Coming from what he describes as a “modest” family, France-Albert René went on to become the President of Seychelles from 1977 to 2004. He will be remembered as the leader who made “Creole” the country’s official language, including it in the school curriculum. Today, he urges people to continue preserving their Creole culture and heritage and to be proud of who they are.
France-Albert René, born on 16th November 1935, Victoria, Seychelles, describes his background as “modest”. His father was an administrator on Farquhar Island and his mother a “housewife”.
After attending the Saint Louis College of the Marist Brothers, in Victoria, for his primary and part of his secondary education, he went on to study at the Seychelles College, a new educational facility at the time.
In 1953, he left the Seychelles to further his studies at Switzerland’s Canton de Valais, where he studied theology at the Scolasticat de Saint Maurice.
The well-travelled young man went to England in 1954, studying law at St Mary’s College in Southampton and then enrolled at King’s College, University of London. After achieving his lawyer’s diploma in 1957, he commenced studying political science at the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE).
Career in politics
It was while studying at the London School of Economics and Political Sciences that the young France-Albert René took an interest in active politics, not just the theory. Initially, he began by joining in discussions with various political bodies, in particular the Labour Party, where he made many friends.
He recalls: “At a meeting with Seychellois residents in London, I expressed my distaste for colonial practices and claimed the rights of the people of Seychelles for responsibility, democracy and equality. To do this, I had to create a revolutionary party of the people, thus the formation of the Seychelles People’s United Party.”
This sparked his life-long interest in the cultural, social and political life of Seychelles, where he faced many challenges during his time in office as President, in particular during the tourism decline of 1981.
“This was a difficult year for us, with a drop in the number of visitors and an increase in the cost of imported goods,” France-Albert René explained, “These difficulties were added to with the loss in revenue from tourism and damage caused by the 25th November mercenary aggression.”
A guide during the turbulence
Over the years, France-Albert René has guided Seychelles through many troubled times, in particular during the early 1980s.
He remembers, “During the course of 1983, we had to take several major economic measures, which included income tax increases on earnings over R48,000 a year (~$7,600 at the time), turnover tax on all businesses, increased customs duties on luxury items and imported ready-made clothes and a temporary ban on all car imports.” He indicated that at that time it was essential for everyone to make sacrifices in order to help keep the country’s economy stable, increase its foreign earnings and boost its reserves.
France-Albert René is very proud of his rich Creole culture and encourages Seychellois people to develop it further.
“A Creole person is someone who is proud of his heritage, his culture and his mother tongue, which is the core of his culture and the motor to express his sentiments, his thoughts and aspirations,” he stated passionately, and continued, “The Creole culture is very rich, filled with colour and beauty. It helps us to free our spirit, giving us confidence in who we are and making us see the value of what belongs to us, giving us the need to develop it more.”
During his Presidency, France-Albert René made the ground-breaking decision to establish Creole as the official language of the Seychelles, and also including it as a compulsary subject in the school curriculum.
“By introducing the Creole language in our system of education, we were trying to ‘implant’ education in our everyday lives, restoring the creative power in our children. In doing so, we help them to develop their pride for their country, its culture and its history. In choosing a system of education where Creole is used, we are seeing that our children grow up in harmony with the society they’re living in, with the values of its people – that is, with the Seychellois ideology – creating a link with the past, the present and the future. We’re ensuring communication among individuals in the society, from one generation to another.”
Racism and prejudice
France-Albert René’s objective was to stamp out any prejudice that existed, which sadly still exists today, against the Creole language.
French is also commonly spoken on the islands. Despite efforts to boost the importance of the Creole language, it is still considered, in some quarters, to be the Seychelles’ third language!
France-Albert René elaborates: “Creole is a beautiful language. Sharing it with other nations speaking Creole – putting it out there in the world for all to know, hear and appreciate – and being proud of who we are will definitely facilitate eradicating the racism and prejudice towards the Creole language.”
Future of Creole language/culture
The ex-President took various measures to ensure that the Creole language would be spoken by future generations.
“Continuously reflecting on the usage of our tongue and its progress, and reaffirming its importance in societies, will give Creole more power in this popular cultural competition which we call globalisation,” says France-Albert René, “Our collective efforts will keep Creole alive in every corner of the world.”
He advises Seychellois people to be proud of their heritage and culture, telling them to “stay focused and engaged” in their Creole faith.
“We have a brilliant future in this world, as it reflects the good values that make us Creole, a culture that brings harmony, respect, peace and tolerance. We must continue preserving our Creole culture and language. We must keep on promoting what we have inherited, wherever we are. What’s important is that we must always be proud of who we are.”
Promoting Creole culture
France-Albert René believes the Seychellois people are taking positive steps to promote Creole culture around the world.
“Take, for example, our Creole Festival, an annual celebration which gathers Creole communities from around the world to celebrate their identity and culture. Moreover, our Victoria has become and is now considered the Creole capital of the world. We have a great future ahead of us. We’ve worked hard to promote our Creole culture. Our Kreol Institute is recognised internationally. We have a lot of talented people showcasing their works who are continuously promoting the Creole way.”
France-Albert René: the turnkey
France-Albert René has also endorsed a book, “Albert René – The Father of the Modern Seychelles” by British historian, Dr Kevin Shillington. The full-length biography, published in 2014, analyses his early years in politics and his struggle against colonialism.
Shillington describes the foundation of the Seychelles People’s United Party, by the then young France-Albert René, “A key opening a new chapter, in the history of Seychelles.”