what Sir James Mancham stands for
Exclusive interview with Sir James R. Mancham, the first President of Seychelles
The growing international credentials of the founding President of the Republic of Seychelles has brought out the need for an interview to better understand and appreciate what Sir James Mancham stands for. The interview was conducted by Raymond St.Ange on behalf of Today from the Seychelles.
TODAY: Sir James, the talk of the town over the last few days has been your nomination by President Michel to represent his government and the people of Seychelles at the Diamond Jubilee of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II. What are your immediate comments?
SIR JAMES R. MANCHAM: I was traveling within the USA when I got a phone call from the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mr. Jean-Paul Adam, informing me that the President was mindful of nominating me to represent him, the government, and people of Seychelles at this historic event in London. That decision reflected a high level of grandeur d’esprit and political maturity on the part of President Michel. It is a known fact that the coup d’état in 1977 took place when I was in London to attend the Queen’s Silver Jubilee. Queen Elizabeth II is a queen for whom I have always had the highest respect and affection. President Michel’s decision to see me participating in her Diamond Jubilee celebration must be regarded as a positive contribution towards what can be described as “the healing process.”
TODAY: Do you detect anything political in this initiative?
JRM: President Michel is a political animal, and he is proving more and more to be a good political strategist. In nominating me to represent him, he is sending across the message that we are operating today in Seychelles within the spirit of “entente” and national unity. He is also demonstrating a willingness to put into practice the spirit of Seychelles First. Many people did not expect President Michel to rise up to this level of leadership and had thought that having been brought up under the shadow of a dictator, he would have found it impossible to be his own man, but President Michel seems to be determined to leave a sustainable legacy behind. This determination is important, as it will very much impact Seychelles politics today and the way ahead.
TODAY: Perhaps as important as going to London were your recent activities in Cairo witnessing the Presidential election in Egypt. Any comments?
JRM: I was certainly touched by the invitation I received from the President of the African Union that I lead a group of 24 from the African Union to observe the Egyptian Presidential Election. To be part of a team is a privilege itself, but to be the leader of the team is an acknowledgement of trust and high consideration.
“Given your vast experience and commitment to the strengthening of democracy and peace in the continent I would like to kindly request that Your Excellency lead the African Observer Mission in Egypt,” Mr. Jean Ping, the African Union Commissioner wrote.
When the Egyptian Authorities said no to the idea of receiving a group of observes from the AU and instead extended an invitation for one witness from the organization, I was ready to accept the challenge when the President of the AU extended the invitation to me.
The election was a unique development in the history of Egypt. Fifty-two million registered voters in a population of over 90 million for the first time [were] given the opportunity to directly elect their President.
In the final analysis, within the greater picture, I found that the election had been well organized, transparent, and fair – a view which was shared by President Jimmy Carter of the Carter Center and former Mauritius President Cassam Uteem of the Electoral Institute of Sustainable Democracy.
TODAY: Before you flew to Cairo, you were, in fact, on a visit to the USA. What was going on there?
JRM: I was first a guest of the Hoover’s Institute of War, Revolution, and Peace of Stanford University participating in a “Think-Tank” – “Global Hotspots, Insiders Briefings.” The Institute had decided to invite a selection of personalities who had been awarded the Gusi Peace Prize to interact with a group of powerful and influential US citizens concerning various issues of global importance. I, of course, seized the opportunity to once again bring up the issue of the lack of a substantive US Embassy in Seychelles, despite that the US remained “so mightily strong” as to continue to base remote-controlled drones here with two of them recently crashing at our international airport.
I said that whilst visits of US Naval vessels are always welcomed, without an appropriate diplomatic presence in Port Victoria, there was here a projection of the image of “Gun Boat’s Diplomacy” based on the philosophy of “might is right.” I call on the United States to provide the Seychelles with the international respect it deserves and to recognize that “no country is small if it is surrounded by the sea.” As I spoke, a bewildered former Head of the FBI and a former US Naval Admiral took notes. I told them that I had an appointment to meet with the US Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs – Mr. Johnny Carson in Washington, DC, to raise up the issue once again with the US State Department.
