Seychelles is a member of the African Union, the Southern African Development Community, the Commonwealth of Nations, and the United Nations. After proclamation of independence from the United Kingdom in 1976, Seychelles has developed from a largely agricultural society to a market-based diversified economy, with agriculture being supplanted by rapidly rising service and public sectors as well as tourism. Since 1976, nominal GDP output has increased nearly sevenfold and the purchasing power parity nearly sixteenfold. In recent years, the government has encouraged foreign investment in order to upgrade these sectors. Today, Seychelles boasts the highest nominal per capita GDP in Africa, excluding the French regions. It is one of only a handful of countries in Africa with a high Human Development Index. Despite the country's newfound economic prosperity, poverty remains widespread due to a high level of income inequality, one of the highest in the world, and unequal wealth distribution.
The Seychelles were uninhabited throughout most of recorded history. Some scholars assume that Austronesian seafarers and later Maldivian and Arab traders were the first to visit the uninhabited Seychelles. This assumption is based on the discovery of tombs, visible until 1910. The earliest recorded sighting by Europeans took place in 1502 by the Portuguese Admiral Vasco da Gama, who passed through the Amirantes and named them after himself (islands of the Admiral). The earliest recorded landing was in January 1609, by the crew of the "Ascension" under Captain Alexander Sharpeigh during the fourth voyage of the British East India Company.
A transit point for trade between Africa and Asia, the islands were occasionally used by pirates until the French began to take control starting in 1756 when a Stone of Possession was laid on Mahé by Captain Nicholas Morphey. The islands were named after Jean Moreau de Séchelles, Louis XV's Minister of Finance.
The British controlled the islands between 1794 and 1810. Jean Baptiste Quéau de Quincy, French administrator of Seychelles during the years of war with the United Kingdom, declined to resist when armed enemy warships arrived. Instead, he successfully negotiated the status of capitulation to Britain which gave the settlers a privileged position of neutrality.
Britain eventually assumed full control upon the surrender of Mauritius in 1810, formalised in 1814 at the Treaty of Paris. Seychelles became a crown colony separate from Mauritius in 1903. Elections were held in 1966 and 1970.
Independence was granted in 1976 as a republic within the Commonwealth. In the 1970s Seychelles was "the place to be seen, a playground for film stars and the international jet set". In 1977, a coup d'état by France Albert René ousted the first president of the republic, James Mancham. René discouraged over-dependence on tourism and declared that he wanted "to keep the Seychelles for the Seychellois".
The 1979 constitution declared a socialist one-party state, which lasted until 1991.
In the 1980s there were a series of coup attempts against President René, some of which were supported by South Africa. In 1981, Mike Hoare led a team of 43 South African mercenaries masquerading as holidaying rugby players in the 1981 Seychelles coup d'état attempt. There was a gun battle at the airport, and most of the mercenaries later escaped in a hijacked Air India plane. The leader of this hijacking was German mercenary D. Clodo, a former member of the Rhodesian SAS. Clodo later stood trial in South Africa (where he was acquitted) as well as in his home country Germany for air-piracy.
In 1986, an attempted coup led by the Seychelles Minister of Defence, Ogilvy Berlouis, caused President René to request assistance from India. In Operation Flowers are Blooming, the Indian naval vessel INS Vindhyagiri arrived in Port Victoria to help avert the coup.
The first draft of a new constitution failed to receive the requisite 60% of voters in 1992, but an amended version was approved in 1993.
In January 2013, Seychelles declared a state of emergency; the tropical cyclone Felleng caused torrential rain, and flooding and landslides destroyed hundreds of houses.
The Seychelles president, who is head of state and head of government, is elected by popular vote for a five-year term of office. The cabinet is presided over and appointed by the president, subject to the approval of a majority of the legislature.
The unicameral Seychellois parliament, the National Assembly or Assemblée Nationale, consists of 34 members, 25 of whom are elected directly by popular vote, while the remaining nine seats are appointed proportionally according to the percentage of votes received by each party. All members serve five-year terms.
