| Albert René |
|Born||16 November 1935|
|Died||27 February 2019 (Age 83)|
|Alma mater||St. Mary's College (Southampton), King's College London|
President of Seychelles from 1977 to 2004 from the country's sole legal political party. Survived a 1981 Seychelles coup attempt organised by the South African Institute for Maritime Research
France-Albert René was a Seychellois politician who was made second President of Seychelles from 1977 to 2004. He was nicknamed by Seychellois government officials and fellow party members as "the Boss". His name is often given as simply Albert René or F.A. René; he was also nicknamed Ti France.
René was born in Victoria, Crown Colony of Seychelles. He was educated at St. Mary's College, Southampton, England, and later completed his university education 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, René denounced local church leaders who criticised his policies. In 1964 he formed the Seychelles People's United Party, the forerunner to today's Seychelles People's Party.
In 1976, he became the country's prime minister under President James Mancham, following assembly elections in which the Seychelles People's United Party (SPUP) came in second place. On 5 June 1977, partisan supporters of René installed him as president in a coup d'état. Rene's claim that he was not party to the coup was challenged during hearing of the Truth Reconciliation and National Unity Commission in 2019 and 2020 when known participant acknowledged that he had been involved in the planning and execution. After coming to power, René declared that he was not a Soviet-style Communist, but rather an "Indian Ocean socialist" and "socialist pan-Africanist". Early on he opposed the Anglo-American military installation on the Indian Ocean atoll of Diego Garcia because of the possible storage of nuclear weapons.
Single-party state and coups d'état
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, and 1989. Multiparty democracy commenced around 1993, but René continued to win in that year, and in 1998 and in 2001, when he defeated the opposition leader Wavel Ramkalawan, the candidate of Seychelles National Party. In addition to presidency, he held several cabinet posts simultaneously including Minister of Foreign Affairs and Minister of Finance.
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 Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) agent in Pretoria as "extremely timid". However, it is suspected by some that the United States played a significant direct role in the incident, and there was co-operation at the time between the CIA and the South African government on other issues. 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 the time.
Until 2018 René was characterized as a prime example of a benevolent dictator, leading his country to the point of being the most developed country in Africa – as measured by the Human Development Index – and helping build one of the continent's highest gross domestic products per capita.
However, the setting up of the Truth Reconciliation and National Unity Commission (TRNUC) in 2018, and their hearings (televised day after day in real time, and recorded on YouTube) of the testimonies of people who had been tortured, and from relatives of people who had been murdered, tortured, disappeared, assassinated, detained without trial, as well as evidence of financial crimes and looting of the state and private individuals, led to a reassessment of his record.
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 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 James 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 some critics, ideological indoctrination and paramilitary training. This requirement was abandoned after the transition to multiparty rule and the organisation was eventually abolished entirely. Some critics of the former René regime also point to corruption and cronyism during his tenure.
On 24 February 2004, René announced that he would be stepping down in favour of Vice-President James Michel. He did so on 14 July 2004, whereupon he continued as leader of the People's Progressive Front.
- The Seychelles Affair, Mike Hoare Bantam Press, 1986, page 4
- 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
- Blum, William. Killing Hope: U.S. Military and C.I.A. Interventions since World War II. Monroe, ME: Common Courage Press, 2004. pp. 268–269. ISBN 1-56751-252-6