He has not been any ordinary politician. Until his retirement from the high office as the third President of Seychelles on October 16, 2016 and as president of the Parti Lepep (formerly Seychelles People’s United Party and Seychelles People’s Progressive Front), James Michel has made tremendous contributions to the country and to the lives of the people.
He can easily be seen as the architect of the Seychelles economy, the architect behind the United Arab Emirates-Seychelles relations and the architect behind the Blue Economy concept.
Speaking about the Blue Economy during a past Abu Dhabi Sustainability Week, Mr Michel said island nations, in particular, stand to gain a lot of benefits in developing resources and boosting the Blue Economy.
“For a long time, men have concentrated on land for development. Two-thirds of our planet is ocean and there is lot of potential for its development, as there are a lot of resources in there. I call it the new frontier, because it represents a new form of economic benefits from the development of infrastructure to do with the oceans. For example, let us look at trade. Lot of countries use the oceans to transport goods. For island and coastal countries, you have fish, offshore oil and gas and tourism too. The algae from the sea can be used for pharmaceuticals and other nutritional benefits,” said Mr Michel.
He is betting on young minds to come up with innovative means to develop potential possibilities, adding “use the oceans and get more benefits — this is the concept as I envisage.”
Although many Seychellois did not and some still do not understand and accept the concept of Blue Economy, Mr Michel has made sure they understand and embrace the concept.
“We had to convince them that this is not just important for the country but for the world,” he once said.
This is why he decided to take the concept to international conferences and to the United Nations too. The concept is now accepted as part of Sustainable Development Goals and the Alliance of Small Island States as well as the European Union have also embraced it.
“So the world over, we now have different institutions promoting the concept of Blue Economy. We can proudly say this has become a global movement,” Mr Michel was quoted as saying once.
Mr Michel has since penned the book entitled ‘Rethinking The Oceans – Towards the Blue Economy’, and launched the James Michel Foundation which is a new programme to reinforce his presidential legacy and his passion for the Blue Economy.
Guided by the commitment to promote the Blue Economy concept, the foundation will help educate people about the need to promote environmental protection and sustainable development.
As the international community has been working on progressing sustainable development agendas, Seychelles has valorised its coastal and ocean space as the key to sustainable development initiatives in the country. This aligns with international initiatives which focus on the concept of a sustainable ocean-based economy or Blue Economy, as endorsed by the 2012 Rio +20 United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development. Unless the environment is carefully explored and monitored, the potential wealth of our ocean-based economy itself will be diminished.
In this context, the James Michel Blue Economy Research Institute (BERI) was launched last year by the University of Seychelles to support the development of a knowledge-based society. It will identify and coordinate research synergies between different sectors and actively seek partners to support and advance sustainable development initiatives.
Architect behind United Arab Emirates-Seychelles relations.
Seychelles has since 1980s had excellent ties with the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Mr Michel said the UAE’s ties with his country could help its oil exploration.
“We have excellent ties since the 1980s. His Highness Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan loves Seychelles and has been there often. It’s also a favourite with the other royals for their holidays. They have been very generous. Some people say there is a love affair between the UAE and Seychelles. I am very happy to have been the architect of this relationship,” Mr Michel told the Khaleej Times some time back.
“The UAE has all the technology and resources and in the future when the time comes, we can work together. Abu Dhabi has been very helpful to Seychelles in developing our economy and renewable energy. The UAE has built wind turbines in Seychelles and we will soon start a project to set up a solar farm,” he added.
The UAE continues to be instrumental in many sectors in Seychelles such as housing development, health and aviation.
Architect behind the Seychelles economy.
When Mr Michel was invited to pay a state visit to India as Seychelles President in August 2015, the President of the Republic of India, Pranab Mukherjee congratulated Seychelles on its economic growth and development.
“Mr President, we laud your vision for Seychelles and your efforts to revitalise its growth and development. The economic reforms undertaken by you, the expansion and diversification of your economy and your simultaneous focus on social welfare have shown splendid results. Seychelles now stands among the countries recognised by the World Bank as High Income Group Countries. We welcome your accession to the World Trade Organisation and congratulate you on your being ranked by the UNDP as the country with the 3rd highest Human Development Index in Africa in the year 2014,” President Mukherjee in his toast on the occasion of a state banquet.
After assuming the presidency in 2004, Mr Michel decided in 2018 to iron out the foreign exchange crisis which had taken a heavy toll on the economics of Seychelles.
As the opposition was using the economic situation to gain political mileage, Mr Michel took the bold decision in November 2008 to request the help of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to solve the economic crisis.
It was a wise decision and even those who were affected by such a decision then, now recognise the wisdom of such a move taken by a man who was not afraid to take bold decisions when such a time calls for it.
This step characterised the presidency of a man who was not afraid to make such choices in the interest of his people, although such a move was indeed bold but also risky. The economic reform was homegrown although the two Brettenwood institutions were involved.