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Africa

 Jewel of

The African continent is comprised of 54 nations, each with its own independent government and sovereignty, GDP, culture, natural resources, language(s), military, and religion. The treasure trove of mineral and raw material wealth has scarcely been touched and the continent's largely untapped fertile lands could feed the world. Herewith is Jewel of Africa, an interactive adventure in the cradle of mankind, an exploration of nations from A-Z in alphabetical order.

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Seychelles: An opulent East African archipelago getaway

Seychelles, officially the Republic of Seychelles, is an archipelago nation comprising 115 islands in the Indian Ocean. Seychelles population is 107,118, the smallest population of any nation in Africa. Its greatest natural resources are the fish in its waters and natural beauty, which attracts up to 150,000 tourists annually.

Geography, climate

The Seychelles is located in the Indian Ocean northeast of Madagascar and about 1,000 miles east of Kenya. Other nearby island countries and territories include Zanzibar to the west, Mauri- tius and Réunion to the south, Comoros and Mayotte to the southwest, and the Suvadives of the Maldives to the northeast. Its total area is about 2.5 times the size of Washington, D.CThe nation is an archipelago of 155 tropical islands, some granite and some coral. The former have a narrow coastal strip and a central range of hills rising as high as 3,000 feet. The coral islands are flat with elevated coral reefs at different stages of formation and have no fresh water. Only 33 of the islands are inhabited. The capital city, Victoria, is located on the largest island.

The temperature is temperate, although quite humid, and remains the same most of the year, 75-85 degrees. During the coolest months, July and August, the temperature drops as low as 70 degrees. The southeast trade winds blow regularly from May to November. March and April are the hottest months. Most of the islands are outside the cyclone belt, so high winds are rare.

Flora and fauna

In common with many fragile island ecosystems, the early human history of Seychelles saw the loss of biodiversity including the disappearance of most of the giant tortoises from the granitic islands, felling of coastal and mid-level forests, and extinction of species such as the chestnut flanked white eye, the Seychelles parakeet and the saltwater crocodile. However, extinctions were far fewer than on other islands such as Mauritius or Hawaii, partly due to a shorter period of human occupation (since 1770). The Seychelles today is known for success stories in protecting its flora and fauna.

Although many of the conservation laws date back to British colonial days, the Seychelles government has strictly protected the natural heritage of the islands for years. Flagship species, the Seychelles Magpie Robin and the Seychelles Warbler, were rescued from the brink of extinction by BirdLife International, Royal Society of Wildlife Trusts, Island Conservation Society, Nature Seychelles, private islands (Fregate and Denis) and the government of Seychelles.

These birds, once restricted to one island each, have been trans-located to many others. Sey- chelles has 12 endemic bird species. These are the Aldabra Drongo, Seychelles Magpie robin, Seychelles Paradise Flycatcher, Seychelles Fody, Seychelles Scops-owl, Seychelles White-eye, Seychelles Swiftlet, Seychelles Kestrel, Seychelles Blue Pigeon Seychelles Bulbul, Seychelles Warbler, and Seychelles Sunbird.

Seychelles is home to two UNESCO World Heritage Sites run by the Seychelles Islands Foundation. They are the atoll of Aldabra, which is the world's largest raised coral atoll, and also the Vallée de Mai on Praslin island, dubbed a Garden of Eden. The Cousin Island Special Reserve, purchased by the Royal Society for Nature Conservation in 1968 and managed by Nature Seychelles, is an internationally known bird and marine sanctuary.

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Many islands comprise the Seychelles archipelago, 115 in total. That means hundreds of pristine beaches. It's home to numerous beaches, coral reefs and nature reserves, as well as rare animals such as giant Aldabra tortoises. Mahé, the main island and hub for visiting the other islands, is home to the capital city of Victoria. It also has the mountain rainforests of Morne Seychellois National Park and beaches, including Beau Vallon and Anse Takamaka.

