JAMES MICHEL.Distant Horizons-My Reflections.Rila Publications Ltd:London 2011(247 pp)

And let us see this not as a nostalgic trip down memory lane but as a way of gaining perspective on where we are now(Chapter One, page 18).

"In thelong journey I have made so far I have never forgotten that my mandate comes essentially, not from political colleagues or abstract ideas, but from my fellow countrymen and women. Your voices continue to be the ones I will never tire of hearing. We have already travelled a long way together, along the various routes to change. But change is a journey without end, and there are still distant horizons(217).

A new decade beckons and a new Seychelles will emerge. My vision is for further progress that will benefit all of our people. Our work is certainly not finished. We can all play our part in taking our nation forward, and we will. Indeed, we ourselves are the change!(247


For the author there are six(6) priorities:

  • Continuing social progress
  • Economic growth and development
  • A growing reputation for environmental excellence
  • Exemplary governance
  • A society that continues to pull together

"We must continue to put our faith in young people to build, in turn, a future for our country of their own making"

His Background

"There are many things in a country that go to create the general welfare and progress of the people but none has a greater and more definite effect than its system of education. In Seychelles one can detect a marked degree of unfairness and discrimination in the educational system[before 1977] that can more probably be attributed to design rather than circumstance. We do not think that anyone will dispute that every child is born equal"(47)

The author attributes the above quote to an early editorial in the Seychelles People's United People(SPUP) which he states related to his own experience Under the sub-title, the 'West Coast Boy", the author writes:

I came into this world on the afternoon of 16 August 1944 in Victoria Hospital."

At the time of his birth he writes in Part 1, Chapter 1-'Island Childhood", Seychelles was "caught up in a war that spread like a bush across all continents" As part of the British Empire the Victoria harbour not only served as the refuge for the Allies navies but for repairs and fresh supplies On the chapter on his childhood, he writes:

"I also experienced firsthand the crucial effects of discrimination and feelings of superiority amongst an elite, based on nothing more than one's racial origins and accumulated wealth.From the outset, I could see suffering around me and I would spend much of my future life doing my best to spare future generations similar ordeals(27)

In Chapter 2(School Report) the writer states that the second stage of his journey took him through "what was at that time still a rudimentary system of education riddled with privilege and discrimination".

But he clarifies that compared to some other colonial outposts, in his boyhood Seychelles "enjoyed a rudimentary education system that offered us the first six years of schooling."The Catholic Church, he wrote, played an important role in "providing opportunities".

However, many schools of that period were poorly equipped and it was very difficult "for all but the most privileged to gain a place beyond primary level".

It was only after gaining independence from Britain that "real progress [would] be made in filling the obvious gaps to improve access and opportunities for all"(39)

The author, as a child, had extraordinary intellectual abilities.

His favourite subjects at school were:literature, poetry, history and geography…

"These were the days when we all had to learn large tracts of text by heart and, hard though it was at the time…..If I worked hard it was because I wanted to but it was also rewarding to be recognized each year when, at the annual "roll-out", my name was called out first, as top of the class.

"The Pillars of his life"

It is with the following words that the author dedicates his book:

"For Dada and Manman,with utmost gratitude for their love, faith and guidance.And to my children and grandchildren, the pillars of my life".

Summing up in Chapter 8('Family Matters") the author writes that though he never knew his father, he considered himself fortunate in growing up with his guardian Dada.(191).

"Dada was of the old school, a spinster throughout her life, deeply religious and a firm believer in the difference between right and wrong. She had inherited a modest plot of land from her uncle, Daniel Desaubin of Takamaka. She had no other means, but never thought twice about adopting me…..Dada herself proved to be a fantastic "mother" and I know that she helped to form my character and shape my values. She was, as I have said, a deeply religious woman. Even before I was four years old, I could recite prayers by heart……

Every Sunday, I was led by Dada-who attached the utmost importance to my religious upbringing-to the local church….

He describes his mother Lady Simone Michel as a woman of mixed race from BaieLazare who was twenty-four years old when he was born…He describes his father,Auguste Pool as "a young man of European descent". His own mother's historyillustrates what he describes as "a typical story of the Seychelles, of a constant mixing of racial and cultural origins". His mother('manman'), who was the illegitimate daughter of Louis Lemarchand, which he describes as"a landowner of French descent",was the second child in a family of four girls. Her mother, Coquette, "a woman of African ancestry"worked on Mr. Lemarchand's plantation.

