Seychelles is a small state consisting of over 115 islands in the Indian Ocean, north of Madagascar. The main island is Machè, where the capital Victoria is located, where 90 percent of the approximately 88,000 inhabitants live. Besides small groups of Chinese and Indian roots, there are no distinct ethnic groups in the Seychelles. Most of the inhabitants are descendants of French settlers, African slaves or Indian workers. Most of them have Creole as their main language, but English is used in official contexts.
Over 90 percent of the population is Christian and the culture is described as a mixture of French and East African. The capital, Victoria, or Port Victoria as it is often called, because the important port is located here, has only 25,000 inhabitants and is thus the smallest capital in Africa.
When Vasco Da Gama landed in 1505, and later the English in 1609, the islands were uninhabited. As the Seychelles became an important stopping point on sea voyages between Africa and Asia, the islands became inhabited by pirates. These ruled until 1756, when the French captured the islands. Due to its strategic position in relation to the Indian Ocean seas, the British quickly became interested in the Seychelles. In the years between 1794 and 1812, the country became a piece in the global seven-year war between France and the United Kingdom, and when the British won, the islands formally became part of the United Kingdom. The country became an independent nation in 1976 and is still part of the Commonwealth.
Former French President Albert Renè of the Socialist Party The Peoples’s Party came to power in a coup in 1977, making the country a one-party state. The regime survived an invasion attempt by a group of mercenaries in 1981 and a military rebellion in 1982. Following pressure from France and the United Kingdom, a multi-party system was introduced in 1991, but Renè retained power after the first election. He surrendered power to his Vice President James Michel in 2004, who won the 2006 election.
The fact that this party has retained support even after it was again allowed by several parties may be due to the strong focus on welfare schemes, including free education, health services and housing projects. The proportion of illiterates is among the lowest in Africa, and the country’s health care is considered one of the best in the continent. It is also the case that membership in the party is a safe path to a job in the state sector. As many as 47 percent of the country’s employees work in the public sector.
Two factors that make the Seychelles unique in relation to a number of other African countries are the women’s strong position in society and the developed welfare society. The Seychelles have promised that men will help at home, both financially and with child rearing. Although the men are mainly responsible for the family’s earnings, the women make the financial decisions. Women also have all the same rights as men, socially, legally and financially, and it is very common for unmarried mothers. Violence against women and rape has a sentence of up to 20 years in prison. After the 2007 elections, 10 of the 34 members of the National Assembly were women.
Older family members, especially older women, often live at home and can count on the contributions and help of family and adult children. The country also has the best pension and social assistance schemes among the world’s developing countries. All orphans and people with disabilities receive both follow-up and financial contributions from the state. Among other things, social assistance is given to all homeless people, the elderly and others with poor finances.
Although freedom of the press has greatly improved after the one-party regime ceased in 1993, the state controls most of the country’s media, running the radio and television stations and the country’s only daily newspaper. In Reporters Without Borders’ ranking on press freedom, the Seychelles have dropped eight positions, to number 104 out of 169 countries.
Shipping, service and fishing
The service industry dominates the country’s economy, in transport, communications, trade and tourism, and in recent years has accounted for about 70 percent of gross domestic product (GDP). Shipping is an important pillar of the country’s economy. Boat traffic channels goods to and from the archipelago, and parts of the service industry offer services for international cargo ships and cruise boats. The harbor of Seychelles is a hub of the tuna industry and a place many boats refuel. Two-thirds of all petroleum products imported into the Seychelles are re-exported through boat and air traffic.
The country has few natural resources, and there is a lack of both arable land and water supplies. Investments have been made in plants intended to distill salt water, but these have not yet achieved sufficient water quality. The largest industrial production in the islands is canned tuna, which in 2007 accounted for about 10 percent of GDP. Other export goods are shrimp and cinnamon.
Like several small island nations, the Seychelles also have a very one-sided economy and are thus highly exposed to external influences. The decline in the number of tourists due to the recession in the global economy and the outbreak of swine flu are examples of this. The growing piracy in the country’s waters has led to a quarter of Spanish and French fishing boats not coming to the Seychelles in the 2009 season, but choosing other fishing banks. The tuna industry on the islands, which depends on this supply of raw materials, is thus directly affected.
After a number of problems in the country’s economic balance sheet in the 1990s and 2000s, foreign debt grew, and the Seychelles had trouble repaying loans. Now the head of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) delegation reports that the Seychelles implementation of their program has been exemplary, despite the global financial crisis. Among other things, the authorities have taken steps to improve the opportunities for trading and changed foreign exchange policy.
The archipelago has become an important hub for anti-piracy operations because of its strategic position in waters where Somali pirates are ravaging. Both the United States and the EU have pledged support to the Seychelles in the fight against pirates. The authorities have given foreign military personnel full freedom of movement in their territory. Although the military forces are based on their activities on the islands, some questions have arisen as to which court seized pirates in Seychelles’ waters should be facing. The authorities’ decision to deport and exchange pirates against hostages has not been popular internationally, but it is recognized that the Seychelles have neither the capacity of the courts nor the prisons to secure a fair process.
Area: 455 km2 (minimum, no. 54)
Population density: 184 per km2
Urban population: 54 percent
Largest city: Victoria – approx. 26 000
Per capita GDP: $ 11044
Economic growth: –0.9 percent
HDI Position: 57