Sir James Mancham, the first President of the Republic of Seychelles, has been a prolific writer for many years. His most recent work, “Seychelles: The Saga of a Small Nation Navigating the Cross-Currents of a Big World”, was published by Paragon House (USA) in September 2014. During an interview with Kreol Magazine, he discusses his thoughts about Seychelles, foreign affairs, United States and the state of Creole culture and its future.
Political leader, businessman, author and proud Seychellois, Sir James Richard Marie Mancham, KBE, has lived an intrepid life, an adventure that is far from over. Active in national and international affairs, economics and business, as well as an advocate of peaceful international coexistence, Sir James follows a busy schedule of conferences, lectures and writing. He has recently completed his latest book, Seychelles: The Saga of a Small Nation Navigating the Cross-Currents of a Big World, published by Paragon House (USA) in September 2014.
First President of an Independent Seychelles
Sir James Mancham is perhaps best known as the Founding President of the Republic of Seychelles, an office in which he served from independence in 1976 until he was ousted by a coup in 1977. Although he remained active in Seychellois politics as founder and leader of the Seychelles Democratic Party until he retired as leader in early 2005, there are many facets to his life and interests.
Mancham’s formative years
Born on August 11, 1939 to a Seychellois business family, he was educated at Seychelles College. In the late 1950s, he travelled to London, where he studied law at Wilson College before being called to the Bar (Middle Temple, London) in 1961. After additional studies in economics at the University of Paris, he returned to the Seychelles. Here, he served as Barrister and Attorney-at-Law before the Supreme Court of Seychelles (1963 to 1967).
Entry into Politics
It was during that period, when he was first establishing himself as a member of the legal profession in the country, that he began to involve himself in national politics. Great Britain was beginning to divest itself of its colonies in the early 1960s, negotiating independence for new nations around the world. Although Seychelles was still a Crown Colony, many residents began to publicly speak out for independence. Foremost among them was France Albert René, who formed the Seychelles People’s United Party (SPUP) in 1964. In the same year Mr Mancham formed the Seychelles Democratic Party (SDP), which advocated closer integration with Great Britain.
Legislative elections were held in 1966 in which the SDP won the majority, and Mr Mancham became the First Minister and afterwards the first Prime Minister of the colony, covering a period of 10 years. During those years, he began to write and publish books on the history and prospects of his country, including Reflections and Echoes from Seychelles (Victoria: Seychelles News Service, 1972).
Seychelles independence followed by a coup d’état
On 29 June 1976, the Republic of Seychelles became an independent nation and member of the Commonwealth. In the first national elections, the SDP once again won the majority, making Sir James (recently knighted by the Queen) President. As part of a coalition government, France Albert René became Prime Minister. Less than a year later, Mr Rene instrumented a coup d’etat which left Mr Mancham in exile while he introduced a one-party state, with the Seychelles People’s Progressive Party (SPPF, successor to the SPUP) the sole legal party. Under Mr René’s leadership, Seychelles pursued a socialist economy and a non-aligned foreign policy, although with closer ties to the Soviet Union than the West.
In exile, Sir James settled in London. For the following 15 years he was active as an entrepreneur and consultant, including positions as President of Berlin European Airways and President of International Promotion Marketing and Development, Ltd. (IMPD Ltd.), and serving as consultant for aircraft, shipping and oil exploration companies. During this time, he wrote and published several books, including Island Splendour (Hamburg: Christian Verlag, 1980), Paradise Raped: Life, Love and Power in the Seychelles (London: Methuen, 1983), Galloo: Island of Many Dreams (Hamburg: Christian Druckerie, 1984) and Peace of Mind: Reflections on Life (London: JRM, International, 1989).
Meanwhile, in Seychelles, President René and his policies faced opposition from both within the country and from exiled parties abroad. At this time, Sir James worked with an alliance of exiles called SIROP (Seychelles International Repatriation and Onward Programme), which called for a peaceful return of the banned parties and a stronger economic programme. During this period, he published Call for the Restoration of Multiparty Democracy (London: Crusade for Democracy of Seychelles, 1990) and In the Seychelles: Democracy on the Horizon (Washington, DC: Heritage Foundation, 1990). In 1991, when the Soviet Union was dissolved, President René allowed parties other than the SPPF to participate in elections.
Return to Seychelles
In April 1992, Sir James returned to Seychelles to resume his leadership of the Seychelles Democratic Party (now called just the Democratic Party, or DP). A commission was established to draft a new democratic constitution, which was approved by a large majority of voters in a 1993 referendum. During the 1993 and 1998 national elections, the DP was not able to win a majority in parliament. This was not surprising considering that most of the 20,000 people who had left Seychelles for a life in exile during the one-party rule were Mr Mancham’s supporters who now were denied a vote.