The Supreme Court of Seychelles, created in 1903, is the highest trial court in Seychelles and the first court of appeal from all the lower courts and tribunals. The highest court of law in Seychelles is the Seychelles Court of Appeal, which is the court of final appeal in the country.
Seychelles' previous president France Albert René came to power after his supporters overthrew the first president James Mancham on 5 June 1977 in a coup d'état and installed him as president. René was at that time the prime minister. René ruled as a strongman under a socialist one-party system until in 1993, when he was forced to introduce a multi-party system. He stepped down in 2004 in favour of his vice-president, James Michel, who was re-elected in 2006 and again in 2011. On 28 September 2016, the Office of the President announced that Michel would step down effective 16 October, and that Vice President Danny Faure would complete the rest of Michel's term.
The primary political parties are the ruling socialist People's Party (PP), known until 2009 as the Seychelles People's Progressive Front (SPPF), and the socially liberal Seychelles National Party (SNP).
Seychelles is a member of the African Union, the francophone Indian Ocean Commission (IOC), La Francophonie, the Southern African Development Community (SADC) and the Commonwealth.
Seychelles is divided into twenty-six administrative regions comprising all of the inner islands. Eight of the districts make up the capital of Seychelles and are referred to as Greater Victoria. Another 14 districts are considered the rural part of the main island of Mahé with two districts on Praslin and one on La Digue which also includes respective satellite islands. The rest of the Outer Islands (Îles Eloignées) are the last district, recently created by the tourism ministry.
An island nation, Seychelles is located in the Indian Ocean, northeast of Madagascar and about 1,600 km (994 mi) east of Kenya. The archipelago consists of 115 islands. The majority of the islands are uninhabited, with many dedicated as nature reserves.
A group of 42 islands, referred to as the inland islands, has a total area of 244 km2, comprising 54% of the total land area of the Seychelles and 98% of the entire population.
The islands are divided into groups as follows.
There are 45 granite-based islands known as the Granitic Seychelles. These are in descending order of size: Mahé, Praslin, Silhouette Island, La Digue, Curieuse, Félicité, Frégate, Ste-Anne, North, Cerf, Marianne, Grand Sœur, Thérèse, Aride, Conception, Petite Sœur, Cousin, Cousine, Long, Récif, Round (Praslin), Anonyme, Mamelles, Moyenne, Eden, Île Soleil, Romainville, Île aux Vaches Marines, L'Islette, Beacon (Île Sèche), Cachée, Cocos, Round (Mahé), L'Ilot Frégate, Booby, Chauve-Souris (Mahé), Chauve-Souris (Praslin), Île La Fouche, Hodoul, L'Ilot, Rat, Souris, St. Pierre (Praslin), Zavé, Harrison Rocks (Grand Rocher).
There are two coral sand cays north of the granitics: Denis and Bird.
There are two coral islands south of the Granitics: Coëtivy and Platte.
There are 29 coral islands in the Amirantes group, west of the granitics: Desroches, Poivre Atoll (comprising three islands—Poivre, Florentin and South Island), Alphonse, D'Arros, St. Joseph Atoll (comprising 14 islands—St. Joseph Île aux Fouquets, Resource, Petit Carcassaye, Grand Carcassaye, Benjamin, Bancs Ferrari, Chiens, Pélicans, Vars, Île Paul, Banc de Sable, Banc aux Cocos and Île aux Poules), Marie Louise, Desnœufs, African Banks (comprising two islands—African Banks and South Island), Rémire, St. François, Boudeuse, Étoile, Bijoutier.
There are 13 coral islands in the Farquhar Group, south-southwest of the Amirantes: Farquhar Atoll (comprising 10 islands—Bancs de Sable, Déposés, Île aux Goëlettes, Lapins, Île du Milieu, North Manaha, South Manaha, Middle Manaha, North Island and South Island), Providence Atoll (comprising two islands—Providence and Bancs Providence) and St Pierre.
