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Seychelles: A Successful Socialist Country, With Terrible PR


mso-bidi-font-family:"Segoe UI";color:black”>It is rich, stunningly beautiful, and it has the highest UN Human Development Index of the entire continent of Africa.

 

 "star capitalist countries” (if one adopts the terminology of the Western media) like the Philippines, Indonesia and most African nations. 

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 “This country is beautiful and tolerant; it is one of the best places on earth to live.” He is excited, as he shows me the capital from his car.

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mso-bidi-font-family:"Segoe UI";color:black”>It is true that Seychelles is open-minded and liberal. Its more than 100,000 people used to belong to various races. There were Africans, Indians, Europeans and Asians living here. Now there are hardly any enclaves – people mix freely. 

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mso-bidi-font-family:"Segoe UI";color:black”>The past is mostly forgotten; the past when slavery was brought to this originally uninhabited archipelago by the French and then maintained by the Brits for some time; the past of brutally exploited laborers from India… Now everyone is equal, and there is a certain degree of harmony.

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mso-bidi-font-family:"Segoe UI";color:black”>But just a few miles from the Supreme Court, in a relatively poor neighborhood called Corgate Estate, disgruntled young men hang around aimlessly, chatting on several street corners, angry and at first sight, potentially dangerous.

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mso-bidi-font-family:"Segoe UI";color:black”>I approach one group and introduce myself.

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mso-bidi-font-family:"Segoe UI";color:black”>“How is life here?” 150%;font-family:"Verdana","sans-serif";mso-fareast-font-family:"Times New Roman";
mso-bidi-font-family:"Segoe UI";color:black”>“It’s crap,”
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mso-bidi-font-family:"Segoe UI";color:black”>“Why?”
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mso-bidi-font-family:"Segoe UI";color:black”>admits Vincent.

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mso-bidi-font-family:"Segoe UI";color:black”>I ask her. “Is it really so bad living here?”

 “Does it look bad to you?”

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mso-bidi-font-family:"Segoe UI";color:black”>“You see,”
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mso-bidi-font-family:"Segoe UI";color:black”>But for the opposition, things are bad. And there is opposition, and there is independent media, even in this small country. Seychelles Weekly, for instance, is bombarding the government with the most vitriolic accusations. On 13 September it concluded in its editorial:

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mso-bidi-font-family:"Segoe UI";color:black”>“The coup d’état brought about a one-party state system which still lingers to this day. There are 25 constituencies and there are 25 district administrators appointed on a political basis to ensure the continuous running of the country as a one-party state. As long as this structure remains in place there will never be any effective democracy in Seychelles.”
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"Times New Roman";mso-bidi-font-family:"Segoe UI";color:black”>Anne Gabriel, chief medical officer at the Health Ministry’s community health directorate, explains to me the concept of the primary health care model which was adopted by Seychelles in 1978, after the World Health Organization meeting held in Alma-Ata, Kazakhstan, then part of the Soviet Union: 

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mso-bidi-font-family:"Segoe UI";color:black”>“The basic concept was and remains access to medical services for all the population. It is what could be described as a primary health concept… Mauritius adopted it as well, and so did Madagascar, but there they did not manage to get very far with it. It was also implemented in Malaysia, Zimbabwe and Sri Lanka…”
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mso-bidi-font-family:"Segoe UI";color:black”>“After independence, Seychelles progressed enormously,”
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mso-bidi-font-family:"Segoe UI";color:black”>She nods sadly, after I recall my visit and discussion with the dwellers of Corgate Estate:

150%;font-family:"Verdana","sans-serif";mso-fareast-font-family:"Times New Roman";
mso-bidi-font-family:"Segoe UI";color:black”>“People got used to getting so many things for free. Now we actually have to teach them how to appreciate what they already have. You know… I go to so many parts of the world where people have nothing… such as Indonesia, or even in India, all over Africa. There, they often don’t even realize that they have nothing… Here, they don’t realize that they have so much, almost everything.” font-family:"Verdana","sans-serif";mso-fareast-font-family:"Times New Roman";
mso-bidi-font-family:"Segoe UI";color:black”>She sighs. She is close to retirement, in love with her country, but often bitter about how little people understand and appreciate what they have:

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mso-bidi-font-family:"Segoe UI";color:black”>“In a way, Seychelles is an advanced and democratic socialist country. Now we have to educate people; we have to make sure that they don’t take things for granted, that they take responsibility for what they have. Not everything can be for free… Much can and should be, but not all. Life is too easy here…” mso-fareast-font-family:"Times New Roman";mso-bidi-font-family:"Times New Roman";
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"Times New Roman";mso-bidi-font-family:"Segoe UI";color:black”>Life is too easy, too gentle; enormous public beaches caress lush green shores, tall mountains scratch the sky. Flowers and exotic trees are everywhere. People are polite. There is no fear on the streets. 

