Trouble in the Paradise
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.