Coup by René Supporters, 1977

Seychelles Table of Contents

On June 4-5, 1977, sixty supporters of the SPUP who had been training in Tanzania staged a coup and overthrew Mancham while he was in London. René, who denied knowing of the plan, was then sworn in as president and formed a new government.

A year later, the SPUP combined with several smaller parties and redesignated itself the Seychelles People's Progressive Front (SPPF), or simply the Front. A new constitution adopted in 1979 stipulated that the SPPF be the sole recognized party. The constitution provided for a strong executive headed by the president and a legislature of twenty-three elected and two appointed members.

In the first election, held in June 1979, René was the single candidate for president. He won with 98 percent of the vote. The results were viewed as a popular endorsement of the socialist policies pursued by the government in the two years following the coup. The SPPF proceeded with its program to set minimum wage levels, raise government salaries, improve housing and health facilities, broaden educational opportunities, increase social security coverage, and generate employment in agriculture and fisheries. The lives of most Seychellois were enhanced, and most citizens appeared to favor the government's policies.

The decision to turn the nation into a one-party state based on socialist ideology, as well as certain initiatives of the government, caused some bitterness, especially among the upper and middle classes. Censorship of the media and control over public expression were unpopular. A number of groups attempted to oust the René government between 1978 and 1987. The most notable was a group of mercenaries who tried to enter the country in 1981 disguised as tourists from South Africa. The mercenaries were exposed as they came through customs at the international airport but most of them, including their leader, Colonel Michael "Mad Mike" Hoare, escaped after commandeering an Air India passenger plane to South Africa. Although the South African government prosecuted and jailed some of the mercenaries for air hijacking, Hoare testified that South African military and intelligence officials were involved in the coup attempt. During this period, the Seychelles government received support from Tanzania, which deployed troops to the islands to strengthen the government's hand.

Mancham and other exiled opposition figures based principally in London formed several groups that sought to turn international opinion against the René government, stigmatizing it as antidemocratic, procommunist, and pro-Soviet. As part of its efforts to stifle opposition, the government embarked on a campaign in 1987 to acquire parcels of land owned by dissident Seychellois living abroad. The takeovers were not subject to legal challenge, but the amount of compensation--in the form of bonds payable over twenty years--could be appealed in court. The government's authoritarianism finally brought it under growing pressure from its chief patrons--Britain and France. Finally, in 1991 René and the SPPF consented to liberalize the political system, inviting opposition leaders to return to Seychelles and help rewrite the constitution to permit multiparty politics.

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Source: U.S. Library of Congress