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The giant tortoises of Aldabra now populate many of the islands of the Seychelles. The Aldabra population is the largest in the world. These unique reptiles can be found even in captive herds. It has been reported that the granitic islands of Seychelles supported distinct species of Seychelles giant tortoises, but the status of the different populations is currently unclear. Two of them, Arnolds giant tortoise and the Seychelles giant tortoise are in the process of being re-introduced, after some individuals were discovered surviving among Aldabra populations.

 

Seychelles black parrot and warbler, have been rescued from the brink of extinction by BirdLife InternationalRoyal Society of Wildlife TrustsIsland Conservation SocietyNature Seychelles, private islands (Fregate and Denis) and the Government of Seychelles. These birds, once restricted to one island each, have been translocated to many others. The national bird is the rare Seychelles black parrot. Seychelles has 12 endemic bird species. These are the Aldabra drongo, magpie robinparadise flycatcher, fody scops-owl, white-eye, swiftletkestrelblue pigeonbulbul, warbler and sunbird.

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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 of its suggestive shape, the coco de mer is the world's largest seed. The jellyfish tree is to be found in only a few locations today. This strange and ancient plant has resis-

ted all effortsto propagate it. Other unique island plant species include the Rothmannia annae found only on the Aride Island Special Reserve. Others are Lodoicea maldivica (sea coco- nut), Deckenia nobilis (cabbage palm), Nephrosperma vanhout teanum, Phoenicophorium borsigianum (thief palm), Roscheria melanochaetes, and Verschaffeltia splendida (stilt palm), all of which are the only species within their respective genera, and are palm tree species endemic to the Seychelles.

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Victoria (French is the capital and largest city of the Republic of the Sey- chelles, situated on the north-eastern side of  Mahé island, the archi-pelago's main island. The city was first established as the seat of the British colonial government. In 2022, the population of Greater Victoria (including the suburbs) is 22,881 out of the country's total pop= ulation of 99,426 people.

 

The geographical locale that would become Vic- toria was originally settled in 1778 by French colon- ists after they claimed the island in 1756. The town was called L' Établisse- ment until 1841 when it was renamed to Victoria by the British, after Queen Victoria.

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The Seychelles National Parks Authority (SNPA) is responsible for all of the marine and terrestrial national parks of Seychelles and a number of these parks have been designated since 1979. The terrestrial parks include Morne Seychellois National Park, the Praslin National Park and the Veuve Reserve on La Digue. The Marine National parks includes St. Anne (one of the first marine protected area in the Indian Ocean), Silhouette, Port Launay, Baie Ternay, Ile Coco, Curieuse & Saint Pierre. All of these protected areas offer a diversity of fauna and flora which is enjoyed by thousands of visitors each year, with each park having its particular interesting features.

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Seychelles has six national marine parks including the St. Anne National Marine Park located adjacent to the cap- ital, Port Victoria, which are managed by the government parastatal, Marine Parks Authority. Much of the land territory (about 40 percent) and a substantial part of the coastal sea around Seychelles are protected as national parks, including marine parks, and reserves.

A World Bank/Environment Facility project in 1999 and a project for rat eradication has led to a program of restor- ration of private islands by the government, Nature Seychelles, and private island owners. These islands include Fregate, Denis, and Cousine. The island restoration program has now been taken to the outer islands by the Island Conservation Society, with the first Island Conservation Center opened at Alphonse Atoll in 2007. Island Conservation Society has also implemented other conservation programs on islands including Conception, North Island, Cosmoledo Atoll and Farquhar Atoll.

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 neighboring Curieuse. Sometimes nicknamed the "love nut" because of its suggestive shape, the Coco de mer is the world's largest seed. The jellyfish tree is found in only a few locations. This strange and ancient plant has resisted all efforts to propagate it. Other unique plant species include the Wrights Gardenia, found only on Aride Island Special Reserve.

