Official name Repiblik Sesel (Creole); Republic of Seychelles
(English); République des Seychelles (French)
Form of government multiparty republic with one legislative house
(National Assembly )
Head of state and government President
Official languages none1
Official religion none
Monetary unit Seychelles rupee (roupi; SR)
Population estimate (2008) 85,500
Total area (sq mi) 176
Total area (sq km) 455
1Creole, English, and French are all national languages per
island republic in the western Indian Ocean, comprising about 115
islands. The islands are home to lush tropical vegetation, beautiful
beaches, and a wide variety of marine life. Situated between latitudes
4° and 11° S and longitudes 46° and 56° E, the major islands of
Seychelles are located about 1,000 miles (1,600 km) east of Kenya and
about 700 miles (1,100 km) northeast of Madagascar. The capital,
Victoria, is situated on the island of Mahé.
Relief and climate
Seychelles, one of the world’s smallest countries, is composed of
two main island groups: the Mahé group of more than 40 central,
mountainous granitic islands and a second group of more than 70 outer,
flat, coralline islands. The islands of the Mahé group are rocky and
typically have a narrow coastal strip and a central range of hills. The
overall aspect of those islands, with their lush tropical vegetation, is
that of high hanging gardens overlooking silver-white beaches and clear
lagoons. The highest point in Seychelles, Morne Seychellois (2,969 feet
[905 metres]), situated on Mahé, is located within this mountainous
island group. The coralline islands, rising only a few feet above sea
level, are flat with elevated coral reefs at different stages of
formation. These islands are largely waterless, and very few have a
The climate is tropical oceanic, with little temperature variation
during the year. Daily temperatures rise to the mid-80s F (low 30s C) in
the afternoon and fall to the low 70s F (low 20s C) at night.
Precipitation levels vary greatly from island to island; on Mahé, annual
precipitation ranges from 90 inches (2,300 mm) at sea level to 140
inches (3,560 mm) on the mountain slopes. Humidity is persistently high
but is ameliorated somewhat in locations windward of the prevailing
southeast trade winds.
Plant and animal life
Of the roughly 200 plant species found in Seychelles, some 80 are
unique to the islands, including screw pines (see pandanus), several
varieties of jellyfish trees, latanier palms, the bois rouge, the bois
de fer, Wright’s gardenia, and the most famous, the coco de mer. The
coco de mer—which is found on only two islands—produces a fruit that is
one of the largest and heaviest known and is valued by a number of Asian
cultures for believed aphrodisiac, medicinal, mystic, and other
properties. The Seychellois government closely monitors the quantity and
status of the trees, and, although commerce is regulated to prevent
overharvesting, poaching is a concern.
Wildlife includes a remarkably diverse array of marine life,
including more than 900 identified species of fish; green sea turtles
and giant tortoises also inhabit the islands. Endemic species include
birds such as Seychelles bulbuls and cave-dwelling Seychelles swiftlets;
several species of local tree frogs, snails, and wormlike caecilians;
Seychelles wolf snakes and house snakes; tiger chameleons; and others.
Endemic mammals are few; both fruit bats (Pteropus seychellensis) and
Seychelles sheath-tailed bats (Coleura seychellensis) are endemic to the
islands. Indian mynahs, barn owls, and tenrecs (small shrewlike or
hedgehoglike mammals introduced from Madagascar) are also found.
Considerable efforts have been made to preserve the islands’ marked
biodiversity. Seychelles’ government has established several nature
preserves and marine parks, including the Aldabra Islands and Vallée de
Mai National Park, both UNESCO World Heritage sites. The Aldabra
Islands, a large atoll, are the site of a preserve inhabited by tens of
thousands of giant tortoises, the world’s oldest living creatures, which
government conservation efforts have helped rescue from the brink of
extinction. Vallée de Mai National Park is the only place where all six
of the palm species endemic to Seychelles, including the coco de mer,
may be found together. Cousin Island is home to a sanctuary for land
birds, many endemic to the islands, including the Seychelles sunbird (a
type of hummingbird) and the Seychelles brush warbler. Bird Island is
the breeding ground for millions of terns, turtle doves, shearwaters,
frigate birds, and other seabirds that flock there each year.
Ethnic groups, languages, and religion
The original French colonists on the previously uninhabited islands,
along with their black slaves, were joined in the 19th century by
deportees from France. Asians from China, India, and Malaya (Peninsular
Malaysia) arrived later in smaller numbers. Widespread intermarriage has
resulted in a population of mixed descent.
Creole, also called Seselwa, is the mother tongue of most
Seychellois. Under the constitution, Creole, English, and French are
recognized as national languages.
More than four-fifths of the population are Roman Catholics. There
are also Anglicans, Christians of other denominations, Hindus, and
Settlement patterns and demographic trends
More than four-fifths of the population live on Mahé, many of them
in the capital city, Victoria. The birth and death rates, as well as the
annual population growth rate, are below the global average. Some
one-fourth of the population are younger than age 15, and about one-half
are under age 30. Life expectancy for both men and women is
significantly higher than the global average.
