The Indian Ocean, home to nearly 3 billion people, has regained its historical prominence. It now constitutes the main axle of gravity in this emerging multi-polar world. It is essential for countries around the Indian Ocean Region, all of us, irrespective of our varying sizes, to partner, work together, and combine our efforts, strive to foster peace, and lead the world into a new era of stability and prosperity.
In this post-covid era and on-going Russia-Ukraine war, all long-held assumptions have been disturbed. The international context is furthermore compounded by the furtherance of national interests and the emergence of new alliances. All of us have this common responsibility to design ways and means to overcome those challenges, develop resilience and create new opportunities.
Mauritius very early realised that to expand its political and economic space, it should embrace a high dose of pragmatism. True to our multi-ethnic and deep respect for diversity, we espouse a high degree of openness in terms of our attitude and culture, our national and foreign policy; and our economic strategy and development model. Our belonging to the Commonwealth and to the Francophone Organisation also helped Mauritius to establish close relations with newly independent Anglophone and Francophone States. In the Cold War divide, we fully supported the concept of the Indian Ocean as a Zone of Peace.
Mauritius also stepped into the realm of international relations as a small a Developing States (SIDS) to voice our specificities on social, economic and environmental challenges particularly climate change. Yet, being a small country, we cannot write history and are resigned to accept the world as it is. At the dawn of its Independence, Mauritius had its territory dismembered. The Chagos Archipelago was detached by the then colonial power in clear violation of international law and the UN General Assembly Declaration.
We have persistently maintained that in so doing our decolonisation remained incomplete and we have been fighting for full sovereignty over the Chagos Archipelago.
We have had the unflinching support of a large majority of states, including the African Continent, Bangladesh and India among others all throughout. Starting from the Advisory Opinion of the International Court of Justice in 2019. To the recent judgments delivered by the Special Chamber of the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea in April. We pray for continued support from all of you so that at the earliest Mauritius can have full and effective sovereignty over the Chagos Archipelago.
At a very early stage, Mauritius also expressed its commitment in furthering regional cooperation as an instrument for peace, progress and prosperity. We developed special relations with countries of the region. India given our shared People-to-People history ever since the establishment of diplomatic relations, as early as 1948, and up till now, has remained a strategic partner accompanying Mauritius in its development process.
The creation of the Indian Ocean Commission (IOC) in 1982, bringing together five Member States of the South West Indian Ocean Namely: 1. the Comoros, 2. France on behalf of Reunion Island 3. Madagascar, 4. Mauritius and 5. Seychelles, bears testimony to this endeavour.
This commission is the only regional organization in Africa composed exclusively of islands. It defends the specificities of its Member States on the continental and international scenes, while also cooperating in projects covering a wide range of sectors namely: 1. preservation of ecosystems, 2. sustainable management of natural resources, 3. renewable energy and 4. maritime safety.
The Indian Ocean Commission has strengthened and diversified its partnerships since 2016 and welcomed observer members including: 1. China, 2. India 3. Japan 4. the European Union, 5. The “Organisation Internationale de Iq Francophonie”, and 6. the United Nations.
This has paved the way for the development of a mutually beneficial relationship in the sphere of regional cooperation and relating particularly to maritime security. In parallel, the Indian Ocean Rim Association (IORA) was created in 1997 to strengthen the ties between Member States whose shores are washed by the vast expanse of the Indian Ocean. Bringing together countries from contours of Asia to the shores of Africa and the Middle East, and stretching from its multitude of Islands to Australia.
It may be recalled that the vision for countries linked to the Indian Ocean to become a single platform originated during a visit by late President Nelson Mandela to India in 1995, where he said: “The natural urge of the facts of history and geography…should broaden itself to include the concept of an Indian Ocean Rim for socio-economic cooperation and other peaceful endeavours.
Today, the IORA is a dynamic organisation of 23 Member States and 10 Dialogue Partners, with an ever-growing momentum for mutually beneficial regional cooperation through a: (i). consensus-based, (ii). Evolutionary and (iii). non-intrusive approach.
Security is at the core of peace and prosperity. Piracy, territorial disputes, terrorism and illicit arms; drugs and human trafficking; illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing; oil spills and marine pollution…. just to mention a few…represent a major threat to maritime security and pose significant governance challenges for policymakers of the region. It is, therefore, essential that we deepen our mutual cooperation and strengthen our ability and ensure safety and stability in the India Ocean. In that regard, the enhancement of Maritime Domain Awareness is an important aspect. The initiative by India in 2018 to set up the Information Fusion Centre – Indian Ocean Region should also be applauded.
We also welcome the recent signing of the MoU between the Centre and the Indian Ocean Commission led Architecture for Maritime Security and its Regional Coordination Operation Centre in Seychelles. These are concrete examples which we need to emulate given that individually we cannot effectively address such threats in a sustainable manner.
The global economy remains continuously threatened by uncertainties compounded by the present ongoing war. We have been witnessing significant disruptions in trade and food supplies; and surge in fuel price. These are contributing to greater financial stress, increased debt levels, high inflation and significant tightening in global financing. We all apprehend prolonged and intensified hostilities. These are real and legitimate cause of concern. It is thus imperative that we explore alternative solutions which would facilitate smoother movement of goods and people, boost tourism, develop better infrastructure, protect the environment and improve disaster response, develop the Blue Economy among others.
To improve maritime connectivity, reflections are being undertaken by Mauritius on how to set up feeder maritime services. However, the costs are prohibitive. We should strive to maintain a peaceful environment within the Indian ocean region and beyond. Peace is essential. Without peace, there is no prosperity. But prosperity also demands that we look beyond our diverse national ambitions. No country, big or small, has the ability to build a resilient future on its own. Thus, we should all partner. We need collective actions among regional organizations, governments, the private sector and civil society. We should all endeavour to build trust, identify our common objectives and collectively move towards our set goals with the aim of boosting prosperity. Let us start by working on regional projects which have the potential to yield positive outcomes for the betterment of our people.
Author Brief Bio: His Excellency Mr. Prithvirajsing ROOPUN, G.C.S.K., is the Hon’ble President of the Mauritius.
Note: This article is based on the Text of the Speech delivered by H.E. Mr. Prithvirajsing ROOPUN, G.C.S.K., the Hon’ble President of the Mauritius, in the Inaugural Session at the 6th Indian Ocean Conference 2023 in Dhaka on 12 May 2023