There are 67 raised coral islands in the Aldabra Group, west of the Farquhar Group: Aldabra Atoll (comprising 46 islands—Grande Terre, Picard, Polymnie, Malabar, Île Michel, Île Esprit, Île aux Moustiques, Ilot Parc, Ilot Émile, Ilot Yangue, Ilot Magnan, Île Lanier, Champignon des Os, Euphrate, Grand Mentor, Grand Ilot, Gros Ilot Gionnet, Gros Ilot Sésame, Héron Rock, Hide Island, Île aux Aigrettes, Île aux Cèdres, Îles Chalands, Île Fangame, Île Héron, Île Michel, Île Squacco, Île Sylvestre, Île Verte, Ilot Déder, Ilot du Sud, Ilot du Milieu, Ilot du Nord, Ilot Dubois, Ilot Macoa, Ilot Marquoix, Ilots Niçois, Ilot Salade, Middle Row Island, Noddy Rock, North Row Island, Petit Mentor, Petit Mentor Endans, Petits Ilots, Pink Rock and Table Ronde), Assumption Island, Astove and Cosmoledo Atoll (comprising 19 islands—Menai, Île du Nord (West North), Île Nord-Est (East North), Île du Trou, Goélettes, Grand Polyte, Petit Polyte, Grand Île (Wizard), Pagode, Île du Sud-Ouest (South), Île aux Moustiques, Île Baleine, Île aux Chauve-Souris, Île aux Macaques, Île aux Rats, Île du Nord-Ouest, Île Observation, Île Sud-Est and Ilot la Croix).
The climate is equable although quite humid, as the islands are small, classified by Köppen-Geiger system as tropical rain forest (Af). The temperature varies little throughout the year. Temperatures on Mahé vary from 24 to 30 °C (75 to 86 °F), and rainfall ranges from 2,900 mm (114 in) annually at Victoria to 3,600 mm (142 in) on the mountain slopes. Precipitation is somewhat less on the other islands.
During the coolest months, July and August, the average low is about 24 °C (75 °F). 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 31 °C (88 °F). Most of the islands lie outside the cyclone belt, so high winds are rare.
Environmental legislation is very strict, and every tourism project must undergo an environmental review and a lengthy process of consultations with the public and conservationists. Seychelles is a world leader in sustainable tourism. The end result of this sustainable development is an intact and stable natural environment, which attracts financially strong visitors (150,000 in 2007) rather than short-term mass tourism. Since 1993 a law guarantees the citizens the right to a clean environment and at the same time obliges them to protect this environment. The country holds a record for the highest percentage of land under natural conservation—nearly 50% of the total land area.
Like many fragile island ecosystems, Seychelles saw the loss of biodiversity when humans first settled in the area, including the disappearance of most of the giant tortoises from the granitic islands, the felling of coastal and mid-level forests, and the extinction of species such as the chestnut flanked white eye, the Seychelles parakeet, and the saltwater crocodile. However, extinctions were far fewer than on islands such as Mauritius or Hawaii, partly due to a shorter period of human occupation (since 1770). Seychelles today is known for success stories in protecting its flora and fauna. The rare Seychelles black parrot, the national bird of the country, is now protected.
The granitic islands of Seychelles are home to about 75 endemic plant species, with a further 25 or so species in the Aldabra group. Particularly well-known is the coco de mer, a species of palm that grows only on the islands of Praslin and neighbouring Curieuse. Sometimes nicknamed the "love nut" because the shape of its "double" coconut resembles buttocks, the coco-de-mer produces the world's heaviest seed. The jellyfish tree is to be found in only a few locations on Mahe. This strange and ancient plant in a genus of its own (Medusagyne) seems to reproduce only in cultivation and not in the wild. Other unique plant species include Wright's gardenia (Rothmannia annae) found only on Aride Island Special Reserve.
The freshwater crab genus Seychellum is endemic to the granitic Seychelles, and a further 26 species of crabs and five species of hermit crabs live on the islands.
The Aldabra giant tortoise now populates many of the islands of Seychelles; the Aldabra population is the largest remaining. These unique reptiles can be found even in captive herds. The granitic islands of Seychelles may support distinct species of Seychelles giant tortoises; the status of the different populations is currently unclear.