Now in an active retirement
Now retired from the leadership of the Democratic Party, Sir James shows no signs of slowing down the pace of his activities. He is active in promoting Seychellois interests, both at home and abroad, encouraging economic development and international relations. His latest book, Seychelles: The Saga of a Small Nation Navigating the Cross-Currents of a Big World, continues his writings about the nation of his birth.
Explaining the origins of this book, he recently stated:
“I received a phone call from the publishers of Global Citizen [Paragon House], telling me that this book (Global Citizen) was published when I was 70 years old and they felt now that I am 75 it would be timely to publish a new one. At the same time, I was speaking to my son Richard, who didn’t understand my politics of national reconciliation. After I explained it to him, he said, ‘Dad, I believe it is your duty to posterity to tell these stories, because, out there, there are a lot of people who don’t know and others who are confused’. So, I decided I should come to an agreement with the publishers for this book about the Seychelles.”
Mancham’s view, in print and in interview
Seychelles: The Saga of a Small Nation Navigating the Cross-Currents of a Big World describes the history of the nation during Sir James’ lifetime, beginning with “la belle époque,” as he describes it, “the good old days before we broke from our isolation and the atmosphere and environment of how things were. I believe it is important to discover our kreolite and how things were when we were left to ourselves.” The history of the period just after 1976 is covered, although not as extensively as in his autobiography because, he laughingly explains, “people have had enough of it for the time being”.
The government of President James Michel is dealt with in more detail, however. In that section, Sir James explains,
“my conclusion in the book is that Michel is the right man, in the right place, at the right time”.
On recent developments, he states:
“I have always felt with conviction that the changes that are to be brought to any system is better brought about by those who have been part of its creation. Michel has been part of the system since it started and knows more than anyone else what changes should be brought about to get the system better and working well.”
When asked about the role of Seychelles as a small nation wishing to have a voice in world affairs, Sir James replied:
“I have coined a phrase which has the support and approval of most island nations: ‘No country is small if it is surrounded by the sea’. This position is certainly reflected by the geo-political focus to which the Seychelles is subjected at this time when big powers are competing for a role in the Indian Ocean. In fact if the British had not owned the island of Assumption they would not have been able to recover the Falklands because the friends of Argentina were also friends of the British and nobody wanted to take sides in that conflict.”
Describing island nations such as Seychelles as potential “unsinkable aircraft carriers”, potential launching pads from which missiles could be fired to most countries in the Middle East, he stressed that many nations have not considered this point which explains Seychelles’ strategic characteristic and therefore why the big powers are competing to have an influential position in the zone.
The book has a whole chapter dealing with international relations. Of particular interest it deals with America’s shortsighted diplomacy in closing its Seychelles embassy at the end of the Cold War although the Chinese, the Russians, the Indians, the French and the British were becoming more and more involved. Mancham of course is best equipped to write about US-Seychelles relationship because as a lawyer he represented the three major American companies who were fronting for the US Air Force which was operating a station to spy over the former Soviet Union at that time.
Questioned about the current status of American foreign policy it is his view that the Republican Party has failed to appreciate that President Barack Obama has acted as the leader of the USA and not as the leader of Black America.
“If he had played the role of a black American activist there would have been much more turmoil within the nation. He had the potential of creating national chaos but instead he kept away from the extreme of the fanatics and played to the national interest,” Sir James opines.
Seychelles style Creolisation: the future of the world
When asked how Seychelles can promote itself as a great Creole nation, Sir James replies:
“Creolisation is a sample of the world to come. As far as I am concerned President Obama is not a black man nor a white man. He is indeed a Creole. His international standing has certainly enhanced the value of La Créolite in the future world. History has seen to it that the Seychelles is now spearheading the role of island nations in asserting its contribution to international development. Considering that the Seychellois is basically a Creole nation, Seychelles can pursue the role of becoming le Capital de la Créolite. After all, it has already acquired a reputation for its annual Creole Festival. Indeed we can be a bridge between all skin colours, races and cultures by showing that all of us can live together with a minimum of prejudices. We should be proud of the fact that within a Seychellois family you can find a little daughter looking like a European, a son looking like an African, and a big brother looking like an Asian. In my view this constitutes a sample of the world to come. Certainly sex appeal was beyond the fact of colour or race. That is why there is an increasing number of café au lait people in the world today. As a matter of fact Creolisation has already started to make an impact in the UK. If you go there and watch its television so many of its speakers and presenters appear to have a Caribbean background. You also see the situation emerging in the fashion and modelling industry. Of course there is no action without a reaction but with the Creole people becoming more and more educated and ambitious you could see them playing a greater and greater role in liberal societies. Many European nations are showing zero population growth because they are not in favour of large families. It is possible that the Creole people could eventually constitute a cohesion that could counter balance the increasing number of people in India and China. It may take many more years for Creolisation to maximise its international impact but what is taking place today certainly indicates that the number of Creole people will continue and continue to grow.”