I spent the month of May at the University of Seychelles helping to establish the Sir James Mancham International Centre of Peace Studies and Diplomacy. (Mancham was a former president who was deposed by a coup in 1977 and lived in exile until 1992, when he returned with a strong commitment to reconciliation. He died just a few months ago and the driving force behind the centre’s establishment was lost).
At one level, the Seychelles is like paradise – friendly people, warm (at times very hot) weather, wonderful beaches and seas of remarkable blues. But there some big issues close to the surface
• Human rights abuses and economic losses between 1977 and 1993 have left many people traumatised and angry; a truth and reconciliation process has only just begun
• Drug and alcohol addiction rates are high (one estimate puts the number of heroin users at 5 000 in a population of 90 000) and this leads to break-ins and robberies
• Gender based violence, family breakup and neglect of children are widespread.
There is certainly a role for the Centre in promoting new ways of thinking and acting about such domestic challenges. In addition, within the wider Indian Ocean community (the Maldives, Seychelles, Comoros, Madagascar, Mauritius and Reunion) there are the threats of piracy, poaching of marine resources and the effects of climate change.
The Centre’s steering committee and trustees are examining the most effective ways of tackling with such issues. Most will involve building networks of peacebuilders and others to support each other and to learn from one another’s experiences.