- As the government of Seychelles this week set out its new five-point foreign policy strategy, it was clear that the country's pull-out of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) is definitive. Seychelles aims at stronger regional cooperation in the Indian Ocean region, not with Southern Africa.
Seychellois President James Michel on Monday defined his new foreign policy targets in a five-point foreign policy blue print, according to information released by the government. "Stronger ties with international friends and neighbours and an emphasis of the uniqueness of Seychelles" were the basic aims of the policy.
Addressing a three-day meeting of Seychelles Honorary Consuls, President Michel said that newly appointed Minister for Foreign Affairs, Patrick Pillay, had been charged with conducting a policy focused on reinforced ties with traditional allies. Focus was now on the Indian Ocean region.
The five-point policy focused on "closer links with Indian Ocean neighbours; renewed support for regional organisations that highlight Seychelles' small island specificities; increased promotion of Seychelles' unique, safe and secure tourist image; and a strengthening of Seychelles' role as an environmental leader," according to the government.
- Seychelles is undergoing a transformation to be better equipped to face the challenges of globalisation and fully play its role as a sovereign nation, said President Michel. This transformation, the government hoped, would be projected by the "foreign policy shift," as it was called.
The shift in Seychelles' foreign policies was already noted in late 2003, as the archipelago was still ruled by President France-Albert René. Ex-President René announced that Seychelles would pull out of the leading regional economic block, SADC, allegedly due to the high membership fees of an annual US$ 500,000. The pull-out was effectuated on 1 July 2004.
Seychelles had "failed to see the benefits" of its SADC membership, a diplomat said in April last year. Meanwhile, Seychelles' neighbour country Madagascar is in the process of becoming a new SADC member, but this obviously has not changed the minds of authorities in Victoria.
The focus of President Michel's government has also mostly been on Indian Ocean neighbours since he came to power in April 2004. In particular, Seychelles has deepened ties with Mauritius, an island state with comparable economic, social and environmental concerns. President Michel has met Mauritian Prime Minister Paul Bérenger several times during the last year.
PM Bérenger and President Michel have also worked to strengthen the Indian Ocean Commission (COI) to create a regional economic block. In addition to Seychelles and Mauritius, COI also includes Comoros, Madagascar and the French island of Réunion. Compared to SADC, COI however remains a rather toothless inter-governmental organisation to promote development in the south-western Indian Ocean region.
The government of Seychelles however finds that in particular Mauritius and Réunion have a parallel foreign policy agenda. Their economies are focused on tourism and the fisheries. The three governments thus have common interests in environmental protection, the aviation sector, fisheries management and development issues of small island states.
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