Saturday, 14 July 2012

Nou Pays Nou Fierte?

This week the most high profile trial in Mauritian legal history concluded at the Supreme Court in Port Louis.  This post is dedicated to the friends and family of Michaela McAreavey.  A young lady lost her life two days into the second leg of her honeymoon and she deserves justice.

The North East costal village of Grand Gaube is where my father’s maternal heritage lies.  It’s not a horrible area, but it’s not the right kind of place for me to be, at least on holidays anyway.  It’s remote, quiet, and dull.  There is also an enormous language barrier.  In places like Grand Baie, English is widely spoken along with French and Creole.  In Grand Gaube, if you don’t speak French or Creole you have a major problem.  It’s a friendly place, and everyone is warm and welcoming, but if you can’t communicate with the locals even simple tasks like a visit to the shop will prove to be a logistical nightmare.

However it’s against this backdrop that probably makes it an ideal destination for honeymooners.  Grand Baie is very much not the kind of place you would want to be situated for a romantic couple of weeks to consummate the marriage.  The traffic, bright lights, noise from bars, clubs and restaurants and general ambience is the complete opposite to what is to be found in Grand Gaube and would be a honeymoon from hell.  Grand Baie is a 24 hour town, there is always somewhere open.  By contrast Grand Gaube goes into hibernation around the time the sun sets and any sign of life is suspended until sunrise.  With the exception of the odd passing vehicle which will inevitably attract attention.  You’re more likely to find a bicycle in Grand Gaube than a motor vehicle.

The murder of Michaela McAreavey was a shock of biblical proportions.  Not only because such incidents on tourists are unprecedented, but also because of the area where it occurred.  If this had happened in Grand Baie or Flic En Flaq, it still would have been astonishing, but it was nothing compared to the disbelief that greeted the news that this tragedy occurred in Grand Gaube.

The eyes of the world were suddenly on Mauritius.  Perhaps in a way that had not been seen since Kaya and Berger Agathe died in such controversial circumstances sparking civil unrest in 1999.  This was the moment for Mauritius to show what I had been arguing with people like my dad about for the last seven years- that Mauritius was evolving, was improving rapidly and could handle such a high profile investigation.

My friends both here and in Mauritius often describe me as being the number one fan of the island, so for me to write this is extraordinarily difficult.  I can see their faces now as I sigh and say “ayo, pas facille!” But Mauritius has failed. Quite spectacularly it must be said.  Mauritius failed Michaela McAreavey, her family and friends, and the people of Grand Gaube who have lived with this unbearable shadow for the past 18 months. 

In a desperate attempt to impress the world with a swift resolution to the crime, it would appear that mistakes have been made.  Fundamental basic errors were committed, some of which have placed the suggestion that Mauritius is a modern democracy on very dubious ground.  It was long known that these suspects had been subjected to forms of violence during their interrogations.  We will never get to the bottom of how Kaya died, but nobody accepts the official version which is that he had an epileptic fit, not when one of his dreadlocks had been torn from his head.  To think that a dozen years later the same stupid attempts to manipulate the judicial process are still being used is not so much disappointing but an absolute abomination on the reputation of every single Mauritian.

We should welcome the news that there is to be an inquiry into how there was a failiure to secure a criminal conviction.  Just like 1999 the rainbow nation faces a monumental crossroads as it considers her next step.  In the ashes of this doomed trial, a golden opportunity arises for Mauritius to show the world that it is ready to make the leap into the 21st century.  No stone must be left unturned and a complete review of the Mauritian Police force must take place.  Mauritius is very famous for its water sports facilities, but some of the allegations mentioned during the trial suggest a very different kind of water sports.  Some activities of which are more commonly associated with that byword for human rights abuses, Guantanamo Bay.  I do not want my island to be considered in such terms.  It is humiliating and a stain on every single one of us, wherever in the world we reside. 

A lot has been made of the treatment of the husband, the fact that he was questioned and detained for five hours following Michaela's murder.  This is an area I am quite keen to be looked at again.  I don't believe that five hours is anywhere near enough time to fully exonerate someones involvement.  In Britain suspects can be detained for 48 hours without charge and longer with a magistrates permission.  One of the first things I would like to see take place as part of a review of the case would be to arrange for Mr McAreavey to be questioned again, everything must be revisited.

There is so much I love about Mauritius and it is such a tragedy that Michaela’s family will probably never wish to experience the truly wonderful side of a place which really is paradise.  I don’t just mean the turquoise sea, white sand and scenic landscape.  I mean the people, the attitudes, the social cohesion between so many different races and the fact that the political debate largely takes place on the left of the spectrum.  When Mauritians talk of their national pride, it’s about what the island represents as well as the wonderful weather.  In many ways because of all of this, I often speak of Mauritius as setting an example to the rest of the world.  Mauritius can’t teach other places on the planet to have beautiful beaches and a sublime tropical climate; those are qualities attained purely by luck.  It can however show the rest of the world how an almost “United Nations” style melting pot of different races and religions can live in harmony together.

I want Mauritius to be the one to set that example.  I dream of the day when fact finders from all over the world are sent to Mauritius to study the way of life and to export this brand of beauty to the rest of the globe.  That prospect seems as remote away as ever if we are conducting legal investigations with behaviour that had no place in the 20th century, let alone the 21st.

There is a creole expression which is used a lot around Independence Day.  “Nou Pays Nou Fierte” which translates broadly as “our island is our pride”.  Mauritian pride has taken a beating these last few days, it is vital that we come out fighting to restore it as soon as possible.