Seychelles is an island nation spanning an archipelago in the Indian Ocean. It lies northeast of Madagascar and about 1,500 km east of the mainland of Africa. Its island neighbors include and Réunion and Mauritius to the south, Mayotte and Comoros to the southwest, and Zanzibar to the west.
The country is officially known as Republic of Seychelles or as the République des Seychelles in French, and the Repiblik Sesel in Creole. It is the smallest African state in terms of population at 84,000.
Arab traders and Austronesian seafarers first visited the uninhabited islands. Portuguese Admiral Vasco de Gama was the first European to record sighting the area in 1502 when he passed through the Amirantes (islands of the Admiral), which he named after himself. In 1609 the crew of the English East Indiaman Ascension were the first to record the accounts of the landing on the islands.
The islands were a point for trade between Africa and Asia and also used by pirates. This changed in 1756 when a Stone of Possession was laid by Captain Nicholas Morphey and the French began to take control. The islands’ namesake was Louis XV’s Minister of Finance, Jean Moreau de Séchelles.
Between 1794 and 1810 the British contested control over the islands.
The French administrator of Seychelles, Jean Baptiste Quéau de Quincy, capitulated to the British during the war years when armed warships arrived. Through negotiation he was able to give the settlers a successful position of neutrality.
In 1810 upon the surrender of Mauritius, Britain assumed full control of Seychelles. The Treaty of Paris formalized this arrangement in 1814. In 1903 the islands became their own crown colony, which was separate from Mauritius. In 1966 and 1970, elections were held and in 1976 they obtained independence as a republic within the Commonwealth. In 1977, James Mancham, the first president of the republic, was ousted in a coup d’état and replaced by France Albert René. From 1979 to 1991 it was declared a socialist one-party state. A new constitution was drafted in 1992 and while that version failed to achieve the 60 percent of voters needed, in 1993 the amended version was approved.
The president of Seychelles is elected to a five-year term in office by popular vote. The president is both head of government and head of state. In 1977 one year after independence, France Albert René came to power through a coup. He continued to be elected until 2004 when he stepped down to make room for James Michel, his vice-president. Michel was re-elected in 2006 and 2011. In April 2004, James Michel took office as the country’s president. Subject to the legislature majority approval, the president appoints and presides over the cabinet.
The National Assembly is the unicameral parliament of Seychellois. All 34 members serve five-year terms. It is composed of 25 members who are elected by popular vote directly and nine members who are appointed. The appointed members are determined by the percentage of votes received by the parties.
The main political parties are the Seychelles National Party (SNP), a liberal democratic party, and its rival the Seychelles People’s Progressive Front (SPPF), the ruling socialist party. The SPPF became the Parti Lepep (LP) or the People’s Party (PP) in 2009.
Since the country’s inception, politics has been a large part of the Seychellois’ lives. Ideologies and opinions range from socialist to liberal democratic. The country is part of the Commonwealth of Nations, La Francophonie, and the Indian Ocean Commission (IOC).
Twenty-five administrative regions make up all of the inner islands of Seychelles. The capital is made up of eight districts known as Greater Victoria. The rural part of Mahé, the main island, is made up of 14 districts with one district on La Digue (including satellite islands) and two districts on Praslin. The remaining islands do not constitute any district.
There was no real formal education until 1851 when the Anglican and Roman Catholic churches created mission schools. The government assumed responsibility for the missions in 1944, but the missions continued to operate them. The staff included monks as teachers and nuns from abroad. Additional schools were created and more local teachers were trained in 1970 after a technical college opened. A free education system was created in 1981 that had mandatory attendance starting at age 5 for grades one through nine. Nursery school is available for four year olds and ninety percent of children attend.
By the late 1980s school-aged children had an increase in literacy rates to greater than 90 percent. According to 1991 estimates, adult literacy rates have increased from 60 percent to 85 percent, largely due to adult education classes since many of the older residents never learned to read or write as children.
The public school system has 23 crèches, 25 primary schools and 13 secondary schools, which are located on Silhouette, Praslin, La Digue, and Mahé. The Independent school, International School, and École Française are three private schools located on Mahé. Praslin also houses a branch of the International School. The seven non-tertiary, post secondary, schools include: the National Institute of Education, School of Advanced Level Studies, Seychelles Polytechnic, Maritime Training Center, National Institute for Health and Social Studies, Seychelles Agricultural and Horticultural Training Centre, and the Seychelles Institute of Technology.
In an attempt to decrease the loss of educated citizens, the administration has moved forward with plans to open a University. The Seychelles has partnered with the University of London to start education programs with teaching in the curriculum and will allow University of London to award recognized qualifications.
Seychelles is located about 1,600 km east of Kenya and northeast of Madagascar. The Constitution of the Republic of Seychelles counts 155 islands in the archipelago, although other sources cite the number as 115. According to the Constitution there are 29 coral islands in the Amirantes group, 13 coral islands in the Farquhar Group, and 67 raised coral islands in the Aldabra Group. There are also 42 granitic islands. North of the granitics there are two coral sand cays, and to the south of the granitics there are two coral islands.
The small islands have a very humid climate and although susceptible to marine influences, have little variation in temperature. The temperature on Mahé ranges from 24 to 30 °C. Temperature lows hit in July and August, the coolest months. The nicest time of year is May to November when the southeast trade winds blow regularly. The months of December through April are the hot months with 80 percent humidity. The hottest of which are March and April although the temperature rarely goes over 31 °C. High winds occur infrequently wince the islands are outside of the cyclone belt. Annual rainfall on the main island varies from 2,900 mm in Victoria to 3,600 on the mountain slopes. The other islands have slightly less participation.