Many societies, he states look at us with envy, seeing that we are able to mix and live together in a civilized and harmonious fashion.

He goes on to add, however, "no less though, there is a parallel story of class and status, with a reminder of the country's undercurrents of foreign domination and a dark legacy of slavery. Some of my early memories are connected to the injustices of a segregated society."

In the same chapter the author writes that he carries with him the pain of losing his elder son, Jude:

'"The shock of my son's death was so intense that my senses were numbed and I could not cry…It was only after the funeral that the pain of his loss fully dawned on me with all the weight of despair. I then started to cry bitterly. I cried for days and weeks and months and years….."

New Beginning

In Chapter 7("High Office") the author recalls his visit to the People's Republic of China in 1980 when President René said to him "casually": "James, you will take over from me one day".

In the Preface, he said that his appointment as President in 2004 was not something that he had striven but was willing to serve his country in any way he could when the opportunity rose. He was proud and ready to step forward.

"Year after year, we worked to achieve a fairer society in whichwe could all play a part..."

He explains that when the Cold War ended Seychelles started to review some of its policies and seek new partners.

Meanwhile, Seychelles climbed up to be placed 47th on the Human Development Index

He writes, at the beginning of the chapter that he could not pretend that it really came as a surprise to him when President Rene half-way through his last term of office decreed that he would take over as President with a formal ceremony to be held on 14 April 2004.

"I was ready for the challenge and determined, in high office, to do whatever is in the best interestof my country"……

"I had after all, been Vice President for eight years and had gained a wide experience at Cabinet Level…..I was the longest serving minister in the administration. I was one of the original group that assumed power in 1977. I watched as other ministers came and went and I experienced the changeover from single-party rule to a multi-party democracy….."(151)

Working Agenda

In Chapter 3(Working Agenda), the author traces his employment itinerary. He writes that when he left school at 15, he had to "come face to face with another layer of injustice"as it was as difficult for a youth without "rich and well connected"parents to get work as it was for "good education".

'For six months after leavingModern School in 1959 I looked in vain for work"…….Fortunately, I had always declared an interest in teaching….After six months in the post, I was given the opportunity to attend a year's course of teacher training…..I proudly took up my post with the grand salary of 61rupees 50 cents a month!....I set my sights on a job in Victoria with the prestigious firm of Cable and Wireless….There was an unwritten rule that anyone employed there, other than linemen and messengers, had to be of European descent…..Although I was sufficiently qualified and had excellent school reports, for someone with my mixed ethnic background, getting into the firm was by no means straightforward….."

After jumping over several hurdles he was finally employed in 1962 with a salary of one hundred and forty three rupees(SR143)

His reflection:

"….much as I enjoyed my work at Cable and Wireless, I had not forgotten the hurt I sustained when I joined, once again just as I had previously experienced when I tried to enter the College in Victoria, I had to battle against a cruelly unfair process".

But the author comes to the conclusion that it was unknowingly the British who sharpened his political focus and"things that I saw at Cable and Wireless were to lead me further towards my future career as a politician"(60)

He played a pivotal role in the Cable and Wireless Local Staff Union and with his growing involvement in politics, he writes, "it was natural that for my next move I would seek a full-time post in the Seychelles'People's United Party(SPUP) …"

He assisted the Editor of the People…with an allowance of five hundred rupees(SR500) a month.

The author writes that he was "amused" at what an English historian wrote recently about……"SPUP's less well printed but sometimes rather more thoughtful organ "People" as compared to its rival "Seychelles Weekly"… in spite of being rude about each other"...and organizing "rival trades unions' concluding…"Better, I suppose, to be damned by faint praise than to attract no praise at all!".(63).


In Part 1(Chapter 9) of his book entitled "The New Seychelles", the author writes:

"At the top of my agenda for the 2011 elections are six priorities; together these will assure the emergence of the NEW Seychelles

  • Consolidating and enhancing our social gains
  • Continuing to strengthen and diversify our economy
  • Promoting Seychelles as a World leader in areas of excellence, including environmental conservation and sustainability
  • Securing our safety and enhancing our international reputation
  • Promoting the rule of law, good governance and transparency
  • Upholding Law and Order, and maintaining social cohesion,stability and unity

One of the author's utmost concerns remains the children and youth of Seychelles

"Our children, our youth, are the hope and the future of our country. In whatever I do, in whatever I plan, the future generation that they represent occupies a central position. Children, in particular, have always been close to my heart. They are the future. They are the foundation of our hopes and beliefs, of everything that we hold dear. And they deserve utmost consideration (209).

