Les confidences «mauriciennes» de Wavel Ramkalawan

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Wavel Ramkalawan est le nouveau Président des Seychelles. Ce que beaucoup ne savent pas c’est qu’il a conduit ses études pour devenir prêtre anglican à Maurice. A un certain moment, il a partagé la chambre de l’évêque actuel de Maurice. Sténio André, qui a toujours été sur les mêmes routes estudiantines et professionnelles de Ramkalawan, jette ainsi un regard particulier sur son compagnon. Une interview, en anglais, qui est parue, ce vendredi 30 octobre, dans l’édition papier de l’express.

You studied, worked with him, and count him as a good friend. Tell us about his time in Mauritius.
Wavel Ramkalawan came to study in Mauritius in 1981 and spent about three years studying at St. Paul’s Theological College until 1983. I was a student there myself at the time and Wavel and I shared the same room. When he came he was a young man who was very forceful in his opinions and Christian convictions.

Were there a lot of people from Seychelles studying theology in Mauritius back then?
The college started fulltime courses from 1979 until 1984 after the then-Bishop Trevor Huddlestone realized that there would be a shortage of priests and what was needed were new, young people to join the ministry. So, the college was opened to students coming from the Anglican province of the Indian Ocean and Wavel was the only non-Mauritian who got registered.

That was an interesting time. Did Ramkalawan take an interest in Mauritian politics?
At the time the MMM was the main opposition and Wavel was very attracted to that party. He did not join it or meet any MMM leaders or anything like that, but took an interest in it and felt a link with that movement.

The MMM’s Paul Bérenger was close to Albert René in Seychelles (who came to power in a coup in 1977 –ed.). And Ramkalawan would emerge as a major political opponent of René. Wasn’t that a contradiction?
Not at the time. Wavel always had a strong personality but at the time he was not against the René regime. The previous president that René had overthrown, James Mancham, was reputed for a grand lifestyle that brought a lot of discontent that led to René’s coup in 1977. Initially, Wavel and his family did quite well, he used to tell us that the Seychelles government wanted him to go and study in Cuba, but he chose the church. He was also proud of the fact that his mother was the headmistress of one of the best schools in the Seychelles and his father was a successful tinsmith. So they were, if I can use the word, one of the privileged. In the beginning, Wavel did not really oppose René. w When did that start to change according to you? I think it started after the 1982 mutiny, [A brief uprising by disgruntled soldiers against the René regime complaining of their ill-treatment by senior officers in the Seychelles military –ed.] although this is my own observation and maybe Wavel won’t agree with me. At that very moment, he was very concerned with the political situation in Seychelles.

So he started turning against the regime while he was in Mauritius?
I won’t say that but it looked like something had changed in his attitude. He, like others, probably felt that the René government was not giving the kind of freedom they had expected. But he did not speak openly against the regime when he was studying in Mauritius.

When did he start openly opposing the Seychelles’ government?
After we graduated from the theological college in Mauritius both of us went to study in the UK. We were in the same residential facility but not in the same course. He studied at the faculty of theology at the University of Birmingham. It was in the UK that you could see the change. There he visited his sister and was very keen on communicating with others who were exiled or who had moved out of the Seychelles. It was there that I heard him openly speak politically for the first time against the René government, so that came as quite a surprise.

You worked in Mahé Seychelles after that, along with Ramkalawan. Did his 1990 sermon, when he openly criticized the René government come as a shock to you?
No it didn’t. This was always something within him. I worked alongside him and always thought that Wavel’s career was forged to either become a bishop or a president. I remember once I was invited by the Chief Justice (a foreigner) for lunch and before I went, Wavel told me to go and tell him to do justice to the Seychellois people and not side with the government all the time. So although I left Seychelles at the end of 1989, Wavel’s 1990 sermon, and the fact that he had decided to go into active politics did not come as a surprise by then.

Ramkalawan’s Linyon Demokratik Seselwa was one of the first parties founded in 1992 after Seychelles re-introduced multi-party politics in 1991. Did you keep in touch with Ramkalawan then?
In 1992 just after they founded their party, Wavel along with Jean-François Ferrari visited Mauritius and stayed at my house. They came, I suppose, to meet politicians and influence people here in Mauritius and tell them about what as going in Seychelles. I was not involved in any of that. The last time I met Jean-François he joked that at the start they were ‘zanfan mizer’ and had to stay at my place but now as MPs they were being put up in hotels. But over the years Wavel has come to Mauritius on many occasions, sometimes on private family visits and at other times as part of a parliamentary delegation.

Did you notice a change in him since his early days?
Wavel was always a strong personality and a forceful young man that had strong opinions. This was perhaps one reason why in the past some people did not vote for him. But I have seen him grow as a political figure with the man growing in humility and wisdom.

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