Speech by Bernard Georges for the ISLAND NATION IN A GLOBAL SEA: THE MAKING OF THE NEW SEYCHELLES Book Launch, 14 April 2014
Mon, 14 April 2014
Many of you will be asking yourselves the question: why, out of all the people in this room and elsewhere who could be doing this better than I can, the President has asked me – and I have agreed – to introduce his new book. It is no secret that I am and have been a political opponent of the President and am on record for having been sharply critical of his administration and his politics – including some of the speeches reviewed in the book – for many years. The answer transcends plotics and its divisive DNA; it recognises that there are greater bonds between the individual people of Seychelles than the contrived issues which divide us, that the Head of State, which Mr Michel is, and an ordinary private citizen, which I am, can speak to each other and find commonality, that deep down, when all is said and done, it is far better to build bridges than to dig trenches. Thank you, Mr President, for having done me the honour of asking me to be with you this evening and to share this occasion with you.
I am by profession a lawyer, but I am by vocation a chronicler. My profession limits the time that I can devote to my vocation, but I find the odd hour here and there to devote to it. I know, Mr President, because you say so in your autobiography Distant Horizons, that – our profession apart – it is the same with you. To write, to record, to save ideas is THE SINGLE most important thing we as transient humans on this planet can do. Les paroles s’envolent, the French proverb goes, mais les écrits restent. Speeches are words and words fly away. To gather them in one place, to edit them into a coherent ensemble, to put them in a context with an explanatory note, that is the vocation of the chronicler. This is what you have done in this new work, and this is the merit which lies in the publication – that you have made a record of your ideas, your aims and your reasons for administering our country in the way you have done these 10 years. The past must be recorded. For, is it not true that the past educates the present, and the present informs the future direction we take? As individuals, as a nation, and as residents on planet Earth?
This collection of speeches and musings on them which you entitle Island Nation in a Global Sea has another purpose. It serves to nail you to a particular benchmark. All writing does that in a sense, but nothing does it more obviously than political writing. This benchmark will serve as a pivot for to things – for those who wish to build on your ideas to have a foundation on which to work, but no less important, for those who wish to criticise your methods to have a reference point for doing so. Both are equally important for it is the lot of the political and leader to stimulate both followers and detractors to greater things, for the greater good. The French, so good at these sayings, have another one: Du choc des idées jaillit la lumière.
Your collection has 8 chapters of ideas which range across the spectrum of your work: environment, youth, democracy, the global world, to name but four. Your words will not find universal acclaim. They will be criticised by some, but they will inspire others. Some will find your speeches too partisan, or not far-reaching enough, your policies unsound. Others will be inspired by the very same words to follow in your footsteps, to reach higher, to go further. For that is the problem with writing – you expose yourself to congratulations and criticism in equal measure. We know this is the moment we put pen to paper. But there is no alternative. Anybody wishing to make a mark must make that mark. As a fellow-chronicler, I must recognise and recommend your new book as another mark, for you certainly, but also for the collective history of our country.
The title you have chosen for your new book is not fortuitous. It is nothing short of a recognition of a great truth, that ours is indeed an island nation in a global sea. You make the point eloquently in your first chapter, and it is a point that we ignore at our peril, that from the very start, our scattering of islands have been islands of global importance – our strategic positioning from the time of the spice trade to the era of Somali piracy, through every global event in between (the expansion of Empire, the Second World War, the Cold War and Man on the Moon) – have given our small pieces of sand and rock an importance far beyond their size. It is in that context that your new book sets your work as the President of our country and those of all your predecessors in both their local and global environments. We may not all agree with the way this has been done, but this is an argument for another time and another place. What must be recognised this evening is that work has been and recorded, with a commentary by the author as to the philosophy behind his actions. This is the importance of your book, Mr. President: that it will inform the actions which must be taken by our leaders to preserve the position of our island nation in a global sea in the years to come. The first four words of your book are: These are new times. Allow me to end where you have begun.
These are indeed new times. Your invitation to me, private citizen, to come to State House and introduce a book of your speeches as Head of State, is a greater symbol of these new times than a whole heap of words would have been. But let us consider some words anyway. You say in chapter 2:
‘Let us never forget that it is the unity of our people that is our wealth and our strength. The past is history. Let us focus on the future. The future of our children. The future of our country.
So long as we remain united there is nothing we cannot do. The New Seychelles is One Seychelles.’
Please permit me a moment of irreverence. We, the people of Seychelles, the readers of your book, will hold you to these words. For they are among the most powerful words you have uttered. And they are more, they are undeniable.
The past is history, you say. So it is. Let us together as a nation confront that history, deal with it, make necessary amends, heal wounds and draw lessons. Then, let us move on.
As important as our place in a global sea is, there is something yet more important. Our island nation. That island nation which is ours will only survive in the global sea if, as you say, it is united for a common purpose, if it is One Seychelles in fact and not only in name, one nation where we are all patriots, despite our differences.You have recognise this and you have written it down. I congratulate you for this and I know all Seychellois of good will have no greater desire than to see our country progress and its people work together, play together and reap benefits together as one nation, indivisible, before God.
Let us focus on the future, you say. Yes indeed. Let together use this moment, this book launch, this anniversary to commit ourselves to that task. For your book of speeches already made necessarily records the past. The past is history. But your commentary looks forward – to the future on which we must focus.
I commend to everybody here present, and to the present and future leaders of our nation, the consideration of your ideas, as you set them out in your new book. I wish you good sales and a wide readership.