Jean Claude de L’Estrac: “I don’t know what makes me more angry, Megh Pillay’s dismissal or the quiet complicity of the board members”

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With the publication of his book, Francophone de Hanoï à Dakar Le Pacte Brisé, Weekly speaks to Jean Claude de L’Estrac about what happened behind the scenes during the race for secretary general of the International Organisation of La Francophonie.  He also shares his views of the latest event at Air Mauritius and offers his opinion on governance in this country.

So you went ahead with your threat of writing this book, didn’t you? 
A threat?

Yes, a threat: You had said that you would write a book where you would expose everything that happened behind the scenes during the election for secretary general of the ‘Organisation Internationale de la Francophonie’ (IOF) in Dakar. 
No, I had said that I would chronicle the campaign. The book is not about retribution or revenge. 

Do tell us what it is about…
I can think of at least four distinct perspectives in the book. The first perspective, and this is what grabbed the attention of the prestigious editor in Paris, Editions Cherche Midi, is its diplomatic aspect. This is the first perspective. In fact, the book tells the tale of the diplomatic dysfunction at the highest level of the French government. It shows the chasm between the Quai d'Orsay (the seat of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs) and l'Élysée (the presidency) on a matter of utmost importance, like the IOF.

If I understood properly, you as the Mauritian candidate, had the support of the ‘Quai d'Orsay’ but ‘l'Élysée’ torpedoed their proposal. 
Yes, and the proposal even originated from the Quai d'Orsay!  This is incongruous and worrying, particularly about something as sensitive as the Francophonie. What this means is that for France and for Africa, there was a disagreement between the Quai d'Orsay and l'Élysée. This is the first perspective of the book. The second perspective is a reflection about the relevance of the Francophonie in today’s world and whether it is still meaningful in general and for the youth in particular.

What is your answer to that?
I think that the Francophonie of our fathers has done its time and we need a new perspective, mainly for the economy. The point I tried to highlight in my campaign is that young francophone Africans and Asians will move away from the Francophonie if it is not a solution to their problems. And the main issue for the youth is job creation.

What problems are we talking about?
Unemployment and their place in the world of tomorrow. 

The IOF has been concentrating most of its efforts on issues such as culture and the promotion of the language. Isn’t it difficult to remember that it started as an organisation of cooperation? 
Yes, exactly! It has somewhere down the line neglected the economic dimension. The point I have tried to make is that we should add an economic dimension to the role of the Francophonie, which is that of promoting democracy and cultural diversity. Many heads of states recognised the necessity of taking a step forward in economic development by helping African countries transform the resources they have and adding value to them instead of exporting raw materials. I therefore proposed the creation of an agency to promote industrialisation.  I also proposed the creation of an observatory for diversity because if you look at what is happening around, the major problem of our century is the difficulty of the states and the populations to get along when they are diverse. Ethnicity, religion and languages are the first causes of conflict. A strong nation is one that knows how to manage conflict.

Are we a model of a nation that has succeeded in managing conflict due to differences?
Yes, we are a model. This is the third perspective that we get from the book. At the core of this book, I narrate how the Mauritian model is appreciated all over the African continent. It’s this Mauritian model that has caused brainstorming at the Quai d’Orsay.

The fourth perspective is naturally your experience as the Mauritian candidate to the Francophonie. Why were you so annoyed that the press focused on this fourth perspective when it was in fact the trigger behind writing the book?
I had said that I would narrate the campaign but that was not the main purpose of the book. It is a reflection on the Francophonie today, its future.  The book opens a debate on what happened in Dakar and suggests, that it should not happen again. The IOF cannot preach democracy to the world and select its head according to the whims of the French president. This is exactly what has happened.  I have stopped short of speculating on the choice of the French president.

How optimistic are you that there will be a change?
I am not very optimistic because the same causes will lead to the same effects. The IOF is a mini UN. It is an influential organisation on the international political platform. It goes around the world to preach democracy while it is itself an organisation which is not very democratic. In the case of the election of its secretary general there is a provision in the IOF charter that if there is no consensus, there should be an election. We looked for a consensus until the last minute but there we failed to reach one. So Canada proposed that I accept the position of number two. I could have but I don’t play these games. If I lose democratically in an election, it is not an issue. Hollande did everything to avoid an election and did everything to give the impression that there was a consensus when there was none. 

We recently heard your name in relation to the post of secretary general of the African Union. Were you not interested?
I also heard my name but I was not interested. I did not want to become the Megh Pillay of the African Union.  

Here’s an opportunity for me to talk about something other than your recent book!
I gave you a golden opportunity, didn’t I?

Thanks! So how do you feel about his dismissal from Air Mauritius?
This is an injustice. I have been saying for the last 20 years now that I will never go back to active politics. Something like this makes me think again.

