World’s Smallest Capital City

It was because of the Seychelles that Public Broadcasting picked up some degree of protocol.  In the beginning all called each other by our first names.  NPR presidents were Frank or Doug, the CPB people were Clyde, Rick or Priscilla.  But then Bush 1 appointed Dick Carlson to be CPB president.  He had been US Ambassador to the Seychelles and calling CPB became a very different affair.  As chairman of the Alaska Public Radio Network I had to deal with Dick, excuse me, Mr. Ambassador.  The first time I called for an appointment I got:  “The Ambassador is very busy but you can see him on Tuesday afternoon at 2.”  Tuesday afternoon at 2 I arrived.  “The Ambassador is having a busy day if you could wait a few minutes.”  Then, finally, “The Ambassador will see you.”  I guess once an ambassador always an ambassador.  But because of Mr. Ambassador I have always been curious about what the diplomatic scene in the Seychelles may be like.  Having arrived in Victoria, the capital, I am happy to state that Victoria is the smallest and probably the most insignificant capital in the world.  At least it’s the smallest, they actually brag about that in their tourist literature.

When Dick was there it was not a stable place so there may have been a lot of work for him to do.  There had been coup attempts.  One actually made the news in the US when South Africa tried to over through the government by sending a group of mercenaries over disguised as a rugby team.  It didn’t work.  There was a gun battle at the airport and most of the mercenaries escaped on a hijacked Air India plane.  But this was before Dick’s time.

But I have to say, if I were going to be appointed ambo I would not mind this posting.  The Seychelles are beautiful, with mountains and talc like beaches.  The main industries are fishing and tourism so I would feel right at home.  The islands have no indigenous population.  It is an immigrant society.  The French settled it and started to grow spices and other things using slaves from Africa.  The Brits took it over in the Napoleonic wars but left the French planters alone, adding their own planters and other settlers.  When they abolished slavery they imported Indian and some Chinese workers.  The island is a delightful mix of all these races.  The food reflects a mix of French and Indian cuisine.  The music sounds like Afro-Pop with some reggae, Cajun/Zydeco (of course, with the French influence) and rock thrown in.  It comes out of every shop and stall in the market.  I heard one band do a fetching version of “Shake, Rattle and Roll” but it was “Shake, Rock and Roll” with a decided African guitar riff.

When we sailed in we were greeted with a windmill farm on the islands in the harbor.  That looked encouraging but it turns out wind provides only 5% of the island’s power.  The rest comes from fossil fuels imported from the Persian Gulf.  The islands import three times their domestic consumption, selling the rest to passing ships and refueling airplanes.  The government has started a program of solar energy but electricity demand is growing fast as big new international hotels consume more and more power keeping guests and drinks cool.

The Islands are pretty well off, they have the highest per capita GDP in Africa and score highest on the UN Human Development index of all African Union states.

We decided on an easy day.  We got out in the morning and walked the mile or so into Victoria.  We, of course, had to run the gauntlet of touts, taxi drivers and tour guides trying to persuade us it was too long or too hot to walk.  We enjoyed Victoria on a Saturday morning, attending the market, looking at the Anglican and Hindu places of worship and stopping outside a Seventh Day Adventist church to listen to so hearty hymn singing.

After a coke in town we got a taxi to spend a few hours at Beau Vallon Beach, across the mountains on the other side of Mahe Island.  There were gentle waves and talc like sand on parts of the beach, but a little to the north there was a lot of coral with little blue fishes.  It was a relaxing day.  So Mr. President, if you find me too much of a bother in America I know of a nice embassy where you can send me.

To see the beaches see the next post, Mahe Beaches.

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