These were the notes in English for Rajni Lallah’s speech (in Kreol) at the LALIT Second International Conference on Diego Garcia.
In this conference, we analyse the US and UK in terms of their role as States. People often speak of “US interests”, UK “interests”, but when we have a closer look, we see that these interests are not the interests of ordinary people in the US and UK. Ordinary people in the UK and USA have no interest in uprooting people from Chagos, occupying the Chagos and setting up a military base on Diego Garcia. So when we talk of the “interests” of the US and UK, we come to realise that these States, if we let them, are at the service of the most powerful sections of their capitalist class.
Here in Mauritius as well, there are certain “interests” that the Mauritian State serves. And these “interests” explain why Prime Minister Jugnauth backed down and accepted to give the UK 6 more months for empty talk instead of going through with the ICJ motion at the UN General Assembly.
It is rare that we manage to see clearly what these “interests” are. The State does not tell us openly what these interests are – so they usually remain invisible. But sometimes, on rare occasions when things move quickly in different directions, these interests become visible.
Where? In a notable newspaper editorial that represents the dominant section of Mauritian capital. A month ago, on Sunday 28 August, there was an editorial by a L'Express editorialists (or a group of editorialists) signed “KC Ranze”.
This editorial appeared some two and a half months after the UK-USA took a joint-stand (the first of its kind in history, the USA always having pretended to refuse to take sides on the issue of sovereignty) threatening “lasting damage” to relations with Mauritius if the Mauritian State persists in its action to decolonise Chagos.
We can imagine how between June and August the US Embassy and British High Commission that represent their respective States in Mauritius have actively worked to get allies within Mauritius. After all, that is the kind of work Wikileaks Cables exposed, when US Embassy officials in Mauritius report to their Secretary of State bosses, as being the usual day-to-day work Embassies do: they summon people whose interests would be affected by such “lasting damage” – CEO’s of textile exporters, canned tuna exporters to the UK/US; hotel group CEO’s that rely on tourism from Britain, and editorialists of newspapers that represent these interests amongst others. And in these secret meetings they warn these businessmen and their ideologues of the damage to their profits if the UK/USA puts the brakes on their exports if they permit their Government go ahead with reclaiming the Chagos.
So this is the context when we read the L'Express Dimanche KC Ranze editorial on 28 August that states, “Now that the Prime Minister has established the motion being presented in the UN General Assembly on 13 September, he should consider suspending this action for some 6 months if he gets a dignified and sincere offer.” This is exactly the scenario that the Prime Minister ended up falling into at the UN General Assembly. We should remember that the expression “sincere and dignified offer” in Mauritius, is the language used when someone is selling out. To explain what they got for themselves to sell-out, they say, “Well, we got a sincere and dignified offer”.
Prime Minister Jugnauth agreed to a 6 month delay in good faith, when throughout 50 years, the UK and US have acted in bad faith. The motion will have to be resuscitated, although it remains on the agenda – if nothing happens after 6 months: it will not even automatically revive.
So finally, whose interests is the Prime Minister Jugnauth defending? Not our interests, that is to say not the interests of people in Mauritius, Rodrigues, Agalega and Chagos. For once, the answer is very clear. The interests that KC Ranze, the L'Express editorialist/s defend are that of capitalist exporters to the UK and US.
When we take a close look at what has happened, it is easy to understand why in these 50 years, when sugar was still King, when the backbone of the economy was sugar exports to the UK, no government has ever had the courage to challenge the British State. It was only in December 2010, at a time when exports to the UK had considerably decreased that the Mauritian State, in response to pressure from the First LALIT International Conference on Diego Garcia, and also in response to Britain’s defensive move to set up a Marine Protected Area, initiated the first legal challenge against the UK. The Marine Protected Area was designed, as the Wikileaks Cables showed, as a ploy to stop Chagossians from returning to the Chagos; but it enraged the Mauritian State. And significantly, this came at a time when exports to the UK had decreased.
And now, after Brexit, local capitalist exporters to the UK are worried about what will happen to their own commercial interests. That is all they manage to see. They cannot see the big picture: that the UK is isolated from the rest of Europe, and is relatively weak and in no position to dictate terms.
The US is different from the UK in that it doesn’t even take the trouble to hide the interests it defends. The US does not even bother to negotiate agreements with countries in Africa. It decides them unilaterally. It says “I’m the one that decides the terms and I will boycott trade with you if you are not servile to my interests”. This is in a nutshell what the law voted by American Congress, the African Growth and Opportunities Act says. In this law, it states clearly that for capitalists of an African country to get access, sometimes duty-free access, to the US market that that country should do nothing to undermine US foreign policy interests or national security. The US President reviews each and every African country to check whether these conditions are being met. He can “suspend” an African country whenever he wants to. So, it is pure economic blackmail.
It is a classic carrot-and-stick law. It even has an expiry date – it was to have expired in 2008, but has gotten various extensions up till now. So once capitalists and their States are caught by the bait of the carrot , there is no longer any need for the law.
So we need to remember when there is talk of “pressure” on the Mauritian State, that this “pressure” is exerted most often through Mauritian capitalists. This reminds us of the importance of struggling not only for the political decolonisation, but also for economic decolonisation. It reminds us that we need to go further to stop the Mauritian capitalist class being a transmission belt for the UK/US: we need to struggle to ensure that ordinary people: workers, women, small-scale planters, fisherpeople, animal breeders, small producers, pensioners – need to collectively control the land, the sea, the economy and production.