Well-travelled and urbane, Ogilvy Berlouis played an important role in the history of the Seychelles. His high position in the government enabled him to meet many interesting people. Berlouis has many fascinating anecdotes to relate about his time in office.
Mr Berlouis first served in President René’s government in the Seychelles as Minister of State for Internal Affairs in 1977. He was only 26. The description of his title was changed to Minister of Defence in 1979. Berlouis had to undertake an amazing set of tasks in this position. His portfolio included immigration, prisons and probation. He was also the Minister for Youth.
During his time in this important role, Berlouis met government ministers, presidents and prime ministers. These included the President of Zanzibar, Deng Xiaoping of China and Field Marshal Ustinov. He has many stories to tell about these people.
Aboud Jumbe, the former President of Zanzibar, met Berlouis when he visited the Seychelles in 1981 for the national day. Jumbe was very impressed with the army of the Seychelles and the parade that was held to celebrate the day. He told Berlouis that: ‘…14 years in Zanzibar, we have not reached this level’. Ogilvy Berlouis regarded this as high praise because ‘a lot of the structures that came here not only came from mainland Tanzania, but also from Zanzibar’. Berlouis was inspired by the armies of Tanzania and Zanzibar when he was building up the defences of the Seychelles.
Berlouis was also extremely impressed with some other government leaders, including Deng Xiaoping and Field Marshal Ustinov. Mr Berlouis had a long talk with Xiaoping of China when he visited China as Defence Minister in 1979.
The people in charge of protocol began to become concerned because it wasn’t normal for the head of China to talk to a government minister of a small country for such a long time. However, the pair discovered that they shared many things in common, including a birthday, August 22.
Ogilvy Berlouis describes Xiaoping as ‘a great man’ who had ‘a great sense of humour’. He tells a story which indicates this. According to Mr Berlouis, a journalist asked Deng Xiaoping about Xiaoping’s visit to the United States at the time of President Reagan. The journalist asked Xiaoping why he received red-carpet treatment as the head of a communist country. Deng Xiaoping replied that ‘we are friends’, meaning that China was friendly with America. The journalist seemed surprised that the communists and the capitalists were friends.
Deng Xiaoping told the journalist that: ‘…The colour of the cat is not important. If the cat can eat the rats, this is what’s important’. Berlouis laughed when he related this anecdote.
Field Marshal Ustinov was also likeable, according to Berlouis. He had a long meeting with Ustinov in 1981when he was 35 and Ustinov was almost 82. Ustinov told him that he was appointed Minister for Armaments at 35.
This long meeting also caused concern because those in charge of protocol were amazed that Ustinov spent so long talking to a government minister from a small nation. They were astonished that the Seychelles only had one Minister for Defence. The Soviet had a Defence Minister and four Deputy Defence Ministers. Berlouis said that ‘he had a great experience with this man’.
Mr Berlouis still keeps in touch with many former presidents and government ministers. For example, Chisano, the former president of Mozambique, has invited him to visit the country. The present President of Tanzania, President Kikwete, has also asked Berlouis to visit. Berlouis knew President Kikwete when he was an army officer and helped him to train the army officers of the Seychelles. The President of Zanzibar is a close friend. Berlouis knew his father. He has invited Berlouis to visit Zanzibar again.
Berlouis was able to meet these important people because he often went to summits when President René couldn’t go. This was especially true in Africa because Berlouis was a specialist in African affairs.
Berlouis remains very interested in the future of the Seychelles and other African countries today. He is especially concerned about the piracy problem, which he describes as ‘a global problem’ and Somalia. He doesn’t like the impression of many government leaders that the piracy problem especially concerns the Seychelles. He said that piracy is actually less of a problem for the Seychelles because they ‘don’t have ships going up and down’.
He deplores the fact that Somalia ‘is a mess’ and wonders why the West is not doing much about the problem. He said that: ‘We go to Iraq, we go in Libya, NATO goes there and bomb; we go to Afghanistan, but no one is going to Somalia!’
Ogilvy Berlouis has led an exciting and interesting life. He said that his time in office had been a ‘good school’ for him. He especially enjoyed the time that he spent travelling. Travelling was also ‘a good school’. He regards travelling as very important because it is extremely educational and broadens people’s horizons. He now encourages his children to travel as much as they can because you can ‘learn from the mistakes of people of other countries, and you learn from the good things of many other countries’.