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Seychelles (11/01)


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



Area: 444 sq. km; approximately 2.5 times the size of Washington D.C.
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 914 m. The other half are coral atolls, many uninhabitable.
Climate: Tropical marine.

Nationality: Noun and adjective--Seychellois.
Population (1999): 80,410.
Annual growth rate (1999): 1.7%.
Ethnic groups: Creole (European, Asian, and African).
Religions: Catholic 86.6%, Anglican Church 6.8%, other Christians 2.5%, other 4.1%.
Languages: Official languages are Creole, English, and French.
Education: Public schools and Private schools, compulsory through grade 10. Literacy (1994)-- 87.5%.
Health: Free government health services for all people. Life expectancy--male 67.9 yrs, female 77.9 yrs. Infant mortality rate--9.9/1000.
Work force: 32,382 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: Democratic Party (DP), Seychelles National Party (SNP), Seychelles People Progressive Front (SPPF).
Suffrage: Universal over 17.

Flag: Seychelles flag

GDP: $603.9 million.
Annual growth rate: 1.5%.
Per capita income: $7,444.
Avg. Inflation rate (1999): 6%.
Natural resources: Fish.
Agriculture: Copra, cinnamon, vanilla, coconuts, sweet potatoes, tapioca, bananas, tuna, chicken.
Industry: Tourism, re-exports, maritime services.
Trade: Exports (2000)--$135.73 million: canned tuna, frozen/fresh fish, frozen prawns, cinnamon bark. Imports (2000)--$375.27 million. Major partners--France, Italy, UK, Singapore, South Africa, Spain, Saudi Arabia.|
Official exchange rate (November 2001): 5.20 rupees=U.S.$1.
Economic aid received (1995): $16.4 million.

Seychelles is located in the Indian Ocean about 1,600 kilometres (1,000 miles) east of Kenya. The nation comprises an archipelago of 115 beautiful, tropical islands with two distinct collections of islands, some granite and some of coral. The Mahe Group consists of 40 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 -- 9,142 sq. km (55-sq. mi.) -- 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 and can sustain human life 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, it 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.

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. About 1,703 (2000) expatriates live and work in Seychelles. Of those, about 35 are 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 88% of the adult population 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 island appeared on Portuguese charts as early 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 Treaty of Paris 1814.

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.

In March 1970, colonial and political representatives of Seychelles met in London for a constitutional convention. Elections in November 1970 brought a resulting constitution into effect. Further elections were held in April 1974, in which both major political parties campaigned for independence. Following this election, negotiations with the British resulted in an agreement by which Seychelles became a sovereign republic on June 29, 1976. These negotiations also restored the islands of Aldabra, Farquhar, and Des Roches, which had been transferred from Seychelles in November 1965 to form part of the new British Indian Ocean Territory (BIOT) to Seychelles upon independence.

By 1963, political parties had developed in the Seychelles colony. Elections held that year were contested for the first time on party lines. The following year, 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 the November 1970 elections, the SDP won 10 seats, and the SPUP won five in the Legislative Assembly. Under the new constitution, Mancham became the chief minister of the colony.

During the April 1974 elections, the SDP increased its majority in the Legislative Assembly by three seats, gaining all but two of the 15 seats. Demarcation of constituencies was such that the SDP achieved this majority by winning only 52% of the popular vote.

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, five to be nominated by each party. A cabinet of ministers also was formed consisting of eight members of the SDP and four 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.

Although the 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 two days when loyal troops, reinforced by Tanzanian forces, recaptured rebel-held installations.

After almost 16 years of one-party rule, President Rene announced a return to the multiparty system of government at an Extraordinary Congress of the SPPF on December 4, 1991. 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 Mr. 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 eight from the DP. It commenced work on August 27, 1992 with both President Rene and Mr. 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 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 again contested the 1998 presidential election -- Mr. Albert Rene, SPPF; Mr. James Mancham, DP; and Rev. Wavel Ramkalawan and once again President Rene and his SPPF party enjoyed a landslide victory. The President's popularity in March 20-22 elections jumped to 66.6% from 59.5% in 1993, while the SPPF garnered 61.7% of the total votes cast in the National Assembly election, compared to 56.5% in 1993.

Early elections originally set for 2003 were called in August/September 2001. The Government Party SPPF once again prevailed, although the main Opposition Party, Seychelles National Party (previously known as the United Opposition Party) headed by Rev. Wavel Ramkalawan, made a surprisingly strong showing and collected 46% of the total votes. The DP, headed by Mr. Mancham, did not take part in the elections.

Principal Government Officials
President--France Albert Rene
Vice-President--James Michel

Industries & International Business--Jacquelin Dugasse
Local Government and Sports--Sylvette Pool
Social Affairs & Manpower Development--Dolor Ernesta
Tourism, Transport & Civil Aviation--Simone de Comarmond
Foreign Affairs--Jeremie Bonnelame
Land Use & Habitat--Joseph Belmont (Designated Minister)
Environment & Culture--Ronnie Jumeau
Health--Patrick Pillay
Education & Youth--Danny Faure
Agriculture & Marine Resources--William Herminie
Administration--Noellie Alexander
Chief of Staff (SPDF)--Colonel Leopold Payet
Judiciary--Chief Justice Vivekanand Alleear
Attorney General--Anthony Fernando
Commissioner of Police--Andre Kilindo

Seychelles has an ambassador resident in New York dually accredited to the UN and to the United States. Internationally, Seychelles is a member of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM), the Organization of African Unity (OAU), Commonwealth, International Monetary Fund (IMF), International Whaling Commission (IWC), Indian Ocean Commission IOC), UN and some of its specialized and related agencies.