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mso-bidi-font-family:"Segoe UI";color:black”>Prices are exorbitant, the main complaint of many citizens. Tourism is still one of the main currency earners, and it is hedonism that is attracting rich and famous visitors like British princes or Swedish princesses. They come here for honeymoons or secluded vacations. But hedonism pushes prices up for everybody on this relatively small island nation. 

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mso-bidi-font-family:"Segoe UI";color:black”>New developments, like villas built on reclaimed land, are worth at least 1.2 million euros.

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mso-bidi-font-family:"Segoe UI";color:black”>In 2008, the economy of Seychelles was in trouble and the government approached the International Monetary Fund – a major mistake, according to many people. True, in 2008 the public debt of Seychelles stood at 175 percent of GDP. But to combining socialist planning and IMF remedies was certainly a very radical move. The IMF agreed to provide a two-year $26 million rescue package, but demanded brutal restructuring. In January 2009, President Michel asked creditors to cancel half the archipelago's $800 million foreign debt. A $9 million loan from World Bank followed. 

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mso-bidi-font-family:"Segoe UI";color:black”>Public spending was dramatically reduced, currency was allowed to float and prices raised, astronomically. Tens of thousands of citizens became poor, overnight.

mso-bidi-font-family:"Segoe UI";color:black”>It is definitely not a society with equally distributed wealth. But the lowest end is still higher than the average in most Southeast Asian countries, the Indian subcontinent or Africa.

 “free” – not overly dependent on major foreign powers; nothing like other island nations such as Polynesia, Melanesia, Micronesia or many small countries in the Caribbean. 

 “Our law here is very broad… Jurisdiction covers offenses committed off the territorial waters of Seychelles.”

 “national” – it consists mainly of officers from Ireland.

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line-height:150%;font-family:"Verdana","sans-serif";mso-fareast-font-family:
"Times New Roman";mso-bidi-font-family:"Segoe UI";color:black”>“What is socialist about Seychelles?” font-family:"Verdana","sans-serif";mso-fareast-font-family:"Times New Roman";
mso-bidi-font-family:"Segoe UI";color:black”>What is it, culturally, that makes Seychelles a socialist country?

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mso-bidi-font-family:"Segoe UI";color:black”>They think for a while, then reply, complementing each other:

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mso-bidi-font-family:"Segoe UI";color:black”>“It has a lot to do with the history and make-up of our young country. Tanzania and its president, Julius Nyerere, heavily backed the first president, who fought for independence from the UK. Socialist idealism originates there. This country has no native or indigenous population. All of us are of mixed race, of European (French), Asian (Chinese, Indian and Japanese) and African decent. No one is superior to the other. We take pride and thrive in diversity. There is a strong sense of egalitarianism. There is really no gender discrimination either. We can consider ourselves “socialists at heart” in the actual way we live and think. We are very sharing people and support each other in our daily lives. Also, it did help to lay good foundations, to have the National Youth Service, which was influenced by Cuba.”  font-family:"Verdana","sans-serif";mso-fareast-font-family:"Times New Roman";
mso-bidi-font-family:"Segoe UI";color:black”>I ask whether they believe in socialism, and whether Seychelles is a socialist country? They nod.

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mso-bidi-font-family:"Segoe UI";color:black”>“We have free education and a free health care system, a subsidized transportation system. The government does take care of its people.”  font-family:"Verdana","sans-serif";mso-fareast-font-family:"Times New Roman";
mso-bidi-font-family:"Segoe UI";color:black”>And the culture, what role does it play in social development?

