The Seychellois President, Danny Faure, stepped into his role in October 2016, after the resignation of his predecessor James Michel. A seasoned and experienced politician, President Faure talks to Kreol about how his own experiences that motivate him to improve the lives of the Seychellois people, as well as those around the world.
On October 16th, 2016, the people of the Seychelles saw their then-Vice President, Danny Faure, take the helm after the surprise departure of James Michel, who had served just ten months of his five year presidency. The incoming President made his people a promise of three things – transparency, accountability and good governance. While Mr Faure was well known within the People’s Party (sometimes called Parti Lepep), he suddenly found himself at the forefront of Seychellois politics. A rousing inauguration speech promised the creation of more jobs, an increase in efforts to combat corruption within the government, and more inclusive growth for the East African archipelago, which gained its independence from Britain in 1976. Famed around the world for its dazzling boulder strewn beaches bathed by the azure waters of the Indian Ocean, and its Herculean initiatives directed towards environmental conservation, this tiny jewel of a nation is now poised for a brand new chapter. With elections on the horizon, Kreol took the opportunity to get to know the man who has brought political continuity to a nation looking positively to its future.
No place like home
Although born in Uganda, President Faure’s parents were expatriate workers from Seychellois stock, who instilled in him a great deal of pride in his heritage. He grew up with his brothers and sisters, in a family where everyone was expected to do their part, picking up the life and social skills that have served as the foundation of his character. Creole was the language spoken at home, and the President poetically describes it as “Part of our soul”.
The family maintained close ties to the Seychelles, making the gruelling four day journey to keep the children connected to their roots, before the children returned permanently to the Seychelles, just after President Faure’s ninth birthday. Their parents’ jobs meant that they had to leave the children with their Seychellois family, in the care of their Great Aunt, and return to Uganda. Despite being welcomed back to the Seychelles with open arms, the financial hardship of those years stayed with the President, helping him to forge an unshakeable bond with all those who, lacking material necessities, yearn for social justice. So extreme was the poverty he endured in those days he recalls: “We did have shortages, clothing for example. We were grateful for the philanthropists in the community who provided clothing.” His parents struggled to find a way to send money back, and his Great Aunt, now caring for the four children, found it difficult to make ends meet. Throughout this, the Faures’ extended family rallied together to see them through, passing on wisdom and knowledge. Supper-time was always followed by prayers, and traditional stories, designed to instil the right values in the young members of the family. “We had family structure, and the extended family gave the support. Gave us the love and care.”
If you ask the President to name the people who have had the greatest influence on him, he will tell you without hesitation that it is his family. He thanks his father, an engineer, for his strong work ethic, recalling: “I used to get up at around 4 o’clock in the morning when I was 8 years old, to go to the power station and see what he did. I still wake up at 4 every day and I got that from my dad. One thing that he instilled in me at a very young age was appreciation and work ethics. You get things in life by working.”
It is the subject of his mother, Violet, where he talks most earnestly: “My mum has been very, very solid in terms of values, her love, her compassion, her faith. She has really inspired me. She knew I’d become President, and she told me something – ‘There is a difference between Danny and the President. You need to remember that right now, you’re President, but Danny is what you will always be. Never change that’. Today, I get into a lot of difficulties because I use my old protocol. When they say ‘President we have this event at 8 o’clock’, I am there at 7:45, because my mum told me if you give somebody an appointment at 10:00, try to be there 30 minutes before. Everybody in government knows that punctuality is me. This is not the President, it’s Danny, it’s the Danny in the President. My mum told me ‘Never change that my boy, you are Danny’. When I look around me, position and power have changed people. They change people’s lives, we become artificial. Even when she was sick and suffering, what she said was real. My mum has inspired me from the beginning, up to her last moments. She’s no longer here, but she’s always with me, because I am reminded how I was.”
Perhaps one of the early influences on the route to becoming the future President was an early childhood watching what happened to Uganda under Idi Amin, who took control of the country in 1971. This was a tense time for the Faure family, as Idi Amin was not a fan of expatriate workers like his parents. President Faure recalls: “I will always remember going to school, seeing security guards and a lot of road blocks. That was my first contact with the military. We were all scared, but we had to go to school through several roadblocks, with guards questioning the driver. Sometimes you would see the same people every week, asking you the same questions.”
