Table of Contents

  • During the 1960s and 1970s, increased interest was shown by some international organisations, such as the United Nations and the Commonwealth Secretariat, in small states, notably small islands, and the development challenges they faced during the decolonisation period. The Secretariat, with over a third of Commonwealth members classified as small economies, is committed to the study of small states. The issue of their vulnerability, for example, was first given formal expression in the Commonwealth at the 1977 Commonwealth Finance Ministers Meeting in Barbados.

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  • This working paper was produced as a country case study as part of the United Nations Research Institute for Social Development’s (UNRISD)–Commonwealth Secretariat project on social policy in small states.1 Seychelles is an important case study of social development in and of itself, but also because it has one of the most extensive social policy programmes in the developing world, as evidenced by its consistently high rankings in the United Nations Development Programme’s (UNDP) Human Development Index (HDI) (see Table 1.1), which ranks it highest in sub- Saharan Africa. What was the set of social policy interventions that promoted Seychelles to such a position? And what was the material base and political context for these interventions?

  • With a population of around 81,0003 and a total landmass of approximately 455 sq km, Seychelles is by any measure a small state. As might be expected, this archipelago of around 115 islands is but a blip on the screen of international trade in goods and services. The top-end tourism sector and the export of canned tuna has dominated Seychelles’ export-orientated interactions with the world economy in recent years. The economy is physically isolated, with the closest land mass, east Africa, located more than 1,500 km from the main islands. Seychelles has always been economically vulnerable. Despite being free from the cyclones and malaria that plague the western Indian Ocean, and as well as possessing a unique ecosystem, it still faces many of the same intrinsic problems encountered by most small developing economies. For example, the economy suffers from a high degree of specialisation and is therefore vulnerable to fluctuations in the world economy (e.g. tourist flows); the government has a limited capacity to borrow on international capital markets (not least due to structural indebtedness); diseconomies of scale determine the limits of manufacturing potential; and long distances from its principal markets increase the costs of imports and exports.

  • Formal and organised primary education in Seychelles started around 1944 (Rowe, 1959), about 175 years after first settlement in the colony. Secondary education was introduced several years later. In both instances education was not compulsory and in large part it remained in the hands of the Catholic and Anglican churches until the abolition of all mission schools and private schools in 1977. Prior to this, families of French descent employed private tutors if they could afford them, while the children of poorer landowners and those of ex-slaves had no formal education.

  • Since 1977 the government has maintained a strong commitment to social development policies with particular emphasis on education and health. The budget allocations to education and health have remained between 11 and 13 per cent of national expenditure annually over the period 1977 to 2005 (MISD and NSB, Seychelles in Figures, various years). These were the highest allocations to government ministries during that period, representing about 5.2 per cent of GDP.

  • This paper has traced the trajectory of social policy in Seychelles from the late colonial period to mid-2008. It has done so through the prism of the political and economic history of the country, including the context of and relationships with external forces. The export-oriented dimensions of Seychelles’ economic history can be characterised by a shift from plantation agriculture to tourism and various interactions with the tuna industry (economic rent from fisheries access and the provision of goods and services to foreign industrial tuna vessels, and the economic activity generated by Indian Ocean Tuna Ltd). State involvement in the economy also shifted from a period of state-led import substitution industrialisation in the 1980s to the 2000s, when, according to the government, the state acted as a ‘facilitator’ for the private sector.

  • As noted at the outset, the bulk of the research for this paper was undertaken between late 2007 and mid 2008. Yet as we have indicated at several points, especially in the conclusion, Seychelles’ economy and society has been undergoing rapid change since late 2008 and the IMF-led adjustment programme. We were not in a position to substantially revise the work to reflect these changes, as this would have constituted an entirely new study. Nonetheless, we offer some brief reflections on key economic and social changes since 2009 in this postscript.

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