President James Michel

the torch of freedom

We learned of the passing away of former South African President Nelson Mandela, a political activist and philanthropist well-known for his belief he has propagated throughout the world; a belief that black and white people are one and the same in the eyes of God, and should be the same in the eyes of men.

At his funeral, world leaders, put their differences aside to pay their last respect. Just the same, the world has known great thinkers, inventors and many people have left their footprints. Seychelles may be a small country, often described by insensitive people as a dot on the map, but there is one thing the world must know about these islands; it possesses human beings who were born to be different to others; they were born with different missions in life.

Seychelles former and present Presidents will both leave behind not only ideas but thanks to them a country has been born and a people recognised. Mr. René has saved these islands and similarly has saved the people of these islands. Without René and SPUP, our country would have had another type of people – most probably the offspring of the rich landowners and their colonial masters. The ‘real’ Seychellois were already dying in poverty.
 
On 12 November 1962, somewhere in a backstreet of London, a group of Seychellois met to listen to the views and ideas of Mr. France Albert René. It was then that Mr. René explained about the necessity to break away from colonial domination before any real progress could be achieved for the country and its people. “We want,” he said, “an all-Seychellois Government, voted for freely by all Seychellois for the mutual benefit of all Seychellois.”

It was at this meeting that the Seychelles People’s United Party (SPUP) was born. In June 1964, Mr. René returned to his country after an absence of two years and five months, during which he had devoted his time to the study of economics, constitutional and economic development of countries similar to Seychelles.
His close connection with the Movement for Colonial Freedom and the British Labour Party gave him the chance to study practical politics. He said after that: “From 1961 to 1963, while I was in England, I took part in a lot of political discussions with parties of all ideologies, sizes and beliefs.”
With his arrival back in Seychelles, came the SPUP, to be given a rather cool reception by those groups of people whose vested interests were, so they believed, in jeopardy. On the other hand his return brought comfort to many people. In Seychelles, a few Seychellois had started the S.I.U.P (Seychelles Islanders United Party) that merged with SPUP to become one political movement.

“The Seychelles People’s United Party itself was launched on Seychelles’ soil in June 1964.
Some of you will remember how some of us used to sit in a  small office on Albert Street and how young students going to school every morning and coming back every evening used to be paid by certain people to put their heads through the door of the office and shout “nou pa oule”.
For three to four months, mornings and nights, hordes  of schoolchildren used to come at about 7 to 8 o’clock in the morning and 3 to 4 o’clock in the evening and do exactly that.

This did not deter those of us who believed that we were fighting, in fact, for those very kids, who through lack of proper education and understanding, through bad guidance from their parents, were, shouting words which they themselves did not understand. We persisted for many years and struggled in order to make the people understand what we were talking about.

It took many years because soon after the formation of the Party in 1964 some other people got together and decided that they had to establish a party to oppose what we were trying to do,” Mr. René said.

Born of poor parents, educated in Seychelles, Switzerland and England thanks to the charity of others, Mr. René had one great ambition which could easily boiled to this – the children of the future must never know poverty and want. They must be educated to work hard in the knowledge that they are working for their country.

They must feel proud to be Seychellois; they must have no discrimination and live in a spirit of brotherhood and equality.
Born on 16 November 1935, Mr. René comes from a modest family. His mother was a simple housewife and his father was an administrator on Farquhar. Mr. René received his primary and part of his secondary education at the Saint Louis College of the Marist Brothers in Victoria. Intelligent and full of courage, he undertook further studies, thanks to his mother, at the new Seychelles College, where, as he still remembers: “Most of the other students came from well-off if not wealthy families and I could not even afford to buy a pair of shoes”.
In 1953, at the age of 18, France Albert René left for the Canton de Valais in Switzerland. He was enrolled at the Scolasticat de Saint Maurice where he started studying theology. But a few months later, having a preference for law, he gave up those studies.

In 1954, he therefore went to England and was admitted to St. Mary’s College in Southampton and then to King’s College, University of London. There, France Albert René distinguished himself by an outstanding capacity for work because in the same year, 1954, he entered the Middle Temple.
In 1956, he was on the Council of Legal Education. Even though he worked during the day to meet his needs, he obtained his lawyer’s diploma in 1957. As his rapid success had revived his thirst for knowledge, he began studying political science, which he discontinued sometime later to return to Seychelles in 1958.
When he returned to Seychelles, France Albert Rene worked as a lawyer for three years. At the same time he observed the Seychellois society, his own society.
In December 1961 he went back to England where he resumed his studies in political science to prepare for a degree in economics at the London School of Economics and Political Science. But already his student life was dominated by his militancy.