The overall performance of the economy since independence must be considered satisfactory. Per capita income has increased seven-fold from some $1,000 in 1976 to $7,400 today. The economy rests on tourism and fishing. Presently, tourism accounts for about 12.7% of the GDP and the manufacturing and construction sectors (including industrial fishing) account for about 28.8%. In 2000, industrial fishing surpassed tourism as the most important foreign exchange earner.

Tourism is one of the most important sectors of the economy, accounting for approximately 16.6% (2000) of GDP. Employment, foreign earnings, construction, banking, and commerce are all dominated by tourism-related industries. Tourism earned $631 million in 1999-2000. About 130,046 tourists visited Seychelles in 2000, 80.1% of them from Europe (UK, Italy, France, Germany, Switzerland).

Industrial fishing in Seychelles, notably tuna fishing, is rapidly becoming a significant factor in the economy. Earnings are growing annually from licensing fees paid by foreign trawlers fishing in Seychelles' territorial waters. In 1995, Seychelles saw the privatization of the Seychelles Tuna Canning Factory, 60% of which was purchased by the American food company Heinz Inc. Similarly, some port operations have been privatized, a trend that has been accompanied by a fall in transshipment fees and an increase in efficiency. Overall, this has sparked a recovery in port services following a drastic fall in 1994.

While the tourism and industrial fishing industries were on a roll in the late 1990s, the traditional plantation economy atrophied. Cinnamon barks and copra -- traditional export crops -- dwindled to negligible amounts by 1991. There were no exports of copra in 1996; 318 tons of cinnamon bark was exported in 1996, reflecting a decrease of 35% in cinnamon bark exports from 1995.

Despite attempts to improve its agricultural base and emphasize locally manufactured products and indigenous materials, Seychelles continues to import 90% of what it consumes. The exceptions are some fruits and vegetables, fish, poultry, pork, beer, cigarettes, paint, and a few locally made plastic items. Imports of all kind are controlled by the Seychelles Marketing Board (SMB), a government parastatal which operates all the major supermarkets and is the distributor and licensor of most other imports.

In an effort to increase agricultural self-sufficiency, Seychelles has undertaken steps to make the sector more productive and to provide incentives to farmers. Much of the state holdings in the agricultural sector have been privatized, while the role of the government has been reduced to conducting research and providing infrastructure.

Many of the other industrial activities are limited to small scale manufacturing, particularly agro-processing and import substitution. Agriculture (including artisanal and forestry), once the backbone of the economy, now accounts for only around 3% of the GDP. The public sector, comprising the government and state-owned enterprises, dominates the economy in terms of employment and gross revenue. It employs two-thirds of the labor force. Public consumption absorbs over one-third of the GDP.

The country's economy is extremely vulnerable to external shocks. Not only does it depend on tourism, but it imports over 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.

The Central Bank estimates that the Seychelles economy grew by around 1.4% in real terms in 2000. Despite a foreign exchange problem, which affected primarily the manufacturing industry, the economy still grew thanks largely to a rebound in the tourism industry and the strength of the fishing sector. Tourism arrivals, one of the two main indicators of vitality in the sector, grew by 4.1% in 2000. Income also rose by 0.6%. A strong marketing effort by the Seychelles Tourism Marketing Authority (STMA) and the introduction of several new five-star hotels seems to have spurred the growth. Officials hope that new hotels on the drawing board and expanded airline service to the island will help offset the possibility of reduced global travel in the current environment.

In 2000, there were also encouraging performances in other sectors of service, namely the telecommunications sector, where the boom in mobile services continues to persist. According to the Telecommunications division of the Ministry of Information Technology & Communication, one in every four Seychellois now owns a mobile phone.

The Ministry of Finance is responsible for economic decisions and budgetary policy. A separate Monetary Authority supervises the banking system and manages the money supply. Although foreign banks operate branches in Seychelles, the government owns the two local banks -- the Development Bank of Seychelles, which mobilizes resources to fund development programs, and the Seychelles Saving Bank, a bank for savings and current accounts. The commercial banking sector is presently made up of the following:

  • Barclays Bank PLC;
  • Banque Francaise Commercial Ocean Indien;
  • Bank of Baroda;
  • Habib bank; and
  • Seychelles International Mercantile Credit Banking Corporation (SIMBC) trading under the name "Nouvobanq".

The first four are branches of foreign banks and the latter is a joint venture between the Seychelles government and the Standard Chartered Bank African PLC. Commercial banks offer the full range of services.

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 UN and to the United States. It also has resident ambassadors to the United Kingdom, France, and Malaysia.

Seychelles had a defense force of about 800 army personnel in 1994, 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 three ship operational vessels: Russian built FORTUNE, Italian built ANDROMACHE, and the luxury yacht GEMINI that is also used as the presidential yacht. All of their vessels are past their life expectancy. The Air Wing of the People's Defense Force separated from the Coast Guard in 1997 and does not have any dedicated aircraft, but 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-460, one Defender, and one Beech 1900.

The year 1963 marked the beginning of an official U.S. presence in Seychelles when the United States Air Force Tracking Station was built and put into operation on Mahe. The U.S. Air Force 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 the 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 Comoros and Seychelles.

Principal U.S. Officials
Charge d'Affaires--Bisa Williams

The U.S. Embassy in Mauritius is located in the Rogers House, 4th floor, John Kennedy Street, Port Louis (tel. 230 202-4400; Fax 230-208-9534; E-mail: 

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