The Seychelles consist of an archipelago of about 100 islands in the Indian Ocean northeast of Madagascar. The principal islands are Mah้ (55 sq mi; 142 sq km), Praslin (15 sq mi; 38 sq km), and La Digue (4 sq mi; 10 sq km). The Aldabra, Farquhar, and Desroches groups are included in the territory of the republic.
The Seychelles islands remained uninhabited for more than 150 years after they became known to Western explorers. The islands appeared on Portuguese charts as early as 1505, although Arabs may have visited them much earlier. In 1742, the French Governor of Mauritius, Mahe de Labourdonais, sent an expedition to the islands. A second expedition in 1756 reasserted formal possession by France and gave the islands their present name in honor of the French finance minister under King Louis XV. The new French colony barely survived its first decade and did not begin to flourish until 1794, when Queau de Quincy became commandant.
The Seychelles islands were captured and freed several times during the French Revolution and the Napoleonic wars, then passed officially to the British under the 1814 Treaty of Paris.
From the date of its founding by the French until 1903, the Seychelles colony was regarded as a dependency of Mauritius, which also passed from the French to British rule in 1814. In 1888, a separate administrator and executive and administrative councils were established for the Seychelles archipelago. Nine years later, the administrator acquired full powers of a British colonial governor, and on August 31, 1903, Seychelles became a separate British Crown Colony.
By 1963, political parties had developed in the Seychelles colony. Elections in 1963 were contested for the first time on party lines. In 1964 two new parties, the Seychelles Democratic Party (SDP) led by James Mancham, and the Seychelles People's Unity Party (SPUP) led by France Albert Rene, replaced existing parties.
In March 1970, colonial and political representatives of Seychelles met in London for a constitutional convention. Elections in November 1970 brought the resulting constitution into effect. In the November 1970 elections, the SDP won 10 seats, and the SPUP won 5 in the Legislative Assembly. Under the new constitution, Mancham became the Chief Minister of the colony.
Further elections were held in April 1974, in which both major political parties campaigned for independence. During the April 1974 elections, the SDP increased its majority in the Legislative Assembly by 3 seats, gaining all but 2 of the 15 seats. Demarcation of constituencies was such that the SDP achieved this majority by winning only 52% of the popular vote.
Following the 1974 election, negotiations with the British resulted in an agreement by which Seychelles became a sovereign republic on June 29, 1976. The SDP and SPUP formed a coalition government in June 1975 to lead Seychelles to independence. The British Government was asked to appoint an electoral review commission so that divergent views on the electoral system and composition of the legislature could be reconciled. As a result, 10 seats were added to the Legislative Assembly, 5 to be nominated by each party. A cabinet of ministers also was formed consisting of 8 members of the SDP and 4 of the SPUP, with Chief Minister Mancham becoming Prime Minister. With independence on June 29, 1976, Mancham assumed the office of President and Rene became Prime Minister.
The negotiations following the 1974 elections also restored the islands of Aldabra, Farquhar, and Des Roches to Seychelles upon independence; those islands had been transferred in November 1965 from Seychelles to form part of the new British Indian Ocean Territory (BIOT).
Although the SDP/SPUP coalition appeared to operate smoothly, political divisions between the two parties continued. On June 5, 1977, during Mancham's absence at the London Commonwealth Conference, supporters of Prime Minister Rene overthrew Mancham in a smoothly executed coup and installed Rene as President. President Rene suspended the constitution and dismissed the parliament. The country was ruled by decree until June 1979, when a new constitution was adopted.
In November 1981, a group of mercenaries attempted to overthrow the Rene government but failed when they were detected at the airport and repelled. The government was threatened again by an army mutiny in August 1982, but it was quelled after 2 days when loyal troops, reinforced by Tanzanian forces, recaptured rebel-held installations.
At an Extraordinary Congress of the Seychelles People's Progressive Front (SPPF) on December 4, 1991, President Rene announced a return to the multiparty system of government after almost 16 years of one-party rule. On December 27, 1991, the Constitution of Seychelles was amended to allow for the registration of political parties. Among the exiles returning to Seychelles was James Mancham, who returned in April 1992 to revive his party, the Democratic Party (DP). By the end of that month, eight political parties had registered to contest the first stage of the transition process: election to the constitutional commission, which took place on July 23-26, 1992.
The constitutional commission was made up of 22 elected members, 14 from the SPPF and 8 from the DP. It commenced work on August 27, 1992 with both President Rene and Mancham calling for national reconciliation and consensus on a new democratic constitution. A consensus text was agreed upon on May 7, 1993, and a referendum to approve it was called for June 15-18. The draft was approved with 73.9% of the electorate in favor of it and 24.1% against.
July 23-26, 1993 saw the first multiparty presidential and legislative elections held under the new constitution, as well as a resounding victory for President Rene. Three political groups contested the elections--the SPPF, the DP, and the United Opposition (UO)--a coalition of three smaller political parties, including Parti Seselwa. Two other smaller opposition parties threw in their lot with the DP. All participating parties and international observer groups accepted the results as "free and fair."
Three candidates contested the March 20-22, 1998 presidential election--Albert Rene, SPPF; James Mancham, DP; and Wavel Ramkalawan--and once again President Rene and his SPPF party won a landslide victory. The President's popularity in elections jumped to 66.6% in 1998 from 59.5% in 1993, while the SPPF garnered 61.7% of the total votes cast in the 1998 National Assembly election, compared to 56.5% in 1993.
President: James Michel (2004)
Area: 176 sq mi (455 sq km)
Population (2005 est.): 81,188 (growth rate: 0.4%); birth rate: 16.2/1000; infant mortality rate: 15.5/1000; life expectancy: 71.8; density per sq mi: 462
Capital and largest city (2003 est.): Victoria, 23,000
Monetary unit: Seychelles rupee
Languages: Seselwa Creole, English, French (all official)
Ethnicity/race: mixed French, African, Indian, Chinese and Arab
Religions: Roman Catholic 86.6%, Anglican 6.8%, other Christian 2.5%, other 4.1%
Based on per capita income, the overall performance of the economy since independence must be considered satisfactory, with a seven-fold increase from some $1,000 per capita in 1976 to $7,600 today. The public sector, comprising the government and state-owned enterprises, dominates the economy in terms of employment (two-thirds of the labor force) and gross revenue. Public consumption absorbs over one-third of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP). GDP growth in 2001 was 3.3%.
The economy rests on tourism and fishing. For 2000, the Central Bank estimates that the Seychelles economy grew by around 1.4% in real terms, despite a foreign exchange problem, which affected primarily the manufacturing industry. The economy's growth in 2000 was thanks largely to a rebound in the tourism industry and the strength of the fishing sector. In 2001, tourism accounted for about 12.7% of GDP, and the manufacturing and construction sectors, including industrial fishing, accounted for about 28.8%.
But the countrys economy is extremely vulnerable to external shocks. Not only does it depend on tourism, but it imports more than 90% of its total primary and secondary production inputs. Any decline in tourism quickly translates into a fall in GDP, a decline in foreign exchange receipts, and budgetary difficulties. Furthermore, recent changes in the climate have greatly affected the tuna industry.
By Purity Njeru
Ms. Njeru is an African Executive staff writer
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