There are several unique species of orchid on the islands.
Seychelles hosts some of the largest seabird colonies in the world, notably on the outer islands of Aldabra and Cosmoledo. In granitic Seychelles the largest colonies are on Aride Island including the world's largest numbers of two species. Sooty terns also breed on the islands. Other birds include Cattle egrets (Bubulcus ibis) and Fairy terns (Gygis alba).
The marine life around the islands, especially the more remote coral islands, can be spectacular. More than 1,000 species of fish have been recorded.
Since the use of spearguns and dynamite for fishing was banned through efforts of local conservationists in the 1960s, the wildlife is unafraid of snorkelers and divers. Coral bleaching in 1998 has damaged most reefs, but some reefs show healthy recovery (e.g., Silhouette Island).
Despite huge disparities across nations, Seychelles claims to have achieved nearly all of its Millennium Development Goals. 17 MDGS and 169 targets have been achieved. Environmental protection is becoming a cultural value.
Their government's Seychelles Climate Guide describes the nation's climate as rainy, with a dry season with an ocean economy in the ocean regions. The Southeast Trades is on the decline but still fairly strong. Reportedly, weather patterns there are becoming less predictable.
When the British gained control of the islands during the Napoleonic Wars, they allowed the French upper class to retain their land. Both the French and British settlers used enslaved Africans, and although the British prohibited slavery in 1835, African workers continued to come. Thus the Gran blan ("big whites") of French origin dominated economic and political life. The British administration employed Indians on indentured servitude to the same degree as in Mauritius resulting in a small Indian population. The Indians, like a similar minority of Chinese, were confined to a merchant class.
Through harmonious socioeconomic policies and developments over the years, today Seychelles is described as a fusion of peoples and cultures. Numerous Seychellois are considered multiracial: blending from African, Asian and European descent to create a modern creole culture. Evidence of this harmonious blend is also revealed in Seychellois food, incorporating various aspects of French, Chinese, Indian and African cuisine.
As the islands of the Seychelles had no indigenous population, the current Seychellois are composed of people who have immigrated. The largest ethnic groups were those of African, French, Indian and Chinese descent. The median age of the Seychellois was 32 years.
French and English are official languages along with Seychellois Creole, which is primarily based upon French, yet nowadays is often laced with English words and phrases. Including second-language speakers, Seychellois is the most-spoken official language in the Seychelles, followed by French, and lastly English. 87% of the population speaks Seychellois, 51% speaks French, and 38% speaks English.
According to the 2010 census, most Seychellois are Christians: 76.2% were Roman Catholic, pastorally served by the exempt Diocese of Port Victoria or Seychelles (immediately dependent on the Holy See); 10.6% were Protestant, (Anglican 6.1%, Pentecostal Assembly 1.5%, Seventh-Day Adventist 1.2%, other Protestant 1.6%).
Hinduism is practiced by 2.4%, and Islam by 1.6%. Other non-Christian faiths accounted for 1.1% of the population while a further 5.9% were non-religious or did not specify a religion.
During the plantation era, cinnamon, vanilla and copra were the chief exports. In 1965, during a three-month visit to the islands, futurist Donald Prell prepared for the then-crown colony Governor General an economic report containing a scenario for the future of the economy. Quoting from his report, in the 1960s, about 33% of the working population worked at plantations, and 20% worked in the public or government sector. The Indian Ocean Tracking Station on Mahé was closed in August 1996 after the Seychelles government attempted to raise the rent to more than $10,000,000 per year.
Since independence in 1976, per capita output has expanded to roughly seven times the old near-subsistence level. Growth has been led by the tourist sector, which employs about 30% of the labour force, compared to agriculture which today employs about 3% of the labour force. Despite the growth of tourism, farming and fishing continue to employ some people, as do industries that process coconuts and vanilla.
As of 2013, the main export products are processed fish (60%) and non-fillet frozen fish (22%).