The giant tortoises from Aldabra now populate many of the islands of the Seychelles. The Aldabra population is the largest in the world. These unique reptiles can be found even in captive herds.

Seychelles is home to some of the largest seabird colonies in the world. Islands such as Bird, Aride Island, Cou- sin, Aldabra, and Cosmoledo are refuge to many species of seabirds including the sooty tern, fairy tern, white-tailed tropicbird, noddies, and frigate birds. Aride Island has more species of seabird than the other 40 granite islands combined, including the world's largest colony of Audubon's Shearwater and Lesser Noddy.

The marine life around the islands, especially the more remote coral islands, can be spectacular. More than a thousand species of fish have been recorded. Since the use of spear guns and dynamite for fishing was banned in the 1960s, the wildlife has no fear of snorkelers and divers. Coral bleaching, in 1998, has unfortunately damaged most reefs. The reefs comprise a vast selection of soft corals and hard corals alike. The hunting of marine turtles was banned in 1994. Turtle populations are now recovering on several protected islands, notably Cousin Island, Aride Island, and Aldabra. However, they continue to decline at unprotected sites. The use of gill nets for shark fishing as well as the practice of shark finning are now banned.

History

While Austronesian seafarers and Arab traders may have been the first to visit the uninhabited Seychelles, the first recorded sighting of these visitors ocurred in 1502 by the Portuguese Admiral Vasco da Gama, who passed through the Amirantes and named them after himself (islands of the Admiral). The first recorded landing and first written account was by the crew of the English East Indiaman Ascension in 1609. As a transit point for trading between Africa and Asia, they were occasionally used by pirates until the French began to take control of the islands starting in 1756 when a Stone of Possession was laid by Captain Nicholas Morphey.

 

Some historians have claimed the islands were named after Jean Moreau de Séchelles, the French finance min- ister appointed in 1754. The British contested control over the islands with the French between 1794 and 1812. Jean Baptiste Queau de Quincy, French administrator of Seychelles during the years of war with England, realized it was pointless to resist whenever a heavily armed enemy warship arrived. However, he successfully negotiated the status of capitulation to Britain, which gave the settlers a privileged position of neutrality. In all, he capitulated seven times, guiding the colony successfully through difficult times.

Britain eventually assumed full control upon the surrender of Mauritius in 1812 and this was formalized in 1814 at the Treaty of Paris. The Seychelles became a crown colony separate from Mauritius in 1903 and independence was granted in 1976, as a republic within the Commonwealth. In 1977, a coup d'etat backed by the socialist reg- ime in nearby Tanzania ousted the first president of the republic, James Mancham, replacing him with France Albert René. The 1979 constitution declared a socialist one-party state, which lasted until 1992. The first draft of a new constitution failed to receive the requisite 60 percent of voters in 1992, but in 1993 an amended version was approved.

Government and politics

The Seychelles president is both head of state and government, and is elected by popular vote for a five-year term. The unicameral Seychellois parliament, the National Assembly, is comprised of 34 members, of whom 25 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.

Independent since 1976, the Seychelles is a relatively young democracy: The first multiparty presidential election was held in 1993 after the adoption of a new constitution. The latest presidential and parliamentary elections took place in October 2020, bringing an opposition candidate, Wavel Ramkalawan, to the presidency for the first time since the introduction of democratic elections. Ramkalawan’s Linyon Demokratic Sesel party also won the majority of seats in the national parliament. The judicial branch includes a Court of Appeal and Supreme Court; judges for both are appointed by the president. The legal system is based on English common law, French civil law, and customary law.

Foreign relations

Seychelles follows a policy of nonalignment and strongly supports the principle of reduced superpower presence in the Indian Ocean. It is a proponent of the Indian Ocean zone of peace concept and promotes an end to the US military presence on Diego Garcia. It is a member of the Nonaligned Movement, the African Union, and the Indian Ocean Commission.

