Seychelles’ founding President James R. Mancham has been invited by Sven-Olof Lindblad to be a Global Perspectives Guest Speaker on this Seychelles islands 2015 special cruise.
Sven-Olof Lindblad is the son of Lars-Eric Lindblad, who brought the Lindblad Explorer to Seychelles to open up international tourism in the 60s – long before Seychelles opened up its international airport.
A noted environmentalist, Lars-Eric was the first to bring civilians to some of the most exotic parts of the world including Antarctica, Arctic Svalbard, Galapagos, Easter Island, Amazon, Papua New Guinea, China, Bhutan and of course the Seychelles – all with the focus of creating experiences that foster an understanding and appreciation of the most remote and pristine places on the globe. These legendary pioneering adventures led him to be defined as the father of “Eco-Tourism.”
Sven-Olof Lindblad travelled extensively with his father from an early age – developing his inherent passion to explore the pristine corners of the globe. As a young man, Sven-Olof spent six years in East Africa, photographing elephants and wildlife and assisting filmmakers on a documentary about the destruction of African rainforests. This time was instrumental in moulding a fundamental objective of his work, to find ways for his business to help preserve natural resources and get involved in conservation efforts.
In 1979, he founded Special Expeditions as a division of Lindblad Travel – enabling the company to further its mission of offering innovative and educational travel expeditions that were primarily marine-focused.
In 2004, Lindblad Expeditions embarked on one of the travel industries’ most important partnership when it joined forces with National Geographic to further inspire the world through expedition travel.
Today with offices in New York and Seattle, USA, Lindblad Expeditions – National Geographic operates its own fleet of five expedition ships and several seasonal charters offering life changing adventures on all seven continents.
Lars-Eric Lindblad’s story was published by Times Book, a division of the New York Times in 1983, under the title “Passport to Anywhere” – with an introduction by Roger Tory Peterson, one of the world’s leading ornithologists. In that book, Lars-Eric Lindblad covers many aspects of his association with Seychelles. It is interesting to note what he wrote about the political situation in Seychelles when he first arrived in Port Victoria in 1968 –
“…..When we arrived at Port Victoria, the capital of the Seychelles, in 1968, the islands were still under the British flag, but Britain had decided to turn the islands over to self-rule. Jimmy Mancham, a young, vigorous lawyer, educated in London and Paris, was gunning for the status of an independent British protectorate on the model of Gibraltar. He led the Seychelles Democratic Party. He was opposed by Albert René, another sophisticated lawyer, who had had a brief career as a European banker. René headed the Seychelles People’s United Party, which leaned to the Left under the influence of the Organization of African Unity. He wanted outright independence from Britain and was willing to fight if necessary. Both were members of influential Seychelles families. Albert René was quiet and introspective. Mancham was charming and flamboyant with a seriousness of political purpose.
Mancham was Chief Minister of the newly elected Legislative Council when I met him at the hotel on our 1968 arrival. His mother was a Seychellois of French descent; his father of Chinese descent. Jimmy Mancham had an engaging personality and a passion for both beautiful women and his country. He immediately made it evident that the Seychelles needed tourism to revitalize the precarious economy of the country, if it could be done without destroying the wildlife or scenic beauty. Of course this was my objective, so we hit it off from the start.”
Of course, Lars-Eric Lindblad’s story also allows us to have some very revealing insights concerning Aldabra and how a small group of people campaigned to the atoll being turned into a military base.
“The Indian Ocean is of strategic value to the United States and Britain, as well as to Russia. At the time we were making our survey in 1968, the Soviets had established a base in Somalia. The Western alliance was still without a naval or air base in this part of the Indian Ocean. Furthermore, with the Suez Canal then closed, the western Indian Ocean sea-lanes became a primary artery for the flow of oil from the gulf, around the Cape of Good Hope to the United States and Europe.
The United States together with Britain was casting around for a suitable island for a strategic air and naval base in the region. Meantime, Jimmy Mancham was pushing hard for a commercial airport, which he considered a must to put the Seychelles on the map. He was well aware of both the US and British aspirations for an air base, and used this knowledge in eventually getting the commercial airport established.
A survey team had already visited Aldabra and found that the island would be ideal for a military base, with ample room for long runways and a large lagoon that could be blasted out for the naval base. This caused considerable concern among people interested in the natural sciences and the whole ecology of the area. Aldabra, twenty-one miles long and nine miles wide, is the only other place in the world besides the Galapagos where the giant tortoise exists. It also features other rich wildlife, especially birds, some of which are entirely endemic to this island. The tortoises were important symbolically, too. The coat of arms of the Seychelles features prominently as part of the islands’ heritage. Through Mancham’s conservation efforts, it had become a protected species, a step applauded by wildlife experts throughout the world.”
