The Foreign Minister of Seychelles gives his views on the challenges facing the development of small island states, political instability and change across Africa, carbon emissions and the 2011 Commonwealth summit. Report by Francis Ventura, a Commonwealth Correspondent from Melbourne, Australia.
Francis: The Arab Spring democratic uprisings have not had the results that many of the protesters in those nations and leaders in the western world would have liked, particularly in Egypt where military rule continues and human rights abuses still occur. As a democratic African nation, what do you believe needs to happen for these countries to make the successful transition to democracy?
Adam: It is clear that it is only through credible, free and fair elections that Egypt can begin to build long term institutions that can truly respond to the needs of their people. Elections are a first step on that journey. Democracy is a process, and not a destination in itself. The institutions of state must first and foremost serve the people of a nation – it involves goodwill of all parties to ensure that such institutions can be established, and that once established they are respected.
Francis: Do you believe that the United Nations is still a relevant organisation in the promotion of peace, or do you agree with Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu that it is a ‘theatre of the absurd’ because of its failure to deal effectively with human rights issues?
Adam: The United Nations is far from being perfect, but if it didn’t exist today we would still need to invent it. Unfortunately on most major issues of our time, most states still put national interest above any other consideration or, worse, position corporate interest as national interest. The United Nations should represent the desire that states share to resolve issues peacefully.
Francis: The foreign editor of The Australian remarked that the Commonwealth is ‘the world’s biggest, most expensive and most useless social club’ and criticised CHOGM 2011 due to the non-attendance of the Indian Prime Minister. How do you believe that CHOGM can be revitalised and what is Seychelles’ position on two key failures of the meeting, which include the stymied push to decriminalise homosexuality and the refusal to implement the Eminent Persons Group’s recommendation of a commissioner to oversee human rights, democracy and rule of law?
Adam: The Commonwealth’s appeal goes beyond the ‘hard’ power or economic clout that many countries may covet. It is an organisation that has for example played a critical role in defending the interests of smaller states – particularly Small Island Developing States (SIDS). It allows these smaller states to have a stronger voice in international governance. And many islands have a lot to say that can be useful for the world.
It is of course the wish of any CHOGM organiser to have as many heads of state present as possible – but a meeting should never be rendered irrelevant just because one head of state or another did not attend. The Commonwealth garners its strength from its shared values. Any organisation that is intergovernmental in nature, and also strives to achieve consensus will be accused at some point of not adequately responding to the needs of the citizens of its member states.
We can strengthen the Commonwealth by adopting the new Commonwealth Charter which strengthens our statement of values – our contract with the citizens of the Commonwealth. With regards to the decriminalisation of homosexuality, Seychelles has already made a commitment to modernise its laws where necessary. Our Constitution already guarantees freedom from any discrimination on any grounds – and even though some of the older parts of our penal code have never been applied, it is important to take the steps to bring our legislation up to date. It is unfortunate that some countries still do not wish to tackle this issue- but the Commonwealth can continue to support efforts through technical assistance and advocacy. With regards to the Human Rights Commissioner, it is important to note that the proposal has not been rejected outright – it is to be considered further by senior officials and by ministers.
It is clear that the Commonwealth must have a strong role in being able to address human rights issues – and can already do a lot through the Good Office of the SG and the CMAG. The question to be answered is whether the commissioner role will amount to duplication. From Seychelles’ perspective, we welcome any proposal that strengthens the ability of the Commonwealth to be proactive on human rights issues – and consequently strengthen the protection of human rights across the Commonwealth.
Francis: You stated in 2010 that Seychelles is ‘pedalling furiously’ to not lose ground in achieving the Millennium Development Goals by 2015. How is your nation’s progress now and what factors may hinder your success?
Adam: Small Island Developing States (SIDS) such as Seychelles face a development paradox. We have reached a level of development where we are no longer eligible for most forms of international development assistance. And yet we still face a number of structural barriers that hamper our ability to develop. For example, raising a loan for a SIDS country means that you are forced to consider commercial terms rather than developmental terms – and the risk factors of isolation, transport costs, disaster risk are all factored into the interest rate payable.
