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Abu Dhabi’s ‘love affair’ with Seychelles grows stronger

Abu Dhabi’s ‘love affair’ with Seychelles grows stronger

With some of Etihad's executives moving over to Air Seychelles and Abu Dhabi's increasing bilateral relations with the islands, could we one day call the country UAE's eight emirate?

February 1, 2012 5:16 by

How does it feel to be CEO for only four months? That’s the question we’d love to ask Bram Steller, who took the role of Air Seychelles CEO on October 1, 2011. You see, effective February 1, 2012, Etihad Airways announced that Cramer Ball, the carrier’s regional general manader for Asia-Pacific South and Asutralasia, will now assume the position of Chief Executive under the management contract that Air Seychelles recently signed with Etihad.

While we can assume that Steller probably got a nice compensation package (so don’t bring out your violins just yet), this restructuring adds another layer to the increasing interest that Abu Dhabi has on Seychelles’s overall infrastructure and economy.

This is especially interesting, given that Air Seychelles isn’t the most appealing of businesses—it has recorded its second year of losses in the FY2010/2011 period given that Middle East carriers are taking up a lot of its business (In fact, Steller is the company’s fourth CEO). But, as the flagship airline of a country, where Emirates and Qatar Airways are dominating and where the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi is building a mansion that has caused a stir among the residents, Air Seychelles becomes a lot more strategic to Etihad Airways.

When Steller was in office, there were talks that Air Seychelles was in such bad shape that it was considering privatisation, even contacting Emirates and Qatar Airways (its direct competitors) to consider becoming partner airlines.

Looking at the history between the UAE capital and Seychelles, however, Etihad’s 40 percent acquisition seemed like a more likely fit. President of Seychelles James Alix Michael is quite open about his close friendship with UAE President HH Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan.

And this bond is reciprocated, as Seychelles Founding President, Sir James R. Mancham said he was “greatly touched and moved when His Highness described the Seychelles-UAE relationship more as a ‘love affair’ then mere ‘friendship’. ”

Over the last six months, there been a number of moves to strengthen the economic relationship between the two. The latest of which is Etihad’s 40 percent acquisition of Air Seychelles for $20 million and its loan of $25 million to the carrier.

Prior to the acquisition, Etihad started its Seychelles flights in November 2011. In the same month, Seychelles opened an embassy in Abu Dhabi and saw Abu Dhabi’s clean energy firm Masdar announced that it will launch a wind-farm in Seychelles by the end of 2011—and counting.

That’s not all, in October 2011, the UAE funded Seychelles’ coast guard base to the tune $15 million. In addition, that month also saw the Abu Dhabi Urban Planning Council start collaborations with government of Seychelles to develop a masterplan for Mahe, the latter’s capital city.

All of this activity makes 2011 look like a stark contrast to the year that was 2010 for UAE-Seychelles relations. That year, Sheikh Khalifa’s mansion project on top of Mahe’s tallest mountain came under fire when nearby residents claimed their water source was tainted by the contractor’s sewage and diesel run off.

This started a long-running discussion that ended with the President’s Office and the Government of Seychelles pointing a finger at the contractor, UAE-based Ascon (Associated Contracting & Consulting Ltd).

Later that year, the presidential office offered to pay $15 million to replace the water-piping system for the mountainside. In addition, negotiations are still going on between Ascon, the UAE and the resident over terms of the final settlement. Ascon has reportedly offered to pay about $8000 to each of the 360 households affected.

With each passing year, looks like the relations between the two governments continue to strengthen. Seychelles gets its infrastructure and the UAE gets a chunkier piece of the tourism pie, and then some.

Finishing off in a somewhat positive stance, Founding President Mancham’s wrote in his autobiography:

“The wealth from neighboring Arab States can play an important role in the proper development of our islands whose ‘primitive beauty’ has survived over the years through geographical isolation. But it is important that the relationship between the Gulf States and Seychelles develops in a comprehensively enlightened and positive way, which takes into account our common interest and in each other’s sensitivities.”

It’ll be interesting to see what will be the next move for the UAE capital. And to what extent will this ‘love affair´ grow. What do you think? Where is the love coming from? And should the residents in Seychelles have a say in how the economic relations are going on? What about UAE residents? Leave comments in the section below.

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  1. Gerard Payet on February 1, 2012 11:18 pm

    The mansion on the hill and the pollution scandal climaxed the ongoing debates and was close to causing large scale public uprising.

    The practice of getting in bed with whoever the country benefits from is nothing new whatsoever. In the old days the Seychelles shared its bedsheets with the Americans who had a satellite tracking station at the very same location Sheikh Khalifa got a piece of land. After the coup made by F. A. Rene in 1977, Seychelles lay in bed with the Americans on the right whilst the Sovjets occupied the left side of the mattress.

    Today Seychelles is as known in bed with the UAE after the USA has been warming the sheets whilst there is an ongoing flirt with the Red Dragon, i.e China, a flirt that has enraged the Indians.

    James Michel, like his predecessor F.A. Rene is like most Seychellois men: an expert at keeping different bed partners simultanously. All fun and games till one partner wants sovereignerity and that’s when the trouble starts. Question is, who will be the first to claim it?

    **This comment has been edited in line with the UAE laws and regulations**

  2. Kathleen Pillay on February 2, 2012 6:31 am

    Few of us are being fooled by these events and who are really the beneficiaries of this cosy arrangement.

    **This comment has been edited in line with the UAE laws and regulations**

  3. Kathleen Pillay on February 2, 2012 6:43 am

    …and the impact that this arrangement may have on our sovereignty!!!

  4. Gerard Payet on February 2, 2012 4:39 pm

    There is no doubt that the sudden interest in Seychelles, by all interestees, is the country’s potential as an oil exporting nation. What I fear is that the day the opposite is proved, i.e there is no oil or the oil available is not exploitable, our interestees will turn their backs on us leaving the nation with little or nothing, not even a national carrier.

    Seychelles’ dependency on the UAE is to my opinion putting all eggs in one basket, especially with regards to the tourism sector and incoming carriers where the majority have their home bases in the UAE. Depency is never good and sooner or later Seychelles will find itself totally dependent of the UAE and suffer accordingly.

    What Seychelles needs is to become self sustainable, something the country is totally capable of doing if hard work and devotion is put in. Alas, the weakness of Seychelles is all too well known when it comes to taking the easy way out. The UAE knows it, so do its other bed partners. Its leaders are also aware of it as we have seen that prior to every election the last few decades.


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