Michel earns his leadership everyday
It would take weeks, months and possibly years to write just a summary of the life of President James Michel and in fact, it is just what I will be attempting to do in this profile.

Probably not even the first black American President Barrack Obama has had such a tough upbringing like President Michel who recalls walking barefoot along the sandy beach of Anse à la Mouche on Mahe’s sweet coast.

In his book entitled ‘A Man of the People’, President Michel retraces his childhood, school days, first job as a teacher, involvement in the trade union, work as a journalist and responsibilities as a government minister.

Born on the afternoon of August 16, 1944 at the Victoria Hospital, President Michel experienced firsthand the crucial effects of discrimination and feelings of superiority amongst elite, based on nothing more than one’s racial origins and accumulated wealth.

The first child, he was adopted by an aunt. At Anse Boileau he went to the then St Mary’s primary school before continuing his secondary education at Mont Fleuri Junior Secondary School. He felt the injustice of the educational system of the day when he was barred from attending Seychelles College.
It is for this reason that he worked hard at school and “from the outset,” he said, “I could see suffering around me and I would spend much of my future life doing my best to spare future generations the similar ordeals”.

This is probably what prompted him to join politics as at the time of his birth he writes Seychelles was “caught up in a war that spread like a bush across all continents.”

Although he was schooled in a rudimentary system of education riddled with privilege and discrimination, he is thankful to the Catholic Church whom he said played an important role in “providing opportunities”.

And this opportunity he used so well as he had extraordinary intellectual abilities in his favourite subjects – literature, poetry, history and geography – he worked hard, learnt large tracts of text by heart, and as a result earned himself rave reviews as his name was called out first as the top of the class at the annual roll-out.

His colleagues described him as a quiet but very intelligent student.
Joining the Modern School and not the Seychelles College, he felt a great injustice was done and it proved to be the defining moment of his life as he decided to join politics to fight for a fairer society where people would no longer be disadvantaged on grounds of their racial or economic background.
After completing his one year course at the then Teacher Training College in 1961, President Michel taught for a while at the Anse Boileau school before joining the prestigious company, Cable & Wireless, and later Hotel des Seychelles as an accountant and progressed to become a manager in 1973.
People who have known him say that although he changed jobs deep down he has always remained a teacher. They point to the fact that he always tries to explain things and his conviction that if things are explained to them people always understand.

It was when he was at Cable & Wireless that Mr. Michel became involved in politics with the Seychelles People’s United Party (SPUP) and this brought him to perform some journalism work with the party’s People newspaper.

He described his entry into politics in 1974 as “less by design than circumstances”.
“As a result of my own experience while I was growing up and as a young man in the world of work, I was incensed by the injustice of the nature of government and society that prevailed. It seemed only natural to me to devote myself to doing something about it. Politics provided me that means and France Albert Rene gave me the opportunity to take my next step,” remarked Mr. Michel in his book.

Having served alongside Mr. René since 1977, Mr. Michel, the longest-serving minister, who had also accepted the post of First Designated Minister and Vice-President, for nearly eight years, was inaugurated as the third Seychelles President.
His faith as a good Christian has provided James Michel with the moral compass he needed in his political career that saw him rise in the ranks of the Party and Government.

After joining SPUP, President Michel rose quickly through the ranks both in the Party he became a member of the Executive Committee of SPUP in 1974, then member of the Central Committee when the Party became SPPF in 1978.  In 1984 he became Deputy Secretary General of the Party and ten years later the Secretary General. On 2 June 2009 he became Party President when SPPF changed to Parti Lepep.

James Michel, as a founding member of the Seychelles People’s Defence Forces (SPDF) which was created in June 1977 as the Seychelles People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) has over the years built a special bond with the country’s military. He was SPDF’s first chief of staff, and then became the country’s Defense Minister (he still holds the portfolio) before becoming Commander-in-Chief of the armed forces when he was appointed Head of State in April 2004.
President Michel started his first ministerial position in June 1977 as Minister for Public Administration and Information. He then moved to various other ministries including that of Education, Environment, Communications, Defense and Finance.
 
In 1993, he became the country’s first Designated Minister and in 1996 he became the Vice-President of the Republic.
By the time he became President of the Republic in 2004, James Michel had served as a Cabinet Minister for 31 years. It goes without saying that the man of the people has earned his way to the top, and he has also earned the respect of the people for he has waited his turn. It is also evident that he has been around in all the circumstances of the Party and country – him becoming President was not by chance or luck but hard work. He has learned to obey so he has become a good commander.

When taking on the responsibility of Head of State he pledged to hold a more open dialogue and to involve the private sector in the debt-ridden national economy.

