U.A.E. flag should fly high in the Seychelles sky
On Thursday 24th November, 2016, the Seychelles NATION published a front-page article entitled, ‘Seychelles and Abu Dhabi to boost and consolidate ties,’ and depicted a photo of President Danny Faure in discussions with His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan.
The article which enlightened people in Seychelles must have welcomed and appreciated concern the working visit of President Faure to Abu Dhabi following an invitation from His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan – Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the United Arab Emirates (U.A.E.) Armed Forces. At this meeting, the two parties reviewed the existing bilateral relations between the two countries and exchanged views on strengthening and consolidating these relations for the mutual benefit of both the people of Seychelles and the people of the United Arab Emirates.
I entirely concur with the view that there is a need for the two countries to work more closely together within the scope of the ongoing partnership that exist in pivotal sectors like education, health, housing and renewable energy and I personally believe that many people of Seychelles have not been sufficiently ‘educated’ to appreciate the value of our special relationship with the U.A.E. – and maybe more people should read what I wrote about this special relationship in my book, SEYCHELLES – The saga of a small nation navigating the cross-currents of a big world, which was published in 2014 in the United States by Paragon House –
When I was a young political leader, I advocated the policy of remaining closely associated with the United Kingdom (U.K.) I did so because of my conviction that Seychelles, scattered as it is within an area of geo-political context, without much of an economic backbone, could not yet sustain itself economically at all times. We would need to find the shoulder of a “Godfather” to lean upon. British colonialism, in our case, had been more or less paternalistic and benevolent. I took the view that the “devil” we know is better than the one we do not know, particularly because the British had put into place a well-functioning civil service. However, as history would have it, there was no political will at that time in London for a politics of closer links to countries in the Indian Ocean.
Independence of the colonies was the mantra of the time and, though the British had stated, time and again, within the United Nations (U.N.) and other forums, that U.K. stood for a policy of honoring the wishes of the colonial people, they took no steps to negotiate for closer bilateral relations despite the fact that my party’s election victory was based on continued ties to the U.K.
Fast-track forward to Mr. René’s coup d’état and his 15 years’ experience with his quasi-Marxist philosophy. Under that regime, the Seychelles was driven very deeply into financial debt. James A. Michel inherited this massive debt when he became its President.
One of the most serious problems was the fact that Air Seychelles was approaching bankruptcy. The former potential “Godfathers” like France and the U.K. were themselves suffering deep financial problems. We were forced to look elsewhere.
Seychelles can be considered to be to the United Arab Emirates (U.A.E.) what Hawaii was to California during the time of the “Gold Rush.” Fortunately, many leaders of the U.A.E. had, over recent years, visited the Seychelles to enjoy a change of scene from their harsh desert environment, and from the social pressure upon them because of the great wealth they had accumulated from the sale of oil.
Among those who had visited us and who had fallen in love with our islands as a place for rest, recreation, meditation, and reflection was His Highness Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan, the U.A.E.’s leader, and his brother, His Highness General Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi, who is also the Deputy Supreme Commander of the U.A.E. Armed Forces, and seen as the next Ruler of the U.A.E. in the event of the retirement or demise of Sheikh Khalifa.
These U.A.E. leaders had, over the years, become astute and wise “navigating” their own nation through difficult transitions and challenges before succeeding in the formation of their Federation, which has provided the basis for national unity and the common enjoyment of their great combined wealth. With their experience and wisdom, it must have been obvious to them that, despite Seychelles’ attractions and beauty, the nation’s economic backbone remains a weak and fragile one. Luckily for us, these gentlemen took to heart the desire of assisting us, not only to remain afloat, but to create conditions for better economic growth and stability.
President Michel has developed a very amicable and special relationship with the U.A.E. ruling family, particularly after he offered Sheikh Khalifa a beautiful mountain site upon which to build a holiday palace. Some narrow-minded opposition politicians failed to appreciate the “wisdom” behind President Michel’s move in this area and started shouting about “Arabs with all their money coming to Seychelles to take our land for free.” Well, history has shown what a great move President Michel’s gesture really was, and that the land given was really the foundation of new economic development support for Seychelles.
