Seychelles: Post-war developments (1944-1976)

Updated March 2011

The earliest signs of change in the Seychelles came in the form of educational reform. In the late 1930s it became clear that the poor educational system of the islands was in need of reform, but the outbreak of World War Two led to the shelving of consideration of the changes necessary and only in 1944 that the colonial government took control over the administration of schools and began to build a primary level educational system for the Seychelles (Campling et al 2009, 57; Moumou 2005, 47). English was made the medium of instruction and French became a second language subject from the fourth year of schooling onwards (Franda 1982, 34). Dr Percy Sewyn-Clarke, appointed governor in 1947, took over some church schools and established new ones (Franda 1982, 35). He also initiated the beginnings of a public health service for the islands, introduced a minimum wage, reformed conditions for workers on state owned estates and shifted the tax burden to the wealthy landowning elite and away from the poor (Franda 1982, 35; Campling et al 2009, 20). In 1948 the Legislative Council was reconstituted to allow for four of its 12 seats to be elected, but high property and educational qualifications effectively restricted the franchise to the small land owning elite and the Seychelles Taxpayers' and Producers' Association (STPA) that had been established in 1939 to articulate their interest won all four seats (Franda 1982, 14; Ostheimer 1975, 168).

Progress remained slow in the 1950s, for Sewyn-Clarke's reforms were vigorously opposed by the STPA and plans for future socio-economic development and reform were slowed or abandoned by his successor (Campling et al 2009, 20). The STPA continued to win all the elected seats in subsequent elections held in 1951, 1854, 1957 and 1960; in 1960 the number of elected representatives increased to five (Franda 1982, 14; Ostheimer 1975, 168). The schools remained largely in the hand of the churches while free and compulsory primary education was not established until 1976 (Campling et al 2009, 57). By the late 1950s there were only four secondary schools and in 1964 eight, two of which were academic (only one prepared students for university) while the other were six practical in orientation (Campling et al 2009, 57, 58).

Sensible to the need for change, the colonial government published A Plan for Seychelles in 1959 that proposed modest developments in the areas of healthcare and education (Campling et al 2009, 21). Healthcare policy was preventative in orientation focusing particularly on eliminating intestinal parasite infections, which led to high levels of malnutrition, and tuberculosis, which had been introduced by Pioneers returning from war service, but did not provide for the roll out of clinics to the remote areas (Campling et al 2009, 64; Michel et al 2001, 3, 8). In the late 1960s junior secondary schools were introduced to increase access to post-primary education, technical institutions, the School of Nursing, the Secretarial College and the Technical School, were established to provide school leavers with the skills needed to foster social and economic development and by 1976 primary education was free and compulsory (Campling et al 2009, 57-59). However, while 95% of children attended primary school, only 60% enrolled in junior secondary schools and only half of these went on to senior secondary level studies; few were able to attend university abroad and of these a third did not return to the islands (Campling et al 2009, 58).

The economy of the archipelago remained highly dependent on the production and export of copra (66% of exports in 1960), the high quality of which was established through a government inspection system initiated in 1947 under Governor Sewyn-Clarke, and control of exports was centralised in 1953 when the Seychelles Copra Producers Association was formed (Campling et al 2009, 19). Other sources of income were the export of cinnamon and aid grants from the British government, the latter made up 18% of the colonial government's budget (Benedict & Benedict 1982, 149). The islands remained highly dependent on food imports, including staples such as rice (Benedict & Benedict 1982, 149). Land ownership was highly concentrated, with 56 people owning two-thirds of commercial farming land (Benedict & Benedict 1982, 149; Campling et al 2009, 19).

In 1968 about a third of the workforce was employed by the government, 27% on the estates and 12% in the private sector (Campling et al 2009, 70). Unemployment was a major concern, for by the 1950s it had already reached a rate of 10% of the workforce and many were dependent on casual work and subsistence fishing and agriculture to survive (Benedict & Benedict 1982, 150, 151). The few trade unions that existed were weak and ineffectual (Benedict & Benedict 1982, 150, 151). The backward state of the economy was reflected in the fact that the first commercial bank was founded only in 1959 (Franda 1982, 16). Government policy focused on developing commercial agriculture through a variety of measures and creating a class of food producing small farmers through land allocations and cooperatives (Campling et al 2009, 22). The goals were to reduce unemployment and poverty and reduce dependence on aid from the British government (Campling et al 2009, 22). Of particular concern were the high population growth rates that the islands were experiencing, and their implications for future rising unemployment and poverty levels; between 1950 and 1965 the population grew at an annual average of 2.1% (EarthTrends 2007).

