For the most current version of this Note, see Background Notes A-Z.
Area: 444 sq. km. (171 sq. mi.); about 2.5 times the size of Washington DC.
Major islands: Mahe and Praslin.
Terrain: About half of the islands are granitic in origin, with narrow coastal strips and central ranges of hills rising to 914 meters. The other half are coral atolls, many uninhabitable.
Climate: Tropical marine.
Nationality: Noun and adjective--Seychellois.
Population (July 2009 est.): 87,122.
Annual population growth rate (2009 est.): -0.02%.
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 68.3 yrs, female 77.9 yrs. Infant mortality rate--12.3/1,000.
Work force: 39,560 with 3,550 unemployed. Industries include tourism, fishing, manufacturing, and construction.
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: New Democratic Party (DP), Seychelles National Party (SNP), Parti Lepep (formerly known as Seychelles People's Progressive Front (SPPF)).
Suffrage: Universal at 17.
GDP (2009, official exchange rate): $656 million.
Annual growth rate (2009 est.): -8.7%.
Per capita income (2009 est., purchasing power parity): $19,400.
Average inflation rate (2009 est.): 34%.
Natural resources: Fish.
Agriculture: Copra, cinnamon, vanilla, coconuts, sweet potatoes, tapioca, bananas, tuna, chicken, teas.
Industry: Tourism, re-exports, maritime services.
Trade: Exports (2009 est.)--$366 million: canned tuna, frozen/fresh fish, frozen prawns, cinnamon bark. Imports (2009 est.)--$658 million. Major partners--U.K., France, Mauritius, Japan, Italy, Singapore, South Africa, Spain, Saudi Arabia.
Official exchange rate (2009): 14.2 rupees=U.S. $1.
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 strip 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 comfortable, although quite humid, as the islands are small and subject to marine influences. The temperature varies little throughout the year. Temperatures on Mahe usually vary from 240C to 300C (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, the most pleasant time of the year. The hot months are from December to April, with higher humidity. 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.
About 90% of the Seychellois 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.
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 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 two days when loyal troops, reinforced by Tanzanian forces, recaptured rebel-held installations.
At an Extraordinary Congress of the Seychelles People's Progressive Front (SPPF, now known as Parti Lepep) 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. 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. 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.
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. 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. 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.
Presidential elections were again 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 with 53.73% of the vote. 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. The next presidential election will be held in 2011.
In July 2008, an SNP member of the National Assembly resigned from parliament to protest the National Assembly Speaker’s treatment of members of the opposition party, resulting in a by-election. Following former President France Albert Rene's call for a boycott of the by-election, the governing party did not present any candidate. Only the SNP and the New Democratic Party put forth candidates. The SNP candidate won back his parliament seat with 87% of the vote.
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, 2007, and 2008. The Parti Lepep won the presidency and majority in the National Assembly in all of the elections, except for the 2008 by-election that it boycotted.
Principal Government Officials
(Head of Defense, Police, Internal Affairs, Legal Affairs, Risk and Disaster Management, and Foreign Affairs)
Vice President--Joseph Belmont
(Head of Transport and Tourism and Public Administration)
Environment, Natural Resources and Transport--Joel Morgan
Community Development, Youth, Sports, and Culture--Vincent Meriton
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 Frederick Egonda-Ntende
Attorney General--Ronny Govinden
Commissioner of Police--Ernest Quatre
Ambassador to the U.S.--Jean Ronald Jumeau
(simultaneously accredited to the United Nations, the United States, and Canada)
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 2009 was estimated at $656 million (official exchange rate), and GDP per capita was $8,335 ($19,400 calculated by purchase power parity - PPP), putting the island in the World Bank's "upper middle-income" bracket. For that reason, 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 $19,400 (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, resulted in foreign exchange shortages and a parallel market currency exchange rate double that of 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 were 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 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 represented the Fund’s first-ever formal program in Seychelles. The IMF’s seal of approval has allowed Seychelles to begin formal talks with donors and commercial lenders to reschedule its debts. In December 2009, the IMF approved a U.S. $31.1 million Extended Fund Facility Arrangement to support the Seychelles’ 2010-2012 economic programs.
In January 2010, global rating agency Fitch assigned Seychelles a Country Ceiling of 'B-' and a short-term foreign currency Issuer Default Rating of 'B'. According to Fitch, "Seychelles' newly-assigned ratings signal its emergence in January 2010 from a default event after the successful conclusion of a debt exchange with the holders of its USD 230 million Eurobond and EUR 55 million promissory note. The Positive Outlook reflects the potential for credit worthiness to improve, given continued strong implementation of the authorities' impressive reform program."
Although Seychelles is eligible for the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA), it has been unable 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.
Seychelles has a small security and defense force, which includes a National Guard Force, the Seychelles People's Defense Forces (SPDF), the Presidential Protection Unit, the 100-person-strong Coast Guard, 35 Marines, and 575 police officers. The police force includes an armed paramilitary Police Mobile Unit. The president controls the security apparatus.
The Seychelles Coast Guard (SCG), which was created in 1992, assumes many of the maritime roles commonly associated with the U.S. Coast Guard. The SCG has responsibility for search and rescue for vessel incidents, environmental protection from the Port and Marine Services Division, and the counter-piracy mission in the 1.3 million square kilometer exclusive economic zone (EEZ). The SCG has two primary operational vessels: the Italian-built Andromache and the Indian-built Topaz, both with crews of approximately 25. Most other vessels, including three of four ex-U.S. Coast Guard Motor Life Boats and the luxury yacht Gemini that was formerly used as the presidential yacht, remain non-operational due to limited manpower and the need to keep the two primary vessels operational.
The air wing of the defense force separated from the Coast Guard in 1997. It does not have any dedicated aircraft, but it sometimes supplies pilots and aircrews to fly search and rescue missions. The wing’s primary duty is to train pilots. The Island Development Corporation (IDC) maintains the pool of aircraft, generating income through charter services. The aircraft inventory includes one Defender, one Cessna 150, and one Beech 1900. An Air Seychelles Twin Otter will also assist with maritime patrol.
Given the threat of piracy in the Indian Ocean region, Seychelles has reached out to the international community for assistance and has significantly strengthened its ties with the U.S., the U.K., France, the EU, India, and China. The Government of Seychelles has entered into multiple agreements and memorandums of understanding (MOUs) with various international partners, including the U.S., to attempt to protect its borders and its tourism and fishing-based economy, which is directly impacted by piracy in the region.
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. It is also a member of the Small Island Developing States (SIDS) group and is closely aligned with SIDS on issues related to climate change and global warming.
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 on land leased from the Seychelles Government. 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 except for Defense Attaché resident in Madagascar)
Ambassador--Mary Jo Wills
Deputy Chief of Mission--Virginia Blaser
Management Officer--Tim Bashor
Public Affairs Officer--Craig White
Consular Officer--Peter Chisholm
Political-Military Officer--Alice Holder
Economic-Commercial Officer--Albert Kafka
Regional Security Officer--Brian Zartman
Defense Attaché--Commander John Ries
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: email@example.com).