For many children, this would have been a terrifying experience, but reflecting on this ordeal formed a lot of the views that guided President Faure’s future. Looking back on this turbulent time, the President explains: “Their treatment of human beings contributed a lot to the way I approach my work, and the way I want to bring people together. I lost friends because of political turbulence. They were thrown out of Uganda. Their property was taken, or their parents were kicked out of the country. My value of peace, of treatment, of human rights started very, very young.” Out of the darkness of Idi Amin’s reign of terror, with its arbitrary arrests and nocturnal disappearances, a new light dawned in the President’s mind. A dream, that Africans can and must seize the future for them-selves, and build a new world free of cruelty and excess. For after all, if we cannot learn from the past, what hope is there for the future? Furthermore, the pain and anguish of those dark days only made him all the more conscious of his true Creole values based on undying compassion for all.
The church has also been an omnipresent part of the President’s life, and was very nearly the path he chose for a career. Although a Roman Catholic, he had grown up experiencing not only worship in the Catholic churches of Uganda, but also the Anglican church which his Great Aunt took him to, giving him a rare glimpse of both religious traditions. This combined with his experience of living in a foreign country has bestowed upon him a broad awareness of different types of people, informing his distinctively integrative style of leadership. Back in the Seychelles, he quickly fell into the routine of “home, school, church, athletics”, with each community being equally important. The arrival of a charismatic priest, Father Lafortune, who took the time to get to know his parishioners individually, made the young future President wonder if the Priesthood was something for him.
Ultimately the President decided to serve his community through politics, but those early classes in Bible study, hosted by the handsome Father Lafortune, brought positivity and optimism at a time where it was sorely lacking, and caused young Danny to seriously contemplate following Father Lafortune’s example by joining the Priesthood himself. Indeed, the President has always strongly maintained that the spiritual life plays an enormous part in the community: “It gives you a purpose in life. We’re here, we are living for who? What do we want? Who is looking? Who is watching us?” The answer to this question, the President asserts, is that God sees all that we do. It’s this strong sense of moral accountability that underpins his firm commitment to transparency in the country’s political life.
So what was it that drew the future President into politics instead? A timely combination of all the above. In 1973, seeing that his nephew was a promising athlete, young Danny’s uncle suggested that he put his athletic abilities to good use by delivering the campaign material of the second Seychellois President, France-Albert René. After delivering the door-to-door newsletters his uncle had given him to distribute, the President explains: “I brought one home. The material was on what was happening in Seychelles. I told my uncle to order one extra, because one particular house wanted another copy, but I took the extra copy for myself.” Reading the inspirational words of France-Albert René rang true with Danny’s own values and hopes for his country, and he knew that he wanted to be more involved in politics to make it happen.
This newfound interest in politics put the President at odds with Father Lafortune, who pushed him to work for eternal peace in Heaven, while politics pushed him to work for social justice on Earth. However, after listening to a rousing speech by France-Albert René on the radio, the decision was made. He set out for Cuba, drawn by the opportunity of seeing an experiment in social justice unfolding before his very eyes. On arriving he enrolled in an international school to study politics, with the aim of getting into teaching politics.
Education has always been one of President Faure’s personal priorities. His first steps into politics were taken when he took on the role of Assistant Curriculum Officer in 1985, before becoming Minister of Education in 1998. It has opened up doors for the President throughout his life.
His own international education has seen him attending schools in Uganda, the Seychelles, and Cuba. It was in Cuba that he found himself amongst people from nations and backgrounds he’d never seen before. Orphans from Angola, men from Mozambique who had lost everything in the war, and people from Palestine, Namibia and South Africa whose parents had been killed. Tragedy surrounded him. Equally, his peers included the wealthy and privileged children of diplomats and Presidents from across the world, and students from across Latin America. All of these groups came together in the fantastic melting pot of this Cuban international school. While Cuba was ruled by Fidel Castro, the President observed of him: “I saw a man wanting to have justice, social justice”, in the same way that he did. It was a wonderful experience, and the President remembers fondly, “I love Cuba, I love the culture, I love the dance, the romance.”
There was indeed a great romance in Cuba, and to the delight of President Faure, his Cuban partner gave birth to his first child – a daughter, who shared both her father and grandfather’s ethic of hard work and study, and is now a specialist doctor. Due to his staunchly Catholic values, the President initially wrestled with guilt at having a child born out of wedlock, but his immense love for his daughter easily quashed any misgivings.
Seeing the difference he could make to so many young lives through education, especially as a tool for personal empowerment, the President returned to the Seychelles in 1985, taking a role as an Assistant Curriculum Officer in the Seychelles Education Ministry, beginning his career in the Seychelles government.
