New Internationalist

Mauritius

Issue 148

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COUNTRY PROFILE

Mauritius

Map of Congo

Leader: Anerood Jugnauth, Prime Minister

Economy: GNP per capita: $1,270 per year.
Monetary unit: Mauritian rupee
Main exports: Sugar. clothing and knitwear, tea, tobacco, electronics

People: 1,000.000

Health: Infant mortality: 34 per 1.000 live births.
Life expectancy: 66 years.
Percentage of population with access to clean water: 95%

Culture: Ethnic groups are Indian (67%). Creole (29%). Chinese (3.5%). French and English (0.5%).

Languages: French and English are official languages but Creole is lingua franca. Hindi, Urdo, Tamil, Telugo, Gujaraii and Cantonese also used.

Religion: 52% Hindu, 32% Christian, 15% Muslim, 1% Buddhist

Sources: World Bank 1983. Africa South of the Sahara 1984-85. State of the World’s Children 1985

The island of Mauritius lies in the Indian Ocean to the east of Madagascar. Its dazzling white beaches, lazy pale azure lagoons and casuarina trees attracted the Dutch, who colonised it in 1598. They named the island after Prince Maurice of Nassau and left once they had plundered the black ebony forests and killed off that friendly but flightless bird, the dodo. The French were the next to arrive. They planted sugar and brought in African slaves but were rudely bundled out by the British in 1810. The British imported indented labour from India. Chinese merchants were also encouraged to settle. The basic communal pattern was thus established.

Independence came in 1968. Soaring world sugar prices meant that in the early 1970s Mauritius had the highest growth rate of any developing country with less than five million inhabitants, Economic success allowed the government to introduce free education up to university level and to create a mini-welfare system. When the sugar bubble finally burst, mounting frustrations led to the election of the radical left-wing Movement Militant Mauricien (MMM) in 1982 with policies of anti-racism, nationalism and self-reliance.

But internal conflicts - largely generated by the harsh constraints imposed by the IMF and World Bank - ensured that the MMM government was short-lived. It was replaced by a centrist, Hindu-dominated coalition headed by Anerood Jugnauth in 1983.

Mauritius is still heavily dependent on sugar (92 per cent of all cultivated land is under sugar cane) but the problem of low sugar prices, the impact of artificial sweeteners, a mounting foreign debt and an unemployment rate of 25 per cent means that all parties - left and right - now see the future in terms of export-oriented industrialisation. The present government is busy wooing investors in Europe and capitalist ‘hotspots’ like Hong Kong and Taiwan. This policy has met with some success: Mauritius is now the third largest exporter of knitwear in the world although recent import quotas imposed by France and the UK have taken a heavy toll.

With good reasons, Mauritius sees itself as a tourist paradise and pursues an aggressive marketing policy in Reunion, (South) Africa and Europe. To speed things along, the state airline Air Mauritius has recently acquired its first Jumbo jet.

Under its present leadership the country has opted for a pragmatic course in an attempt to compete and survive. Strong pro-Western declarations in exchange for the promise of economic betterment have even lead to the suppression of Mauritius’s claim to the Diego Garcia atoll 1,200 miles to the north east on which the USA, on a lease from Britain, has built a massive nuclear bomber and submarine base. It is a high-risk strategy that could easily backfire on the government in the face of its sophisticated and well-informed electorate.

Sean Carey


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Wealth still concentrated amongst elite but no absolute poverty

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Food imports alone account for 25% of the total import bill

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Slowly improving

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Multi-party democracy

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72% for women and 86% for men

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No prisoners. Absence of political and communal violence. Over 30 papers and magazines in publication

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66 years.

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