By Srimal Fernando and Siksha Singh
When Danny Faure took over as the President of Seychelles one of his first visits was to India. For India, Seychelles though a small island nation holds significant importance. The reasons for this are manifold, due to its geographical setting it serves as a crucial maritime gateway connecting the Indian subcontinent and Sri Lanka with East Africa through the Indian Ocean and thereby helps in expanding the diplomatic and security policy of these countries beyond their immediate neighborhood. During the June visit in 2018 between the two countries in Delhi, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Seychelles President Danny Faure signed an agreement to collaborate on a project to develop a naval base at the Assumption Island. A major part of this Island nation’s GDP (Gross domestic Product) is dependent on the tourism and fishing industry.Statistics reveal that over 3, 40,000 high-end tourists visit this coastal paradise every year. Hence binding this diplomacy between both nations there is a significant Indian diaspora, whichis more than 10,000.
During the past four decades since independence Seychelles per capita income has risen to US$ 15,410 (World Bank, 2016) on back of its maritime fishery and tourism industry. On human development front Seychelles has recently been ranked as the best performing country in Africa. Taking the socio and economic plans forward in the next forty years the island countries vision plan under strategic land use is a resilient economy and a pristine environment which provides an attractive place to visit, invest, work and live. Politically for this island to transform into a highly developed nation France Albert Rene and James Alix Michel played an indispensable role. Coming back to the bilateral relations between India and Seychelles, the relations took a turning point when President Michel went on a state visit and agreed on a joint collaboration on several areas ranging from bilateral air services to blue economy ventures. Through these efforts the trade has increased to estimate figures of US$ 101.16 million mainly in favour of India.
In the maritime defense sphere India and Seychelles have had an elaborate architecture of defense and security cooperation, which has deepened over the years due to growing challenges posed by piracy and economic offences. India has also extended US$ 100 line of credit to Seychelles.
Over the years India as a maritime security partner of small islands has specially gifted several Dornier’s and patrol aircrafts to Seychelles to monitor its 1.3 million sq.km exclusive economic zone (EEZ).Three years before the current President’s visit to India, INS Darshak paid a goodwill visit to Seychelles to alleviate the current defence collaboration between the two nations. In this context, the bilateral diplomatic partnership has come a long way since 1979 since both nations established their residential missions in Victoria and New Delhi.
India’s southern neighbour Sri Lanka has also been extending their bilateral cooperation with Seychelles and has signed several agreements which include setting up of a joint commission on several key areas. Tourism cooperation, power sector and renewable energy are some of the wide areas of engagement between the two island nations.
Both littoral countries have taken giant leaps in bilateral cooperation and made progress in since the setting up of their diplomatic ties in 1988. Seychelles also invited Sri Lanka to put their geographic proximity to Africa as a platform and dive into the virtually untapped potentials of African continent with trade and investment at the Seychelles Trade and Investment Forum. In 2014, the then Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa expressed Sri Lanka’s interest in developing blue economy concept. Since that time both nations have increased cooperation in fisheries as air access and other areas of significance. Tourism being the major source of income for small island states likes Seychelles, Sri Lanka and Maldives. Sri Lanka on an average receives two million tourists annually and therefore this is an important economic opportunity for the policy makers of Seychelles to access this important travel and tourism industry.
For both India and Sri Lanka, Seychelles is important for its geopolitical significance as it gives access to eastern African nations and also it is economically important for its tourism industry. This shows that despite its size Seychelles has become a strategically relevant partner country for both these South Asian nations.
Srimal Fernando is a research scholar at Jindal School of International Affairs, India and an Editor of Diplomatic Society for South Africa. Siksha Singh is a scholar of Masters in Diplomacy, Law, International Business at Jindal School of International Affairs, India