'I have recounted my own experience of the education system in the 1950s, where only the most privileged children were assured of a good education. The same unfairness was evident in the uneven access to other services too: health facilities, housing and transport. Many of our people lived in a state of dire poverty, with no hope of improvement. Led by France Albert René, through determined action over a number of years and no small sacrifice by us all in the process, the situation has been turned around. Free education for all is now a right rather than a privilege, our health service is being extended all the time to offer more services at community level, there are very few instances where houses are without modern utilities, and a fleet of modern buses has long replaced the old, open-top lorries that we once used to get us around.

We can all stand proud by our social achievements. We can be proud of our people-centered development that values the welfare of all its citizens, from the newborn to the elderly, that cares deeply about social justice. We can be proud of the opportunity our citizens enjoy to own their own homes, and to buy shares in businesses so that all can share in our country's wealth. We can be proud of our promotion of Creole culture that excludes no one, that brings people together and creates unity in diversity(210)...



University of Seychelles

In Chapter 5('The Long Road") the author writes that he was never happier than when in a Cabinet reshuffle in 1979 he was handed the education portfolio. (He was the Minister responsible for Education and Information for more than a decade…..)

"It was the unfairness of the old system that, more than any other issue had drawn him me into politics in the first place and nothing excited me more than the chance to put things right….Because of my own limited formal education there were some who questioned whether I was the right person for the job….
It was absolutely clear to all of us in government that every young Seychellois should be able to enjoy a comparable experience of primary and secondary education, regardless of different backgrounds. We considered education to be a crucial factor in the creation of national unity as well as a more egalitarian society…..
A structural reform of the education system had already been started in 1978 and it was now my responsibility to carry it forward. Primary schools would in future be required to provide nine years of free and compulsory education, with all pupils going to schools in their home districts…….."

The author also mentions the phasing out of the Seychelles College and the Regina Mundi Convent and the creation of the "residential National Youth Service" for those wishing to continue their secondary education….

"Upper secondary or "A" Level studies and an extended range of technical courses were provided by the Seychelles Polytechnic, which was funded by the Government of the People's Republic of China and which opened in 1983. Henceforth, every child was entitled to eleven years of free education, an entitlement that put us ahead of most other countries at a similar level of development(107).

In his Chapter 7, the author stressing the need for a "knowledge-based" society in order to survive in the 21st century and inculcating those values in the children at a very tender age writes:

"…..in October2009, this dream became a reality as the first students entered the gates of the University of Seychelles: it was a proud moment for us all and an important investment in the nation's future. I inaugurated the University of Seychelles in November 2010 in the presence of Princess Anne……"(158).


"Of all the external changes I have seen in my own lifetime, probably nothing compares with the revolution in tele-communications, which now put us in touch with the rest of the world at the touch of a button. Such great strides have been made that today Seychelles is ranked first in Africa in terms of information communication technology. Yet I was born at a time when simply to cross my island was an adventure in itself…."(17).


"We are a unique people, born of the melting pot of many races. The Seychellois people are the United Nations in a microcosm. Our racial origins are of no importance to us. What matters is our social cohesion, our unity and harmony as a nation. We are a nation proud of our social cohesion and values which are an example to the rest of the world---a world too often torn by conflicts and by ethnic, racial and religious divisions. We are blessed to be living peacefully in harmony and unity with ourselves and with nature. Nature does not belong to us but we belong to nature. That is why we have to continue to live in harmony with Nature and preserve our natural environment"(246)

"My firm belief in the power of truth, sincerity, honesty, love and hard work has always given me the strength to persevere in my tasks. It is the power that fuels the spirit of hope and the hour to embrace destiny. Throughout my life, my mind has always searched far and wide for answers beyond the realm of mundane existence"(247)


©Jean-Claude-Pascal MAHOUNE(Anthropologist/Political Scientist)

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