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COUNTRY PROFILES


PROFILE

Country Profile

Area: 455 sq km of land scattered over 650,000 sq km of ocean
Population: 88,340 (July 2010 est.)
Capital city: Victoria
People: Seychellois, descended from French planters and African or Malagasy slaves, with British, Chinese, and Indian infusions.
Languages: English, French, Creole (Seselwa)
Religion(s): Roman Catholic (89%), Anglican (6%), Moslem (3%), Hindu (2%)
Currency: Seychelles Rupee
Major political parties: Parti Lepep, Seychelles National Party (SNP), Democratic Party (DP)
Head of State: President James Michel
Membership of International Groupings/Organisations: African Union (AU), Commonwealth, International Organisation of the Francophonie (OIF), Indian Ocean Rim-Association for Regional Co-operation (IOR-ARC), Indian Ocean Commission (IOC), Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA) (observer), Southern Africa Development Community (SADC).

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ECONOMY

Basic economic facts

GDP at market prices: SR 11.06 billion (2010 estimate)
Annual Growth: 4.011% (2010 estimate)
Inflation: -2.2% (est. 2010)
Major Industries: tourism, tuna fishing/canning
Main Imports: food and live animals, manufactured goods, fuel, machinery
Main Exports: canned tuna, fish, prawns, re-exports of petroleum
Major Trading Partners: UK, France, Saudi Arabia, Italy, Spain, Thailand, South Africa
Exchange rate: 1 GBP = 18.83 Seychelles Rupees approx. (March 2011)
The tourist sector employs about 30% of the workforce, but the fishing industry has over the last few years become the largest foreign exchange earner with tuna canning and exports accounting for over 50% of GDP. Both industries face increasing regional competition.

For some years the main feature of the economy has been a chronic shortage of foreign exchange. In the past, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) has urged devaluation of the Rupee and expressed concern about the wide fiscal and balance of payments deficits that have been financed, in the main, by accumulating large external debt arrears totalling $800m. Following the issue of a $200m sovereign bond in 2006, the Government of Seychelles repaid all of its debts to multilateral institutions, and repaid some outstanding arrears to bilateral creditors through the Paris Club. In November 2008 the Government adopted an IMF-endorsed reform programme with support for an IMF standby arrangement. The reforms included floating of the Rupee, the abolition of foreign exchange controls and a reduction in the public sector work force.

An IMF mission in May 2010 commended Seychelles for complying with all the conditions attached to the the new Extended Fund Facility (EFF). Having met its targets, Seychelles can expect to receive a new disbursement of US$3.3m.

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HISTORY

The islands were uninhabited until the 17th century. They were proclaimed a French colony in 1756 but the first French settlers did not arrive until 1770; the French ruled the islands with delegated powers from Mauritius. Both the British and the French were keenly interested in the strategic value of the islands and during the late 1790s and early 1800s Seychelles changed hands several times. Following the Napoleonic wars, Seychelles was ceded to the British in 1814 and was administered from Mauritius until 1888, when an administrator was appointed to govern from Victoria. Seychelles became a separate Crown Colony in 1903 and independent in 1976.

The campaign for independence began in 1964, and was a divisive issue until James Mancham, Chief Minister and leader of the Seychelles Democratic Party, dropped his opposition in 1974. Seychelles became a Republic within the Commonwealth in June 1976. Initially a coalition government led by President Mancham ruled the country. He was overthrown in a coup on 5 June 1977 and was replaced by Albert Rene, his former Prime Minister. President Rene ran the country as a one party state for 14 years, surviving three unsuccessful coup plots by exiled opponents involving foreign mercenaries (April 1978, November 1979 and November 1981), and a suppressed mutiny (August 1982). However stability improved during the 1980s and in December 1991, President Rene announced a surprise transition to multi-party democracy. This followed pressure for change from foreign governments and discreet contacts with exiles overseas.

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INTERNATIONAL RELATIONS

Relations with the International Community

Seychelles follows a non-aligned foreign policy and aims to promote its reputation as a safe and secure tourist destination and a leader in environmental and conservation matters. Seychelles is an active member of the Indian Ocean Commission (IOC) which promotes economic co-operation between neighbouring islands in the area, as well as the Southern African Development Community (SADC) and the African Union. In January 2006 the decision was announced to reopen the Seychelles Embassy in Brussels in the context of the Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) with the European Union (EU). Seychelles has subsequently accredited Ambassadors/High Commissioners to China, South Africa, Italy and India and also re-opened the High Commission in the UK in January 2010.

