Exclusive: Seychelles Foreign Minister Radegonde says India has championed Global South causes

New Delhi, IndiaWritten By: Sidhant SibalUpdated: Nov 25, 2023, 03:13 PM IST
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WION talks to Seychelles Foreign Minister Sylvestre Radegonde Photograph:(WION)

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In an exclusive interview with WION's diplomatic correspondent Sidhant Sibal, Radegonde emphasised the collaborative nature of India's development initiatives, stating, "India offers support, never imposes on anybody. It is for Seychelles to accept or not...we are happy in areas that are of our national interest, in our national interest to cooperate with India and continue in that."

Seychelles Foreign Minister Sylvestre Radegonde has termed India as the " champion of the causes and the concerns of the south" & lauded India's "sterling leadership" to the G20 grouping. Earlier in the week, the FM, who was on a three-day visit to India, held talks with External Affairs Minister Dr S Jaishankar. In an exclusive interview with WION's diplomatic correspondent Sidhant Sibal, Radegonde emphasised the collaborative nature of India's development initiatives, stating, "India offers support, never imposes on anybody. It is for Seychelles to accept or not...we are happy in areas that are of our national interest, in our national interest to cooperate with India and continue in that."

Both sides have been engaged in Defence as a key pillar of ties with India giving the Indian Ocean island country with patrol vessels and Dornier aircraft. Radegonde noted the importance of India-installed coastal surveillance radar systems, stating, "These radars are placed in strategic positions around our territory and help us in the work that we need to do, monitoring that vast expanse of ocean that we have." He also spoke on the upcoming COP summit in Dubai and the challenges of climate change. 

Here is the full interview.

WION: My first question to you, how were your conversations with the Indian External Affairs Minister, Dr. S Jaisankar? So, what were the conversations like? 

Sylvestre Radegonde: I am here, as you rightly say, at the invitation of the External Affairs Minister, it's an invitation that I should have accepted quite a while back, and I'm happy that it's finally happened. Seychelles and India have very strong, long-standing relations in various fields. India supports Seychelles in many areas. And I think it was good for us to sit down. the minister and I, for us to sort of look at where we are. Look at issues that may, may happen, in our relations, try and find solutions for them. But more importantly, see how we can progress, and take those relationships forward. So this is what we did.

WION: And how do you characterise this relationship, if you can sum up briefly, where ties are?

Sylvestre Radegonde: The relations are excellent. India has over the years, since our independence in 1976, been a solid dependable partner. And are very happy with the way things are. We sort of have similar views on many issues and we share the ocean. So I'm glad, yes, at some rate it is an excellent relationship.

WION: How do you see the development partnership between the 2 countries from buses to High Impact Community Development Projects to building Roof-Top Solar Panels on Government Buildings? 

Sylvestre Radegonde: The relationship goes beyond that actually, is multifaceted, at the height of COVID, India helped us with vaccines, which helped us open up the country and saved our tourism industry and the economy of the country. But before that, and since then, there's been a lot of cooperation in the maritime sector, in defence. India has several military advisors in Seychelles. India supports us in capacity building, and scholarships not only military but in other areas, but as you say, yes, in our transport sector, our public transport system is made up of databases and this continues. New areas of cooperation apart from building on existing ones, we have areas in which India can help us. We have a program that started a few years ago, what we call the high-impact community projects, where India supports us in financing projects in the districts and villages that are directly impacting the community, building bridges, roads and so on. This will continue but also we've discussed the possibility of India supporting socializing. So we need to discuss further and sort of agree on both in terms of number and other details associated with that.

WION: The strong India link, President Wavel Ramkalawan himself is a person of Indian origin, so how do you see the historic people-to-people link

Sylvestre Radegonde: The Indians were one of the first to arrive in these islands, over 250 years ago. As you know, Seychelles, the islands were uninhabited until the French with African settlers and some Indians came there and settled and since then, the Indian population, now the diaspora, has grown and is fully part of the Seychelles nation. We look at them as Seychellwa, if you want to push it further, of Indian origin, and the President itself is one of those. His grandparents came, I think, from Bihar. The Indian community in Seychelles, play a vital role, in the development of the country, and in the economic activities they do and help with the growth of the economy. 

WION: In terms of Defence, we have seen increased engagement, including, visit of Indian navy ships, if you can talk about that. They played a key role in the mapping of EEZ.

Sylvestre Radegonde: There is mapping of EEZ, but beyond that, there are areas of direct interest to Seychelles. Seychelles is a small country made up of 115 islands in an ocean, that's 1.3 million square kilometres. For us to be able to patrol this ocean that is infested with drug trafficking, trafficking in arms, and Illegal fishing is almost impossible. India has been consistently there by our side to help us patrol the ocean. Basically, in many cases, arresting ships that have come in with drugs and so on. So this is a cooperation we value. It's one area where the interests of India and Seychelles converge, and we're happy to collaborate with them, in addition to that, India has provided us with some patrol vessels, which we make very good use of, and as I said earlier, all the support and training that they provide.