Seychelles has a mixed, developing economy that is heavily dependent
upon the service sector in general and the tourism industry in
particular. Despite continued visible trade deficits, the economy has
experienced steady growth. The gross domestic product (GDP) is growing
more rapidly than the population. The gross national income (GNI) per
capita is significantly higher than those found in most nearby
continental African countries.
Agriculture, forestry, and fishing
Agriculture accounts for only a fraction of the GDP and employs an
equally modest proportion of the workforce. Arable land is limited and
the soil is generally poor—and the country remains dependent upon
imported foodstuffs—but copra (from coconuts), cinnamon bark, vanilla,
tea, limes, and essential oils are exported. Seychelles has a modern
fishing industry that supplies both domestic and foreign markets; canned
tuna is a particularly important product. The extraction of guano for
export is also an established economic activity.
Manufacturing, finance, and trade
The country’s growing manufacturing sector—which has expanded to
account for almost one-sixth of the total GDP—is composed largely of
food-processing plants; production of alcoholic beverages and of soft
drinks is particularly significant. Animal feed, paint, and other goods
are also produced.
Seychelles’ sizable trade deficit is offset by income from the
tourism industry and from aid and investment. Although the country’s
relative prosperity has not made it a preferred aid recipient, it does
receive assistance from the World Bank, the European Union, the African
Development Bank, and a variety of contributing countries, and aid
obtained per capita is relatively high. The Central Bank of Seychelles,
located in Victoria, issues the official currency, the Seychelles rupee.
Seychelles’ main imports are petroleum products, machinery, and
foodstuffs. Canned tuna, copra, frozen fish, and cinnamon are the most
important exports, together with the reexport of petroleum products.
Significant trade partners include France, the United Kingdom, Saudi
Arabia, and Germany.
The service sector accounts for nearly four-fifths of the GDP and
employs the largest proportion of the workforce, almost three-fourths of
all labourers. After the opening of an international airport on Mahé in
1971, the tourism industry grew rapidly, and at the beginning of the
21st century it provided almost one-fourth of the total GDP. Each year
Seychelles draws thousands of tourists, many attracted by the islands’
magnificent venues for scuba diving, surfing, windsurfing, fishing,
swimming, and sunbathing. The warm southeasterly trade winds offer ideal
conditions for sailing, and the waters around Mahé and the other islands
are afloat with small boats.
Transportation and telecommunications
The majority of Seychelles’ roadways are paved, most of which are on
the islands of Mahé and Praslin; there are no railroads. Ferry services
operate between the islands—for example, linking Victoria with
destinations that include Praslin and La Digue. Air service is centred
on Seychelles International Airport, located near Victoria on Mahé, and
the smaller airports and airstrips found on several islands. Seychelles
has air connections with a number of foreign cities and direct flights
to major centres that include London, Paris, Frankfurt, Rome, and
Bangkok. Scheduled domestic flights, provided by Air Seychelles, chiefly
offer service between Mahé and Praslin, although chartered flights
elsewhere are also available. The tsunami that reached Seychelles in
2004 damaged portions of the transportation infrastructure, including
the road linking Victoria with the international airport.
Telecommunications infrastructure in Seychelles is quite developed.
The country has a high rate of cellular telephone use—among the highest
in sub-Saharan Africa—and, at the beginning of the 21st century, the use
of personal computers in Seychelles was several times the average for
Government and society
Constitutional framework and local government
Under the 1993 constitution, Seychelles is a republic. The head of
state is the president, who is directly elected by popular vote and may
hold office for up to three consecutive five-year terms. Members of the
National Assembly serve five-year terms. A majority of the available
National Assembly seats are filled by direct election; a smaller portion
are distributed on a proportional basis to those parties that win a
minimum of one-tenth of the vote. The president appoints a Council of
Ministers, which acts as an advisory body. The country is divided into
more than 20 administrative divisions.
Justice and political process
The Seychellois judiciary includes a Court of Appeal, a Supreme
Court, and Magistrates’ Courts; the Constitutional Court is a branch of
the Supreme Court.
Suffrage is universal; Seychellois are eligible to vote at age 17.
Women participate actively in the government of the country and have
held numerous posts, including positions in the cabinet and a proportion
of seats in the National Assembly.
The Seychelles People’s Progressive Front, once the sole legal party
(1978–91), is the country’s primary political party. Other political
parties include the Democratic Party, the Seychelles National Party, and
the Seychelles Movement for Democracy.
Security, housing, and education
Seychelles’ defense forces are made up of an army, a coast guard
(including naval and airborne wings), and a national guard. There is no
conscription; military service is voluntary, and individuals are
generally eligible at age 18 (although younger individuals may serve
with parental consent).
In general, homes play a highly visible part in maintaining
traditional Seychellois life. Many old colonial houses are well
preserved, although corrugated iron roofs have generally replaced the
indigenous palm thatch. Groups tend to gather on the verandahs of their
houses, which are generally recognized as social centres.