Over recent years, the U.A.E. Government has provided budgetary support assistance to the Seychelles Government which included, in 2008, US$15 million for the year’s economic reform programme. In 2009, the U.A.E. announced a US$30 million grant to construct houses on Perseverance Island as part of the government’s plan to provide affordable housing to the population.
In the year 2010, the U.A.E. funded a new diagnostic centre for Seychelles Hospital worth US$11 million. In the same year, the U.A.E. Government donated two electric generators worth US$15 million. In June 2011, when Mahé was going through a disastrous drought, Sheikh Khalifa donated three desalination plants that were flown all the way from the U.S.A. by a special plane to remedy the emergency situation we were facing with an acute shortage of water. Later on, the MASDAR Company of Abu Dhabi provided a donation of US$25 million to develop Wind Power Renewable Energy in Seychelles. When the time came to replace the aging TATA Buses of the Seychelles Public Transport Corporation (S.P.T.C.), the U.A.E. donated forty buses all at once. When it was decided that it was time for the Ministry of Education to introduce an E-Learning project, through the generosity of U.A.E., Intel-learning I.T. equipment was immediately installed in all schools in the country under a programme that was called the “Sheikh Khalifa School I.T. Project.”
To crown the visit of President Michel to Abu Dhabi in 2007, the U.A.E. Government donated to Seychelles one Twin-Otter Aircraft for surveillance of our Exclusive Economic Zone (E.E.Z.), as well as a further US$4.5 million worth of equipment to modernize the Victoria Hospital. When the Somali pirates posed a threat to our security, the U.A.E. built for us a new Coastguard Base with a radar system and donated five patrol boats.
In February 2013, when the Seychelles created the National Disaster Relief Fund (N.D.R.F.), in the aftermath of a flooding disaster in Pointe Larue, Au Cap, and Anse Aux Pins, Mahé, the U.A.E. Government donated US$2 million to the National Disaster Relief Fund.
At the moment, ongoing projects include a master plan for the redevelopment of Victoria for which Seychelles is being helped extensively by the Abu Dhabi Urban Council. This includes a sophisticated modern Children’s Play Park that is nearing completion.
And, I have not even mentioned the investment of several hundred million dollars in Air Seychelles to save it from bankruptcy. In response to an S.O.S. from President Michel, Sheikh Khalifa and the Crown Prince encouraged the national airline of the U.A.E., Etihad Airways, to buy forty per cent of the shares of Air Seychelles and to take over the management contract of the airline for ten years.
Last but not least, Sheikh Khalifa has spent millions of personal dollars building two palaces and guesthouses for himself and his family on the top of Mahé. They shine like diamonds in the sky when night falls.
Of course, potential investors in Seychelles are now encouraged to put their money here on the assumption that U.A.E.’s involvement makes the Seychelles stable, and is helping it to become one of the most sought-after destinations in the world.
In late October 2011, I was invited to pay a six-day visit to Abu Dhabi, the U.A.E.’s capital, in order to see for myself the dynamism, vibrancy, and confidence in the future that characterizes life in the U.A.E. today, at a time when many nations regionally and worldwide are facing tremendous economic challenges. The highlight of this visit was the open, frank, and friendly discussions that I had with the forward-looking and popular Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi, General Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, at the Crown Prince Court on the 31st of October on various issues of regional and global interest.
Following these discussions, the Crown Prince invited me to be his special guest at a lecture the palace was hosting that afternoon on the subject of “Combining Resilience and Agility: Adjusting to the Realities of Global Re-Alignments.” The lecture was delivered by Dr. Mohamed El-Erian, then Chief Executive Officer of PIMCO, a global investment management firm and the world’s largest bond investor with approximately US$1.3 trillion of assets under its management.
Dr. El-Erian spent 15 years at the International Monetary Fund (I.M.F.) in Washington D.C. before becoming member of the faculty of Harvard Business School. He has served on several boards and committees, including the U.S. Treasury Borrowing Advisory Committee, the International Centre for Research on Women, and the I.M.F.’s Committee of Eminent Persons. He is the author of When Markets Collide: Investment Strategies for the Age of Global Economic Change, a New York Times and Wall Street Journal bestseller, which also won Goldman Sachs’ 2008 Business Book of the Year, and the praise of The Economist and The Independent of the United Kingdom (U.K.).
