Opening speech – International conference : Radical change is coming- Part 1
The conference room of Serge Constantin at Vacoas was full this Wednesday 2nd October 2019. 62 international activists from the islands of the Indian Ocean including Rodrigues, Reunion, Madagascar, Seychelles and Comoros, continental African countries like South Africa, Mozambique, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Tanzania, Zanzibar, Zambia, Kenya and Senegal, the Philippines in Asia and Sweden and Denmark in Europe, together with more than 150 local people were present for the talk of Professor John Bellamy Foster of the University of Oregon, USA. The theme of the conference was: The ecological crisis: radical change is coming.
This conference organised in collaboration with several social and ecological organisations including the General Workers Federation and Civil Servant Employees Union has marked the debut of the 5th edition of the School of Ecology of the Centre for Alternative Research and Studies, CARES.
Acknowledging we are in a state of unprecedented global ecological emergency, who would not be keen to attend the conference of Professor Foster, one of the most prominent authors of the Marxist revival magazine, the Monthly Review and many Marxist-oriented books like the Ecological Rift, 2010?
From leftist activists to a former member of the parliament, environmentalists, university students, women in the care economy, working people, and dismissed workers, this diverse audience has shown much interest in the ecological crisis whose social impacts are increasingly being felt in the Indian Ocean.
The interventions of Professor Foster have been humbly reported in article Part 2.
Art as an expression of resistance
The international conference has opened with art expressions.
Frantz Fanon nailed it when he said that art is a direct expression of resistance and national culture is not a folklore, but an active process of decolonisation aims at creating a new history of humanity. When Kelly Ah Ting Hon accompanied by the guitar of Emmanuel Thomasso and the ravanne of Catherine Remilah, both political activists, presented her slam to the audience, the vibes in the conference room intensified; her powerful poetry carried us back in time, navigated us through painful memories of slavery to until now where the economic oppression is not so different from that of the past.
Kan lasenn dan nu lespri pu kase
Kan mo pep zwenn ensam sa pli zoli ki flambwayan dan mwa desam
La lwa zis pu ti dimunn ki eziste
Nu plis ki enn bann pion ki zot buze kan ena eleksyon
Return mo later so dinite
Ragaalayam, a local violinist group, made the next performance and amplified the resonance with instrumental notes including that of Solda Lalit Militan. Long has hip-hop dance been used as a political expression. On stage, Emmanuel reaffirmed the prominent role of local hip-hop dance as an expression for the struggle of freedom.
The opening speech
The ecological crisis is here
“The defence of life and its eminent conditions have always been at the very heart of our struggles,” said Ashok Subron, the president of CARES as he elaborated on the role of CARES in his opening speech for the conference. “Never before in the history of humanity has the question on the regeneration of life, been as relevant as it is today”.
Ashok made an overview on how the necessary conditions supporting the regeneration of life on this planet are increasingly at stake. The violation of 4 of the 9 planetary boundaries, important thresholds conducive to life according to scientists and the triggered sixth mass extinction are some descriptions to where we stand presently within the earth’s biological time.
How did we get into this mess?
“To understand the genesis of the ecological crisis, we need to go 400 years back when slavery spread through Africa,” went on Ashok. “The same political vision that has reduced everything including the components of nature into commodities, has led to the sale of human beings on the slave auction market of Pamplemousses, a region located in the north of Mauritius.
Mauritius island has had a late human settlement; this explains its high level of biodiversity endemism. Colonialism however, this philosophy of expropriation without any form of compensation, has not only de-humanised people, but has also looted nature. Mauritius was thus in the colonial era, a place highly coveted by imperial powers to enrich their native land.
Was the Left wrong?
The Woodstock generation against the war in Vietnam was highly visionary. “Were the Left wrong?” questioned Ashok “according to the IPCC, we have only 12 years left to make radical changes in the economic mode of production if we wish to avoid irreversible ecological damages”. The global south, even if they are not responsible for the cause of global warming, is the most impacted.
On another note, Africa for instance, still acting as a subsidizer to the economy of the global north through neo-colonial policies, has witnessed the atrocities of slavery, a primitive form of capitalism, without which the accumulation of wealth to enrich a few would have been impossible.
Where does the hope come from?
History taught us, however, that around the globe where colonialism took place, the culture of resistance has sprouted. In the case of Mauritius, Anna de Bengal, a brave woman forced into slavery during the Dutch colonial period, set fire in Fort Frederick Hendrik, a strong symbol of the colonial power at the time. “The banner of Che Guevera decorating this conference room symbolizes this struggle for liberation,” explained Ashok to the audience.
Where is the new hope?
“When I was younger, my mother told me to always take permission from a plant if I intend to pick its leaf after 6 pm,” narrated Ashok. “At that time, I was very scientific; I thought my mother was being irrational. I realized today, how enlightened she was.” All forms of lives are interconnected, and it is this intrinsic interconnectedness that makes life possible on earth. Paying respect to a plant is an act of recognition that a tree has inherent rights to exist and regenerate. “In this time of dire ecological crisis, we must put forward a movement in the defence of life,” continued Ashok.
On three occasions the beach grabbing protest movement, Aret Kokin Nu Laplaz has dismantled the iron fence surrounding Pomponette beach; three times this enclosure has been destroyed by waves. The dismay that this rising swell could reach further inland, has made us realize that the rise in sea level linked to climate change could have devastating effects on coastal communities.
Ashok concluded his speech by stating that the notion of the preservation life should be the central question in the forthcoming legislative election in Mauritius; the right for our children to have a future.
Reporter: Kashmira Banee