By THÉRÈSE MARGOLIS
The Seychelles, a tiny archipelago of 115 islands off the east coast of Africa that is a favorite tourist destination for visitors from around the globe, could be one of the best examples of sustainable development in the region.
Recently lauded for its conservation of its natural beauty with the National Geographic World Legacy Award, the Seychelles supports ecotourism while protecting the islands’ native species.
Cashing in on what the government calls its “blue economy,” the Indian Ocean country, with less than 100,000 inhabitants, has maintained a fundamental philosophy to prioritize the natural ecosystem of its islands while providing a sustainable getaway for tourists.
Since its proclamation of independence from the United Kingdom in 1976, the Seychelles economy has been transformed from a primarily agrarian society to a broad market-based nation focusing on tourism and the service and public sectors, leading to a sevenfold surge in per capita output.
This, in turn, has attracted considerable foreign investment, leading to the Seychelles now boasting one of the highest per capita GDP in Africa.
An innovative debt swap scheme, developed under the astute leadership of James Michel, who served at the Seychelles’ third president until October of last year, has allowed the island republic to finance ocean science and climate resilience programs that also won the country accolades from UNESCO’s Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission.
The $30 million debt buyout with the Paris Club group of creditors and South Africa in 2015 allowed the country to free itself from excessive foreign obligations in exchange for a commitment to invest in domestic environmental conservation and sustainability projects.
Now there are multiple eco-minded projects underway in the Seychelles.
The North Island, for example, which was a privately owned copra plantation up until the late 1970s, is now a thriving, high-end international eco-tourism resort, where endemic species are being reintroduced while comprehensive ecosystem studies are being conducted.
By cashing in on – and protecting – the country’s most abundant resource, its vast ocean coastlines, the Seychelles has advanced economic diversification, attracted much-needed foreign capital and resolved a once threatening problem of food security.
This commitment to preservation over exploitation of the Seychelles precious natural resources has proven to be a win-win for everyone involved, and could and should be a role model for other African nations.
Thérèse Margolis can be reached at email@example.com.