Oh, the Times! Oh, the Morals

I read with interest the succinct article on  FetAfrik festival celebrated under the theme: “Africa Renaissance”, in the “Seychelles Nation” online of 26th May 2012. The problem with that theme is that it is a very complex issue and it does not go well with a rich divided continent that is plagued by elitism, corruption, poverty and violence.  The “African Renaissance” is not a Seychelles invention. It was the original concept of the former South African President Thabo Mbeki in the1990s during his term of office. Mbeki’s vision was for the African people and nations to overcome the current challenges confronting the continent and achieve cultural, scientific, economic, etc. renewal. However, his impossible intellectual dream had never got off the ground even in his native land, because only recently Archbishop Desmond Mpilo Tutu accused the South African Government of being worse than apartheid.  So there is no hope in the foreseeable future that Mbeki’s failed dream, taken up by the Seychelles, will have any impact in the Seychelles or in Africa, a continent flushing with sunshine and vivid light, wrongly described by the Welshman, Henry Morton Stanley né John Rowlands, as the Dark Continent. 

The article mentioned Africa’s past struggles, heroic and legendary, but named none of the heroes. However, they mentioned the case of Pompée our failed Spartacus who was burned alive and also that of Castor. The case of Pompée and that of slavery in the Seychelles happened under the Code Noir. It was introduced by the French with the collaboration of the Roman Catholic Church to bestialise the black people. Both the Church and the French Government should answer charges for crime against humanity. It was only during the Second Vatican Council 1962-1965 that the Church started to declare “without qualification that slavery was an ‘infamy’ that dishonoured the creator and was a poison in society”.  It is a difficult false flip-flop to comprehend because the Church with its strict secrecy and outdated doctrines had endorsed slavery for centuries had never condemned itself and offered no reparation. 

In a similar hypocritical way President Nicolas Sarkozy spoke against slavery on 10 May 2011 at the Jardin du Luxembourg with nice words but with no action. He said: “ On leur prit tout: leur dignité leur liberté, leur vie, leurs rêves, leur histoire, leurs joies, on leur retira leur nom d’homme. On en fait du bétail, et leurs enfants aussi. He also said that « La traite et l’esclavage furent les premiers crimes contre l’humanité » and proposed no reparation. His last quoted phrase is very interesting but has no logic, because as a jurist he knew perfectly well that the “Taubira Law” of 21 May 2001 adopted by Lionel Jospin’s Government declaring slavery a crime against humanity had been put into the French dustbin of history. And he also knew as per article 8 of  the Declaration of the Rights of Man and the Citizens 1789, it would be impossible with the “Taubira Law” to bring  a case against the French Government for crime committed before 1789. However, with the resurrection of  “Taubira Law” for the dustbin, it would be possible to prosecute crime committed by Napoleon Bonaparte when he reintroduced slavery? If Sarkozy (now a private lawyer) was really sincere he could now take his beloved country and the Church to the International Court of Justice.

On 19 February 1999, during a parliamentary debate the French Minister of Justice (part of the culprit) said that compensation would be difficult to organise and nothing was done during Sarkozy’s era to resolve the situation. Perhaps François Hollande the new socialist President will allow all the archives on slavery be opened including of course the accounts books of slavers, rich colonists, priests and bishops in former French colonies.  This will give a better understanding how much money and atrocities the French made during slavery. It might give lights to an independent French jurists (which is very hard to find) to file a case in/or against France and the Roman Catholic Church in a French Court. 

The reparation will be indeed very painful and on both sides, our African Brothers would also have to answer charges for selling their own colleagues and pay compensation for their horrible crimes.

It is said that the Chinese contributed financially for the exhibition they were represented by Ambassador Shi Zhongjun.  He said that it was a symbol of unity and cooperation between the African continent and China. Prior to the arrival of the Europeans the Chinese had a very good record in the Indian Ocean. They included the Seychelles on their maps. They came, they saw and left as good friends and did not conquer any parts in the Indian Ocean. However, they used force only once in Ceylon.  It is from the Indian Ocean that they sailed through the Old Red Sea Canal to the River Nile and went to Cairo. From there they went to Europe and gave the European details of their advance civilisation. It is said that only after they left that the European started their Renaissance. 

After their pacific venture around the world, China suffered aggressive colonisation from European countries and Japan. They pillaged the country for its valuable treasures and destroying others.

China a country of 56 different ethnic groups has now taken a different starkly new trade policy with Africa (a place of several thousand ethnic groups) and it seems to be working to the detriment of the former colonial master’s old trade policy with Africa.  China has replaced Britain in it grant-in-aid to the Seychelles. However, most of the African countries are now trapped in the cycles of corruption, poverty and underdevelopment. Only time will tell whether the new Chinese approach will help in the so called “African Renaissance” and the eradication of corruption calamities. Meanwhile, I would like to end with the famous sentence of Cicero, the famous Roman political theorist, O tempora! O mores! (Oh, the times! Oh, the morals!).

Julien Durup