LALIT and other members of the Diego Committee, including Movement for Progress of Roche Bois, Muvman Liberasyon Fam and the Konfederasyon Travayer Sekter Prive, held a musical evening on the eve of the Mauritian proposed UN General Assembly resolution to take Britain to the International Court of Justice at The Hague over the dismemberment of Mauritius when Britain withheld the Chagos Archipelago including Diego Garcia at Independence. It was held in the Book Lover at the Ledikasyon pu Travayer building.
LALIT has been calling for this precise geo-political move, and keeping pressure on the Mauritian State to do this, since 1985 with increasing persistence. At long last, the resolution comes up in New York later today, 22 June. The delegation has been strengthened by the inclusion, for a second time now, of representatives of the Chagos Refugees Group in the Mauritius’ delegation.
It is this time more difficult for the Mauritian State to make concessions, or in any other way sell out, because the resolution is formally supported by the African union. This, in turn, takes the emphasis away from a claim simply being laid by one state against another over territory and places it firmly where it should be, on the issue of the complete decolonization of Africa. And since it is merely to call for the dispute to go before the ICJ, and not only that but for a mere “advisory opinion”, it is hard to imagine by what insane logic any State could possibly vote against. But we should never underestimate the wiliness of the much-experienced British State in its role as colonizer of the world.
The musical event, marking the winter solstice, also coincided with two fortuitous dates. 21 June is “Music Day”, celebrated in some 120 countries including Mauritius, and it is the 65th birth-date of the late Bam Cuttayen, beloved Mauritian musician, who composed and sang the first popular song on Diego Garcia, called “Diego”, thus bringing together all the strands of the “sware mizikal”.
The evening began with a speech by LALIT representative Alain Ah-Vee, who said we were about to reach what may be a pivotal point, after 50 years of struggle by us and many others, on this issue. He mentioned groups present and also the MMM in early years, the Organisation Fraternel, and Komite Moris Losean Indyin. He situated the multiple levels of the evening’s program. Then Vinesh Hookoomsing of “Bann Kamarad Bam” spoke of the particular way in which Bam Cuttayen’s contribution as a political militant and as a musician had left a real mark on Mauritian history. Then Kavinien Karupudayyan from the same group read the text of Bam’s song “Diego”, after a brief introduction as to how his father’s love of Bam’s music meant that as a child he was already aware of Bam’s existence. There were live readings of Bam poems by Darma Mootien and Nita Raghoonundhun. Darma said how he had personally known and given moral support to Bam over years, while Nita said that one of Bam’s song’s Amandla, which was played during the “sware”, is very important to her, because she and her husband gave their daughter the middle-name “Amandla” in recognition of the struggle for peoples’ power in South Africa. Mélanie Peres read an extract in Kreol from the novel Mutiny. Three other musical landmarks were played: one very strong composition on the military base by Mennwar, another multi-dimensional composition by Rajni Lallah with Joelle Hoseiny as vocalist, and the spine-chilling Odile Chevreau “Lamerik, Lamerik, kan to laswaf pu pase?” with its wonderfully strange echoes of the equally moving Jacques Brel song “Marieke, Marieke”. And the musical part of the evening concluded with Bam’s own song, “Diego”.
During the open session, from the floor, there were important contributions on memories of Bam’s life. Shyam Reedha, who was expelled at the same time as Bam from the MMMSP told of the heartbreak this meant for the two of them, Ambigah and the others expelled at the same time. He said how Bam was the finest of tailors, a working class intellectual, who had become perhaps too influential a political leader as well as too fine a musician, and that this was a challenge to the MMMSP leadership at the time. Bam, him and others were branded, he said, as “Bam-ists” and “Trotskyists”. He mentioned that Darma Mootien had been an important moral support for Bam at the time. Patrick Ramdhonee spoke of his two musical encounters with Bam, who he knew from the neighbourhood.
On a more political note, Lindsay Morvan spoke of how alongside the other organizations, he and others were in Sahringon, which managed to get the Chagos/Diego Garcia issue put on the agenda at the level of NGOs in Africa. And that this would have contributed, with all the other efforts, to getting the crucial support of the African union now at the UN General Assembly.
Before separating from each other, the Komite Diego invited anyone present who wanted to join in to come to the meeting, which will be held next week, at which we will take stock, and if necessary prepare for the big struggles looming ahead.
The Struggle Ahead
Independently of the outcome of today’s resolution, the struggle ahead includes, from LALIT’s point of view, a number of issues not to be lost sight of, including:
* The push for an official visit by ship to Diego Garcia, with the Prime Minister, President, Opposition Leaders and Press on board, as well as Chagossian representatives.
* Finding ways of implementing the gains from the Tribunal Judgment against Britain under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). These include:
- Setting up an Island Council immediately; this is not too difficult as it could be a development of the Chagossian Trust Fund, which already has democratic structures.
- Setting up a Constituency for Chagos.
- Organizing fishing vessels to go to Chagos waters
* Finding ways of having recourse to the new AFCONE Committee under the Pelindaba Treaty for a Nuclear Arms Free Africa; the Mauritian Government should call for IAEA inspections, for example, and for inspections for cluster bombs, Mauritius having signed the Treaty against them.
22 June, 2017