The basis of the school system is a free, compulsory, 10-year public
school education. Education standards have risen steadily, and nearly
all children of primary-school age attend school. The literacy rate in
Seychelles is significantly higher than the regional and global averages
for both men and women.
Seychellois culture has been shaped by a combination of European,
African, and Asian influences. The main European influence is French,
recognizable in Seselwa, the Creole language that is the lingua franca
of the islands, and in Seychellois food and religion; the French
introduced Roman Catholicism, the religion of the majority of the
islanders. African influence is revealed in local music and dance as
well as in Seselwa. Asian elements are evident in the islands’ cuisine
but are particularly dominant in business and trade.
Holidays observed in Seychelles include Liberation Day, which
commemorates the anniversary of the 1977 coup, on June 5; National Day,
June 18; Independence Day, June 29; the Feast of the Assumption, August
15; All Saints’ Day, November 1; the Feast of the Immaculate Conception,
December 8; and Christmas, December 25.
Because of the exorbitant expense of the large and lavish wedding
receptions that are part of Seychellois tradition, many couples never
marry; instead, they may choose to live en ménage, achieving a de facto
union by cohabitating without marriage. There is little or no social
stigma related to living en ménage, and the arrangement is recognized by
the couple’s family and friends. The instance of couples living en
ménage increases particularly among lower income groups.
Dance plays an important role in Seychellois society. Both the séga
and the moutya, two of the most famous dances performed in Seychelles,
mirror traditional African customs. The sensual dances blend religion
and social relations, two elements central to African life. The
complicated and compelling dance movements were traditionally carried
out under moonlight to the beat of African drums. Dances were once
regular events in village halls, but these have largely died out in
recent years; now dances take place in modern nightclubs.
Sports and recreation
Seychellois enjoy participating in and watching several team sports.
The national stadium, located in Victoria, offers a year-round program
of events. Men’s and women’s volleyball are popular, and several
Seychellois players and referees participate at the international level.
Football (soccer) is also a favourite, and Seychellois teams frequently
travel to East Africa and India to play in exhibition matches and
tournaments. The Seychelles national Olympic committee was established
in 1979 and was recognized that year by the International Olympic
Committee. The country made its official Olympic debut at the 1980
Moscow Games, but its first Olympic athlete was Henri Dauban de
Silhouette, who competed for Great Britain in the javelin throw at the
1924 Paris Games.
Media and publishing
Much of the country’s radio, television, and print media is under
government control. There are several independent publications,
including Seychelles Weekly and Vizyon.
The islands were known by traders from the Persian Gulf centuries
ago, but the first recorded landing on the uninhabited Seychelles was
made in 1609 by an expedition of the British East India Company. The
archipelago was explored by the Frenchman Lazare Picault in 1742 and
1744 and was formally annexed to France in 1756. The archipelago was
named Séchelles, later changed by the British to Seychelles. War between
France and Britain led to the surrender of the archipelago to the
British in 1810, and it was formally ceded to Great Britain by the
Treaty of Paris in 1814. The abolition of slavery in the 1830s deprived
the islands’ European colonists of their labour force and compelled them
to switch from raising cotton and grains to cultivating
less-labour-intensive crops such as coconut, vanilla, and cinnamon. In
1903 Seychelles—until that time administered as a dependency of
Mauritius—became a separate British crown colony. A Legislative Council
with elected members was introduced in 1948.
In 1963 the United States leased an area on the main island, Mahé,
and built an air force satellite tracking station there; this brought
regular air travel to Seychelles for the first time, in the form of a
weekly seaplane shuttle that operated from Mombasa, Kenya.
In 1970 Seychelles obtained a new constitution, universal adult
suffrage, and a governing council with an elected majority;
self-government was granted in 1975 and independence in 1976, within the
Commonwealth of Nations. In 1975 a coalition government was formed with
James R. Mancham as president and France-Albert René as prime minister.
In 1977, while Mancham was abroad, René became president in a coup
d’état led by the Seychelles People’s United Party (later restyled the
Seychelles People’s Progressive Front; SPPF).
In 1979 a new constitution transformed Seychelles into a one-party
socialist state, with René’s SPPF designated the only legal party. This
change was not popular with many Seychellois, and during the 1980s there
were several coup attempts. Faced with mounting pressure from the
country’s primary sources of foreign aid, René’s administration began
moving toward more democratic rule in the early 1990s, with the return
of multiparty politics and the promulgation of a new constitution. The
country also gradually abandoned its socialist economy and began to
follow market-based economic strategies by privatizing most parastatal
companies, encouraging foreign investment, and focusing efforts on
marketing Seychelles as an offshore business and financial hub. As
Seychelles entered the 21st century, the SPPF continued to dominate the
political scene. After the return of multiparty elections, René was
reelected three times before eventually resigning in April 2004 to allow
Vice Pres. James Michel (SPPF) to succeed him as president.
In late 2004 some of Seychelles’ islands were hit by a tsunami, which
severely damaged the environment and the country’s economy. The economy
was an important topic in the campaigning leading up to the presidential
election of 2006, in which Michel emerged with a narrow victory to win
his first elected term.
Donald Lee Sparks