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History of Seychelles

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Seychelles was not permanently inhabited until the18th century. Arab sailors may have known of the islands by the 7th century, and Portuguese explorers first sighted them in1501. The crew of the British ship Ascension became the first Europeans to set foot in Seychelles when they anchored off Mahé in 1609. Pirates later used the islands as safe havens, as their remoteness made them of little interest to other seafarers.

The French took control of Mauritius (an island east of Madagascar) in 1705. Its governor, François Mahé de Labourdonnais, sent an expedition to Seychelles in 1742. After a second expedition two years later, the island of Mahé was named in his honor. It was not until 1756, when the French feared the British would attempt to occupy Seychelles, that the French formally claimed it. The first settlers arrived in 1770, and the French established a military base on Mahé in 1786.

Possession of Seychelles passed to the British in the 1814Treaty of Paris. After Britain abolished slavery in 1835, it liberated thousands of African slaves from captured slave ships and relocated them to Seychelles, where they became laborers on plantations that produced coconut oil, cinnamon oil, and vanilla. Chinese, Indians, and others also settled in Seychelles, and by the 20th century, intermarriage between the islands’ various groups had created the cosmopolitan Seychellois population that exists today.

Local demands for independence from Britain began in the1960s. Two political parties, the Seychelles Democratic Party (SDP) and Seychelles People’s United Party (SPUP), were formed in 1964. The SDP, led by James Mancham, won the islands’ next two elections and formed a coalition government with the SPUP to prepare the colony for independence, which Britain granted on 29 June 1976. Mancham became president and SPUP leader France Albert René became prime minister. One year later, René staged a coup while Mancham was out of the country and established himself as the president of a socialist state under a single party, which he renamed the Seychelles People’s Progressive Front (SPPF).

In the 1990s, the economy fell into disarray, in part because foreign backing (from both the United States and the Soviet Union) dried up as the Cold War ended and the country’s strategic location lost importance. Under international pressure, René reinstated multiparty democracy in 1991. He defeated Mancham in the 1993 presidential poll and was reelected in1998 and 2001. The SPPF continued to win the majority of parliamentary seats. After nearly three decades in power, René stood down in 2004 to make way for his longtime vice president, James Michel, who won presidential elections in 2006.

References:

“Republic of Seychelles.CultureGrams World Edition. 2008.

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