Steps Toward Independence, 1967-76

Steps Toward Independence, 1967-76

Continuous and mounting demands for an increased share in running the colony's affairs prompted Britain to enact a series of constitutions for Seychelles, each of which granted important new concessions. In 1967 Britain extended universal suffrage to the colony and established a governing council to run it, the majority of whose members for the first time were elected. That year almost 18,000 Seychellois voted, and the DP emerged in control of the council. In 1970 Britain set up a ministerial form of government and gave Seychellois the responsibility to administer all but external affairs, internal security, the civil service, and the government's broadcasting service and newspaper. The DP won ten seats, and the SPUP won five in the Legislative Assembly. Mancham became the islands' chief minister and René, the leader of the opposition.

The opening of an international airport on the east coast of Mahé in 1971 improved contact with the outside world. Before this most journeys to and from Seychelles had involved long voyages on bimonthly steamers running between East Africa and India and often required inconvenient transits in Mombasa and Bombay. Air service had been available only on a restricted basis at an airstrip used by the United States in building a satellite station on Mahé. The end of the islands' relative isolation triggered tourism and concomitant booms in foreign capital investment and the domestic construction industry. The construction of the international airport changed the economy from a traditional agricultural and fishing one within a few years into one where services accounted for the major portion of employment and gross domestic product (GDP). The two parties differed on the ways to manage the new tourist industry and to apportion its benefits. The SPUP favored controlling the growth of tourism and at the same time developing the entire economy, whereas the SDP wanted to stimulate the rapid growth of tourism and to establish the islands as an international financial center.

Independence from Britain was the dominant issue between the two parties in the early 1970s, however. The SPUP insisted on cutting the colony's ties with Britain, whereas Mancham argued for even closer association. But when it became plain that the independence issue was popular and Britain showed no interest in retaining close relations, the SDP also shifted to a proindependence policy. Moreover, the disfavor with which African and Asian nations viewed colonialism had put the SDP into disrepute in the region. The SDP won the election campaign in 1974 but the election provoked angry controversy. The SPUP charged that the results had been rigged; because of the way constituencies had been demarcated, the SDP won thirteen of the fifteen seats with only 52.4 percent of the vote, lending credibility to the charges. Thereafter, relations between the two parties, already personalized and bitter, worsened steadily.

Despite their differences, the two parties formed a coalition under Mancham to lead Seychelles to independence. Five members from each party were added to the Legislative Assembly in an attempt to equalize political representation. One year later, Britain granted the colony complete independence, and on June 29, 1976, the Republic of Seychelles became a sovereign nation, with Mancham as president and René as vice president. As a gesture of goodwill, Britain returned Île Desroches, the Aldabra Islands, and the Farquhar Islands. In addition, Britain made a series of grants to the new nation to smooth the transition to an independent economy. Both parties agreed to support the coalition government until elections were held in 1979.

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