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The Chagos Islands and Indian Ocean Geopolitics  

Steffen F. Johannessen

Located in the central Indian Ocean, the Chagos Archipelago was uninhabited until the late 18th century. Midway between India and Mauritius, the clusters of coral atolls were sighted and named by Portuguese pilots in 1512. From the mid-1700s, during the wars between France and Britain, the islands started gaining strategic importance as potential naval bases or supply stations on the India route. Claimed by France, and managed from the French colony of Mauritius, Franco-Mauritian colonizers imported enslaved laborers from Africa and Madagascar to produce copra and coconut oil for a favorable wartime market in Mauritius. By the end of the Napoleonic Wars, sovereignty had shifted to British hands. After slavery was abolished, the coconut industries were supplied by Indian indentured laborers. Small societies developed around the island industries, which would continue to produce until the second half of the 20th century. To make way for a joint UK–US military base on the largest island, Diego Garcia, British authorities separated the Chagos Archipelago from the rest of their Mauritian colony and established the British Indian Ocean Territory (BIOT) in 1965. To accommodate the US Pentagon’s base strategies, British authorities evicted the entire local population to Mauritius and the Seychelles between 1965 and 1973. By the mid-1980s the military base was fully operational. As a forward operations facility strategically located between East Africa, the Middle East, South Asia, and Indonesia, Diego Garcia became one of the United States’ most important overseas military bases. From its airstrip, bomber aircrafts attacking targets in Afghanistan and Iraq have lifted and returned. Located along central Indian Ocean shipping lines, the strategic value of the base also connects to the growing export economy of China and that of India, and these major regional states’ dependence on energy imports. The joint UK–US base is, however, highly controversial. International bodies have repeatedly called for full decolonization and the return of the Chagos Archipelago to Mauritius. Objections to the Indian Ocean militarization it represents have a long history, and exiled members of the Chagossian community have continuously fought for their right to repatriation. In other words, the history of the military base, now substantiated by disclosed files revealing how British and American authorities conspired and lied to create it—has become one of the most central threats to this central geopolitical establishment in the Indian Ocean.

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Colonialism, Nationalism, and Decolonization in Madagascar  

Solofo Randrianja

Madagascar’s colonization by France took place in the wake of rising nationalism. If its colonization corresponded with French strategic interests such as the establishment of an area of influence in the southern part of the Indian Ocean, then, except for the small colony of Réunion, France’s purely economic interest in Madagascar’s colonization remains questionable. Sparsely inhabited in spite of its large area, with no strategic resources such as gold or other important raw materials, Madagascar endured colonization efforts that focused on the constitution of a state capable of politically unifying the whole island through the recycling of what remained from a sovereign precolonial state before French conquest. The conquest itself and the process of colonization were initially met with violent resistance, mainly from the countryside, which was crushed on the eve of World War I. Later, resistance gave way to more modern political expressions, all treated as illegal by colonial legislation until the eve of World War II. The first political proposal called for equal rights and integration of Madagascar and its people into a French republic. Gradually, influenced by the memory of the former Malagasy regime but also under the influence of nationalism, which blew over the whole world during the interwar period, the anticolonialism movement became nationalist despite the existence of its relatively influential socialist component. The post–World War II liberal atmosphere and frustrations and deprivations endured during the war were among the causes of the March 1947 uprising. Its brutal crushing and subsequent repression excluded part of the political elite and the majority of the traumatized rural population from the decolonization process, which began by the mid-1950s. Decolonization was conducted without any actual hiatus from the previous colonial system in both institutions and political personnel.

Article

The Portuguese Estado da Índia (Empire in Asia)  

Zoltán Biedermann

The origins of the Portuguese Estado da Índia—the sum of all Portuguese Crown possessions east of the Cape of Good Hope—can be traced back to the late 1400s, most importantly to the inaugural voyage of Vasco da Gama from Lisbon to Calicut (Kozhikode) in 1497–1498. After some initial hesitations, the Portuguese Crown created a governorship for India in 1505, with a seat at Cochin (Kochi) later transferred to Goa, to oversee commercial, military, administrative, and other activities in an increasing number of possessions along the shores of East Africa and Maritime Asia. Portuguese trading posts (feitorias), forts, and fortified towns across the region resulted from conquest or, more frequently, from negotiated agreements with local rulers, on whose cooperation the Portuguese generally relied. The Estado reached its apex in the second half of the 16th century, drawing vast resources from trade around the Cape and within Asian and African waters, while investing increasingly in military and religious campaigns in a variety of regions from southeastern Africa to the Moluccas (Malukus) and Japan. Despite significant losses to the Dutch East India Company (VOC) and the English East India Company (EIC) during the 17th century, the Estado survived until the 20th century. Goa became a part of the Indian Union in 1961, and Macao integrated into the People’s Republic of China in 1999. The perceived decadence of the Estado during much of its history is at odds with its longevity and has prompted longstanding debates about the nature of Portuguese power in Asia; its reliance on trade, military might, and imperial ideas; and its intertwinement with Asian polities and societies.