High Commissioner for the Seychelles Ms Marie-Pierre Lloyd says they are a small nation with a big agenda
As you may or may not know, the Seychelles is an archipelago of 115 islands to the east of Africa, with a total population of 90,000 people, 80 per cent of whom live on the largest island Mahé. The French initially claimed the islands in 1756, but the Seychelles switched between French and British rule for over 200 years. Middle Eastern and Asian traders used the islands as a safe refuge on their travels, and pirates supposedly buried their treasures on our beaches.
This year, the Seychelles celebrates its 40th year of independence from British rule. In this short time, our small nation has nurtured its unique culture and heritage to become the genuine ‘melting pot’ that it is today. Since becoming a Republic on 29 June 1976, we have been committed to people-centred development that guarantees equal opportunity for all, and have worked tirelessly towards a national vision for a prosperous and peaceful future.
Accordingly, we celebrate the history and heritage that form the foundations of the modern Seychelles, and the significant achievements we have made since independence. It is also an opportune time to reflect on and draw upon the past, honouring the lessons learned and forging our vision for the future.
Our people-centred policies have proved themselves from the outset. The Seychelles has met most of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). For example, we have already achieved free education for both boys and girls for the past 11 years.
On the Human Development Index, the Seychelles continues to enjoy the highest ranking in Africa, and we are extremely proud of our stellar record on gender equality, with women accounting for 44 per cent of our Parliamentarians and holding high-level positions in all sectors.
Our economic performance has also been significant. Our per capita output has expanded roughly seven times the old near-subsistence level since independence. Growth has been led by the tourist sector, which employs about 30 per cent of the labour force. The fisheries sector – the second pillar of the economy – provides more than 70 per cent of hard currency earnings. Considerable efforts have been made to diversify the economy, to make us less vulnerable to external shocks, by developing farming and small-scale manufacturing, and most recently the financial services sector.
2013 marked five years since the start of comprehensive macro-economic reforms that have achieved economic stabilisation, debt reduction, liberalisation and public sector restructuring in the country.
GDP growth increased to about 3.5 per cent in 2013 (up from 2.8 per cent), and looks set to top that in 2015 due largely to a rebound in the tourism sector that has seen a 19 per cent rise in numbers since January 2015. We are now classified as ‘high income’ by the World Bank, with one of the highest GDP per capita in the region.
Despite constraints posed by a small semi-skilled population, insufficient land, small market size and limited natural resources, we are part of a global village and therefore have to constantly look beyond our shores, not only for opportunities but also threats to our national development, peace and security.
Piracy proved to be a tough challenge in terms of maritime security, but in turn it also forced us to look at our vast ocean space. We now realise and appreciate that with an Exclusive Economic Zone covering 1,400,000 square kilometres, our seas offer huge potential for us to develop a large, ocean-based economy. In this regard, we welcome goal 16 of the Development Agenda 2030 and are spearheading initiatives for the sustainable development of our ocean resources, and exploring different opportunities to develop our Blue Economy.
We are also aware that regional integration is a critical factor towards increasing opportunities for the country. We are an active member of the Southern Africa Development Community (SADC) and COMESA and have recently completed our full accession to the WTO. As an island nation we have resisted the temptation to prioritise internal development over external relations, and instead – despite our geographical and population constraints – we have chosen to be part of the global village, making our voice heard at regional, multilateral and international levels on various issues, notably those relating to climate change, inclusive development, governance, peace and security. In some areas we have been prepared to lead and in others we have found innovative solutions to address or combat these global ills and challenges.
We continue to champion the Small Island Developing States (SIDS) agenda and work closely with our fellow island states across the world to tackle issues such as climate change and promote the Blue Economy.
Throughout this process of nation building, the UK has remained one of our closest allies and a valued partner in its proactive support for SIDS and the global development agenda. Our shared history and the people-to-people ties that have continued to strengthen over the years have been the foundation for a strong relationship based on respect and partnership. The UK is home to the largest Seychellois community outside of our borders, British ships have helped to protect our huge ocean territory in the fight against piracy and the UK remains one of our biggest trading partners.
The past 40 years have been momentous in terms of the Seychelles establishing itself and maturing into the modern country it is today. Our vast achievements greatly surpass our small size and we plan to continue on our journey to ensure prosperity, peace and security for our people. Our ties with the UK remain important and shall continue to play a central role in this regard. We can also thank our numerous other friends and partners – be they economic, political or cultural allies – for the contributions that they have undoubtedly made in shaping our young Republic.
As we look forward to the next 40 years with great optimism and pride, we cannot help but be grateful for our blessings. We are amongst the most beautiful islands in the world, a geographically independent state with a stable and mature democracy and an educated population living in a harmonious multi-racial society founded on values like tolerance, respect, solidarity and dignity. We boast some of the richest fishing grounds in the world, strong offshore products and a youth population that is positively engaged in the sustainable development and management of the country’s resources.
We shall also continue to use our platform for the greater good, and champion issues that affect not only us, but others too. Most importantly, however, is that we remember that we are part of a bigger entity, whether that be the Commonwealth or beyond, and respect the responsibility that comes with being a member of that global community. There will, no doubt, be challenges along the way, both internal and external. But somehow with pragmatism that we call ‘the Seychelles Way,’ and our pioneering and indomitable spirit, and the continued support of our friends and partners, we will manage to turn these challenges into opportunities for growth and development, and thereby consolidate our resilience as a nation and as a country.