They must feel proud to be Seychellois; they must have no discrimination and live in a spirit of brotherhood and equality.
Born on 16 November 1935, Mr. René comes from a modest family. His mother was a simple housewife and his father was an administrator on Farquhar. Mr. René received his primary and part of his secondary education at the Saint Louis College of the Marist Brothers in Victoria. Intelligent and full of courage, he undertook further studies, thanks to his mother, at the new Seychelles College, where, as he still remembers: “Most of the other students came from well-off if not wealthy families and I could not even afford to buy a pair of shoes”.
 
In 1953, at the age of 18, France Albert René left for the Canton de Valais in Switzerland. He was enrolled at the Scolasticat de Saint Maurice where he started studying theology. But a few months later, having a preference for law, he gave up those studies.

In 1954, he therefore went to England and was admitted to St. Mary’s College in Southampton and then to King’s College, University of London. There, France Albert René distinguished himself by an outstanding capacity for work because in the same year, 1954, he entered the Middle Temple.

In 1956, he was on the Council of Legal Education. Even though he worked during the day to meet his needs, he obtained his lawyer’s diploma in 1957. As his rapid success had revived his thirst for knowledge, he began studying political science, which he discontinued sometime later to return to Seychelles in 1958.
When he returned to Seychelles, France Albert Rene worked as a lawyer for three years. At the same time he observed the Seychellois society, his own society.
In December 1961 he went back to England where he resumed his studies in political science to prepare for a degree in economics at the London School of Economics and Political Science. But already his student life was dominated by his militancy.


The leader….
However, at the time, the right conditions for the social revolution which France Albert Rene wanted to build by spreading the revolutionary spirit were still not present. To attain this objective, it was necessary to create a revolutionary Party of the people and capable of guiding it in the complicated struggle which was to unfold. He came back to Seychelles on 1 June 1964, and on 2 June he lit the torch of liberty by creating the SPUP. The Party set up its own newspaper to back the struggle, ‘The People’, whose first issue was published on 17 August 1964.
 
“Politics was not a means to become important, politics was not a search for power, but it was just something very dear and very, very deep for me. I think of all those people like Mr. Guy Sinon who left his job in East Africa to come and join me. Mr. Loizeau, Mr. Olivier Charles who was working very well in the Agricultural Department, all those people in those early days gave up their jobs and came for a very small amount of money, just enough, barely enough for them to survive. They struggled on and on and most of them are still loyal to this day,” France Albert René said.
 
An intense political campaign began against the denial of justice and the conspiracy of silence in the face of colonialism. The Seychelles People’s United Party was there to give the people a certain amount of political education, to reach out to the people and build up in them a sense of hope in the future, to rally their support and to cultivate in them a high degree of responsibility and duty.#
 
“As we know, it is not easy. I think that those of you who were there with us, people like Mr. Rifned Jumeau and others, know the difficulties we went through, the nights when we had to sleep outside, sometimes by the side of workers, in order to try to gain more respect and dignity for the people of Seychelles,” Mr. René said.
 
It is obvious that when France Albert René talked about the people, he meant that he was devoting his whole life to the majority of Seychellois, especially the workers who were being exploited.

Apart from the love he had for and his confidence in this social class, he was deeply conscious of the future roles they had to play in the upheavals which were to mark the history of Seychelles. Also under his guidance, the Transport and General Workers’ Union was founded on 2 August 1964, followed at a later date by other trade unions.
 
The political awakening following the creation of those two organisations and particularly of the SPUP instilled a clear sense of awareness. Workers began to realise that exploitation, oppression and humiliation, of which they were victims, were not an inevitable calamity.
The SPUP took off and gained power among the people in spite of the smear campaign launched against Mr. René and his militant comrades. He campaigned for Universal Adult Suffrage and this was granted on 23 November 1964.
 
In October 1965, France Albert René was elected to the Legislative Council in by-election as representative for Praslin and La Digue. However, he refused, in leading the struggle on the two fronts, to create a distinction between the objectives of national liberation and those concerning cultural and economic recovery and enjoyment of the democratic and political rights of the people.

In December 1967, he was re-elected and represented East Mahe for three years on the Government Council. Such a ‘promotion’ did not mean that the establishment had brought him back to the fold because France Albert Rene remained uncompromising in his struggle to emancipate the people of Seychelles.
He continued to write in ‘The People’ that the Seychellois people had to run their own affairs. Likewise the total demilitarization of the Indian Ocean came up as a keynote in his declarations on foreign policy.

On 9 March 1970, France Albert René represented his Party at the Constitutional Conference in London and became the official leader of the opposition. At that time he also had talks with African progressive leaders for whom he symbolized the nationalism and resistance of the people of Seychelles to colonialism.
In January 1973, the SPUP was recognised as a national liberation movement by the OAU. On 28 April 1974, Mr. René was again re-elected to the Legislative Assembly.

