News on Sunday

Cassam Uteem : “There is utter failure of our basic institutions”

We can now claim Chagos Archipelago with more vigor, believes the former President of Mauritius, Cassam Uteem. In the context of the 51st Independence of our country, Cassam Uteem shed some light on the various social and political issues. He states that we are paying a very heavy price for our lack of foresight and planning.

We are celebrating our 51st Independence this year and at the same time, the ICJ has given an Advisory Opinion in favour of Mauritius. Do you think that we can claim full sovereignty over Chagos again?
Not only can we but we certainly should. We have always claimed our sovereignty over the Chagos Archipelago, which had been unlawfully excised by Britain from Mauritian territory at the time of our Independence. In its Advisory Opinion, the ICJ confirms the righteousness of our claim and avers that the decolonization process was flawed and therefore incomplete. Our claim has thus been vindicated and our principled stand on this issue strengthened. It, therefore, stands to reason that we should now make our claim of sovereignty on the whole of the Chagos Archipelago with more vigor than we have been doing so far. 

In your opinion, what should be the next step for Mauritius?
We should try and enter into a purposeful dialogue with the British government on the issues related to the Chagos Archipelago and strongly reiterate our claim of sovereignty over it. Britain must undertake to put an end within a reasonable delay to the friction, which the BIOT is and has always been for us, failing which, we should bring the matter up again at the United Nations, the Security Council first and if necessary to the UN General Assembly. We should be able to intensify our lobby and obtain still stronger support from our fellow UN member states. 

It appears that many young people are now showing interest in politics and intend challenging the traditional parties and are coming up with new ways of doing politics."

Do you think the US should continue to operate its military base in Diego Garcia?
I am of those who believe that the military and nuclear base in Diego Garcia should be dismantled and Mauritius should launch forthwith a vigorous campaign to free its territory and the Indian Ocean from that highly toxic nuclear military base. I am sure that such a decision would generate more enthusiasm from the African Union and the Non-Aligned Movement as well as several other States that were reluctant to join in support of Mauritius sovereignty’s claim on the Chagos Archipelago.

Otherwise, how do you perceive the evolution of the Mauritian society?
The Mauritian society has been, for a long time now, in what can be termed a state of disequilibrium: The marginal has become mainstream and the mainstream marginal. This has happened because of the utter failure of our basic institutions, unprepared as they were to cope with the profound societal changes in the aftermath of the rapid industrial and tourism development the country has known for the past three or four decades.  Family cell, the school, religion and politics have all failed in meeting the albeit new and hitherto unknown challenges our children have had and still have to face. We are thus paying a very heavy price for our lack of foresight and planning.

Also, we have recently seen that violence and crime have escalated. What explains this rise? 
Besides what I have just been telling you, many are those occupying positions where they can wield influence and power but they seem to be oblivious of what is happening around them or believe that the situation will organically improve on its own. The current breakdown of law and order is yet another aggravating factor that explains the escalation of violence and crime in our society. Illicit drug abuse and addiction are creating havoc throughout the different layers of society and constitutes probably one of the main reasons, if not the main one, for the rise in the minor and major crimes - at times, horrible - that we are witnessing.

Family cell, the school, religion and politics have all failed in meeting the albeit new and hitherto unknown challenges our children have had and still have to face. We are thus paying a very heavy price for our lack of foresight and planning."

What, according to you, could be a source of danger for our social harmony?  
The feeling of being excluded and discriminated against, successive generations unable to get away from the poverty trap, being considered as second-class citizens, humiliated and often found unfit or unqualified or ineligible to serve and work in certain sectors of our administration and economy - when such conditions prevail in any society and those in authority fail to seriously address these issues and find appropriate answers and solutions to them, then social harmony is in jeopardy and social unrest is likely to loom large on the horizon.

Coming to politics, why do you think our young people are showing less interest in this area?
From what I read in the press and especially on the net, this doesn’t seem to be the case. Contrary to what you are suggesting, it appears that many young people are now showing interest in politics and intend challenging the traditional parties and are coming up with new ways of doing politics, so they say. I hope the motivating factor is not merely to become a Member of Parliament or a minister! They need to be encouraged to join politics if only to prove that our democracy is a vibrant one. It remains to be seen whether they will find favor with the population.  

Do you feel it is high time for new blood in the political arena of Mauritius?
New blood in any profession is always welcome, as it is expected to bring new ideas, new thoughts, and new modes of operation. However, new blood per se is not enough. There must be commitment and the desire to serve the country and its people. A politician or a would-be MP or minister must be prepared to undergo sacrifices and face public exigencies and at times their wrath.  The MP or minister need to show that they are delivering. The current parliament, elected in 2014, is massively made up of ‘new blood’. 

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