Are you seriously thinking of stepping back into the political arena?
Yes, but I am resisting. I am very angry!

What makes you so angry?
Where is this country heading? A government that, after a lot of deliberations that have lasted for months and jeopardised the stability of the organisation, chose a CEO who is unanimously deemed to be doing his job well. Then suddenly, a subordinate got him out! Where are we going with a board of directors that does that!

What about those board members who did not attend?
If I were an independent member of Air Mauritius, I would have already resigned. 

Do you see the representatives of the private sector resigning?
I don’t see them and I don’t hear them. I find this astonishing. I don’t know what makes me more angry, Pillay’s dismissal or the quiet complicity of the board members.  

Don’t you think that Pillay should never have accepted this position as he had already been ejected from the State Trading Corporation (STC) by the same government for what looks more or less similar reasons? Was one humiliation not enough?
I understand why he accepted. It’s the same reason why I was ready to accept a position of this nature. It’s the willingness to serve the nation. 

But we all know the politics in Air Mauritius, don’t we?
Yes, political mismanagement is nothing new but it has never been so cynical. The reasoning is simple. We don’t necessarily want competent people; we want our people. This attitude has reached dangerous levels for the country and is extremely worrying for the future. If in an organisation as visible as Air Mauritius, this can happen, you can imagine what happens elsewhere. 

The prime minister’s reaction was that he did not know anything. Does that shock you, surprise you or both?
I don’t know if I want to believe him. If he knew, it is serious. If he didn’t know, it is even more serious. The state is a shareholder of this national company. In both cases, it’s shocking.

Are you among those who think that the prime minister has been sidelined and that all decisions are being taken behind his back? That there is a parallel government? 
I can’t speak in general but I personally know a case that leads me to think that neither he nor cabinet has the power of decision. I was nearly in the same position of Pillay. I received an offer from the minister in charge, in this case it was Mr Roshi Bhadain, who was deputising at the Ministry of Communication.
The prime minister was in favour on the condition that the other two members of the coalition had no objection, which is legitimate. In the following hour, Minister Bhadain said that both Duval and Collendavelloo were in favour. Then, it did not happen.

Why not?
Because the clique that has the real power considered that this was a mistake because that person is not nou dimoune “our people”. 

Who is leading the clique you are talking about?
I have no idea who is leading who.

Who are the influential members of the clique? Pravind Jugnauth? 
(Laughs) I don’t know if he is the one who has the greatest influence. It is clear however, that he is one of the most influential people in government. I can’t imagine such a decision being taken without his approval.

Soon, he will take on the function of prime minister officially. What do you think of that? 
This aspect of it I find no problem with. Constitutionally, there is no problem. I am not talking here about political legitimacy. 

Do you think things will improve with a change of leadership? 
What worries me is not what’s coming soon but what is already happening. We can see that, for several reasons, this government has lost much of its popularity, notably because of it incapacity to keep promises that, in some cases, were exaggerated. There was no need to promise so much. It was Anerood Jugnauth who announced that a miracle was possible. So, it was mission impossible from the start. But they compounded that with their lack of experience, their rush in taking decisions, their restlessness and their method of trial and error. The result is that the popularity of the government went down drastically. Sadly, the popularity of the opposition too is down. 

Is the opposition not doing better?
Marginally. More by default than out of belief in a societal project, an ambition or new prospects.

Is there hope that this government comes back to power then?
My 40 years in politics have taught me that politicians never die. They are constantly resuscitated. So, I will not bury anyone. Not even those who are in a coma-like state. However, I think that we are probably nearing the end of a cycle, both politically and biologically. So there will most probably be a renewal. We still cannot see where the new leaders will come from but they will emerge. I am a bit more convinced of that than I was before. Previously, I used to think that for a new political force to emerge, it takes years of maturing. It was the case for the MMM, which was born in 1969, but it was only in 1982 that it came to power. There was a long learning curve. However, there is such a desire and need for a renewal that we are allowed to think that this emergence could happen a lot faster because the situation calls for it. 

Do you mean the general despondency?
That and also the fact that the current leaders will have to leave, willingly or unwillingly. So renewal will come.  We can feel it, but we don’t see it yet. 

Going back to your book, a Canadian radio, FM Toronto, said that they are ready to welcome you on one of their shows very soon. Shouldn’t you feel proud that this happening in the country of the candidate who won the seat you were vying for?
Yes. She was not the candidate of the whole country. I’ve also read many mean articles about her in the press, especially in the Quebecois press. I did not even use half of them in the book. It is a book that will interest people around the world, or at least in the French-speaking and diplomatic world. 

The first time you announced that you would be writing a book on this topic, the diplomatic consultant of the Canadian Foreign Affairs Ministry said it was the reaction of a bitter person and a sore loser. Now that the book has been written, what is your message to him?
To go and read it. That might make him a bit more intelligent.

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