In a synopsis of the lecture, the world is going through major re-alignments from the never-ending debt crisis in Europe to the continued emergence of China on the global economic scene. All of us worldwide, from individuals to companies, Governments, and multilateral organizations, must face the challenge of responding to these historic changes and success in this important endeavour requires us to strike the right balance between resilience and agility.
So far as I was concerned, that lecture, which was attended by a selection of 500 eminent scholars and business personalities of the U.A.E., as well as the highest-ranking personalities within the Government, and Ambassadors accredited to the U.A.E., was a sign, if a sign was needed, of the level of commitment of the Government of the U.A.E. to the promotion of awareness and education in the Emirates.
I was greatly touched when His Highness described the Seychelles-U.A.E. relationship as being more of a “love affair” than a mere friendship. He certainly agreed with what I had written in my autobiography, Seychelles Global Citizen, “that the wealth from neighbouring Arab States can play an important role in the proper development of our islands. But it is important that the relationship between the Gulf States and Seychelles develops in a comprehensively enlightened and positive way that takes into account our common interests and each other’s particular sensitivities.”
Following the meeting with the Crown Prince, I was honoured to be invited by Etihad Airways, the national airline of the U.A.E., which has over recent years made U.A.E. proud on a worldwide basis, to be their guest of honour on its inaugural flight from Abu Dhabi to Seychelles.
As I embarked on this four-and-a-half hour journey, I could not help but recall the Crown Prince’s remark that, “U.A.E.’s engagement with Seychelles is more of a ‘love affair’ than mere friendship.” As I sat on my comfortable seat ready for take-off, I prayed that the Seychelles-U.A.E. “romance” would become a long enduring one.”
Well, how do I feel about the sentiments I expressed more than three years ago? All Seychellois must today be proud of the reputation of Air Seychelles as perhaps the most revered airline of the Western Indian Ocean. This would not have materialized without our involvement with Etihad Airways and the goodwill which we have enjoyed from them.
Today I am glad that President Faure is following in the footsteps of former President James Alix Michel in consolidating further that bond of friendship between our two Nations. Certainly the news that the U.A.E. will soon be constructing its own Embassy in Port Victoria is indeed proof, if proof is needed, that they are not here merely as “birds of passage.”
This week, H.E. Ahmed Saeed Alneyadi, Chargé d’Affaires of the United Arab Emirates will host a reception to celebrate, on the 2nd of December, the 45th anniversary of the National Day of the U.A.E.
As the U.A.E.-Seychelles relationship further progresses – I must not allow myself to forget the friendly welcome extended to me in 1977, just a few months after our independence, when on my way from Seychelles to Cairo, Egypt, to attend the Afro-Arab Summit which President Anwar el-Sadat of Egypt was hosting. At that time the only way for me and my delegation to get to Cairo was through a British Airways stop-over in Abu Dhabi.
To the surprise of myself and my delegation (which included the Honourable Gonzague d’Offay – the then Minister of State attached to the Office of the President), the gentleman attired in a white robe who came to welcome me on arrival at the Abu Dhabi International Airport, proved none other than His Highness Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan – the respected and ever-beloved Founding Father of the United Arab Emirates. In fact, Sheikh Zayed was also about to leave that day for Cairo.
At the Cairo Conference, I had the privilege of different social encounters with Sheikh Zayed and was mindful that our two countries should develop a special relationship. That was more than 30 years ago. Unfortunately, the coup d’etat which followed a few months later found myself cut-off from my Presidential position and ambition. But over the years in London as a leader in exile – I was able to follow with admiration the steady progress and achievements of the U.A.E. under the leadership of Sheikh Zayed and later under the leadership of his sons, Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan.
Today I am sure that I interpret the sentiments of many in the world when I say that the U.A.E.’s development over the last 40 years has been “most remarkable”, “most impressive”, “exceptional” and indeed “incredible” – and that we, in Seychelles, must accept and recognize the special values of the patronage which we have enjoyed over recent years in support of our socio-economic development.
Sir James R. Mancham, KBE
Founding President of the Republic of Seychelles