Does Seychelles live up to its idyllic image?

By Lerato Mbele
BBC Africa Business Report, the Seychelles

Image source, AFP
Image caption,
Why Lerato was excited about visiting Seychelles...

When my editor told me that Seychelles President James Michel had accepted our request for an interview and that the next episode of Africa Business Report would be filmed on an idyllic island, I was giddy, like the proverbial kid in a candy store.

Happily, our trip coincided with the fifth Seychelles Carnival.

Image caption,
The carnival was held in the capital Victoria, on Mahe island
Image caption,
This Cape Minstrel came from South Africa
Image caption,
The red snapper, a popular food on the islands, featured in the carnival

Downtown in the capital Victoria, traffic was bumper-to-bumper, with the main roads blocked off for the carnival parade. April and May are the warmest months of the year, so with temperatures nearing 42C, the weather and humidity were oppressive.

But it didn't matter. We were in paradise and our first appointment was at State House, official residence of the president.

The house is a mixture of old colonial charm, with modern-day features. We were ushered into the sitting room, lined with wood panels and parquet floors. The room was filled with history, reflected through the portraits of former governors and national heroes hanging off the walls. It felt more like a museum than a residence.

Noting our curiosity, Srdjana Janosevic, the president's chief of communications whispered in my ear: "The president doesn't actually live here."

Apparently he lives in his own private house - something his assistant insisted was "the Seychellois way" of doing things.

Media caption,
President Michel: 'We have always put people at the centre of development'

That phrase, the "Seychellois way" perhaps alludes to the attempt by this tiny island nation to develop a more egalitarian society since independence in 1976. They haven't done badly.

According to the African Development Bank, the Seychelles is on course to reach all eight targets of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), a set of pledges made by UN member states to increase living standards in poorer parts of the world.

The MDGs encompass many of the fundamental aspects of human development, from improving healthcare and education, to eradicating extreme poverty and hunger.

2015 is the deadline for countries to achieve these goals, and in Africa, it looks like the Seychelles may emerge as the star performer.

When I finally meet the president and begin my conversation with him, the MDGs feature strongly.

"From the very beginning, since independence, we have always put people at the centre of our development. This is why in the Seychelles we have people who are highly educated, well skilled, and this is why today here we have a system which is free healthcare for everybody," he tells me.

But surely, I ask, it's far easier to meet the MDGs when your country only has 90,000 permanent inhabitants.

Not so, he counters: "If you build an airport you have to cater for international standards, it doesn't take into account population size."

Media caption,
Richard d'Offay: "We've almost created a whole new industry"

During 2015 Seychelles may well make history as the first and possibly the only African country to have halved poverty, empowered women, provided basic housing and drinkable water, plus dealt a blow to diseases such as HIV and Malaria.

However the country has other serious challenges that aren't reflected in the matrix of social development targets set by the United Nations.

On a visit to the Takamaka Rum distillery and the Morne Blanc tea factory, locals tell us they relish their life on an idyllic island but lament the new social problems caused by the rise in drug and alcohol abuse.

According to the UN, this tiny island has some of the worst heroin addiction statistics in the world.

For visitors such as ourselves, it's hard to make out the cracks in society. On the surface, island life appears to be relaxed and the different races and cultures mingle seamlessly.

Perhaps our perspective was clouded by the balmy heat or the festive energy of the carnival.

Africa Business Report is broadcast on BBC World News on Fridays at 16:40 and 1840 GMT, on Saturdays at 1010 GMT and 1830 GMT and on Sundays at 0010 GMT.

This week, Lerato Mbele presents the programme from the Seychelles

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