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Seychelles (09/25/09)


September 25, 2009

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For the most current version of this Note, see Background Notes A-Z.

PROFILE

Geography
Area: 444 sq. km. (171 sq. mi.); about 2.5 times the size of Washington DC.
Major islands: Mahe and Praslin.
Cities: Capital--Victoria.
Terrain: About half of the islands are granitic in origin, with narrow coastal strips and central ranges of hills rising to 905 m. The other half are coral atolls, many uninhabitable.
Climate: Tropical marine.

People
Nationality: Noun and adjective--Seychellois.
Population (July 2009 est.): 87,476.
Annual growth rate (2009 est.): 0.999%.
Ethnic groups: Creole (European, Asian, and African).
Religions: Catholic 82.3%, Anglican Church 6.4%, Seventh Day Adventist 1.1%, other Christian 3.4%, Hindu 2.1%, Muslim 1.1%, other 1.5%, unspecified 1.5%, none 0.6%.
Languages: Official languages are Creole, English, and French.
Education: Public schools and private schools, compulsory through grade 10. Literacy--92%.
Health: Free government health services for all people. Life expectancy--male 68.33 yrs, female 77.85 yrs. Infant mortality rate--12.3/1,000.
Work force: 39,560 with 3,550 unemployed. Industries include tourism, fishing, manufacturing, and construction.

Government
Type: Multiple-party republic.
Independence: June 29, 1976.
Constitution: June 18, 1993.
Branches: Executive--president (chief of state and head of government). Legislative--unicameral National Assembly with 34 seats (25 directly elected and 9 allocated on a proportional basis). Judicial--Supreme Court, Appeals Court.
Political parties: Democratic Party (DP), Seychelles National Party (SNP), Seychelles People's Progressive Front (SPPF).
Suffrage: Universal at 17.

Economy
GDP (2008, official exchange rate): $779 million.
Annual growth rate (2008): 3.1%.
Per capita income (2008, purchasing power parity): $17,000.
Average inflation rate (2008): 25.8%.
Natural resources: Fish.
Agriculture: Copra, cinnamon, vanilla, coconuts, sweet potatoes, tapioca, bananas, tuna, chicken, teas.
Industry: Tourism, re-exports, maritime services.
Trade: Exports (2008)--$425 million: canned tuna, frozen/fresh fish, frozen prawns, cinnamon bark. Imports (2008)--$952 million. Major partners--U.K., France, Mauritius, Japan, Italy, Singapore, South Africa, Spain, Saudi Arabia.
Official exchange rate (2008): 8 rupees=U.S.$1.
Aid per capita (2003): $110.

GEOGRAPHY
Seychelles is located in the Indian Ocean about 1,600 kilometers (1,000 miles) east of Kenya. The nation is an archipelago of 115 tropical islands with two distinct collections of islands, some comprised of granite and others of coral. The Mahe Group consists of 42 granite islands, all within a 56-kilometer (35-mi.) radius of the main island of Mahe. These islands are rocky, and most have a narrow coastal stripe and a central range of hills rising as high as 914 meters (3,000 ft.). Mahe is the largest island and is the site of Victoria, the capital. The coral islands are flat with elevated coral reefs at different stages of formation. They have no fresh water; human life can be sustained on them only with difficulty.

The climate is equable and healthy, although quite humid, as the islands are small and subject to marine influences. The temperature varies little throughout the year. Temperatures on Mahe vary from 240C to 29.90C (750F-850F), and rainfall ranges from 288 centimeters (90 in.) annually at Victoria to 355 centimeters (140 in.) on the mountain slopes. Precipitation is somewhat less on the other islands. During the coolest months, July and August, the temperature drops to as low as 700F. The southeast trade winds blow regularly from May to November, and this is the most pleasant time of the year. The hot months are from December to April, with higher humidity (80). March and April are the hottest months, but the temperature seldom exceeds 880F. Most of the islands lie outside the cyclone belt, so high winds are rare.

PEOPLE
About 90% of the Seychellois people live on Mahe Island. Most others live on Praslin and La Digue, with the remaining smaller islands either sparsely populated or uninhabited.

Most Seychellois are descendants of early French settlers and the African slaves brought to the Seychelles in the 19th century by the British, who freed them from slave ships on the East African coast. Indians and Chinese (1.1% of the population) account for the other permanent inhabitants. In 2006, about 4,000 expatriates lived and worked in Seychelles. Of those, about 65 were American.

Seychelles culture is a mixture of French and African (Creole) influences. Creole is the native language of 94% of the people; however, English and French are commonly used. English remains the language of government and commerce.

