Demonstrators demand to return to Diego Garcia, part of the Chagos Archipelago, outside the Houses of Parliament in London. File picture: Reuters

You may have noticed we’ve been on a bit of a break; I’ve been recovering from a bout of bronchitis, but we’re going to kick off this second season, if you will, with a look at some of Africa’s islands, dotted all around the continent, and their colourful history.

The first group of islands we’re going to tackle is the Chagos archipelago, and it ties into a bit of a move by African leaders to demand compensation from colonisers for the damages caused to the nations and peoples they colonised. As you know, Africa has a dark history of exploitation and abuse by supposedly more civilised an advanced nations - England, France, Spain, Portugal, Germany, Belgium, America and others had in the past plundered our resources, mineral wealth, timber, and even humans during the slave trade. 

Now, African leaders are not only demanding their countries’ valuable materials back, but money in compensation. And it’s only right - imagine where Africa could have been had we not been so horrendously exploited. Many countries continue to suffer the effects of this looting, and at least one nation - Chagos - is in a worse position than others. 

You see, way back in 1965, the United Kingdom claimed the group of about 60 Indian Ocean islands from Mauritius, three years before Mauritius gained independence. The UK also claimed - stole - territory from Seychelles, to create the British Indian Ocean Territory. In 1976, Aldabra, Farquhar and Desroches were returned to the Seychelles. It would take 41 more years before the UN General Assembly asked the International Court of Justice to give an advisory opinion on the separation of the Chagos Archipelago from Mauritius. 

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In February 2019, the International Court of Justice ruled that the United Kingdom is under an obligation to bring to an end to its administration of the Chagos Archipelago as soon as possible. A few months later, the UN General Assembly debated and adopted a resolution that affirmed that the Chagos archipelago “forms an integral part of the territory of Mauritius.” The resolution demanded that the UK “withdraw its colonial administration … unconditionally within a period of no more than six months”. 116 states voted in favour of the resolution, 55 abstained and only 5 countries supported the UK. During the debate, Mauritius described the expulsion of Chagossians as "akin to a crime against humanity”.

The Chagossians are now a people without a country, and when Pope Francis visited Africa in September, he too urged the UK to hand the territory back. Britain has flat-out refused to abide by the UN resolution. Here’s another fun fact that you may not know - the largest island in Chagos is called Diego Garcia, and it hosts a US military base, and the Americans have said they have no plans to vacate the premises any time soon - in fact both the US and UK have said they had no plans to terminate their agreement of usage of the island until 2036.

Britain seems to think it was ok for them to purchase an entire island - for the princely sum of three million pounds in 1965 - for use in a joint UK-US defence strategy. Things may have been different back then, but it’s a whole 2019, and for one country to claim sovereignty over another and thus deny its people the chance to govern themselves seems, to me, a little dated, to say the least. To say a little more, I think it’s disgusting that the UK and US continue to refuse the chance for the Chagossians to return to their islands and create their own fortunes.

The Chagos Archipelago has incredibly beautiful natural features - atolls covered in lush vegetation that breach the Indian Ocean, coral reefs packed with biodiversity, Diego Garcia’s atoll has a lagoon 21km long and 11km wide - it’s breathtaking. But the UK has continuously denied the Chagossians a chance to return to their islands after evicting them so they could play host to an American military base.

In fact, a WikiLeaks Cablegate publication in 2010, the British government had, in 2009, proposed that the territory become a "marine reserve" with the aim of preventing the former inhabitants from returning to the islands. It read as follows: “The establishment of a marine park—the world's largest—would in no way impinge on US government’s use of the territory, including Diego Garcia, for military purposes. An official agreed that the UK and United States should carefully negotiate the details of the marine reserve to assure that United States interests were safeguarded and the strategic value of BIOT was upheld. He said that the BIOT's former inhabitants would find it difficult, if not impossible, to pursue their claim for resettlement on the islands if the entire Chagos Archipelago were a marine reserve.” 

Now that’s a seriously dirty move, in my opinion. Africans have had enough of being denied their claim to land. Surely the British can’t keep ignoring a UN resolution to give the islands back to the Chagossians? Let us know what you think in the comments down below, and feel free to reach out to us on any of our social media. 

Let us know which African island’s history you’d like us to explore next. This is NewsByte on ANA+; we make Africa matter. 

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