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“A tribute to peace and Sir James Mancham”
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“A tribute to peace and Sir James Mancham”

Angelique PouponneauAngelique Pouponneau, 26, a Commonwealth Correspondent from the Seychelles, recalls the career of former President Sir James Mancham, and argues that in spite of controversy and exile, he was an inspirational figure.

It was unfortunate to learn that the words posted on Facebook were in fact correct, the first President of Seychelles had passed away. Sir James Mancham was the President from the date of independence in 1976 to 1977, when a turn of events meant he would be exiled from returning to his home country. This is a tribute to what I feel Sir James means to me: a symbol of forgiveness, peace and statesmanship.

The personality of Sir James is one that comes with many controversies. He inherited post-independence Seychelles. I was not born at the time so I merely share the stories, or as I prefer to call it, the different versions of the truth, that all seem to start in 1977. In 1977, there was a coup d’état in the Seychelles by the former President, France Albert Rene. He called himself an “Indian Ocean socialist” committed to bringing about social change in a country he believed was ridden with inequality. However, it was not all tales of breaking down class systems and bringing about the ‘middle-class for all’. There were, unfortunately, lives lost as a result of this military coup. Additionally, land was compulsorily acquired – some justifiably and others that the Court of Appeal finds was not. Pain was caused to many families that lost their sons, daughters, wives and husbands to a series of events that included a mutiny within the army. My grandma lost her son. On the other hand, there were people who had been the victims of inequality. They were happy to hear that France Albert Rene was now the leader. Social reform soon followed with free access to education, health and low-cost housing for all, public transportation costs would be kept at a minimum and ultimately, the class structures would be demolished, but at the expense of exercising certain freedoms. All the while Sir James was exiled from his homeland.

But he returned. In 1992, with the introduction of multi-party democracy Sir James Mancham returned to the shores of the Seychelles. He returned to build. He returned to shape the new phase of democracy the Seychelles was entering. Sir James was elected to participate in the reform of the Constitution of the Third Republic and that he did. From watching many videos of the debates on the Constitution, there were striking differences between the ways in which Sir James and President Rene operated. Sir James was a visionary, he saw a big picture whilst President Rene was one for detail to create the model he wanted. There were moments when both sides laughed together about how to say words (in the creole language) in what was a post – one party state era. And there it was, prospect of national reconciliation.

More recently, Sir James was seen preaching for national reconciliation, preaching for unity and more importantly, preaching for peace. The people of Seychelles saw a man put his history behind him, work with the ruling government despite their historical diversions, to bring Seychelles forward. To my mind, working with the people who you once considered enemies is a sign of the ability to forgive, to set differences aside and say it’s time to move on. Sir James was recently recognised as an ambassador for peace on the African continent and indeed that is all he seemed to want for his own country. Sir James showed statesmanship. His country was greater than a feud between two individuals with different visions. When he went abroad, he represented Seychelles. He represented his country. He represented his State. Sir James was a statesman.

To me, Sir James is a symbol of where a country can go, how reflection and writing can bring about comfort and how the past is one for the history books. It is time to work together and continue to build the future. I personally have fond memories of Sir James. He attended an event I was coordinating and despite my strict instructions to speak about equality in the Constitution, he turned up and without warning spoke of national reconciliation. I remember the moments we met and he used to laugh about how the Seychellois people were so beautiful because of our ancestors’ vices and finally, on June 8th I remember introducing him for a keynote remark at a book launch and there he sang. I remembered thinking I hope one day I will be like Sir James, where I will decide to sing at a book launch.

How history will remember him is undeniably divided, but this is the Sir James I will remember. It is with his inspiration that I will build a Seychelles that he can be proud of, a peaceful Seychelles where history and politics do not divide us.

photo credit: tim ellis Christmas Truce 1914 via photopin (license)

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About me: I am a barrister, advocating in all the Tribunals and Courts in the Seychelles. I am interested in sustainable development, the rule of law and international affairs.

I also support inclusive education systems so I volunteer at the School of the Hearing Impaired to teach English and Math. I would like to continue using education and the creation of opportunities for the advancement of young people, ensuring their voices are heard at national and international levels.
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Opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the Commonwealth Youth Programme. Articles are published in a spirit of dialogue, respect and understanding. If you disagree, why not submit a response?
To learn more about becoming a Commonwealth Correspondent please visit: http://www.yourcommonwealth.org/submit-articles/

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