This text is an extract from a document communicated at the colloquium ‘Définis-Moi l’indinaocéanie’ at the University of La Réunion, in 2018. As far as we are concerned, we shall draw greater focus on characteristics of the ‘Indian Ocean space’ rather than on the ‘Indo-Oceania’s’ ’.
This notion was:
1° first introduced in 1967, to denote “the fairly large French-speaking archipelago that the Indian Ocean is “by Camille de Rauville.
2° Michel Rocard spoke in 1991 of « the emergence of a regional line up that would confer greater powers on the international stage (…) called the South-West Indian Ocean zone.
3° In the 1980s and 2003, Raoul Lucas and Jean Claude L’Estrac continued to support this notion.
4° In addition, during the colloquium ‘Définis-Moi l’indinaocéanie’ at the University of La Réunion, in 2018, I proposed a review of what might be the Indian Ocean space, to conceptualize the issuance of border-space. It would simultaneously build up a history of Reunionese Africanity and a possible Reunionese pan-Africanism.
I have chosen to bring the issue of Pan-Africanism in the Indian Ocean space under the case of Reunion, and after introducing the following elements:
1° the thesis of the Indian Ocean as a border-space (crossed by the effects of power, precisely of the « Indian Ocean hypothesis » and the polarization within it)
2° Relocate Reunion and the Indian Ocean back into a pan-African perspective (this is the overview I am giving here).
3° to see the Indian Ocean as a global process of creolisation (human, ethno-clinical, poetic…, the point is not dealt with here).
First and foremost, a micro-history of the desire to be African has yet to be made from the militant archives and political or non-minority literature of independent and internationalists fighters in the Indian Ocean… The origins of Pan-Africanism can be traced back to the abolitionist organizations led by African slaves such as Olaudah Equiano and Ottobah Cugoano. However, the terms themselves emerged in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. We should of course mention the African-American Web Dubois, Marcus Garvey and CLR James, the Black Panther Movement…
I will reevaluate the term in the revolutionary verve of the Guyanese (Guyana, British Guiana) intellectual – he is a historian – Walter Rodney known for his famous « And Europe underdeveloped Africa » (1974). His trajectory as an anti-colonialist and Marxist led him to be a Pan-Caribbean. The context of the 6th Congress was one of hostility on the side of African presidents, which CLR James, as coordinator, was to face. It was the beginning of the rivalry between neoconservatives such as Senghor and Boiny and internationalist and pan-Africans trajectories such as that of Fanon. I refer here to Amzat Boukari’s latest book, a biography of Walter Rodney.
The period of African independence and pan-Africanism can be paralleled to the second constitutive moment of the concept of Africa, the first being that of European negation (from the fifteenth century with the European invasion, the slave trade and colonization, which, according to Selim Abdelmadjid, extended the name ‘Africa’ to the whole continent). The first is that of alienation and the second is that of reappropriation, thus « a negating of the negation ».
Pan-Africanism can be understood through the genealogy of the political resistance of movements and peoples, far from closing in on the legacy of the OAU (Organisation of African Unity) as the historical organ of the black petty bourgeoisie and states in collusion with imperialism. This is the distinction made between African union and African unity. I quote Walter Rodney: « Because the Lusaka Manifesto (1970) was only an innocuous document that could be interpreted as expressing certain reservations about armed struggles, it was recuperated in this sense by many reactionaries, and was still quoted as stating the official position of progressive leaders long after they had declared their unequivocal support for armed struggle in the Mogadishu Declaration (1971). The pan-African leaders and leaders referred to are Nyeréré, Nkrumah, the latter already declared at the 5th conference in ACCRA, 1958, All African people’s conference: « independence now, tomorrow the United States of Africa » (« freedom and justice »).
One could evoke the revolutionary conjuncture of May 68, like that of a long 68 (from the end of the 1950s to the mid-1980s). This is the perspective that Lefort-Favreau takes up in the manner of Hobsbawm in an article entitled « Le Mai 68 littéraire de François Maspero », on the publisher as an intellectual intermediary and thus the role of the publisher in the political events as well as the « literary » events themselves during this moment.
It is worth noting the existence of the Antillean-Guyanese front in which Glissant participated (1960-62). It was at this time that Fanon wrote to him from Tunisia to ask him to reject the slogan of autonomy, which the OJAM (Martinique Autonomist Youth Organisation) would take up.