About 92% of the population over age 15 is literate, and the literacy rate of school-aged children has risen to well over 98%. Increases are expected, as nearly all children of primary school age attend school, and the government encourages adult education.

HISTORY
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. In 2001 President Rene was re-elected once again.

GOVERNMENT AND POLITICAL CONDITIONS
The president is both the chief of state and head of government and is elected by popular vote for a 5-year term. The Council of Ministers serves as a cabinet, and its members are appointed by the president. The unicameral National Assembly has 34 seats--25 elected by popular vote and 9 allocated on a proportional basis to parties winning at least 10% of the vote; members serve 5-year terms. The judicial branch includes a Court of Appeal and Supreme Court; judges for both courts are appointed by the president. The legal system is based on English common law, French civil law, and customary law.

Seychelles has had a multi-party system with the adoption of a new constitution in 1993. Since then, multi-party elections took place in 1993, 1998, 2001, 2006, and 2007. The Seychelles People's Progressive Front (SPPF) won the presidency and majority in the National Assembly in all of the elections.

Presidential elections were held in July 2006. Incumbent President James Michel of the Seychelles People's Progressive Front, who was appointed to power by former President Rene in 2004, won his first elected term. The final vote count was 53.73% for Michel to 45.71% for opposition alliance candidate and Seychelles National Party (SNP) leader, Wavel Ramkalawan. The electoral process for the 2006 presidential elections was determined to be credible by international observers. Following a six-month boycott in the National Assembly by the SNP opposition party, President Michel dissolved the National Assembly on March 20, 2007. Early elections to fill the vacated National Assembly seats were held May 10-12, 2007. The SPPF won 18 district seats and the SNP/DP alliance won seven district seats. Under the system of proportional representation, the SPPF won five seats and the SNP/DP alliance won four seats. The electoral process for the 2007 National Assembly elections was determined to be credible by international observers.

Principal Government Officials
President--James Michel
(Head of Defense, Police, Internal Affairs, Legal Affairs, Risk and Disaster Management)
Vice President--Joseph Belmont
(Head of Transport and Tourism and Public Administration)

Ministers
Finance--Danny Faure
Foreign Affairs--Patrick Pillay
Environment, Natural Resources and Transport--Joel Morgan
Community Development, Youth, Sports, and Culture--Vincent Meriton
Education--Bernard Shamlaye
Health and Social Development--Marie-Pierre Lloyd
Employment and Human Resource Development--Macsuzy Mondon
National Development--Jacquelin Dugasse

Chief of Staff (Seychelles People's Defense Forces--SPDF)--Brigadier Leopold Payet
Judiciary--Chief Justice Andrew Ranjan Perera
Attorney General--Ronny Govinden
Commissioner of Police--Gerard Waye-Hive

Ambassador to the U.S.--Ronny Jumeau
(simultaneously accredited to the United Nations, the United States, and Canada)

ECONOMY
Seychelles' economy rests on tourism and fishing. Employment, foreign earnings, construction, banking, and commerce are all largely dependent on these two industries.

The services sector--including transport, communications, commerce, and tourism--has accounted for close to 70% of GDP in recent years. The share of manufacturing has been between 15%-20% of GDP, although it fluctuates from year to year owing to changes in output from the Indian Ocean Tuna cannery. Public investment in infrastructure and strong foreign direct investment inflows in the tourism sector have kept construction buoyant, with its share of GDP at around 10%. Given the shortage of arable land, agriculture, forestry, and fishing (excluding tuna) make a small contribution to national output.

GDP in 2008 was at $779 million (official exchange rate) and income per capita was at $17,000 (purchasing power parity). This puts the island in the World Bank's "upper middle-income" bracket with the result that Seychelles is low on the agenda of international donors and aid flows are limited. However, given the small size of the economy and its heavy dependence on tourism, the island remains vulnerable to external shocks.

Although the per capita income is $17,000 (PPP), residents often have difficulty obtaining even basic foodstuffs, such as rice and sugar. Government mismanagement and excessive economic regulations, including a manipulated exchange rate, have resulted in foreign exchange shortages and a parallel market currency exchange rate double the official rate.

In 2005 and 2006, the government implemented several measures toward the liberalization of the trade regime, the privatization of state-owned entities, and the gradual liberalization of foreign exchange restrictions. These limited measures, however, have been insufficient to address longstanding macroeconomic imbalances and vulnerabilities.