Economy

The economic and social shock from COVID-19 on the Seychelles is severe. Economic growth declined signifi- cantly in 2020 to -12.9 percent from 1.9 percent in 2019 due to the significant disruptions in economic activities, including lower tourism, which plummeted by more than 60 percent. The fiscal deficit widened to 19.5 percent of gross domestic product (GDP) in 2020 because of lower revenues and higher COVID-19-related spending.

The fiscal deficit is projected to be 13.6 percent in 2021. gradually gaining pace, driven by a resumption of tourism and related capital flows. If unmitigated, the poor are expected to bear a disproportionate impact of the economic shock. According to the 2018 household survey, about six out of 10 poor individuals have a job, mostly in informal activities in the service sector that are expected to experience significant declines.

 

Development Challenges

While the immediate priority is containing COVID-19 and recovery from its economic and social impact on the country, a focus on longer term structural issues is also warranted for a strong and resilient recovery. Among Sey- chelles’ development challenges is a focus on greater productivity, participation and performance of the economy as means to increasing shared prosperity. Some of the main institutional challenges in this regard are notably barriers to open and operate businesses—inefficiencies in public sector management, such as limited statistical capacity, scope for a more strategic and sustainable approach to social protection, and the need to broaden access to quality education and skills development. 

At official exchange rates Seychelles remains the richest country in Africa in terms of GDP per capita. Seychelles has the highest gross domestic product per capita in Africa, at $12.3 billion in 2020. It is important to note that Seychelles is, per capita, the most indebted country in the world according to the World Bank, with total public debt around 122.8 percent of GDP. Approximately 66 percent of this debt is owed domestically, with the balance due to multilaterals, bilaterals, and commercial banks.

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One of the most iconic historical features of Seychelles, the Victoria clock tower is 116 years this year. It was on April 1 in 1903 that the clock tower was installed in the center of Victoria, the capital of the island nation. A landmark dating back to the colonial era, the clock tower was erected in memory of Queen Victoria, who died in 1901.

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The country is in arrears to most of its international creditors and has had to resort to pledged commercial debt to continue to be able to borrow. This high debt burden is a direct consequence of the overvalued exchange rate—in essence the country is living beyond its means, and financing its lifestyle by borrowing domestically and interna- tionally.

Seychelles is also a tax haven. Many firms are established on this island, including GenerActions Consulting, owned by famous Swiss entrepreneur David Humbert. Seychelles is the smallest nation in the world issuing its own currency (that is, not pegged to a foreign currency and not shared with any other country).

Demographics

As the islands of the Seychelles had no indigenous population, the current Seychellois are composed of immigra- grants. Most are descendants of early French settlers and the African slaves brought to the Seychelles in the 19th century by the British, who had freed them from slave ships. Indians, and Chinese account for the remaining 1.1 percent.

The current population of Seychelles in 2022 is 99,426, a 0.52 percent  increase from 2021..About 90 percent of the population live on Mahe island. Most of the rest live on Praslin and La Digue, with the remaining smaller islands either sparsely populated or uninhabited. Seychelles culture is a mixture of French and African (Creole) influences. Creole is the native language of 94 percent of the people. French and English are commonly used, however. English is the language of government and commerce.

Most Seychellois are Christians; the Roman Catholic Church is the predominant denomination. Although clergy and civil authorities disapprove, many Seychellois see little inconsistency between their orthodox religious obser- vance and belief in magic, witchcraft, and sorcery.

Education

Compulsory education, duration in Seychelles was reported at 10 years in 2020, according to the World Bank collection of development indicators, compiled from officially recognized sources. SeychellesDuration of com- pulsory education (years)actual values, historical data, forecasts and projections were sourced from the World Bank on January of 2022. About 92 percent of the population over age 15 is literate, and the literacy rate of school-aged children has risen to over 98 percent. Nearly all children attend primary school.