The prime agricultural products currently produced in Seychelles include sweet potatoes, vanilla, coconuts and cinnamon. These products provide much of the economic support of the locals. Frozen and canned fish, copra, cinnamon and vanilla are the main export commodities.
Since the worldwide economic crises of 2008, the Seychelles government has prioritised a curbing of the budget deficit, including the containment of social welfare costs and further privatisation of public enterprises. The government has a pervasive presence in economic activity, with public enterprises active in petroleum product distribution, banking, imports of basic products, telecommunications and a wide range of other businesses. According to the 2013 Index of Economic Freedom, which measures the degree of limited government, market openness, regulatory efficiency, rule of law, and other factors, economic freedom has been increasing each year since 2010.
The national currency of Seychelles is the Seychellois rupee. Initially tied to a basket of international currencies, it was depegged and allowed to be devalued and float freely in 2008 on the presumed hopes of attracting further foreign investment in the Seychelles economy.
In 1971, with the opening of Seychelles International Airport, tourism became a significant industry, essentially dividing the economy into plantations and tourism. The tourism sector paid better, and the plantation economy could only expand so far. The plantation sector of the economy declined in prominence, and tourism became the primary industry of Seychelles.
In recent years the government has encouraged foreign investment to upgrade hotels and other services. These incentives have given rise to an enormous amount of investment in real estate projects and new resort properties, such as project TIME, distributed by the World Bank, along with its predecessor project MAGIC. Despite its growth, the vulnerability of the tourist sector was illustrated by the sharp drop in 1991–1992 due largely to the Gulf War.
Since then the government has moved to reduce the dependence on tourism by promoting the development of farming, fishing, small-scale manufacturing and most recently the offshore financial sector, through the establishment of the Financial Services Authority and the enactment of several pieces of legislation (such as the International Corporate Service Providers Act, the International Business Companies Act, the Securities Act, the Mutual Funds and Hedge Fund Act, amongst others).
During March 2015, Seychelles allocated Assumption island to be developed by India.
Although multinational oil companies have explored the waters around the islands, no oil or gas has been found. In 2005, a deal was signed with US firm Petroquest, giving it exploration rights to about 30,000 km2 around Constant, Topaz, Farquhar and Coëtivy islands until 2014. Seychelles imports oil from the Persian Gulf in the form of refined petroleum derivatives at the rate of about 5,700 barrels per day (910 m3/d).
In recent years oil has been imported from Kuwait and also from Bahrain. Seychelles imports three times more oil than is needed for internal uses because it re-exports the surplus oil in the form of bunker for ships and aircraft calling at Mahé. There are no refining capacities on the islands. Oil and gas imports, distribution and re-export are the responsibility of Seychelles Petroleum (Sepec), while oil exploration is the responsibility of the Seychelles National Oil Company (SNOC).
Seychellois society is essentially matriarchal. Mothers tend to be dominant in the household, controlling most expenditures and looking after the interests of the children. Unwed mothers are the societal norm, and the law requires fathers to support their children. Men are important for their earning ability, but their domestic role is relatively peripheral.
Until the mid-19th century, little formal education was available in Seychelles. The Catholic and Anglican churches opened mission schools in 1851. The Catholic mission later operated boys' and girls' secondary schools with religious Brothers and nuns from abroad even after the government became responsible for them in 1944.
A teacher training college opened in 1959, when the supply of locally trained teachers began to grow, and in short time many new schools were established. Since 1981 a system of free education has been in effect requiring attendance by all children in grades one to nine, beginning at age five. Ninety percent of all children attend nursery school at age four.
The literacy rate for school-age children rose to more than 90% by the late 1980s. Many older Seychellois had not been taught to read or write in their childhood; adult education classes helped raise adult literacy from 60% to a claimed 100% in 2014.
There are a total of 68 schools in Seychelles. The public school system consists of 23 crèches, 25 primary schools and 13 secondary schools. They are located on Mahé, Praslin, La Digue and Silhouette. Additionally, there are three private schools: École Française, International School and the Independent School. All the private schools are on Mahé, and the International School has a branch on Praslin. There are seven post-secondary (non-tertiary) schools: the Seychelles Polytechnic, School of Advanced Level Studies, Seychelles Tourism Academy, University of Seychelles Education, Seychelles Institute of Technology, Maritime Training Center, Seychelles Agricultural and Horticultural Training Center and the National Institute for Health and Social Studies.