150%;font-family:"Verdana","sans-serif";mso-fareast-font-family:"Times New Roman";
mso-bidi-font-family:"Segoe UI";color:black”>“It plays a significant role, but we are actually fearful of the disappearance of our culture due to the rapid advancement and use of technologies like social media, and cable TV. We have very rich oral traditions, traditional dance and music. It is something that identifies all of us as Seychellois, but it is being rapidly eroded at an alarming rate.” 150%;font-family:"Verdana","sans-serif";mso-fareast-font-family:"Times New Roman";
mso-bidi-font-family:"Segoe UI";color:black”>“Our tri-lingual policy plays a significant role in our social development. All the three languages (French, English and Creole) are national languages and have equal status. Creole is our lingua franca but tends to fall behind next to two of the world's most powerful languages, but we use it as the language of instruction in the first two years of instruction. Seychelles holds an annual Creole Festival.”
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line-height:150%;font-family:"Verdana","sans-serif";mso-fareast-font-family:
"Times New Roman";mso-bidi-font-family:"Segoe UI";color:black”>Seychelles is not a paradise. Its salaries don’t match its astronomical prices, the main complaint of its citizens. The Daily Subsistence Allowance (DSA) for visiting United Nations staff is approximately the same as that for Paris or New York, but the incomes do not come anywhere near to those in the above-mentioned cities. 

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mso-bidi-font-family:"Segoe UI";color:black”>There are other serious issues, like selling the land and chunks of public beaches to foreign developers, as well as that extremely cozy relationship with Western governments and the Commonwealth.

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mso-bidi-font-family:"Segoe UI";color:black”>But overall, Seychelles is relatively wealthy, clean and well organized. Cars here stop for pedestrians, sick people get treated, children are schooled and towns are very neat. Poor people are fed and housed. Its Human Development Index rank is 46 out of 187 countries with comparable data, in the bracket of “very high human development,” between Argentina and Croatia.

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mso-bidi-font-family:"Segoe UI";color:black”>In just two years it moved up by six places.

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mso-bidi-font-family:"Segoe UI";color:black”>Still, almost everybody is shouting, dissatisfied.

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mso-bidi-font-family:"Segoe UI";color:black”>The government here does definitely much better in housing and feeding its people than it does in self-promotion.

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mso-bidi-font-family:"Segoe UI";color:black”>Marie-Reine Horeau, technical advisor in charge of international relations at the Education Ministry, recalls how the socialist spirit came to Seychelles through education:

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mso-bidi-font-family:"Segoe UI";color:black”>“In the past, we had no private schools here. And we adopted a very important element from the Cuban educational system – ‘National Youth Service’. That was compulsory for boys and girls of ages 15 and 16, for two years, later reduced to just one year. The main objective was to bring all children together; regardless of their background, no matter whether they were rich or poor. Kids had to learn how to take care of themselves… We even had some instructors for morning drills, those coming from Tanzania and from North Korea.” font-family:"Verdana","sans-serif";mso-fareast-font-family:"Times New Roman";
mso-bidi-font-family:"Segoe UI";color:black”>I am sitting in Horeau’s office, as she calmly remembers the old days that shaped her country. The view is beautiful, that of the mountains right behind Victoria City. By now I already know that the National Youth Service is something that brings nostalgia to almost every senior educator in Seychelles.

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mso-bidi-font-family:"Segoe UI";color:black”>“As you can imagine, nobody was happy to have their kids away from home for one or two years… But the results were so great, as children learned how to stand on their own, and how to be independent. The discipline was excellent then… Kids used to call each other ‘comrade.’ There was plenty of respect toward each other, and toward others. Many came out from this system as good citizens and true patriots.” 150%;font-family:"Verdana","sans-serif";mso-fareast-font-family:"Times New Roman";
mso-bidi-font-family:"Segoe UI";color:black”>“And now?”
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mso-bidi-font-family:"Segoe UI";color:black”>She is not sure how to reply at first, then shrugs her shoulders: “It is different… It’s more like Facebook and Twitter generation now…  all that social media… Things like ‘Gossip Corner.’”

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mso-bidi-font-family:"Segoe UI";color:black”>In Seychelles the public schools, community medical centers, elegant cultural institutions and libraries rub shoulders with private and luxury marinas, and 6-star resorts.

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mso-bidi-font-family:"Segoe UI";color:black”>It can all be a little bit confusing: Cuban educational concepts and Soviet-style medical care, next to huge multi-million dollar catamarans and hedonistic resorts.

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mso-bidi-font-family:"Segoe UI";color:black”>It is socialist in many ways, but simultaneously too closely cooperating with the West on the issues like Somalia and drug enforcement. 

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mso-bidi-font-family:"Segoe UI";color:black”>But in Seychelles, it is all somehow blending into one colorful collage. It is not perfect but it flies, and it has both style and heart. 

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"Times New Roman";mso-bidi-font-family:"Segoe UI";color:#76923C”>Andre Vltchek is a novelist, filmmaker and investigative journalist. He has covered wars and conflicts in dozens of countries. He can be reached through his