Sir James Mancham, the founding President of Seychelles, writes about the geo-political importance of Seychelles, which he says cannot be underestimated.
We reproduce the letter he issued to the island’s daily newspaper, Nation, of which a copy reached our office.
The letter as it was published:
I have read with great interest your leading article entitled “Seychelles and Sri Lanka offer ocean of opportunity,” concerning the important lecture which President James Michel delivered at Sri Lanka’s Institute for International Relations and Strategic Studies under the theme of “The Role of Small Island States in the Global Tapestry.”
In this context, I note with particular interest President Michel’s remarks – “It is regrettable that up to now, oceans have primarily been regarded as spaces for exploitation. We must make them spaces for sustainable development. Island nations must take ownership of the blue economy to ensure that it delivers benefits not only for their own people – but so that it also enhances the benefits for the planet.”
The various initiatives which President Michel has taken over the last few months have been significantly remarkable – specially within the regional context. First there was the State visit of Her Excellency, the President of India, Mrs. Pratibha Patil, who upon departure gave Seychelles a grant of US$25 million and an import/export line of credit of US$50 million.
Few weeks later, we had the official visit of Prime Minister Navin Ramgoolam of Mauritius to participate in Seychelles National Day celebrations and at the same time commemorate the signing of an agreement for Seychelles and Mauritius to exploit the potential of the Mascarene Plateau for mutual benefits.
Afterwards, we read about President Michel’s bold initiative to bring reconciliation and unity to the large and rich island of Madagascar, which is so sadly politically divided at the moment.
It would appear that against the background of these positive developments, the President discovered the momentum for Seychelles to make a bid for a non-permanent seat at the United Nations Security Council in 2017. I am sure that in pursuing this objective, the Seychelles leader has not lost sight of the fact that we are today the focal point in the geo-political chess game, which the big powers are playing in the Indian Ocean at this time.
It is important to note that the British and the French fought over the Seychelles not for its natural beauty nor for its coco-de-mer, cinnamon, and tortoises – but because of its strategic location on the important trading route to the East Indies.
A further confirmation of our strategic dimension was subsequently projected in a special report of limited circulation issued by Admiral Hanks of the US Navy following the Falkland Islands war.
Hanks, who had been Naval Chief of Staff Commanding US Forces based in Bahrain in the 1960s, and who, after retirement became an active Director of the Institute of Strategic Studies in Washington DC, agreed that the British became victorious in the Falkland Islands against Argentina because of her control of Ascension Island in the middle of the Atlantic between Brazil and West Africa. There they were able to make use of an enormous American-built runaway to launch their attacks against the Argentinean Navy and other enemy targets. Hanks argued that every small island in the oceans could be considered like an “unsinkable aircraft carrier.” An island can be utilized as a launching pad for rockets aimed at enemy territories within its reach.
Taking into account the fact that the over 100 Seychelles islands are scattered over a wide surface of the western Indian Ocean, which includes a vital oil route, and taking into account that important oil-producing nations are within rocket-striking distance, the geo-political importance of the Seychelles cannot be underestimated.
For this reason, all the powerful nations in the world and regionally made it a point to send influential naval representatives to our independence celebrations with Iran topping the list with six vessels of their Iranian Imperial Navy under the command of its Naval Chief of Staff, Admiral Pahlavi – nephew of the late Shah himself.
The arrival this week of the Japanese Naval Training Squadron in Port Victoria under the command of Rear Admiral Hidetoshi Fuchinoue, who was accompanied by the Japanese Ambassador HE Toshihisa Takata, has further confirmed the growing importance of our strategic dimension.
It is clear, therefore, that President Michel will require all his navigational skills to be able to pursue in a sustainable way our policy of “friend to all – enemy to none.” Bon courage Monsieur Le Président.
James R. Mancham
Seychelles is a founding member of the International Council of Tourism Partners (ICTP).