In the 1960s, pan-Africanism and anti-colonialism intensified, and in 1965 Malcolm X was banned from visiting Paris, even though Afro-Caribbean activists had invited him there. 1966-1967 was the time when Dar es Salaam was a revolutionary hub. 10 years after joining the communist section of Reunion, Serge Sinamalé provoked electoral riots in Saint-André. This was the beginning of the FJAR, which the PCR had to take in hand. 1968 was the time of Nyerere’s original socialism in Tanzania, the same year Rodney was expelled from Jamaica where he had forged links with and influenced Rastafarianism, and riots took place in the urban working class, peasantry and students. It was also the Independence of Mauritius. In 1971, the Morne Rouge Convention brought together organisations from the four overseas departments around the slogan of autonomy, and Serge Sinamalé formulated a Maoist critique. In « Pan-Africanism: struggle against neo-colonialism and imperialism – Documents of the sixth Pan-African Congress »Rodney’s already prepared testament, he warns: « The organisers of the congress must be enjoined to take steps to contact known nationalist and socialist opponents of French colonial rule in Martinique or French Guiana, for example. ». We would have to speak here of the UTG (and its slogan of independence from 1971, then of MOGUYDE and FLNG) on the Guyanese side, on the Guadeloupean side previously of the GONG, on the Martinican side of the Maoist group of Cabort-Masson… Similarly, Rodney issues a critique of negritude: « Francophone (and Spanish-speaking) blacks joined their brothers in French-dominated Africa in developing the initially anti-colonialist and anti-racist doctrine of negritude. But, like pan-Africanism, negritude became, in the hands of petty-bourgeois black states, a sterile form of black chauvinism, unable to challenge capitalism and imperialism. Negritude in Senegal supports neo-colonialism, while in Haiti it is used to highlight an even more desperate situation of exploitation and repression of the black masses. (It should also be noted that for Glissant, in addition to poetic negritude, it was political negritude that was personally important to him, although its effects are more than debatable).
Another condition for Rodney is « That the contemporary borders of African states must be abolished to allow for a real political-economic unity of the continent ». Amilcar Cabral, a cultural guerrilla theorist, died in 1973, two years before the independence of Cape Verde…
From 1967 to 1979, there seems to have been an intensification of struggles in Reunion with the 1979 inter-union days on the indexation of the cost of living and wages in the public service. Moreover, the pan-African thinker Rodney claims « that the liberation movements in Southern Africa are revolutionary and anti-imperialist, and must therefore be defended against the hegemony of the petty-bourgeois state ». The declaration of the Indian Ocean as a zone of peace and against apartheid in South Africa was a landmark declaration in 1971, held in the Seychelles. It would be interesting to question Ratsirak’s conception of Africanity in Madagascar at the time of his socialism. Bob Denard in the Comoros in 1971 overthrew the revolutionary regime of Soilihi. From 1973 onwards, Reunion Island is on the agenda of the Council of Ministers of the OAU Liberation Committee, whose slogan is the liberation of Africa, including the islands. Mauritius was ordered to take a stand for France by Michel Debré, while the Malagasy regime ended up qualifying the French attitude as neo-colonial. Similarly, in the Tromelin case, Mauritius distinguished itself from Madagascar and Seychelles in favour of France. Finally, in 1978 (June), the OAU summit in Dar El Salam affirmed the need to decolonise Reunion Island and pronounced itself in favour of the adoption of « appropriate measures to hasten independence ». The leader of the MMM (Mouvement Militant Mauricien) is expelled from Reunion Island for having declared that the independence of Reunion Island was inevitable. I refer here to Jean Houbert’s article entitled « Decolonisation in Creole countries: Mauritius and Reunion », which compares French decolonisation in Reunion with Mauritian sovereignty, which he describes as « an international dependency ».
Through the activity of the OCMLR (1975), then MPLR (Movement for the Liberation of Reunion Island) in 1979, the minority pro-independence current had an influence on the situation at the time, in this case the trips to Tripoli (from 1979 to 1982), but also and above all the minority but tenacious overtaking on the left and on the anti-colonial line of the Reunion Communist Party. Thus, an organ such as the Comité du Progrès could not appear as a transformative will because it was too « soft » for the left and too « progressive » for the right, according to observers. Through this singular trajectory, it is more the expression of a « minority » crisis that must be recognised, that is to say, insofar as it challenges the majority, and the cultural, political and ideological influence that must be emphasised.
Walter Rodney envisaged a continental Africanism, but also a Pan East Africanism, i.e. the idea of a pan-African regionalisation. It is therefore the idea of African interdependence that is theorised here (its unity and indivisibility versus the constitutional independence of each state) and the formation of an ‘economic’ pole (self-centred development and interdependent network) in the face of the American, Japanese and European giants. This is the question of the current rate of openness of the countries in the zone. Seychelles, which claims to be the cultural capital of the Creole world, is at over 49%, while Reunion and Mayotte are at 13.7% and 13.0% respectively. Finally, there is the 1985 Creole festival in Seychelles and we can go as far as the 1990s when there is a militant review of the Indian Ocean in Reunion. In 2004, the African Union included Reunion in its strategic plan as one of the « territories occupied by foreign powers ».
