Africa Leaders Magazine

How a Priest rose to become President – H.E WAVEL RAMKALAWAN

How a priest rose to become president – H.E WAVEL RAMKALAWAN - President of the Seychelles - African Leaders Magazine

On his sixth attempt Wavel Ramkalawan, an Anglican cleric, became Seychelles’ president ending decades in opposition.

“After 43 years we have regained democracy. The road has been long and now we will reap its rewards.”

There was only the merest hint of triumphalism in President Wavel Ramkalawan’s acceptance speech as he addressed an audience of invited dignitaries assembled in the manicured grounds of State House.

His election marks a seismic change for the islands, where the presidency has been dominated by one party since 1977. In front of the grand Victorian colonial mansion and accompanied by a military guard of honour, the 58-year-old was sworn in by the chief justice.

The new president is an ordained Anglican minister, and not surprisingly his overall message was one of peace, tolerance and an appeal for all Seychellois to work together for national unity, and to overcome the divisions of so many years of political wrangling.

How a priest rose to become president – H.E WAVEL RAMKALAWAN - President of the Seychelles - African Leaders Magazine

“Seychelles,” said the new president, “should be an example of tolerance for the whole world. We are 115 small islands in the Indian Ocean, but we are not insular.

“We will maintain friendly relations with all nations, and welcome help and assistance from our international allies whomsoever they may be.”

Behind the Christian sentiments expressed by the new president there is also political steel.

Wavel Ramkalawan was born in Mahé, the principal island of Seychelles. He was born into a modest family, the youngest of three children. His grandfather was from Bihar, India. His father was a tinsmith while his mother was a teacher. Ramkalawan’s primary and secondary education were at Seychelles College, the elite boys’ school of the country. Ramkalawan was ordained as a priest in 1985 following theological studies at St Paul’s Theological College, Mauritius, and thereafter followed further studies in theology at Birmingham University. Returning to Seychelles, he worked in several parishes in Seychelles, rising to become priest-in-charge of the parish of The Holy Saviour.

How a priest rose to become president – H.E WAVEL RAMKALAWAN - President of the Seychelles - African Leaders Magazine

It was his work as a priest that led Ramkalawan to politics. Through his pastoral work, he came into contact with many people who had been subject to repression and abuses of human and civil liberties by the government. At that time, the Catholic and Anglican churches were the only institutions that could speak on social issues; they were allowed to address these topics in sermons during weekly services, which were broadcast on alternate Sundays.

In 1990, Ramkalawan preached a sermon, broadcast on the national radio station, in which he questioned the practices of the one-party government and advocated for greater freedom, respect for human rights and observance of the rule of law in the country. Although his broadcast was cut, Ramkalawan distributed copies of sermons criticizing the government. In 1991, while still a priest, he joined fellow dissidents Roger Mancienne and Jean-François Ferrari to form the underground Parti Seselwa. Ramkalawan became its first leader.

This was his sixth attempt at the presidency, a journey that began when he first contested the role in 1998.

He had come tantalising close to winning the presidency several times, and in 2015 lost to James Michel by only 193 votes in a second round of voting.

Referring to the years in opposition, and his five previous defeats in presidential elections Mr Ramkalawan quoted Nelson Mandela: “A winner is a dreamer who never gives up.”

Wavel Ramkalawan defeated Danny Faure by 54.9% to 43.5%

How a priest rose to become president – H.E WAVEL RAMKALAWAN - President of the Seychelles - African Leaders Magazine

all its convoluted political history in the decades since independence, the 97,000-strong population of Seychelles now faces very big challenges.

The economy is heavily reliant on tourism, with around 350,000 annual visitors accounting for 65% of GDP. Covid-19 has reduced tourist arrivals to a tiny trickle, and the economy has already shrunk by around 14%.

In addition, local non-governmental organisations estimate that approximately 10% of the working population, some 6,000 people, are addicted to heroin, and many are reliant on the government’s methadone rehabilitation programme.

As well as winning the presidency, Mr Ramkalawan’s party, Linyon Demokratik Seselwa (LDS), won a convincing majority in the islands’ national assembly.

“Just because we have won, we can’t sit back,” he said. “We need to carry on working hard, delivering what our people deserve.”

One of the subtexts of Mr Ramkalawan’s inaugural address is that the LDS will need to unravel decades of inefficiency, corruption and cronyism within the civil service and public administration of Seychelles.

He has promised that under his presidency “no-one will be above the law” and appealed for Seychellois to come together

Both China and India have made significant donations to Seychelles, although the most generous donor is the United Arabs Emirates – especially Abu Dhabi. However, fresh diplomatic overtures towards President Ramkalawan from India are highly likely, especially since he had a grandfather who emigrated to Seychelles from the Indian state of Bihar.

The LDS victory has been received peacefully in Seychelles, and most people believe that it is time for a new philosophy at State House.

How a priest rose to become president – H.E WAVEL RAMKALAWAN - President of the Seychelles - African Leaders Magazine

President Ramkalawan stated clearly that his wish was for national reconciliation and for all parties to join in helping young people secure a better future.

“Whatever our party,” he said, “we must now concentrate on being Seychellois together.”

Source: bbc.com / Wikipedia

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