Interview conducted by Florence Collins and Hugh Garnett.
Sir James R. Mancham (KBE) and PhD, was the first President of the small archipelago Islands from 1976 to 1977. His Prime Minister staged a coup d’état on 5th June 1977 and Mancham lived for a number of years in exile in the UK. During this time he became a formidable businessman. In April 1992, Mancham returned as the “Apostle of National Reconciliation” to the Seychelles, helped to draft a new multi-party constitution and became an ambassador of national and global reconciliation as a result. He is President of the Global Peace Council of the Universal Peace Federation (U.P.F) and is involved in the Inter – religious and International Federation for World Peace (I.I.F.W.P). He is also President of Seychelles First Movement, an NGO, and often attends conferences organized by the World Association of Non-Governmental Organisations (W.A.N.G.O) and has attended and participated in the European Centre for Peace Development (E.C.D.P) conferences. Mancham was one of many officials in Geneva to launch the World Future Council (W.F.C.).Furthermore, Mancham has written a number of books, some of which include: ‘Paradise Raped’, a novel about the Coup, and ‘War on America seen from the Indian Ocean (written after the 9/11 attacks)’.
Sir James Mancham attended the “World Without Walls” congress as a guest speaker and gave a speech entitled ‘National Sovereignty and the Development of International Relations Since 1989: The Example of the Seychelles.’ He kindly took the time to talk to CD News about his time in exile, the strategic location of the Seychelles and the effect of global warming on the islands.
During the Cold War you spent 20 years in exile. Could you comment on your experiences?
Yes. I went to London to attend the Queen’s Jubilee celebrations and the common wealth heads of government summit. The Prime Minister then went behind my back, the result of which meant that I had to live in exile for 15 years before being able to return home after the cold war.
Did you work as the director of an airline during this time?
During that time I, very interestingly, became president of Berlin European Airways. This is, in fact, a very interesting story. At the end of the Second World War as you know, Berlin was a divided city. The Germans were not allowed to fly within the Berlin corridor. On the one side you had East Berlin, you had Schönefeld airport. And in West Berlin you had Tegel. Now Tegel was under the control and influence of the Americans, the French and the British, whereas Schönefeld was under Soviet influence. I became a consultant, if you like, to a German group who was involved in the Airline business called Germania. And one day I met the German agent of British Airways in Germany, in fact flying from Berlin to London, and we were talking about the difficulties of German companies in establishing an airline to fly to Berlin. When I told him that I was about to become British he said that we could do it for them. So having become British I was able to front for some German financing and we formed this Airline, Berlin European Airways. In fact, I can show you a photo of myself introducing my staff to the British General who was commanding British forces in Berlin. [Shows the photo] It’s not only a question of a wall but there were a lot of impediments afterwards. I’ll show you this. [Examining the picture] That was the president of India, of China and you see me introducing the British commander.
Does the positioning of the Seychelles make it strategically an important set of islands?
Yes. We are 110 islands spread over a very wide surface of the Indian Ocean. After the Falkland Island war the head of the Institute of Strategic Studies came up with a report of limited circulation. And he said that each of the Seychelles islands has the potential of being considered as an unsinkable aircraft carrier because we are on the most important oil trading routes. And now of course we have got the phenomenon of pirates. The Americans of course took an island next door, to build up their base from where the war against Iraq and the war against Afghanistan are being fought. Few people in the world know about this because the Americans removed the people from their island and sent them to the island of Mauritius. So there is nobody to make noise. That’s another piece of breaking news for you.
I would like to ask another question relating to the position of the Seychelles. How is climate change and the effect of rising sea levels going to have an impact on the Seychelles and what are you hoping to get out of the Copenhagen summit? What do you hope to see happen?
Well, I think that we have very active interests in the conference in Copenhagen. In terms of rising sea levels, I shall make one point, that our islands have two formations. Half of them are of granite formation and these rise to heights of a thousand feet and they are built on strong granite rocks. Therefore they are not too much menace when we consider the problem of global warming. We also have a collection of islands, off shore islands, which are like the Bahamas and the Maldives, which are flat and they are threatened by global warming. We do hope that the big nations in the world will take into account the fact that in today’s global village it is also important to take into account the interest of small islands. And I would say no country is small if they are surrounded by the sea. Under the law of the sea now we have got 200 square miles of economic jurisdiction. So whatever lies under the sea or above it is important in our interconnected world.
And moving onto your book, ‘War on America seen from the Indian Ocean (written after the 9/11 attacks)’, what inspired you to write this?
The time had come when my son started to ask me questions and he found out a lot of answers about things that he did not previously know. I realised that I had a duty to posterity to tell some of my stories, like this one about Berlin for example.
Thank you very much it’s been very interesting.