More from: the land dominates the sea

Why Mauritius and the UK are still sparring over decolonisation*

Still on lease: the Chagos island of Diego Garcia. NASA via Wikimedia Commons


The UK may have granted Mauritius independence in 1968, but it remains closely tied to the Indian Ocean island nation – and it’s been locked in an on-off territorial dispute with it for decades. Decolonisation, it seems, is not so simple.

The Chagos Archipelago forms the British Indian Ocean Territory, one of the 14 British Overseas Territories. Although the archipelago was discovered by Portuguese explorers in the 16th century, France gained ownership of it after the Dutch abandoned it in the late 18th century. The UK only took possession of the islands as part of the Treaty of Paris after it captured Mauritius in 1810.

Decolonisation was given a major boost when the UN was instituted in the aftermath of World War II. Once self-determination was established as one of the pillars of the UN Charter (Articles 1(2) and 55), decolonisation movements started popping up everywhere. On top of that, the UN General Assembly in 1960 adopted the Declaration on the Granting of Independence to Colonial Countries and Peoples, which sets forth the basic principles for the emancipation of peoples under colonial rule.

Against this backdrop, in the early 1960s, the UK and the people of Mauritius began negotiations with a view to a full British withdrawal. Mauritius eventually became an independent state in 1968.