The Seychelles continues to play a key role in the international fight against piracy in the Somali Basin. Attacks on Indian Ocean shipping by Somalia-based pirates have escalated in recent years. Backed by the EU, US, India and other international naval forces, the Government is taking new steps to tackle the problem, amending the penal code in March 2010 to allow for the prosecution of pirates captured by naval forces outside Seychelles waters. It has entered into arrangements with the UK and EU to allow suspected pirates captured by EU/UK forces to be transferred to the Seychelles for trial and imprisonment. It also provides port and airport facilities to coalition forces fighting piracy in the region and the Seychelles Coastguard has captured a number of pirates. The British High Commission in Victoria also plays an active role in this work.

Relations with the UK

Relations with the Seychelles are good. There is close collaboration in the fight against piracy. Local rebroadcasts of BBC World TV and BBC World Service on FM radio began in 1998. There are numerous family and educational ties.

Recent visits

Outward (to Seychelles)

HRH The Princess Royal on an official visit in November 2010; Baroness Ashton, High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security for the European Union and Vice President for the European Commission, visited the Seychelles in May 2010 on a regional piracy visit; a UK parliamentary delegation led by Lord Grocott visited Seychelles in July 2008 for a workshop run by the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association; HRH Prince William on a private visit in 2007; HRH The Earl of Wessex in October 2006.

Inward (from Seychelles)

Mr Jean-Paul Adam, Foreign Minister of the Republic of Seychelles visited London in October 2010; Marie-Louise Potter, Leader of Government Business in the Seychelles National Assembly, made an official visit in February 2009; Hendrick Gappy, Electoral Commissioner in May 2005; Danny Faure, Minister of Finance in October 2006; Annette Georges, SNP Vice Presidential candidate in March 2005.

Diplomatic Representation

There is a small British High Commission in Victoria. The Seychelles recently reopened their High Commission in London.

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GEOGRAPHY

The Seychelles comprises 115 small islands, many of them uninhabited, to the east of Kenya. The bulk of the population (88%) lives on the main island Mahé (148 sq km), and most of the rest on Praslin (70 sq km) and the smaller La Digue about 40km from Mahé: all three islands are granitic. Mahé rises steeply from the sea and reaches 912 metres at its highest point. The many coraline islands are only a little above sea level: Aldabra, with its unique ecology, was designated a World Heritage site in 1982; the Vallée de Mai on Praslin is also a World Heritage site. The climate is tropical with uniformly high temperatures all year round (average 26C) and a wet season from December to March.

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TRADE AND INVESTMENT

Trade and Investment with the UK

The value of direct British exports to Seychelles in goods and services in 2009 was £42 million. The value of imports from Seychelles in the same year was £88 million. Significant British commercial interests include Cable and Wireless, Diageo and Barclays Bank (now locally incorporated).

Development

Seychelles is classed as an upper middle-income country and has met many of the UN Millennium Development Goals. Estimates for 2009 indicate a 92% literacy rate and life expectancy at 73 years, well above the norm for Africa.

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POLITICS

The first presidential and parliamentary elections were held under the new multiparty constitution in July 1993 and were won convincingly by President Rene and his Seychelles People’s Progressive Front (SPPF). James Mancham and his Democratic Party (DP) came second in both. A second set of elections in March 1998 again resulted in a clear win for President Rene and the SPPF, but leader of the Seychelles National Party (SNP) Wavel Ramkalawan replaced James Mancham as leader of the opposition.

Albert Rene won early Presidential elections in 2001 with a reduced majority; the SPPF won parliamentary elections in December 2002 with 54% of the vote to the SNP’s 42%.

President Rene stepped down in April 2004 and handed power to the Vice President, James Michel, who won the 2006 Presidential election with 54% of the vote. Parliamentary elections in May 2007 saw no change in the structure of the National Assembly: the SPPF retained its 23 seats; the SNP (in alliance with the DP) retained 11 seats.

In June 2009 the SPPF rebranded itself as the Parti Lepep (People's Party).

The next presidential elections will be held in the Seychelles from 19-21 May 2011.

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HUMAN RIGHTS

Respect for human rights is enshrined in the Seychelles constitution and laws and is generally respected by the authorities, although there are complaints about: lengthy pre-trial detention and the occasional abuse of prisoners; lack of equal access to the media for political parties; the separation of the legislative, executive and judicial institutions of state; and the competence of the police force.

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Last Updated: March 2011

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