Seychelles is an archipelago in the Indian Ocean, to the north of Mauritius and east of Zanzibar. Its waters are rich in fish, and its stunning beaches and atolls attract many tourists. The main island of Mahé is by far the most populous, although some Seychellois inhabit Praslin, La Digue, and other smaller islands.
Seychelles has no indigenous population. It had been visited by Portuguese and French expeditions, but remained uninhabited until claimed by France in 1756. French farmers brought African slaves to the islands. Control passed to the British in 1810, and Seychelles became a formal British colony in 1903. The British brought with them labourers from South Asia. By the 1970s, the main political divide was between a pro-business party seeking closer ties with the UK and socialists favouring independence. Sentiment in favour of independence grew, and in 1976 Seychelles became an independent country, and was governed by a coalition of the two major parties. Supporters of white Socialist Prime Minister France-Albert René staged a coup against President James Mancham in 1977, and René became president. The following year he formally transformed Seychelles into a one-party state. Instability grew in the 1980s, as in 1981 South Africa attempted to restore Mancham, an effort rebuffed by René with the assistance of the Tanzanian army. The following year, René also staved off an attempted military coup.
Main languages: Creole, English, French (all official)
Main religions: Catholicism (82.3%), Anglican (6.4%), Seventh-day Adventist (1.1%), other Christianity (3.4%), Hindu (2.1%), Islam (1.1%)
Minority groups include Hindus (2.1%) and Muslims (1.1%).
The numerical majority Creoles are people of mixed African, Asian, Arabic and European ancestry. They make up 92 per cent of the population.
[Note: all figures taken from the 2002 census.]
René restored multi-part politics in 1991, and subsequently won elections in 1993, 1998, and 2001. Commonwealth observers deemed the closely-fought 2001 elections as not entirely free or fair. René stepped down in April 2004, and was replaced by his vice president, James Michel. Michel won election as president in his own right in July 2006. When parliament banned political or religious organizations from operating radio stations in October 2006-a move aimed at blocking the largest opposition party from launching a station-a violent protest erupted in front of parliament, injuring four.
Seychelles is one of the three richest countries in Sub-Saharan Africa. However, formal prosperity from tourism and tuna fishing has not transformed the living standards of all Seychellois on an equitable basis. White and Asian political commercial elites and their foreign associates have been the main beneficiaries of the islands’ prosperity. The majority Creoles have benefited unevenly. The South Asian tsunami of December 2004 caused serious damage to infrastructure, and hindered the tourism and fishing industries.
Promotion of the Creole language (a patois of French), including its use in primary school, has probably boosted self-esteem, although the use of Creole rather than French or English is said to block social mobility. Other post-1977 policies, from housing and minimum wages to free public schooling, have also shown regard for the legitimate interests of the majority Creole people.
Minority based and advocacy organisations
Centre for Rights and Development
Tel: + 248-768-028, 763-782
Sources and further reading
Benedict, M., Men, Women and Money in the Seychelles, Berkeley, CA, University of California Press, 1982.
Liam Campling(ed.) (2007) Seychelles and the Indian Ocean: a small island developing state in a globalising world, London: King Street Press.