With Mr. Michel as the Finance Minister Seychelles experienced a period of economic growth based on its tourism and fishery sectors, which was followed by stagnation in the 1990s. In at the start of 2008, he presided over a macro-economic reform programme, leading to a massive reduction in budget deficit and complete liberalisation of foreign exchange transactions.

Mr. Michel has also played a major role in the country’s democratisation process, which started with multi-party elections in 1993.
On winning the Seychelles Presidential elections of 2006, Mr. Michel promised to increase democratic space, restore Seychellois pride, liberalise the country’s economy, establish the island’s first ever university and in the international stage lobby the global community on the plight of island nations.
The retired army colonel is also not afraid to choose his leadership style and some analysts have praised him for executing long-needed but painful reforms to liberalise the economy. He took a bold step as a confident man that the reform he was about to undertake would be successful but he also went further to face the public when the going were getting tough. James Michel implemented the measures; gradually putting into place the economic measures  while ensuring social benefits to those really in need, and at the same time undertaking a communication campaign through consultative meetings in districts to get feedback from the people and explain his rationale concerning the reforms.

President Michel made sure he upheld the principles he always had as a person and politician; he didn’t want to see the welfare state dismantled; and he knew the people wanted access to foreign exchange as Seychellois like to travel. President Michel didn’t want to see a rise in the cost of living but with the reforms this was unavoidable he somehow put in place mechanisms to help the less vulnerable. Again, through an effective communication campaign he explained that the basic principles his Party had put into place remained such as free education to all, and access to health care. He explained that the reforms were urgent and that after that Seychelles will be stable economically and the people will reap the fruit of their hard work. He will go down as the man who got the economy back on its feet.

The reformed economy has already become the springboard of a modern Seychellois society which President Michel has termed as the New Seychelles.
Because the economic reforms have been in different phases, President Michel presidency will be not only be viewed as an economic success but also social, political and cultural ones.

Since taking over as President he has won two Presidential elections – in 2006 when he gained nearly 54% of the vote and in the 2011 polls he won 55% of the vote.

A man of great leadership qualities, Mr. Michel believes in national unity, transparency, consultation, dialogue and mutual respect, the sanctity of the family, hard work, respect for the rule of law, public-private sector partnership, zero tolerance on corruption and all the scourges afflicting society, in particular, drug abuse and trafficking.

An easy-going and affable man, Michel is uncompromising on those issues.
They are at the heart of every speech he has delivered since assuming the presidency. He reiterates them with a passion borne out of conviction, secure in the belief that in the time allotted to him he has a mission to accomplish.

Critics suggest that to many this was a tall order, but to Mr. Michel, these are what his presidency was all about. In the 10 years he has been at the helm he has stuck out as his own man, confounding both foes and friends alike.
When many expected him to continue reveling in the hard line stance that his predecessor was well-known for, Mr. Michel turned out to be an accommodating politician giving the opposition a free hand in the country’s affairs and letting the economy flourish with minimum governmental control.
He has also presided over the establishment of the University of Seychelles in 2009, the floating of the Seychelles rupee, the revitalisation of Seychelles economy in 2008 and his persistence lobbying of the international community on the vulnerabilities posed by climate change, sea level rise and global economic recession of Small Island Developing Nations (SIDS) are the four that stand out.

People all over the world, are discovering that greater knowledge will provide the answer to all problems besetting mankind. When President Michel says that Seychelles should fully integrate into the global village he is not just expressing a wish but also referring to his plans to make sure it happens!
Already in the region, precisely in the Indian Ocean, President Michel has ensured that Seychelles has a leading role, again, to ensure that peace and stability reigns, and also to make sure that shared ideas in turns become shared prosperity for Seychelles’ sister countries. He has proudly taken a stand on the issue of Madagascar and has even played host to the two Malagasy leaders to resolve their issues. Now, thanks to the efforts of Seychelles and SADC the people of Madagascar have been promised a good future.

“Which country believes in people-centred development that values the welfare of all its citizens, from the newborn to the elderly, that cares deeply about social justice? Which country gives its citizens the opportuits people the opportunity to own their own homes and own shares in businesses; to share in the country’s wealth? Which country ensures that development takes into account the natural environment, for the benefit of its people and humanity?
Which  is the country of 85,000 people that has a  national  airline  and a fleet of  tankers  plying the seven seas? Which country promotes the Creole culture that excludes no one, that brings people together and creates unity in diversity? As the song goes, which other but Seychelles,” Mr. Michel said on the 30th anniversary celebrations in 2006.

A man of many talents, but everything he does for others comes from the heart. This evokes sincerity. People by nature love what is pure and sincere. That is why we love James Michel so much and also, because of the fact that as a great leader, he earns his leadership every day.