France-Albert René

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France-Albert René
2nd President of Seychelles
In office
5 June 1977 – 16 April 2004
Vice President James Michel
(1996-2004)
Preceded by James Mancham
Succeeded by James Michel
2nd Prime Minister of Seychelles
In office
1976–1977
President James Mancham
Preceded by James Mancham
Succeeded by office abolished
Personal details
Born (1935-11-16) November 16, 1935 (age 78)
Farquhar Atoll, Seychelles (then a colony of the United Kingdom)
Political party Seychelles People's Progressive Front
Spouse(s) Karen Handley (1950s)
Geva Adam (1975)
Sarah Zarquani (1993)
Alma mater King's College London
Profession Lawyer, politician

France-Albert René (born 16 November 1935) was the long-time socialist President of Seychelles from 1977 to 2004. He is known by government officials and party members as "the Boss". His name is often given as simply Albert René or F.A. René; he is also nicknamed Ti France.

Early life[edit]

René was educated at St Mary's College in Southampton, England, and at King's College London before serving as a lawyer in Seychelles from 1957 to 1961. While abroad, he became heavily involved in the politics of the Labour Party, at the time led by Clement Attlee and later Hugh Gaitskell. These experiences led him to adopt a moderate socialist ideology that favoured some state intervention in the economy and strong ties with conservative forces such as the Roman Catholic Church (René's initial career goal was to join the priesthood). Later Rene denounced local church leaders who criticised his policies. He formed the Seychelles People's United Party (the forerunner to today's Seychelles People's Progressive Front) in 1964.

In 1976, he became the country's prime minister under President James Mancham following assembly elections which the SPUP came in second place. On 5 June 1977, partisan supporters of René installed him as president in a coup d'état. After coming to power, René declared that he was not a Soviet-style Communist, but rather an "Indian Ocean socialist." Early on he opposed the Anglo-American military installation on the nearby island of Diego Garcia because of the possible storage of nuclear weapons and alleged detention of terrorist suspects at that location.

Single-party state and coups d'état[edit]

René's party was the sole legal political party in the country from 1979 to 1993 which allowed him to win presidential elections in 1979, 1984, 1989 and 1993. In 1998 and 2001, he won against opposition, latterly the candidate of the Seychelles National Party, Wavel Ramkalawan.

In 1979, a planned invasion of Seychelles by supporters of Mancham with the assistance of American diplomatic staff in Kenya and Seychelles was discovered before it could be carried out. An official investigation also implicated France with involvement in the coup.[1]

On 25 November 1981, Seychellois security forces put down a coup attempt sponsored by South Africa. "Mad Mike" Hoare and 43 others posed as members of the "Ancient Order of Froth Blowers", a defunct charitable beer-drinking fraternity, visiting the islands as tourists. Shortly after leaving their Royal Swazi National Airways aircraft, an airport security guard spotted a Kalashnikov assault rifle in their luggage; the discovery launched a gun battle in which hostages were taken. Most of the mercenaries escaped after hijacking another plane sitting on the runway.

An independent inquiry by the United Nations found that South African intelligence was indeed behind the coup; Hoare described the reaction he received from a CIA agent in Pretoria as "extremely timid." However, it is suspected that the United States played a significant direct role in the incident,[2] and there was cooperation at the time between the CIA and the South African government on other issues.[3] Three million dollars were paid to President René and his government by South Africa for the return of the remaining mercenaries detained in Seychelles. The 1981 attempt was the second major threat to his government at that point in time.

Legacy[edit]

René led his country to the point of being the most developed country in Africa, as measured by the Human Development Index, and helped build one of the continent's highest gross domestic products per capita. His supporters believe that he had solid social priorities, including his government's extensive funding of education, health care and the environment. Critical indicators such as infant mortality, literacy rate, and economic well-being are among the best in the continent. During his rule, the Seychelles avoided the volatile political climate and underdevelopment in neighbouring island countries such as the Comoros and Madagascar. His critics believe that he and his party are responsible for systematic torture and other human rights abuses involving opponents of the government, allegedly including the death of a prominent dissident in London, Gérard Hoarau. After the 1977 coup, a significant portion of the population (including the deposed President Mancham) fled to the UK and South Africa due to political persecution and fear of the new government's alignment with the Soviet Union, Tanzania and North Korea. René also faced international pressure regarding his government's former requirement that all applicants to the country's secondary education system graduate a compulsory National Youth Service which included traditional curricula, political education and, according to critics, ideological indoctrination and paramilitary training. This requirement was disbanded after the transition to multiparty rule and the organization was eventually abolished entirely. According to various reports, cronyism, corruption and impunity for law-breaking were problems during René's almost three decades of rule.

On 24 February 2004, René announced that he would be stepping down in favour of Vice President James Michel. He did so on 14 April 2004. For the time being, he continues as leader of the People's Progressive Front.

References[edit]

  1. ^ Blum, William. Killing Hope: U.S. Military and C.I.A. Interventions since World War II. Monroe, ME: Common Courage Press, 2004. p. 268. ISBN 1-56751-252-6
  2. ^ Perkins, John. "The Secret History of the American Empire: Economic Hitmen, Jackals, and the Truth About Global Corruption". Dutton, 2007. pp. 235-245. ISBN 978-0-525-95015-8
  3. ^ Ibid., p. 268-69.

External links[edit]

Preceded by
James Mancham
Prime Minister of Seychelles
1976–1977
Succeeded by
post abolished
Preceded by
James Mancham
President of Seychelles
1977–2004
Succeeded by
James Michel