitude, a handful of Ministers in the Mauritian cabinet were presented with a rare opportunity. They could have ended the occupation, the humiliation, the political domination and restored a nation's pride and dignity.

They could have been remembered from one side of the Indian ocean to the other as Liberators, as magnanimous statesmen almost in the ilk of Mandela, Ho chi Minh and Gandhi, I put the accent on almost. However, on the moment of ultimate decision, on the moment of great opportunity, they failed miserably.

History will record little of this time and future generations of Rodriguans will care even less. At the end of the day, when the spin doctors have gone home and the frenzy of propaganda has settled, the few tentative footprints left behind by neo-colonialism will inevitably be swept aside by the impetus of self-determination.

Vive Rodrigues ... Libre

Alain Leveque

Related Tags: autonomy, rodrgues island, alain leveque

Alain Leveque is a writer living in Melbourne, Australia, who promotes the self determination of the Rodriguan people.

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