Vanilla, copra, and cinnamon were the primary exports during the plantation era. Those working on plantations accounted for 33 percent of the working population in the 1960s and government workers were 20 percent. However tourism emerged as a prominent industry in 1971 when the international airport opened. This split the economy into tourism, which pays better, and the planation industry, which has limited potential for expansion. As a result tourism has risen to the country’s main industry and the plantation sector has declined.
Per capita output has grown to approximately seven times its old near-subsistence range since the country declared independence in 1976. The biggest contributor to this growth is tourism, employing 30 percent of the labor force. Agriculture continues to employ about 3 percent of the labor force. Coconuts, cinnamon, vanilla, and sweet potatoes as the main goods produced and are the main support for many locals. Farming, fishing and coconut and vanilla processing industries also contribute to employment. The primary exports are copra, canned and frozen fish, vanilla and cinnamon.
The government has encouraged foreigner investors to invest in upgrading hotels and other services. As a result, there has been a significant increase in real estate development. Project MAGIC and its successor PROJECT Time, distributed by the World Bank, are examples of resort properties created as a result of the expansion. This industry is still vulnerable to world events as the Gulf War contributed to a drop in tourism in 1991-1992. As a result, the government has tried to bolster off-shore small scale manufacturing, fishing, and farming to offset some of the dependence on tourism.
The government faces trouble with reducing the budget deficit, and containing social welfare costs. Even though the government is a strong presence in the economy, it is also working to further privatize public enterprises. Current public enterprises include petroleum product distribution, telecommunications (four private ISP/telecom companies), insurance, and import production (which is being privatized, and banking which will be soon.
No oil or gas has been discovered in the water near the islands despite exploration. Petroquest, as US firm, inked a deal in 2005 to explore until 2014 the 30,000 km2 around Topaz, Constant, Farquhar and Coëtivy islands. Seychelles also imports oil from the Gulf, and has no local refining capabilities. Seychelles Petroleum (Sepec) is responsible for oil and gas imports and re-exports. However the Seychelles National Oil Company (SNOC) is responsible for oil exploration.
The upper class French were still allowed to keep their land holdings after the British gained control of the country during the Napoleonic Wars.
The British and French settlers used African slave labor, even though slavery was prohibited by the British in 1835. The “big whites” of French origin, known as the Gran’bla, controlled political and economic life. Indian indentured servants were also used by the British, similar to their role in Mauritius, which lead to a minority Indian population. Both the Chinese and Indian minorities were considered a merchant class. Most of the population is of mixed race, such as black Africans and white Europeans, although distinct enclaves of the descendants of the Chinese, Indians, and Gran’bla still exist.
The country’s population is composed of people who emigrated there since it has no indigenous population. African, French, Indian and those with Chinese descent are the biggest ethnic groups. The official languages are French, Seychellois Creole (based on French), and English.
Christians are the predominant religious group with Roman Catholic comprising 76.2 percent, Anglicans 6.1 percent and 2.4 percent of other Christian denominations. Hindus (2.4 percent), Muslims (1.6 percent), non-Christians (1.1 percent).
Women play the lead role in the Seychellois matriarchal society. Mothers, unwed mothers being the norm, are particularly powerful in the household. They are control raising the children and the household spending, although the law requires the fathers to contribute to the support of their children. Men do not play a substantial domestic role, but their earnings are important. Family members living at home and the income of grown children can contribute to the finances of older women.
The diverse music of Seychelles includes folk, percussion, and other rhythms taken from a number of influences such as European, African, and Asian music. Contombley, a form of percussion music, is popular, and so is a combination of Kenyan benga and native folk rhythms.
Some foreign observers have found that the culture continues to exhibit stronger French affiliation, despite greater ties with Great Britain. Only 20 percent have an English origin family name, while 70 percent have French origin family names. Sometimes they are mixed with a French first name and English last name or the other way around.
Flora and Fauna
Seychelles is an exemplary world leader in its sustainable tourism model. This is due to strict legislation that requires an environmental review, consultations with the conservations and the public for all tourism projects. Additionally, a 1993 law obligates citizens to protect the environment and also reserves the right of all citizens to live in a clean environment. This successful model promotes more sustainable tourism and preserves the natural environment. Almost 50 percent of the land in the islands is under natural conservation, a record.
Although less than some islands, the Seychelles experienced environmental losses early in its history. These include the extinction of species, deforestation, and the elimination of many species of giant tortoise. However today they are known for their successful protection of much of the biodiversity, such as the protection of their national bird, the Seychelles Black Parrot. The islands can also boast about their Aldabra Giant Tortoise population, the world’s largest. It also lays claim to some of the world’s largest seabird colonies.
The marine life in the coral reefs is magnificent. There are more than 1,000 species of fish, which have been documented. Wildlife is currently unafraid of divers due to the efforts of conservationists who banned spear guns and dynamite fishing. Some coral bleaching has occurred, but the reefs appear to be recovering.
There are 75 native plant species on the granitic islands. These include the famous Coco de mer palm, the jellyfish tree, and the Wrights Gardenia. Famous botanist Dr. Herb Herbertson was known for his love of the islands unique Orchid varieties.