The administration launched plans to open a university in an attempt to slow down the brain drain that has occurred. University of Seychelles, initiated in conjunction with the University of London, opened on 17 September 2009 in three locations and offers qualifications from the University of London.
Staple foods include fish, seafood and shellfish dishes, often accompanied with rice. Fish dishes are cooked in several ways, such as steamed, grilled, wrapped in banana leaves, baked, salted and smoked. Curry dishes with rice are also a significant aspect of the country's cuisine.
Additional food staples include coconut, breadfruit, mangoes and kordonnyen fish. Dishes are often garnished with fresh flowers.
The music of Seychelles is diverse, a reflection of the fusion of cultures through its history. The folk music of the islands incorporates multiple influences in a syncretic fashion, including African rhythms, aesthetic and instrumentation—such as the zez and the bom (known in Brazil as berimbau), European contredanse, polka and mazurka, French folk and pop, sega from Mauritius and Réunion, taarab, soukous and other pan-African genres, and Polynesian, Indian and Arcadian music.
A form of percussion music called contombley is popular, as is Moutya, a fusion of native folk rhythms with Kenyan benga. Kontredans (based on European contredanse) is popular, especially in District and School competitions during the annual Festival Kreol (International Creole Festival). Moutya playing and dancing can often be seen at beach bazaars. Their main languages are Seychellois Creole of the French language, French and English.
The main daily newspaper is the Seychelles Nation, dedicated to local government views and current affairs and topics. Other political parties operate other papers such as Regar. Foreign newspapers and magazines are readily available in most bookshops and newsagents. The papers are mostly written in Seychellois Creole, French and English.
The main television and radio network is operated by the Seychelles Broadcasting Corporation which offers locally produced news and discussion programmes in the Seychellois Creole language. Broadcasts run between 3pm and 11:30pm on weekdays and longer hours during the weekends. There are also imported English and French language television programmes imported on Seychellois terrestrial television and international satellite television has grown rapidly in recent years.
The most popular sport in Seychelles is basketball, which has particularly developed in this decade. The country's national team qualified for the 2015 African Games, its greatest accomplishment to date. There, the team competed against some of the continent's largest countries such as Egypt.
The Military of Seychelles is the Seychelles People's Defence Force which consists of a number of distinct branches: including an Infantry Unit, Coast Guard, Air Force and a Presidential Protection Unit. India has and continues to play a key role developing the military of Seychelles. After handing over 2 SDB Mk5 patrol vessels namely INS Tarasa and INS Tarmugli to Seychelles Coast Guard, built by GRSE which were subsequently renamed SCG Constant and SCG Topaz, India also gifted a Dornier Maritime Patrol aircraft built by Hindustan Aeronautics Limited. India also signed a pact to develop Assumption Island, one of the 115 islands that make up the country. Spread over 11 km2 (4 sq mi), it is strategically located in the Indian Ocean, north of Madagascar. The island is being leased for the development of infrastructure, a euphemism for developing strategic assets by India.
In 2014, Seychelles had the highest incarceration rate in the world of 799 prisoners per 100,000 population, exceeding the United States rate by 15%. However, the country's actual population is less than 100,000; as of September 2014, Seychelles had 735 actual prisoners, 6% of whom were female, incarcerated in three prisons.
Seychelles is a key participant in the fight against Indian Ocean piracy mainly by Somalis. Former president James Michel said that piracy costs between $7–12 million a year to the international community: “The pirates cost 4% of the Seychelles GDP, including direct and indirect costs for the loss of boats, fishing, and tourism, and the indirect investment for the maritime security,” factors affecting local fishing – one of the country’s main national resources – which had a 46% loss in 2008–9. International contributions of patrol boats, planes or drones have been provided to help Seychelles combat sea piracy.