In 1963 the STPA once more won the elective seats on the Legislative Council, but by the end of the decade they were finished as a political force on the islands (Franda 1982, 15; Ostheimer 1975, 168). Economic and social development since the War had produced an educated urban based class of professionals, government employees and businessmen who were no longer content to leave governance in the hands of the small landowning elite (Ostheimer 1975, 168). Two political parties emerged in 1964, the Seychelles People's United Party (SPUP) founded by France Albert René and the Seychelles Democratic Party (SDP) led by James Mancham (Franda 1982, 60; Ostheimer 1975, 168). Both parties demanded a broadening of the franchise and self-government for the Seychelles, but while the SPUP favoured eventual independence and a socialist economic order, the SDP wished to retain close ties with the United Kingdom and a free market system (Ostheimer 1975, 168; Franda 1982, 15). In 1965 René won a by election for the Legislative Council, demonstrating the growing power of the urban middle classes (Ostheimer 1975, 168). Both political parties were active in the trade union movement which expanded rapidly in the 1960s, leading to the first strikes on the islands, but political affiliation with one or the other of the parties hampered trade union unity (Franda 1982, 61; Campling et al 2009, 75).

In 1967 the colonial authorities promulgated a new constitution that provided for universal adult franchise and for the election of eight of the 14 members of the Legislative Council through single member constituency plurality contests; the unelected members included four officials and two nominees of the Governor (Ostheimer 1975, 169; Franda 1982, 14, 15). In the December 1967 election that followed the SDP obtained 51.5% of the vote and won four of the seven constituencies the party contested, while the constituency it did not contest was won by an independent allied with it (Franda 1982, 14, 15; Ostheimer 1975, 169). The SPUP won the other three seats with 45.5% of the vote (Franda 1982, 14, 15; Ostheimer 1975, 169).

The differences between the two parties on the issue of independence and on the direction that economic policy should take were sharpened in the post election period and four bomb blasts, whose perpetrators were not apprehended, created suspicion and relations between the SDP and the SPUP became increasingly adversarial (Franda 1982, 15; Ostheimer 1975, 174). Both parties pressed the British for further constitutional reform and greater self government resulting in constitutional changes that included the creation of a Council of Ministers headed by a Chief Minister who was responsible to a Legislative Assembly with 19 members, three of whom were to be officials, one a speaker appointed by the Governor while the other fifteen were to be elected (Ostheimer 1975, 160; Franda 1982, 15). The eight constituencies used in the previous election were retained, but seven were to return 2 members each while the eighth returned one member (Ostheimer 1975, 160). Later in 1970 elections were held in an environment of acrimony and mutual denigration on the part of the two parties (Franda 1982, 61). The SDP won 10 of the seats and the SPUP five, but the share of the vote obtained by each changed little, the SPD's increased marginally to 52.8% and the SPUP's fell slightly to 44.1% (Ostheimer 1975, 160, 173; Franda 1982, 15). James Mancham became Chief Minister and formed an SDP government (Franda 1982, 15).

Until the 1960s communications with the outside world were poor for there were only two ships, on the run between Mombasa and Bombay (now Mumbai), that called in regularly every month (Benedict & Benedict 1982, 103). In 1963 the United States leased land on Mahé from the government and built a satellite tracking station, bringing an influx of construction workers and, for the first time, regular air flights to the islands from Mombasa (Franda 1982, 75). The potential of tourism for the economy of the Seychelles was quickly realised, an international airport was completed in 1971 built on reclaimed land and financed by the United Kingdom, the Port of Victoria was upgraded and foreign investors were invited to develop tourist facilities aimed at attracting the wealthiest segment of the international market; by 1975 there were forty flight a week to Europe, Africa and the Far East (Franda 1982, 75, 76; Benedict & Benedict 1982, 103, 151, 152). The tourism industry developed rapidly: In 1960 there were 490 tourists and in 1971 1622, but by 1980 they increased to just under 73,000 (Franda 1982, 75, 76). The development of the industry resulted in a construction boom. In 1971 construction accounted for 45% of GDP and in 1978 47% while tourism formed 47% of GDP in 1978 (Franda 1982, 75, 76). As the result of the expansion of tourism and auxiliary industries, agricultural employment fell by 10% in 1971-1977 (Franda 1982, 75, 76).

The rapid development of the tourist industry and the effects of the extension of government services transformed the Seychelles, both economically and socially. From making a negligible contribution to GDP in the 1960s tourism's share on national income grew to 8% in 1972 and 18% in 1976, by which time the hotels and restaurants sector of the economy was employing 14% of the workforce (Campling et al 2009, 27, 71). The industry was developed with foreign capital, much of the income earned was repatriated and by 1975 more than 30% of the land area was owned by foreigners (Benedict & Benedict 1982, 151; Campling et al 2009, 27). Agriculture stagnated because of lack of innovation on the part of large landowners according to the Governor, due to lack of support from the SDP government argued the SPUP (Campling et al 2009, 13, 23). This notwithstanding, in 1975 copra still earned 57% of export revenue and cinnamon accounted for another 30%, but the colonial government's attempts in the 1960s to create a class of food producing peasants had failed and the colony remained extremely dependent on food imports (Benedict & Benedict 1982, 152). One consequence of the introduction of English as the compulsory medium of school instruction was the steady advance of English at the expense of French. Though Kreol was the home language of 95% of the population in 1971, 37.7% of the population could speak English as opposed to 29.4% who could speak French and, moreover, literacy in English rose and literacy in French declined as the age of the population group analysed in that year declined; English was the home language of 3% of the population and French of 1.9% (Franda 1982, 34, 35).