Culture

Since 1977, the government has encouraged Creole as a common culture and spoken and written language. The world's only Creole Institute can be found on Mahe. Each October, Seychelles hosts the world's largest Creole festival, featuring artists and writers from other nations with a Creole culture, such as Mauritius, Reunion, and Guyana.

The folk music incorporates multiple influences in a syncretic fashion, including English 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 complex form of percussion music called contombley is popular, as is montea, a fusion of native folk rhythms with Kenyan benga developed by Patrick Victor.

Cuisine

Fresh grilled fish. The Seychelles is home to a countless number of tropical fish species, which local fisherman will sell to you, either from the market in Victoria, or by the side of the road fresh from the boat. Listen out for the sound of a conch shell being blown—the traditional sign that fish has just been brought ashore for sale. One of the most popular ways to prepare a fish is over the hot coals of a barbecue, often fired by coconut husks to give a wonderful aroma and flavor to the fish.

Usually preparation of the fish is minimal—just some slits down the side stuffed with garlic, ginger and, chili—and then grilled to perfection. Barracuda is excellent prepared in this way. Salted fish is less common than it used to be, but still available if you know where to look. Again, the lack of refrigeration early on presented a challenge to preserving food. Often, it meant pickling and salting.

Salted fish is liberally covered in salt and then left to dry in the sun. When you want to cook it, you soak it for a while, drain some of the salt out, then use it as you would any other ingredient.

Curry: This really is a dish that your average Seychellois adores. This could be something to do with the history of the islands. Electricity arrived late, so spices were used as preservatives. Curry seasoning is a staple based around masala spices, curry leaves, hot chilies and freshly made coconut cream. Chicken and fish curries are likely to be on your plate.

Lentils: An often overlooked dish, but a critical side component of a traditional Seychelles curry feast is the humble lentil. In Seychelles, red lentils are a popular staple, served as a side dish with many dishes. These are often cooked with garlic, onion and ginger, with the result being a fairly yellow paste.

Sausage Rougay: A favorite Seychellois dish is sausage rougay. This is a sausage based dish rich in tomato and onion sauce, seasoned with garlic, ginger and chili. This is a little bit like a Tuscan sausage in texture, but saltier, and gives the dish it’s signature flavor.

Bananas: The Seychelles is home to at least 23 types of bananas. Bananas are used as a key ingredient in a number of dishes, most notably, desserts. Bananas fried with sugar and butter are a favorite of Seychellois. Bananas baked with coconut milk and sugar,  called banana ladobe is another classic. Sometimes this dessert is flambeed with rum or brandy.

Breadfruit: Breadfruit is a remarkably versatile boiled, baked, mashed or fried. Breadfruit ladobe, cooked in coconut milk and sugar is a classic Seychelles dessert.

Smoked Fish Salad: The Seychelles has a bounty of fish. One popular and traditional way of preserving fish before refrigeration, was to smoke it. Smoked fish has a wonderful flavor, and is delicious in a cold salad. This can be served with a variety of vegetables with a dressing, and the fish is usually a larger fish with darker meat, like swordfish, sailfish or tuna. It’s also popular to use unripe fruits such as mango or papaya in the salad, which adds a tangy zest.

Satini: In the Seychelles “Satini” is salad consisting of finely grated ingredients. This is commonly made with fruits such as papaya or golden apple, and mixed with grated onion, coconut, chili, ginger, salt and pepper. Satini can also be made with fish, commonly shark, yellowed with turmeric.

Fresh Fruit: Seychelles is abundant with many types of fresh fruit from mango, papaya, avocado, banana, star-fruit, coconut, limes, grapefruit, and more. Fruit is generally served at breakfast.

Media

The government has a near monopoly on the media. Freedom of speech and freedom of the press are limited by the ease with which lawsuits can be brought against journalists. In addition, because the leadership of both the SPPF and most opposition parties is White, despite a Creole majority,  nonwhites lack a significant voice.

Jarrette Fellows, Jr. / Creative Commons CC-by-sa 3.0 License