Challenges and prospects:
- It is the still burning issue of the descendants of slaves and the unequal treatment they suffer in our societies, even though they are Creoles, and therefore its politicisation with the aim of transforming the whole of society and not through the communal liberal proposal of including an elite, whoever it may be, in its political and economic system, with the very idea of representing the masses (whereas it is the issue of social justice, and democracy, itself, that needs to be addressed). In this regard, Le Morne in Mauritius is an international spotlight to which we, the peoples of the Indian Ocean, must look: « as a symbol of resistance and freedom, as a place of refuge from oppression, as a living source of healing power, as a connection to the traditions of the sea, also as the origin of the Creole music of resistance », and thus be at the bedside of those who are presently its guardians, as the sentinels of our common heritage (c.f https://www.caresmauritius.org/news/185e-anniversaire-de-labolition-de-lesclavage-akizizion-obligatwar-later-le-morne-ek-lezot-landrwa-pou-lozman-viv-plante).
- the geopolitical, geostrategic and ecological issue of the Indian Ocean islands (Mayotte/Reunion as departments and the French Southern and Antarctic Lands: TAAF) under French tutelage and its possible hold, of course in the presence of other Indian, Chinese, American and British imperialisms. In addition, the French state has a hold on a maritime zone in the South Indian Ocean of 22 million km2 (from equatorial waters to sub-Antarctic waters, including 2.6 million km2 of exclusive economic zone around 10,000 km2 of land. In addition, following the January decrees on the extension of the continental shelf, the 58,121 km2 off Reunion Island and off the islands of Saint-Paul and Amsterdam, in the TAAF, the 93,202 km2 will extend the French maritime domain by the equivalent of more than a quarter of the surface area of France.
- And therefore the question of the future of the peoples of the Indian Ocean, as the voice of the sea, and of peace, as Cares and Rising Ocean are currently trying to do, following Lékol Lékolozi, is fundamental and crucial.
Say no to military escalation!
Unfortunately, the French state participated in the military exercise La Perouse, from 4 to 7 April 2021, involving the Quad (United States, Japan, India, and Australia), a manoeuvre bringing together several guided missile destroyers, submarines and reconnaissance aircraft. With Washington seeking to develop India as a counterweight to China, after the crises (Doklam Plateau in the Himalayas, Maldives) between these two nuclear powers, the military escalation continues. The French state negotiated in 2017 military, technical and operational cooperation agreements with Japan, targeting China, participating in operations under Varuna (2018 data), it could find itself involved in these conflicts.
So while Macron is destroying jobs and dismantling the labour code, he is asking the working class to bear the brunt of the military escalation (300 billion euros for the army planned by 2024, as part of the military alliance with Germany). It would appear that the French state is seeking to recruit for large-scale conflicts on a global scale involving major powers with nuclear weapons. For example, after opening a recruitment office in Tahiti in 2017, the Foreign Legion has opened one in Reunion Island (March 2021)…
Epilogue: let’s take off our white masks, let’s continue decolonization!
In the chapter entitled ‘De la violence’, in Les Damnés de la Terre, Frantz Fanon quotes General de Gaulle talking about ‘yellow multitudes’ and M. Mauriac talking about black, brown and yellow masses. This is what we are still hearing on the world geopolitical scene, but also and above all in domestic politics as a background debate with racist overtones in view of the upcoming 2022 presidential elections. Moreover, Macron recently hosted African heads of state at a summit baptized as the New Deal, but which in reality will continue to make Africa sick by imposing trade agreements that will allow it to continue its plundering. Similarly, he made his trips to the African continent in May, far ahead of us, so there is the prospect of an end to Françafrique .
Yet there are more and more of us, where we are, who want to practice love rather than the politics of domination, and surely in an even more determined way than in the 1960s and 1970s.
Note from Rising Ocean – The text is a contribution from Laëtitia Boqui-Queni from Réunion Island and has been translated by Anne-Joachim Perrine
About the author
Born in Reunion in 1986, she spent her childhood and adolescence in a modest neighborhood in the south of the island. She completed her schooling in Reunion, until the Bac.
During her studies of philosophy and psychoanalytic anthropology, in Paris, she became involved in the struggles with student unions, and in a youth organization which made it possible to build the movement against the C.P.E, and within anti-war movements and anti-racist, but also feminist.
She is at the origin of several collectives bringing together, Reunionese: Kolektif sort dovan (2008), Kolektif dégage! (2010 and 2012), Support movement for the Arab Spring, and law on pensions), youth Reunion migrant in France …
Links about the author involvements :