Mortality rates in the Seychelles declined rapidly after the Second World War as a result of the expansion of health, water and sanitation services and by 1960 it approached First World levels, but fertility rates did not fall and the result was that the islands experienced a population explosion; between 1960 and 1977 the population almost doubled (Michel et al 2001, 1; Benedict & Benedict 1982, 112). Improvements in health were reflected in life expectancy at birth figures, which rose from 64.9 years in 1971 to 67.9% in 1977, though women's life expectancy rose much faster than that of men (Campling et al 2009, 12, 13; Michel et al 2001, 3). Despite immigration of some 9000 Seychellois to Australia in the 1960s unemployment remained high, posting 8% in 1971, and though the tourism industry was able to provide work for much of the expanding labour force it could not meet the demands placed by the high rates of population growth and unemployment rose to 10% in 1977 (Ostheimer 1975, 164; Campling et al 2009, 12, 13). Internal migration also occurred, with the island of Mahé's population growing much faster than those of the other islands and the outer islands experienced a steady decline in absolute numbers (Ostheimer 1975, 163). Fortunately population growth rates began to fall rapidly from an annual average of around 3% in 1970 to 2% in 1977 (Campling et al 2009, 12, 13; Ostheimer 1975, 163). The percentage of young dependants (children between 0-14 years old) that had to be supported by the economically active population declined from 43.6% in 1971 to 39.7% in 1977 (Campling et al 2009, 12, 13).

Relations between the SDP and the SPUP remained antagonistic after the 1970 elections. In January 1971 the Government Workers Union demanded a 40% wage increase and in April 1972 went out on strike after protracted negotiations had failed, but the SDP government clamped down harshly by arresting union leaders (Ostheimer 1975, 175). The government's handling of the matter drew strong criticism from amongst the Catholic clergy and in the press, while the SPUP viewed it as a sign of the government's increasing authoritarianism (Ostheimer 1975, 175). The SDP's refusal to press for outright independence enabled the SPUP to successfully campaign for support and funds from the Organisation of African Unity (OAU) and in 1971 the OAU's Liberation Committee recognised the SPUP as a liberation movement (Ostheimer 1975, 172). In February 1972 there were two further bombings and the person arrested in connection with them was assisted in his defence by funds from the SPUP, but he was convicted and sentenced to 12 years imprisonment (Ostheimer 1975, 174). The SDP leadership suspected that SPUP leaders were complicit in the bombings, were resentful that the colonial authorities did not take stronger action against the SPUP and demanded greater power in respect of internal security (Ostheimer 1975, 174). The British for their part stated that no further powers could be devolved to the government without the country becoming independent, a factor that weighed on the SDP decision to reverse their position and adopt independence as an objective of the party in March 1974 (Ostheimer 1975, 167). The need to undo the special relationship that the SPUP had managed to form with the OAU also influenced the decision (Ostheimer 1975, 179). Disagreements about how the tourism industry should be developed added to the acrimony between the SDP and the SPUP (Campling et al 2009, 27).

The SDP had won two-thirds of the seats in the 1970 election with a little more than half the vote while the SPUP had obtained only a third, despite winning nearly 45% of the vote. In the run up to the 1974 election the SPUP accused the SDP government of intimidation, electoral fraud and gerrymandering and threatened to boycott the elections unless a fresh delimitation of constituencies was undertaken (Ostheimer 1975, 160; Campling et al 2009, 25). The conflictual relationship between the government and the opposition politicised and divided the trade union movement and civil society (Ostheimer 1975, 177, 178). In the 25 April 1974 elections the SDP won 13 (87%) of the 15 elective seats in the Legislative Assembly with 52.4% of the vote while the SPUP took only two seats (13%) with 47.6% of the vote (Ostheimer 1975, 173; Franda 1982, 15). There was some violence, especially on Praslin Island. The government's deployment of the police to quell unrest was further evidence to the SPUP of the SDP's authoritarian tendencies, while the unrest itself was regarded by the SDP as a demonstration of the SPUP subversive character (Ostheimer 1975, 169). The election results strengthened the suspicions of the SPUP leaders that the elections had been rigged and they demanded the implementation of a proportional representation system, which Mancham refused (Ostheimer 1975, 186; Campling et al 2009, 25). Nevertheless, as a conciliatory gesture, he did invite René and the SPUP to form part of a coalition government after the election (Franda 1982, 15).

A final round of negotiations was held to finalise an independence constitution for the Seychelles and the British pressed Mancham and the SDP to accept changes that would accommodate the concerns of the René and the SPUP (Campling et al 2009, 27). In the end executive authority was divided between a powerful President and a Prime Minister and it was agreed that the coalition government would be continued until the 1979 when fresh elections were due (Campling et al 2009, 27). The legislature, the House of Assembly, was to be comprised from 1979 onwards of eight members elected from constituencies and 17 through proportional representation (Campling et al 2009, 27). On the 29 June 1976 the Seychelles became independent with Mancham as President and René as Prime Minister (Campling et al 2009, 27).


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