A large number of SIDS have debt to GDP ratios of 100%. SIDS are also on average 33% more vulnerable to external shocks than other developing countries. Seychelles itself was hit extremely hard by the financial crisis of 2008 and we had to completely restructure our economy. Our macro-economic reforms were successful and we have managed to halve our external debt to 84% of GDP, while also stabilising our national currency and we are now seeing growth of around 6% thanks to strong performance in tourism.
We are very concerned however about the continuing crisis clouds that are looming. We have become much more resilient after our reforms of 2008 – but all island nations are extremely exposed to global shocks – whether economic or natural. We are the world’s barometers.
Francis: Somalia, a lawless and anarchical state in close proximity to Seychelles, has been described by you as a threat to development in the region. Given that Al-Shabaab retain control in some areas, a famine is occurring, terrorism and piracy are rife, and the central government is inherently weak, what can be done in Somalia to put it on a path to prosperity and peace?
Adam: As a maritime nation, Seychelles has been very active in the fight against piracy. We have an Exclusive Economic Zone of over 1.3 million sq. km., and we are working with several partners such as the EU, NATO, the US, India and China to patrol and ensure proper surveillance of our waters and that of the region. We have also prosecuted a number of pirates who have been arrested in the region, as it is important to end the impunity associated with piracy.
President James Michel has asked fellow world leaders to focus attention on 5 key areas to be able to improve the situation with regards to piracy and the security situation in Somalia: 1) More commitment and support to peacekeeping forces in Somalia through AMISOM, 2) Targeted operations to displace Al Shabab and other criminal groups, 3) Strengthening areas of stability that already exist in Somalia, 4) Strengthening of the capacity of coastal states in the fight against piracy and 5) strengthening of intelligence sharing networks. In relation to Point 5, Seychelles is working with partners to establish in Seychelles a Regional Anti-Piracy Prosecution and Intelligence Centre.
Francis: Is Australia’s introduction of a price on carbon emissions a positive to signal to the wider world, especially the developing world, that serious action on climate change is possible and that such action has the potential to actually strengthen economic opportunities and sustainability?
Adam: In efforts to reach a legally binding successor to the Kyoto Protocol, it is up to each country to make commitments towards reducing carbon emissions. No country can be exempt from this responsibility towards our planet. The move by Australia is a strong statement of determined action which is very welcome. The current structure of the world economy is one which prioritises replacement over preservation. We need a new approach towards development which properly recognises the value of our natural environment.
In Seychelles we have declared 50% of our land territory as a natural reserve. To do so, we pay an economic opportunity price today, but in the long term we are investing in the sustainable tourism growth of our islands. There is definitely a lot of economic opportunity for example in renewable energy. In Seychelles we are finalising legislation to empower each household as an energy producer. The technology already available can allow us to do a lot – but we need to restructure our development models.
Francis: Finally, will your government adopt any recommendations made in the Commonwealth Youth Forum communiqué and, if so, which ones?
Adam: President Michel stated at CHOGM that we should not wait till tomorrow to allow young people to lead. We must empower young people to be able to take the lead in key sectors of our economy, as well as lead in government. The recommendations relating to youth led enterprises are very pertinent. In Seychelles, the government has provided cheap loans for SMEs, particularly those led by young people, as a key component of the macro-economic reform process.
We would like to see more involvement of international organisations such as the Commonwealth in connecting SMEs across borders, and also facilitating affordable financing for SMEs led by young people.
“G’day! My name is Francis Ventura and I am currently studying Politics and International Relations at the University of Melbourne. I am also the youth director of the Australian Republican Movement.
“As Melbourne is the sporting capital of the nation, I have a keen interest in cricket and Australian Rules football. I also love exploring Australia’s beautiful environment. After my studies I would like to dedicate my life to human rights, with a focus on protecting civilians living in war zones or under totalitarian regimes.”
Opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the Commonwealth Youth Programme. Articles are published in a spirit of dialogue, respect and understanding. If you disagree, why not submit a response?
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