He was the leader of the SPUP parliamentary group which had won only five seats although it had taken 48 per cent of the total votes, the ten other seats going to the Seychelles Democratic Party, which was pro-British, with 52 percent of the votes.
The struggle undertaken by France Albert René on Seychelles’ territorial integrity was an important aspect – and relatively little known – of  his  political activity during the colonial period.

He displayed uncompromising nationalism with great ability in the constitutional struggle. Hence, on 18 December 1974 he moved a proposal in the Legislative Assembly asking for the return of the three islands, Aldabra, Farquhar and Desroches which were detached from Seychelles’ archipelago by the British to form the British Indian Ocean Territory (BIOT).

In March 1975, he took an active part in the London Constitutional Conference and repeated his request for the restitution of the BIOT islands by declaring: “I think it is abundantly clear that the people of Seychelles are calling for the independence of the whole of their country. The three islands that were detached from Seychelles must be returned back to Seychelles.”


The Political Strategy…
Appreciating the relationship between the various forces at national and international levels, France Albert René saw that only a coalition government would be able to inspire and lead a united and progressive front of the people of Seychelles to independence.
In June 1975 having rooted the SPUP firmly among the people, he joined with the SDP in forming a Coalition Government.
On 1 October 1975 he became Minister of Public Works and Development and took part in the last Constitutional Conference in London on 19 January 1976. He stopped, at that time, appearing before the Bar in Victoria.
 
On 29 June 1976, Seychelles got its independence. France Albert René became Prime Minister and maintained his portfolio in Public Works and Development. His great experience and his strong sense of organisation were recognised by one and all.

However a man of law, independence did not represent simply a legal status. It had to mean a promise of well-being and social justice for all social classes.
France Albert René asked all Seychellois to stand up, to take their courage in their hands and form, with ardent will, a more humane, fraternal and truly democratic society, which would integrate its values. A legitimate ambition which required all Seychellois to overstep the barriers of the past and to choose deliberately the ways and means of combining and uniting all the active forces in the country that together were to create the future.
 
On 2 June 1978, the SPUP changed into a National Front – the Seychelles People’s Progressive Front, with France Albert René as its President. There is one fundamental aim in its constitution: “To create a socialist state wherein all citizens, regardless of colour, class, race or creed, shall have equal opportunities and be afforded with the basic needs of life in a modern society, such as security of income, medical care, good and hygienic housing, free and compulsory education, opportunities for the young and care for the aged”.

“If we think that there should be a one-party state in Seychelles we will have to ask ourselves a few questions. Should this Party continue to be called SPUP? Or should we now establish a National Progressive Front in which all people, no matter what they felt before, who believe and accept the principles of that movement, will be able to give a hand and move the country forward into a new age?”

Mr. René asked Congress before they voted to change the name SPUP to SPPF.
On 27 June 1979, at the general election, France Albert René was elected President of the Republic of Seychelles.
Profoundly humane, simple in action and word, and burning with justice and dignity, President René is regarded as a man of prestige.
France Albert René has won all elections during the one-party state and similarly after Congress voted to launch multi-party democracy in Seychelles, that is, until April 2004 when he transferred power to his successor James Michel.
 
During the one party state, Mr. René started opening up access to everything, to all. Hence, free education for all, free health care, access to home, and land ownership, access to business credit through the creation of the Development Bank of Seychelles and even access of all to foreign travel.
By opening access to all the old system crumbled because all they once had the common men had access to. Accessibility was the arm that destroyed social injustices and inequality by promoting social upward mobility through greater income, property ownership, business ownership and enlightenment.
So SPUP’s mission was to win independence for Seychelles and SPPF had the task of nation-building.


His legacy…

Mr. France Albert René has brought about many changes since 1964 up to 2004. When establishing his legacy, we must not forget his domestic agenda, besides focusing on the social aspects of his administration. He reconstructed Seychelles. Under a strong single-party rule and a strong public sector, he ironed out the social injustices and made the economic take off.  
 
René destroyed an old system replacing it by a new one, which he later referred to as the ‘Seychelles way’. He has a rich legacy as a statesman and a politician.
As a politician he believed in a progressive political approach; reaching out to the population and the culture of equality. As a statesman his successes are attested by his Ibrahim prize awarded to him for his good work to promote good governance.

‘Ti Frans’ has accomplished his mission. He left the Presidency at the age of 69. He once declared that he was a doer not a writer, answering to queries of whether he will write his autobiography. Somebody else has done it which will be launched in two weeks’ time.
1964 to 2004 was his era but he will not be forgotten. His footprints remain….there is no argument here!!!!