WION: India has gifted Dornier aircraft, and handed over a Fast Patrol Vessel to you, any more such requests?

Sylvestre Radegonde: We will continue to cooperate together. We have discussed with the minister other areas that we can cooperate in. Maybe I will not go into detail at the moment. But I think whatever we have agreed is, the commitment that I've had is that India is ready to support Seychelles in whatever area it needs to support. And the support that has been given to us is that India offers support, and never imposes on anybody. It is for Seychelles to accept or not. But so far, there's nothing that is unpalatable. If unpalatable is the term, we are happy in areas that are of our national interest, in our national interest to cooperate with India. 

Sidhant Sibal: India gifted and installed six coastal surveillance radar systems in Seychelles in 2015, how has that helped in your security

Sylvestre Radegonde: It forms part of the whole package, in monitoring that vast expanse of ocean that we have. So, these radars are placed in strategic positions around our territory and help us in the work that we need to do.

WION: Essentially, if we talk about India's role as a country that hosted several summits, we had the voice of the Global South summit, we had the G20 summit, How do you see India as a voice of the Global South? If you can talk about that.

Sylvestre Radegonde: Look, if we take the G 20, I think India has provided sterling leadership to that group. I think it was clear that India was the champion of the South and did make the point and several issues concerning the South. We are happy and we congratulate India for finally, after all the talk for so many years, that the African Union is a member of the G 20. So absolutely we are confident that India is a developing country, and is a champion of the causes and the concerns of the south and that is why when India asks us for support, in international organizations, for support on candidatures we are comfortable to support because we know India is a friend.

WION: Candidature for support, India's bid for UNSC?

Sylvestre Radegonde: India's request for us to support them in candidature in various international organisations. Be it UNSC, IMO and others, we are happy to support India. 

WION: The African Union became a member of the grouping, the G 20 grouping. How do you see the inclusion of the African Union at the high table, we know that Africa is keen that there is a seat at the high table at the UNSC as well. What is your take on that as well?

Sylvestre Radegonde: At the level of G 20, or any institution, anybody, any group of countries, I think it's good that Africa can be its own advocate, be able to be there, make its own case. With regards to the UN Security Council, we've advocated for years that membership needs to be enlarged. The role of Africa, as is for other countries, needs to be recognized. We cannot continue on a mechanism, on a setup dating back after the Second World War. So absolutely, I think Africa has its role to play. And we were happy that countries like India are supporting us in this endeavour.

WION: Do you see a greater divide between the global north and the Global South because I'm asking this question because when the Ukraine conflict started, it was the global south that suffered but when the UNSC discussions happened, it was not about the worries of the Global South. 

Sylvestre Radegonde: It is the case all the time, isn't it? We see that almost everywhere. And I think the problem we have, Seychelles as a small country is the hypocrisy is too big a word, but we see a lot of declarations which are made, supposedly in favour of the south, in our case, in favour of the small island developing states but then they ended up being just conversations. And after that, when the lights go off, you know everybody goes back to what they've been doing before.

WION: I sense disappointment when you say this from the people who are running the global institutions, whether it is the UNSC or other institutions, do you think that the voice of the global south is somehow not being represented at the high table? And if yes, what can be done? 

Sylvestre Radegonde: It's not being represented? Absolutely. But what can we do? We cannot, you know, keep the doors open. We need to continue making our case, there's advocacy that we do ourselves, but then we look to friends, to other partners to help us make the international community understand that we need to have a voice, we need to be able to make our own case and defend our case.

WION: You said you look at friends, do you think that India can be that friend that can be the voice of the Global South? You do think so

Sylvestre Radegonde: Without any doubt, Seychelles is comfortable that India has been consistently, been on the side of the developing south and will continue to do so. The short answer is yes without any doubt.

WION: Seychelles might be territorially small, but it is a large oceanic state. It's at the heart of the Indian Ocean from where major trade routes pass. It has also seen increased geopolitical tensions. There are concerns over illegal fishing. How do you sense the security situation in the Indian Ocean if you can talk about that? 

Sylvestre Radegonde: Illegal fishing is a big problem. Also, as I said at the beginning of the interview, illegal arms trafficking, and drugs, are a massive problem and with drugs and arms trafficking poses problems. So that is why you know we have, you know, security arrangements with not only India but other countries in the region. For your information. We signed an agreement with the EU recently, whereby the EU mandate in the Indian Ocean has been extended to include precisely arms trafficking, and drug trafficking, and Seychelles has offered itself first country to do it, first itself as a possibility for us to receive these people that are arrested on the high seas, prosecute and imprison them. It's a tall order for a small country, it is very risky, but it is in our national interest to do it. There is no other way.

