| It is thought that the Seychelles archipelago was visited by early Arab, Phoenician and Indonesian traders, the first recorded sighting was by the Portuguese navigator Vasco da Gama at the start of the 16th century. Until as little as just over two hundred years ago, it remained uninhabited.
During 1756 French planters claimed Mahé and 7 other islands for France. The islands, until then known as the Amirantes (Admiral da Gama had named them after himself), were re-named in honour of the French king’s accountant, Vicomte Moreau de Séchelles. The Seychelles, annexed by Britain during 1794, was placed under the administration of Mauritius. Over the course of the 19th century, administration was then handled by ‘old India hands’ – men and women with some experience of the tropics.
For the next 150 years, isolated from the rest of the world and all but ignored by the European powers, the Seychelles developed their own traditions, language and culture. The islands became a Crown Colony during 1903. Internal self-government was granted in 1975 and independence the year later. This isolated island paradise might have seemed quite an unlikely setting for the cut and thrust of Cold War politics, but in the years after independence, Seychellois politics were dominated by precisely that. The first post-independence Prime Minister, James Mancham and leader of the Seychelles Democratic Party, believed that tourism and offshore financial services offered the best economic future for the islands. Whilst Mancham attended the 1977 Commonwealth Conference, armed supporters of the left-wing opposition Seychelles People’s United Party (SPUP) staged a coup.
Party leader, Albert René, took power, and despite several externally sponsored attempts to depose him, retained control of an authoritarian one-party state during the 1980s. However, the aid donors, particularly France and Britain, put the Seychelles under pressure to follow the African trend of introducing multi-party politics. This had its effect in December 1991, when René announced to a stunned People’s Progressive Party (renamed from SPUP) congress that presidential elections would be held. James Mancham returned to the islands to contest the presidency as leader of the newly-formed Democratic Party. The election, which was held in July 1993, was essentially a straight fight between René and Mancham. The incumbent René won very comfortably. Since then he has won 2 further terms of office, while Mancham retired from active politics soon after his defeat. René’s fifth and most recent victory was in September 2001, when he defeated Wavel Ramkalawan, standing for the Seychelles Democratic Party (which now forms the nation’s main opposition party).
From the end of the Cold War, the strategic position of the Seychelles has become less important and the government has undertaken something of a rapprochement with the West while seeking to build up its links with South and South-East Asia. During July 2003, the government announced the Seychelles’ withdrawal from the South African Development Conference, which caused dismay in the region’s main economic and trade organisation. At home, René’s success in building up infrastructure (especially for the vital tourism industry) and basic public services meant that, despite the often intolerant attitude of the government towards opposition and a tendency towards cronyism and nepotism, he continued to enjoy the support and confidence of most of the population. However, in April 2004, after more than a quarter of a century in power, René retired and handed presidency over to his vice-president, James Michel. There is debate whether Michel can win in the 2006 elections and doubts persist as to the Seychelles' slow and halting process of democratisation under the ruling FPPS party.