In October 2008, facing the near-depletion of official foreign exchange reserves, Seychelles defaulted on interest payments due on a $200 million sovereign bond. The government subsequently turned to the International Monetary Fund (IMF) for support, and in an attempt to meet the conditions for a stand-by loan, started to implement a program of radical reforms. The reforms included a fundamental liberalization of the exchange regime, involving the elimination of all foreign exchange controls and a float of the rupee. Following these reforms, the IMF approved a two-year $26 million stand-by loan in mid-November 2008, which represents the Fund’s first ever formal program in Seychelles. It is expected that the IMF’s seal of approval will allow Seychelles to begin formal talks with donors and commercial lenders in its efforts to reschedule its debts.

Although Seychelles is eligible for the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA), it has failed to take advantage of AGOA thus far. Seychelles is not qualified for apparel benefits under AGOA and, in any case, its apparel manufacturing capacity is negligible.

DEFENSE
In 2002, Seychelles had a defense force (Seychelles People's Defense Forces) of about 800 army personnel, including 300 in the presidential protection unit. The army has one infantry battalion and two artillery elements. Paramilitary forces include a national guard consisting of 1,000 people and a coast guard estimated at 250 and divided into two divisions, the naval wing and security or infantry division.

The Seychelles Coast Guard (SCG), which was created in 1992, assumes many of the maritime roles commonly associated with the U.S. Coast Guard. They recently acquired responsibility for search and rescue for vessel incidents as well as environmental protection from the Port and Marine Services Division. SCG has several operational vessels: the Russian-built Fortune, the Italian-built Andromache, the Scorpio, two Indian manufactured vessels, four Motor Life Boats, and the luxury yacht Gemini that also is used as the presidential yacht.

The air wing of the defense force separated from the coast guard in 1997 and does not have any dedicated aircraft, but it sometimes supplies pilots and aircrews to fly search and rescue missions. Their primary duty is to train pilots. The Island Development Corporation (IDC) maintains the pool of aircraft, using them for sources of income by chartering them out. The aircraft inventory includes one Caravan F-406, one Defender, one Cessna 150, and one Beech 1900.

FOREIGN RELATIONS
Seychelles follows a policy of what it describes as "positive" nonalignment and strongly supports the principle of reduced superpower presence in the Indian Ocean.

The Seychelles Government is one of the proponents of the Indian Ocean zone of peace concept, and it has promoted an end to the U.S. presence on Diego Garcia. Seychelles' foreign policy position has placed it generally toward the left of the spectrum within the Nonaligned Movement.

The Russian Federation, the United Kingdom, France, India, China, and Cuba maintain embassies in Victoria. Seychelles has an ambassador resident in New York dually accredited to the United Nations and to the United States and Canada. It also has a resident ambassador to France and Belgium. In early 2007, the Seychelles Government announced the opening of new missions in South Africa, China, Italy, and India.

Seychelles is a member of the Southern African Development Community (SADC), Nonaligned Movement (NAM), the African Union, Commonwealth, International Monetary Fund (IMF), Indian Ocean Commission (IOC), La Francophonie, and the UN and some of its specialized and related agencies.

U.S.-SEYCHELLES RELATIONS
The year 1963 marked the beginning of an official U.S. presence in Seychelles when the U.S. Air Force Tracking Station was built and put into operation on Mahe. The USAF Tracking Station facilities were situated on land that was leased from the Seychelles Government ($4.5 million annually).

The station's complement consisted of five uniformed Air Force personnel (two officers and three sergeants), 65 employees of Loral Corporation and Johnson Instruments, and 150 Seychellois employees. The USAF Tracking Station officially closed down on September 30, 1996.

Peace Corps Volunteers served in Seychelles between 1974 and 1995. A U.S. consulate was opened in May 1976 and became an Embassy after Seychelles' independence in June 1976. The Embassy was subsequently closed in August 1996, and the United States opened a consular agency on September 2, 1996 to provide services to residents of Seychelles. The agency is under the supervision of the American Embassy in Port Louis, Mauritius. The U.S. Ambassador to Mauritius also is accredited to Seychelles.

Principal U.S. Embassy Officials (all officers resident in Port Louis, Mauritius)
Charge d’Affaires--Virginia Blaser
Management Officer--Tim Bashor
Public Affairs Officer--Craig White
Consular Officer--Jason Hackworth
Political-Economic-Commercial Officer--Quentin Barber
Regional Security Officer--vacant

 

 

The address of the U.S. Embassy in Mauritius is Rogers House, Fourth Floor, John F. Kennedy Street, Port Louis (tel: 230-202-4400; fax: 230-208-9534; E-mail: usembass@intnet.mu).
 



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