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Trouble in the Paradise

2 February 2010 2 February 2010 Tags: One Comment Print This Post Print This Post

Fishermen, Seychelles, watercolor, 2001 ©Carlos Goulão (Portugal)

I always considered The Universal Declaration of Human Rights to be a good document and, on the first reading of it, I have noticed an interesting correlation between its first and last articles.

Article 1
All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.

Article 30
Nothing in this Declaration may be interpreted as implying for any State, group or person any right to engage in any activity or to perform any act aimed at the destruction of any of the rights and freedoms set forth herein.

The Articles 1 and 30 offer this important wisdom: a spirit of brotherhood can be active only if people do not act toward destruction of the rights and freedoms of others. Repairing that destruction is always lengthy and difficult process because the “spirit of brotherhood” can not just be planted in the law of a land – to be real, it must exist in the hearts and will of the people. Consequently, any country is much better off when it is not left to a passive regulation but when good citizens are permitted to bring their voices to open public forums to report their concerns and negotiate justly solutions. More so, any attempt of interfering with the freedom of expression or suppressing public forums is guaranteed to backfire in a long run because there is no poison on earth more potent as a partial truth mixed with passion.

Unfortunately, as in many places, some of these principles seem to be underestimated in Seychelles.

The Creole Paradise, as some refer to Seychelles which is situated on 115 islands located about 1,000 miles northeast of Madagascar, is the smallest state in Africa with only 85,000 inhabitants. To Seychelles’ credit it has one of the highest percentages of women in parliament in Africa, at 24 percent, without any quota systems in effect. Also, the right of religious freedom is mandated in Seychelles in the constitution and exists in practice.

The government of Seychelles and, practically speaking, its leading party, control much of the islands’ media and operates radio and TV stations as well as the sole daily newspaper, The Seychelles Nation. At least two other newspapers broadly support and/or are published by the leading political party. The opposition’s weekly, Regar, has been sued under a broad constitutional restriction on free expression, and it suspended publication in 2006. Regar’s editor, who is also the secretary general of the minority party, had been briefly detained after opposing a decision preventing the establishment of an opposition radio station. Regar remained out of print at the end of 2007. The sole remaining major independent newspaper, Le Nouveau Seychelles Weekly, was denied printing facilities in the Seychelles in  2007 and is presently printed in Mauritius which adds substantially to the weekly’s operational cost. Additionally, high licensing fees have discouraged the development of privately owned broadcast media. Luckily, there are no restrictions on Internet usage which is rapidly growing, mainly through secondary and higher level schools and through Internet cafes.

Growing concerns about government corruption have focused on the lack of transparency in privatization and the allocation of government-owned land. Credible allegations have also been made that government officials have sold passports illegally.

Approximately 70% of Seychellois are multi-racial but the Creole population faces discrimination. Nearly all of the country’s political and economic life is dominated by people of European and South Asian origin, which is an occasional source of deep resentment in the majority population. The dynamics of that reality often leaves the indigenous people with limited political and economic choices which fuels mistrust. Related to this atmosphere,  discrimination against foreign workers have been reported.

Transparency International's 2009 Corruption Perceptions Index - Top 10 in Africa

Seychelles ranks 54th in the world-wide Transparency International’s 2009 Corruption Perceptions Index and  4th among African states – see listing of top 10 countries / territories on the right.

Rather surprisingly, in the context of the opposition’s press restrictions, Seychelles scored quite high on the 2007 Ibrahim Index of African Governance,  ranked 8th of 48 sub-Saharan African countries
in the Participation and Human Rights category that includes the freedom of press – see table below. What is not clear to us is if this relatively high score is also a reflection of a generally inadequate freedom of the press in Africa. This ranking is expected to be lower for 2009.

2007 Ibrahim Index of African Governance - Participation and Human Rights category - Top 10

We only hope that Latin phrase Finis Coronat Opus (The End Crowns the Work), which appears on Seychelles’ Coat of Arms, applies also to the never finished work of building  democracy.

That brings us to two summary points. The first is that democracy is not a permanent light beacon but more like a flickering flame that requires the continual care of concerned citizens to keep it alive; the second is that even a paradise may feel like hell to those who have no voice.

Written by Mark Bajkowski.
Mark, born in Poland, is a Jack of all trades, master of none, who lives in New York since 1979. Mark has an unusually wide range of interests and is known to relate well to the people half of his age. Since his early childhood, he felt a curious relation to Africa, which unavoidably brings up the controversial subject of multiple life experiences.

One Comment »

  • ezramaniche said:

    Making Friends and Enemies In Seychelles
    A tsunami is a phenemon caused by an earthquake beneath the ocean. The repercussions can be disasterous if proactive procedures are not in place. This scenario is a real menace to the political landscape in Seychelles. Beneath the calm, tropical-holiday luring landscapean economic crisis is threatening the near communist police-state political control of the Government of President James Michel. The economic crisis caused by the relentless greed of the party hierarchy now threatens the survival of the country. I ts demise signalled by a near frantic squabble “free-for-all” mentality beginning to manifest itself, over the remaining spoils. This is however, completely against the IMF-supervised reform programme, with the President now dangling between the devil and the deep blue sea.
    This is a problem solely of the ruling party’s making. President Michel rise to his current position is the reward for blind, fanatical loyalty to President France Albert Rene. Michel, at the time, was a man who could be trusted to do what told to do. With the advent of the one-party socialist state James Alix Michel occuppied a number of posts as: Minister of Information, Minister of Education, Minister of Finance and Environment, Vice-President and finally President. At the helm of Finance and Environment: the two most important positions in the Seychelles economy, Vice-President Michel oversaw some deap-seated transformations in Seychelles. During his tenure Seychelles underwent transformation into a Five-Star tourism destination.
    During the same period Seychelles also become an international tuna processing centre. These were presented as an economic-coup to the populace, the finer nefarious points of these agreements given the prevalent tight media control never seeing the light of day. The only whiff of these accords occurring through occassionals leaks to oppostion newspapers. Most of these revolve around generous arrangements and concessions being given to the international companies whilst the local people are given only menial employment opportunities in many of these establishments. Examples of the arrangements and concessions cover a wide-range of activities.
    A classical example, going against all accounting principles. is that of capital assets purchased by government at inflated costs from the tuna factory. Another moot point is the susidised sale of electricity to the same company by the government. Again within the tuna industry are the cheap costs of licenses for fishing in the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) of Seychelles waters. To further indict the industry, Government does not make appropriate and transparent provisions for salaries of Seychellois fishermen plying their trade on board the European Union vessels. In fact with respect to the salaries of the fishermen, the government receives substantial payments that should in reality be paid to the fishermen. This has resulted in local fishermen on these vessels spending years on the high seas, earning a pittance with no recourse being made government. The same holds for the dock workers unloading the tuna vessels. Again government is the middle man with respect to payments due to the dock workers. In respect of the five-star hotels, numerous concessions ranging from leases, employment permits, zero-rate taxation concessions for vehicle imports, materials, employees, profitsrepatriations are just some of the inducements given to the establishments. Controversy over these concessisons and the local politicians and civil servants actually profiting from these underhanded deals is a headache rapidly becoming a cerebral anuerysm for the Presidency of James Michel. Problems are also accumulating for the selective application of the strict environment protection legislation when it comes to these five star establishments. At present, a coral reef in the supposedly protected Ste. Anne Marine National Park is being broken to accommodate a hotel’s wharf marina for yatchs. Another hotel is building a road in the Ramsar site protected marsh. The flouting of environment laws also extends to construction where the 25 metre tide water mark near the sea is also being disregarded by another proposed establishment on the popular Beau Vallon Beach on Mahé. This disregard and nonenforcement of legisation lies at the heart of the governments problems.
    During the 1990’s Seychelles began to suffer from a dearth of foreign exchange to sustain its economy. This led to the introduction of the Foreign Exchange Control Act by the then Finance Minister and Vice-President James Michel. The ambit of the act was to strictly regulate the flow of avaiable foreign exchange through the banking system. Any request for overseas payments had to be evidenced by a reciprcal deposit of local currency in a “pipeline” with any one of the local banks. When available, foreign exchange would be allocated according to priority of need. The theory was greeted with appropriate accolades. Practice has resulted in the sum of USD 2.5 Billion leaving the country without going through the government supervised “pipeline”. A polemic has been created because whilst some people have been taken to court for being in possession of foreign exchange and even imprisoned and their all their non-local currencies confiscated for not going through the pipeline; the owners of the USD 2.5 Billion appear to be untouchable and unaccountable. Allegations are rift that the sources of these funds are from government contracts and kick-backs from the companies trading in Seychelles, all with close ties to the government -hence the wall of silence surrounding those funds origins.
    The possibility for this happening is because of the structure of government and governance is based on the soviet-style centralised control framework.. Everything and anything is subject to ruling party sanction. All government civil servant posts and promotions are scrutinised for loyalty to the party. All literature, professional research and academic excellence is guided by this one principle. It has served James Michel well and is therefore a most valued measure.
    The converse has also arisen in that it has opened the door to nepotism, cronyism and the even worse bane of entrenched corruption. If you are loyal to the party you can even get away with murder, as shown by the case of the Rwanda genocide. There are allegations that very senior members, of the administration including the President were involved in the sale of arms for use in the genocide in Rwanda.
    In fact one of the key players in the arms transaction, former Colonel Bagosora from the Rwandan side, was recently jailed for life. Besides the sale of arms, they were also heavily involved in the subsequent cover-up. Again Seychelles remains unscathed. All reports fed to international organisations are compiled by party loyalists. No party image tarnishing reports are ever found, and all indicators and indexes are doctored to suit this image comparable to that of East Germany – before the fall of the wall. In Seychelles case things have come to a head with the economic crisis caused by unchecked onerous foreign debts taken by the President’s loyalists. The country’s inability to service these debts led to the IMFsupervised programme. Difficulties have been compounded by the international economic crisis, and the scourge of Somalian piracy acts. These have delivered sharp body blows to the tourism industry and the tuna processing industry. Salvation in the form of the IMF has however, come at a price. The price is that Seychelles makes a clean break with past practices and takes appropriate measures to ensure accountability, transparency, good governance, and responsibility. Given that the stakeholders in these hegemonies of corruption have close ties to the ruling party; the cure threatens to kill the patient. The ruling party of President Michel has long identified itself as the Seychelles Society. Any criticism of the government and the extra-luxurious, opulent livestyles of its cronies are viewed as criticisms of society. Since the reforms set in motion go to the heart of the ruling party, and President’s Michel’s power base; any attempt at further implementation or it reverse (contaiment) will further fracture an aready fragile coalition of interests. Trying to salvage the ruling party inherently means that there will be casualties. Determining who the casualties are is not a pleasant prospect when it could be that your best friend is your worst enemy.

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