Africa/Middle East - Issue 37 - Magazine | Monocle

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Travelling light

Seychelles — JAMES MICHEL

When you are president of a country made up of 115 islands, arranging a decent motorcade is not as simple as picking the right armour-plated car and buying a shiny new presidential jet. James Michel, president of the Seychelles, also has financial constraints. The Indian Ocean nation was badly hit by the global recession, requiring a €20m rescue package from the IMF.

Michel’s motorcade is, therefore, understandably understated. He is driven to work in a Toyota Camry and also has use of a BMW X3 jeep at weekends. When he needs to travel off the main island, Mahé, he hires a helicopter or a Beechcraft; if the weather is calm and the journey is short he uses the commercial schooner service. There is no presidential jet for trips abroad to African Union summits or Sino-Seychelles bilaterals. Instead, Michel has to book a ticket (normally business class) on the national carrier, Air Seychelles.

Michel insists his on-land motorcade reflects his modest style. “It causes minimum disruption to traffic. No outriders, no sirens and we obey traffic regulations.”

Seychelles is often held up as a model of African governance, consistently making the top three in the annual Mo Ibrahim Index. Some of the continent’s more ostentatious presidents could perhaps follow Michel’s example when it comes to motorcades too.


The blue and yellow schooner normally ferries tourists between Praslin and La Digue islands, but has been known to occasionally take the president too. Michel is not a big fan of boats though – unlike most of the Seychelles elite he is rarely seen on a yacht at weekends.


With no presidential fleet, Michel flies with national carrier Air Seychelles, which offers direct flights to Johannesburg, Singapore and western Europe. If he is travelling elsewhere his staff book him on Emirates. Most inter-island travel is done by plane or helicopter – the Agusta 109C twin engine he uses is dubbed “Helicopter Seychelles”.


The car that takes President Michel to and from work every day is a Toyota Camry. Sometimes he takes the wheel himself. He switches to a more showy BMW 520i for the National Day Parade and weekends he has use of a BMW X3.


While Michel normally shuns motorcycle outriders they make an appearance alongside the BMW520i at the National Day Parade. The motorcycles were donated to the Seychelles by the Moroccan government last June.

Shining example


The sun has risen in Malawi.

Since independence from Britain in 1964 the southern African country’s flag has had a half-rising sun, indicating a new dawn. But President Bingu wa Mutharika has unilaterally decided it’s more like midday in Malawi now and has ordered a full sun to be placed in the centre of the flag. It is meant to indicate Malawi’s progression from a developing country to a developed one, although critics point out it is still one of the poorest in Africa. The government has also vowed to crack down on those refusing to make the switch to the new flag, threatening them with arrest.

Win-win situations

Zanzibar — ELECTIONS

Tourists might think of Zanzibar as a sleepy isle of exotic spices, gorgeous beaches and crumbling architecture. In East Africa, the semi-autonomous island off Tanzania is also known for its combative politics. Voting season brings out the worst political excesses, and elections in recent years have seen dozens of people killed. The blame for such volatility lies with a system that awards almost total power to the party that gets the most votes.

Nearly 200,000 Zanzibarians cast their vote and opted for a tidy solution to their political woes – everybody wins. Parties competing in elections in October will be obliged to form a coalition government afterwards, with the presidency going to the leading party and two vice-president seats to runners-up.

Politics in Zanzibar will always be contentious, but the island may finally come to resemble the placid place it’s thought to be.

Roll out the barrels


Three countries are set to join the ranks of Africa’s oil-producing nations: Cameroon, Uganda and Ghana. The latter will start producing 120,000 barrels a day from its offshore Jubilee field by the end of the year, earning the government up to $1bn (€640m) a year.

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