It's 2018, and if you think colonization issues are over, you would be greatly mistaken. Britain and Mauritius are at loggerheads because of the Chagos Islands, the last remaining African colony of the old British Empire. The major issues at stake are how the legacy of colonialism is denying Mauritius self-determination and sovereignty.
Chagos is an archipelago in the Indian Ocean south of the Maldives. Its sovereignty is disputed between Britain and Mauritius - a direct result of the toxic legacies of colonialism. The matter is currently before the International Court of Justice. The British, in 1965, three years before Mauritius' independence, detached the Chagos Islands from Mauritius.
As Mauritius got independence in 1968, the islands remained under Britain's control. The Chagos had been part of Mauritius and home to Chagossians before the entire population of around 2,000 people was forcibly removed by the British government and the US to make way for a strategic US military base called Diego Garcia.
Mauritius claims by detaching the islands, Britain breached important provisions of the decolonization process. UN Resolution 1519 made express mention of the fact that the breakup of colonies prior to independence was banned. The purpose of this was to keep borders stable and to prevent colonial powers from simply absorbing colonial territory into their overseas territory so as to retain their sovereignty.
Right now, Diego Garcia is an important and strategic military base for the United States. Britain leased it to the United States, and now, Diego Garcia hosts a major US military base and is a strategic node in US bombing campaigns in Afghanistan and Iraq. Which means that in the West's insatiable quest to exert a dominant foreign policy on other nations, Diego Garcia is a very important point. It symbolizes control. Britain, being unwavering allies with the US, will never cede it to Mauritius.
It's all about being reluctant to see an African country claim self-determination and sovereignty. The Islanders have been barred from returning to the Chagos Islands, and have been pursuing this matter with the ICJ, getting some success in the progress. In 2016, after several judicial challenges, Britain extended Diego Garcia’s lease until 2036 and declared that the expelled islanders would not be allowed to go back. In 2017, Mauritius successfully petitioned the United Nations to seek an ICJ advisory opinion on the legality of the separation.
Britain’s solicitor general Robert Buckland told Reuters his country accepted the removal of the Chagossians and their treatment thereafter "was shameful and wrong," but that a 1982 payment of £4 million ($5.2 million) and land worth £1 million worth to Mauritius had provided resolution.
An ICJ verdict or advisory opinion is not legally binding, although it carries some significant weight. The fact that at Britain's side are the US and Australia, chances of adhering to what the ICJ says are slim. On the other hand, Mauritius is backed by Argentina, Belize, Botswana, Brazil, Cyprus, Germany, Guatemala, India, Kenya, Marshall Islands, Nicaragua, Nigeria, Serbia, South Africa, Thailand, Vanuatu, and Zambia.
The long-lasting negative legacy of colonialism is Western powers still trying to have control over their former colonies. This is simply explained by economic and power-amassing interests. Dominance, control.
Professor Philippe Sands QC, representing Mauritius, told the ICJ, "The right to self-determination is not a ‘heritage’ issue. This is not Africa in the late 19th or early 20th century. This is September 2018."
Header image credit: France 24
Credits: Quartz Africa