In a televised address to the nation last year, President Faure was pleased to state that since he had come to power, democracy in the Seychelles has continued to evolve, with Seychellois people living in greater freedom. This in turn had led to the nation becoming more prominent across the world. He promised his people: “More transparency, more accountability and good governance, because if we have this, we will ensure that prosperity is shared. If there are risks, we take the risks together. I define my mandate by putting Seychelles at the forefront of everything. Today the country is a high-income country. It’s the only country in Africa that today is classified as a high-income country.”
You don’t have to search far to see how hard the President works for his country. A quick look at his diary reveals how assiduously he’s working to forge links with other nations. One week alone saw him meeting with representatives from Romania, Russia, America, Turkey, Sahrawi Arab Republic, and Georgia. Domestic matters in the same week included a visit to the University of Seychelles, discussing the Public Service Salary Act with the Leader of the Opposition, and the appointment of a new CEO for the Seychelles Port Authority.
Transport is key to many of the President’s visions for the Seychelles. Considering how travel will shape the future of the Seychelles, he says: “Today we have air connectivity. We have an airport, but the airport has to function to international standards. We are a small country, but we shall not have an airport that is below international standards. We have a port here – the port has to be up to international standards. Even though we have a small population, the characteristics of the island mean you need these international standards.”
The President is acutely aware that given the country’s tiny population of 94,000, certain challenges lay ahead. While it’s certainly the case that the Seychelles is the only high-income country in Africa, many international experts claim that to be fully governable an economy requires at least 2 million citizens! However, there is every sign that the new President means to continue the noble tradition of his country punching well above its weight on the world stage. His recipe for growth involves the steadfast nurturing of unity among the Seychellois people, the healing of old divisions, and a hands-off style of government designed to enable private enterprise to flourish. He is committed to demonstrating that you can have a “healthy presidency” that does not “antagonise and interfere,” and that crucially removes the “hurt” that has historically divided communities. He has chosen a route for the country to “prosper above politics.” Refreshingly, neither does the President thinks that this prosperity should be judged only in economic terms.
Making an impact
As with many Presidents, and former leaders, President Faure wants to use his time in office to make positive changes in Seychellois society, and the wider world.
Thanks to his realisation that the sense of community is such a large part of his success, the President would also like to empower young Seychellois to feel the same drive to make everyone’s lives better. He explains: “I think I would want to have more leaders at the community level because there is a break-down in families lacking the supporting mechanism that we need to have in the community. I would want to have more young people coming out and playing that role.”
He doesn’t feel that you can ever be too busy to make a difference, because he managed to make it happen. He is acutely aware, however, that young people are under a considerable amount of pressure in these modern times. When he was young, the best form of communication with the world that you had was what your parents and teachers told you. These days, technology seems to have taken over that role. “Today you have the television. In the US you have 200 or 300 channels, all of them are bombarding you [with information]. You need to take time to talk to yourself. The conversation, human conversation, isn’t seen as important. Today we are just digesting without thinking. The brain needs to function, so we need to think. The thinking process is important because it helps you to take decisions.”
Internationally, President Faure is making a name for himself in calling for the nations of the world to be more aware of climate change. The Seychelles suffers terribly from the effects of rising sea temperatures. Rising sea temperatures are killing the coral reefs, and plastic dumped in countries thousands of miles away is washing up on the glorious sandy beaches of the Seychellois coast. It would be a wonderful legacy if the work done now preserves the beauty of the Seychelles for the people of the future.
He also welcomes in expatriates from across the world, determined that they have a happier reception than he encountered from Idi Amin’s forces in Uganda as a child. Primarily, the highest number of migrants comes from India, but hundreds are also welcomed each year from Madagascar, the Philippines, Sri Lanka and Mauritius. President Faure welcomes the contribution they make to Seychellois society, although with the proviso that Seychellois traditions are respected and continued – particularly the Creole language, of which he says: “We need to continue with the policy of the Creole language that we have. We need to teach it. It needs to continue as a medium of instruction right from kindergarten onwards, and then we need to develop the culture.”
It is thanks to the many and varied communities that he has encountered that President Faure is the man we see today. It is no surprise that his priority is to keep that community spirit alive, and shared with others, wherever and whoever they are. As Kreol concluded the interview, the President was asked what his three wishes would be, and his answer was simply: “The best for my country. Three times.”