TODAY: So what transpired in Washington, DC?
JRM: Unfortunately, I could not find the time to participate in a forum which Mr. Grover Norquist - American lobbyist, conservative activist, and founder and President of Americans for Tax Reform - had organized the day I was in the US capital, but I did find the time to have lunch with a long-standing friend, Mr. Arnaud de Borchgrave, whom I befriended in the 60s when he was a Senior Correspondent for “Newsweek,” and co-author of the best-selling novel, “The Spike.” De Borchgrave is today Senior Adviser for the Centre of Strategic and International Studies.
According to Osborn Elliott - a former Editor-in-Chief of “Newsweek” - De Borchgrave has played a role in world affairs known to no other journalist. He has been able to tap the thinking of numerous world leaders. ... Despite his intimacy with major policy makers, he has never aligned himself with either side of a dispute and in this way made significant contributions to world peace and understanding."
After the lunch with Arnaud, I headed for the State Department to meet with the Assistant Secretary of State, Johnny Carson. I told the gentleman in no uncertain terms that I was not impressed with the argument that the US could not have an Ambassador in Seychelles because of budgetary constraint - pointing out that even Cuba had a fully-fledged Embassy in Port Victoria. I said that the behavior of the USA towards the Seychelles had provided President Hu Jintao with justification when he stated with obvious reference to [the] US-Seychelles relationship, that China would not prove herself to be a “fair-weather friend.” Arguing as I have done before that “no country is small if it is surrounded by the sea,” I also quoted the argument put forward by former US Ambassador John Price as to why the present situation of having Seychelles covered from Mauritius was problematic and reflected a lack of respect to our sovereignty.
TODAY: Do you think that your pleas had any effect on Assistant Secretary Carson?
JRM: At the time of our meeting, the Assistant Secretary of State sang to me the same old song about budgetary constraint, although I got a feeling that he had been touched and impacted by my arguments.
Since my return to Seychelles, I met with Dr. Reuben Brigety II, who is Deputy Assistant Secretary of State in the Bureau of African Affairs, who told me that following my meeting with his boss, he had been dispatched to Seychelles to assess the question of U. diplomatic presence on the ground. Dr. Brigety was accompanied by Commander Michael Baker, US Defense Attaché for Mauritius, Seychelles, Madagascar, and the Comoros, based in Madagascar, and Mr. Troy Fitrell, US Chargé d'Affaires in Mauritius.
I can only conclude that something must be on the move and that the US is big enough to accept where a mistake has been made and repair the situation. The decision to close down the Embassy in Seychelles was certainly "a penny wise pound foolish" decision, in view of Seychelles manifest strategic dimension and closeness to Diego Garcia. It is my view that President Michel and Minister Adam are appreciative of my efforts in this respect.
TODAY: Will you be returning to Seychelles directly from London after the Jubilee celebrations?
JRM: I would have loved to say yes. However, I will be leaving London straight to Lusaka, Zambia, for a meeting of the Committee of Elders of COMESA, which is, as you know, the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa. Important issues are on the agenda, including discussion on a program of democracy, good governance, and war economies, which are having negative effects on the African continent. It is quite a while since I agreed to go to Lusaka for that conference and feel I cannot let the organization down at this late hour.
TODAY: Would you be in Seychelles for our National Day celebrations on June 18?
JRM: Yes, I would have just arrived, but 2 weeks later I will be flying to Brussels where I have been invited to a Round-Table Conference Luncheon by the American European Community Association where the guest speaker will be Mr. David O’Sullivan, Chief Operating Officer of the European External Action Service, whose theme will be “The New Diplomacy: Objectives, Achievements, and Added Value.”
Of course, Mr. David O’Sullivan was Secretary General of the European Commission between June 2000 and November 2005. The EEAS, of which he is Chief Operating Officer, maintains diplomatic relations with nearly all countries in the world. It has strategic partnerships with key international players, and [is] deeply engaged with emerging powers around the globe and has signed bilateral association agreements with a number of states. It is an important rendezvous, which cannot be missed.