As someone totally committed to preservation, Lars-Eric Lindblad lost no time to work with Mr Mancham and Tony Beamish in their efforts to save Aldabra.
“Meanwhile, the fight was shaping up to keep Aldabra from becoming a military base. Roger Tory Peterson and I contacted every opinion maker we knew to emphasize that Aldabra was one of the most important wildlife areas in the world. Tufton Beamish continued to lobby in the British Parliament. Jimmy Mancham cajoled all the British and American officials he could collar. Sir Peter Scott did the same. Christopher Cadbury, staunch Quaker and chocolate manufacturer, provided major funds and effort. But the British and American military commanders continued to be confident they would win out.
As protectors of the Seychelles, the British had the major influence, of course, although they planned to lease the islands to the US Air Force if legislative approval was given. But they failed to realize the power of the voice of the tortoise. In England, millions of determined women with grey hair and knitting needles carry tremendous clout. When aroused, they can spoil the chances of any well-meaning MP, especially if the issue involves dogs, cats, other animals, or rose gardens. We not only aimed for their support but for that of every wildlife and conservation society over the world.”
It is against the background of this campaign that the British and US Government decided to abandon their plans to build the US Air Force and Naval base in Aldabra and to move to the Chagos archipelago.
Perhaps the most interesting part of Mr Lindblad’s story is what he wrote concerning the coup in Seychelles in June 1977.
“Mancham, being head of the country’s largest party, was appointed President on the day of independence. His rival Albert René, as leader of the opposition party, was appointed Prime Minister in accordance with the new constitution to form a coalition government. Mancham welcomed this solution and political peace seemed assured. When Jimmy Mancham left for London to attend the Jubilee in 1977, René embraced him and wished him godspeed.
Once Mancham was out of the country, René staged a coup and took over the reins while Mancham remained in exile. This coup had already been planned when René kissed Mancham good-bye. I had grown to like Jimmy enormously and knew how bitter he was about being deposed. At the same time, he told me that he would never go back to the Seychelles and live as a prisoner in his own country. He was still a lover of life number one, and politician number two.
René’s government remained paranoid about Mancham’s trying to come back and organize a counter coup. When the headlines broke in late 1981, it was obvious that the counter coup was taking place. The disguised mercenaries had come out of South Africa under the leadership of the notorious sixty-two-year old South African mercenary Mike Hoare. A tape recording of a speech by Mancham was found in the possession of the mercenaries, who were defeated with one killed and two wounded.
The coup failed because some of the mercenaries got drunk on the plane that carried them to Mahé. One of them started to make his exit through the customs gate marked SOMETHING TO DECLARE, as opposed to the other gate marked NOTHING TO DECLARE. The customs official opened his suitcase to find an automatic weapon right at the top of the suitcase, and the cat was out of the bag.
When René accused Mancham of staging the coup, Mancham replied, “Who are you to cry wolf?”
I have often reflected on this tragic struggle between two very capable and dedicated men. They both come from the same background and have a deep love for the Seychelles. There is no question that each wants the country to prosper. At the beginning of independence, Mancham was granted the opening moves, just like a chess player who chooses the white pieces gets the artificial option of moving first. His opponent has no other choice than to play black pieces, whether he wants them or not. In other words, he has to take the opposite stance from his opponent. In this small country of 60,000 people, Mancham stood for continued cooperation and communication with Great Britain because he was convinced that tourism was the only viable industry the economy of the country could be based on. René, with basically the same goals as Mancham, was forced by the situation to choose a different direction. The result was that the “loyal opposition” had to become the “disloyal opposition.” The regrettable part is that they are both patriotic and accomplished men who have been forced into an artificial enmity.”
Lars-Eric Lindblad was awarded the Order of the Golden Ark by the Netherlands for services to Wildlife Conservation in 1986. In 1987, he was made a Knight of the Polar Star by the King of Sweden. He also received several environmental and cultural awards – served on the Council of the World Wildlife Fund, the African Wildlife Foundation and was elected to the Hall of Fame of the American Society of Travel Agents. In 1993, Travel & Leisure Magazine named him “one of the top 20 explorers of all time”. In the same year, he returned to Seychelles when he was hosted jointly by President René and founding President Mancham and awarded the Seychelles Tourism trophy at a gala reception held at the Plantation Club. He died over a heart attack in 1994 while on vacation in Stockholm at 67 years old. In 1995, the Advisory Committee on Antarctic Names gave the name ‘Lindblad Cove’ to a five-mile wide cove on the Antarctic Peninsula in his honour.