Even as the outstretched arm of cyclone Galifo swept across the Indian Ocean islands of Seychelles, downing power lines and flooding roads, its trauma paled in comparison to the jolt that President France Albert Rene's announcement that, after 27 years as an all pervasive force in this tiny island nation, he is finally stepping down.
The 69-year-old socialist strongman will hand over power to his long-term vice-president, James Alix Michel. Some commentators have suggested that Michel lacks both the grassroots support and charisma of Rene, leading to speculation that Rene will continue to direct from the back seat for as long as his health will allow.
Known affectionately as "Ti France", Rene was both the second longest reigning head of state in the Commonwealth after Queen Elizabeth II, and second in sub-Saharan Africa behind Togo's President Gnassingbe Eyadema.
As leader of the Seychelles Peoples' United Party (SPUP), Rene came to power through a coup d'erat on 5 June 1977-only one year after independence from the British. He later changed his party's name to the more evidently leftist Seychelles Peoples' Progressive Front (SPPF). Initially, he had led his nation of fewer than 85,000 people on a path of one-party state Afro-Stalinism.
Tailored to the needs of a developing microstate, Rene's experiment in socialism was designed to achieve equality of opportunity, social development and a productive economic base. With a current UNDP Human Development Index ranking of 36th in the world and first in Africa, his programme of free social welfare services has produced results comparable with developed countries.
And, whilst pursing a strongly nationalist path, Rene has also managed to maintain relative racial harmony in an ethnically diverse society, thanks largely to the deepening of socio-economic equality--a policy outcome which is in stark contrast to many other island nations such as Fiji and Mauritius.
Submitting to the rigours of multiparty democracy in 1993, Rene's popularity continued and despite a well-organised opposition, he won 54% of the votes in the last presidential election in 2001.
Cold War patronage bankrolled the generous social spending by Ti France, who proved a highly skillful manipularor of the Cold War dynamics.
While collecting an annual US$4.5m from the lease of land to the US Air Force for a tracking station, he came under pressure from an attempted counter-coup led by the infamous Cold War...