WION: You talk about the EU but are you looking at any specific countries? For example, France, which sees itself as a resident power here in the Indian Ocean,

Sylvestre Radegonde: It's every country that is able to assist. France is another partner in the region because they have a presence on the island of a Reunion. So a lot of the patrolling that we do, a lot of the actions activities that we do, are in collaboration with partners that have an interest in the region.

WION: Any trilateral with India, France and Seychelles coming up?

Sylvestre Radegonde: We do not foresee any sort of formal trilateral as you call it, arrangement. We talked to everybody and I'm sure everybody is talking to each other. But we find an arrangement where, you know, our various interests converge and we work together.

WION: When it comes to India, Africa's relationship has been growing, India's historical relationship with Africa. How do you see India's role in African Development? Also, what were the plans for the India-Africa summit? There was conversation as well happening. What are you looking at when it comes to the India-Africa summit, which is expected to happen very soon? 

Sylvestre Radegonde: With the Africa summit, unfortunately, because of circumstances I mean, I think the last one was in 2015. Yes. 2015, when the next one was due, we had covid. But now discussions are on for us to convene the summit, sometime soon, hopefully during the course of next year, or the year after, and this time in Africa, somewhere. No, absolutely. I think with regards to India's position on the world stage, its interest and its support for the countries in the South. I think it's good that this cooperation can continue. And the Africa-India summit provides a forum for us to look at how we can cooperate together.

WION: In the Indian Ocean, how do you see, I mean, how do you see engagement of other countries, for example, China, and how do you see your relationship with China?

Sylvestre Radegonde: With regard to our relationship with China, we have an excellent relationship with China. So as India and China are concerned it is not an either or both countries, you know, we've been friends with since Independence, that continues. The support that we get from India. China also supports us in other areas, primarily, infrastructure, and infrastructure development in the country. And that we see will continue without any issue whatsoever.

WION: How do you support the Multi-dimensional Vulnerability Index

Sylvestre Radegonde: This is one thing we've been pushing for ages. Because we were impacted directly, you know, this business of high GDP per capita, which really impacts us. Today, getting a loan on the international market is so difficult for us, because we are considered a high-income country. Basically, when we go to borrow, from any other financial institution, we do so at the rate applicable to any rich country. We said that this is not fair. There's got to be other criteria that's used, apart from our GDP per capita. So the Multi-dimensional Vulnerability Index is vital, work has been done by the UN. A report has been submitted. Now we'll look at how this report is rolled out, so that we eventually, finally reach an agreement with all the partners, especially the financing institutions, that we will have a mechanism that takes into consideration criteria other than GDP per capita.

WION: On the COP Summit. What do you have to say? How does climate change impact you? your stance on the summit and the Ukraine and Israel-Hamas conflict, what is the stance of your government and how does it impact you?

Sylvestre Radegonde: Look, I think, COP, I hope next month in Dubai, we will have a COP coming out with concrete resolutions that everybody and all the partners can apply. Up to now, there's been a lot of talk, in my view, a lot of declarations of intent, that have not happened. You know, we have, when you see okay, very good. then you see some conditions appear at the bottom of the page that exclude Seychelles. Climate change is a big issue for us, and the environment, we see it every day. We can see the rise of sea level, we can see the erosion of our coastline. So it is in our interest that the world acts and acts now. We cannot continue to postpone. Now in terms of, you know, protecting ourselves, we need the funds. A small country we cannot do it on our own but the international community will have to stop talking about it and make the funds available for us to be able to do that.

WION: Are you not very hopeful about the COP, you are sounding again not very optimistic... And when it comes to funds, it's the Western countries I would say that haven't fulfilled their commitments.

Sylvestre Radegonde: You're right to note that I'm not optimistic. I would yeah, I would say I'm not optimistic not to say pessimistic generally. Why? Because there's been talk before and we've got nothing to show for it. While everybody's telling you that, you know, funding is a problem, it will take time. We need to source funds and whatever, the conflict in Ukraine happens overnight. You see the millions that are being poured into Ukraine. So you see what I mean. So when it concerns that direct interest, they find the funds but when you talk about protecting vulnerable countries, it's yes, yes, yes. It's something in the past, you know, distance does not touch them directly. We will see. You see what I mean. So that is the position we have. With the situation in Ukraine. What was the second part of your question situation Ukraine, as it is the situation as is the situation in the Middle East, we would like to see, you know that this problem be resolved. We are happy that in the Middle East, there's a ceasefire now. I think we will be able to prolong it. People have to sit down and come back to the negotiating table and Seychelles calls for understanding, and accepting the two-state solution. There is no other way. Because this problem unless it's addressed in its true context. It's going to carry on. eternally and we cannot carry on like this.

WION: If I can just sum up your comment on COP, you are basically saying that the West has the funds when it is needed for some conflict, in this case, the Ukraine conflict but shies away when it comes to giving money where it's required, especially when it comes to climate change. 

Sylvestre Radegonde: You have said it

Sidhant Sibal: Thank you, sir, for speaking with WION.