General Charles De Gaulle’s interest in Seychelles


06-September-2012

This great French leader had special interest in Seychelles.

In the mid-60s as a member of Seychelles Legislative and Executive Council, I received an invitation from President de Gaulle to attend the launch of the International Assembly of French-speaking Parliamentarians.

 As a member of the executive council  – the name given to the colonial cabinet – under prevailing Order in Council, I could not be absent from the colony without the sanction of the governor, I brought my invitation to the attention of the then governor Sir Hugh Norman Walker.

He was of the opinion that I should not accept the invitation as the French President had violated protocol by sending it straight to me instead of through the foreign office.

The governor also argued that De Gaulle was a “fouteur des désordes” because on an official visit to Canada he had shouted “Vive le Québec Libre.”

Notwithstanding the governor’s standpoint, I made up my mind that, protocol or no protocol I was not going to miss the opportunity of a meeting with De Gaulle.

On arrival in Paris, I discovered that the French President was underlining the significance of the conference by holding it in Versailles at the Grand Trianon, where he was to be host at an opening “vin d’honneur.”

I arrived at the reception to find over 100 people already waiting in the queue to be presented to the general and Madame de Gaulle in the presence of the entire French cabinet.

 The guests ahead of me were announced, shook hands, and passed smoothly into the hall. When my turn came, however, the towering general seized my hand and would not let go.

“How are the British treating you in Seychelles?” he asked, and proceeded to display a detailed knowledge of Seychelles history and geography before he released me.

Reporters from the press, TV, and radio were there in force and their curiosity was aroused.

 “Qui êtes vous, monsieur?” they enquired, and the next day, several papers described the special attention I had received and noted that it had been the first direct political contact between France and Seychelles since the territory was ceded to Britain by the Treaty of Paris in 1814.

After the conference, I was supposed to return to Seychelles direct from Paris via Nairobi but I had an idea. Could not the interests of Seychelles be advanced by a little judicious exploitation of Anglo-French relations? I flew to London, taking with me the French newspaper cuttings and a copy of an official booklet published for the occasion entitled, “The crossroads of Our Influence,” and showing on its cover a map of the Indian Ocean with Seychelles prominent.

 The following Sunday, Colin Legum’s column in the Observer carried the headline, “After Quebec, now the Seychelles.”

It is interesting to note that three days later, for the first time in the history of Seychelles as a British colony, the affairs of the nation were lengthily debated in the House of Commons, resulting in the British Government’s announcement that they were sending an economic aid mission to Seychelles.

I am sure that this story forms part of the history of Seychelles.
So far as De Gaulle is concerned, history has not forgotten the statement he made in London after France had fallen to Nazis Germany ‘La France a perdu une bataille mais La France n’a pas perdu la guerre.”

James R. Mancham

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