Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Book 72, Seychelles: "Seychelles Global Citizen" by James R. Mancham

Just back from a three-day holiday with my boyfriend in Kuching, Sarawak! Picked up four collections of folktales, drawn from the Bidayuh, Melanau, Orang Ulu and Iban peoples – all for the price of RM 35 = S$14.24. Once again, SCORE.

In the meantime, I finished the autobiography of Seychelles’s first chief minister and president, which I purchased for US$12.69 = S$15.33, used, on a last-minute impulse via Amazon and had delivered via my little brother Yixian:

And honestly? It’s not that good a buy. Though Mancham isn’t a bad writer, per se, he’s in dire need of an editor. There’s the makings of a great story in his life, but his insistence on including every last detail of his experiences and impressions, causing anecdotes to be occasionally grouped by theme rather than sequence, his refusal to hold back on his condemnation of his usurper France-Albert René until the coup’s actually happened, and the way he falls back on his favourite damn quotations and clichés – winds of change, après moi le deluge, there is enough in the world for everyone’s need, but not for everyone’s greed – ah, all this could have been solved with the use of a few hours and a stout red pen, but none of that happened here, nosiree.

Still, the book’s terribly good as a reference text (especially considering the dearth of info on this guy’s life on Wikipedia). Mancham starts with his Chinese-French background and his father’s enterprising history and his Oxford education; then the world of statecraft: how he developed the Seychelles as a tourist destination by bringing in an international airport and numberless celebrities (Princess Margaret, Peter Sellers, Yul Brynner, the Shah of Iran), ensuring all the while that the image of the islands as an untouched paradise would not be spoiled, that the locals would not resent the outsiders since they, too, were allowed to enter the hotels and dance in the ballrooms.

And perhaps most interestingly, how impossible it was for the nation to point out that its citizens did not want independence: the majority voted for a closer relationship, even union with the UK every time (a situation like Réunion’s with France was what they had in mind), and yet the African lobby in the UN and the UK’s sheer exhaustion with keeping up an empire meant that the Crown was simply not prepared to maintain its colony. So, to Mancham’s chagrin, the nation was free.

Which would all have been very well except that he was pressured into forming a coalition government with René, who’d already been placed under suspicion since his Tanzanian-backed followers had been detonating bombs across the country. René of course repaid his kindness by overthrowing him in a bloody coup a few years later and exiling him and his family from the nation for 15 years. Under René, the nation pursued socialism, suppressed freedom of speech, operated as a one-party state, imprisoned dissenters (there had not been a single political prisoner before this period, not one) and imposed a brainwashing national service for both young men and women. (Wikipedia notes that infant mortality also went down during this administration, and attained several #1s for development in Africa, which might not actually be that hard to accomplish.)

Ugh. Pretty obvious who the good guy and bad guy is in this story, no matter how boring the good guy is at times. Mancham also mentions how big an admirer he is of Lee Kuan Yew, and how he was accosted in Takashimaya Shopping Centre recently by “three Chinese gentlemen” who wished him to play Santa Claus at an upcoming children’s party. (Mancham says he would’ve said yes, only he was flying out. A real bon-vivant sort of guy, the kind who understands what tourists value.)

I’m thinking of donating this book to the National Library – no use for me to keep it, since no-one else’ll read it, and currently the only book they’ve got on Seychelles is Christopher Lee's Seychelles: Political Castaways, dated 1976, just before the coup in 1977. Already tried to get them to stock it for me, but they claimed it was out of stock (evidently, buying from a second-hand dealer is beneath them.)

So how do I convince them to take it off my hands? Honestly, it belongs in the reference section, not the Book Crossings bin.

View Around the World in 80 Books!!! in a larger map

Representative quote:
Far too often in life those close to me have accused me of being an unshakeable optimist. In the present doom and gloom, while anxiety makes common mortals sweat profusely, those still wearing a smile may be taken for cranks or provocateurs, yet as the poet pointed out, night is always followed by day and storms often herald rainbows.

Next book: Paradise by Abdulrazak Gurnah, from Tanzania.

No comments: