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Mauritius - HISTORY


THE REPUBLIC OF MAURITIUS is a democratic and prosperous country whose entire population has ancestral origins elsewhere: Europe, Africa, India, and China. Until recently, the country's economy was dominated by the production and export of sugar, a legacy of its French and British colonial past. After independence in 1968, government-directed diversification efforts resulted in the rapid growth of tourism and a manufacturing sector producing mainly textiles for export.

During French colonial rule, from 1767 to 1810, the capital and main port, Port Louis, became an important center for trade, privateering, and naval operations against the British. In addition, French planters established sugarcane estates and built up their fortunes at the expense of the labor of slaves brought from Africa. The French patois, or colloquial language, which evolved among these slaves and their freed descendants, referred to as Creole, has become the everyday language shared by most of the island's inhabitants. French is used in the media and literature, and the Franco-Mauritian descendants of the French settlers continue to dominate the sugar industry and economic life of modern Mauritius.

The British captured the island in 1810 and gave up sovereignty when Mauritius became independent in 1968. During this period, the French plantation aristocracy maintained its economic, and, to a certain degree, its political prominence. The British abolished slavery but provided for cheap labor on the sugar estates by bringing nearly 500,000 indentured workers from the Indian subcontinent. The political history of Mauritius in the twentieth century revolves around the gradual economic and political empowerment of the island's Indian majority.

Mauritian independence was not gained without opposition and violence. Tensions were particularly marked between the Creole and Indian communities, which clashed often at election time, when the rising fortunes of the latter at the expense of the former were most apparent. Nonetheless, successive governments have, with varying success, attempted to work out a peaceful modus vivendi that considers the concerns of the island's myriad communities.

These varied interests have contributed to a political culture that is occasionally volatile and highly fluid, characterized by shifting alliances. A notable lapse from democratic practices, however, occurred in 1971. The Mauritius Labor Party (MLP)-led coalition government of Sir Seewoosagur Ramgoolam, faced with the radical and popular challenge of the Mauritian Militant Movement (Mouvement Militant Mauricien--MMM) and its allies in the unions, promulgated the Public Order Act, which banned many forms of political activity. This state of emergency lasted until 1976. The resilience and stability of Mauritian society, however, was demonstrated by the fact that an MMM-led government eventually gained power through the ballot box in 1982.

Despite many differences, the major political parties have worked successfully toward the country's economic welfare. For this reason, Mauritius has evolved from a primarily agricultural monocrop economy marked by high unemployment, low salaries, and boom-or-bust cycles to one dominated by manufacturing, tourism, and expanding financial services. As Mauritius faces the future, it can look back on its dazzling economic performance in the 1980s and attempt to build on that success by continuing its tradition of political stability, foresight, and prudent development planning.


Mauritius - Early Settlement


Although there is no evidence of human habitation on Mauritius before the early seventeenth century, Phoenicians probably visited the island about 2,000 years ago, and Malays and Arabs stopped on the island in subsequent centuries. The Portuguese charted the waters surrounding the island, which they called Ilha do Cirne (Island of the Swan), in the early sixteenth century. In 1638 the Dutch began colonizing the island, which they named after Maurice of Nassau, the stadthouder (head of state) of Holland. The island's first governor, Cornelius Simonsz Gooyer, presided over a small population of Dutch convicts and slaves from Indonesia and Madagascar, who sought to export ambergris, ebony, and other resources. After twenty years, the colony failed, as did a second settlement established in 1664. Poor administration and harsh conditions forced the Dutch to withdraw permanently by 1710. In addition to presiding over the extinction of the dodo bird and leaving behind perhaps some runaway slaves, swarms of rats, and ravaged ebony forests, the Dutch introduced a plant that was to be prominent in the island's future--sugarcane.

French efforts to colonize the area were more successful. Around 1638 they had taken the islands of Rodrigues and Reunion, and in 1715 an expedition of the French East India Company claimed Mauritius for France. The company established a settlement named �le de France on the island in 1722. The company ruled until 1764, when, after a series of inept governors and the bankruptcy of the company, Mauritius became a crown colony administered by the home government. One exception among the early company governors was Mahe de Labourdonnais, who is still celebrated among Mauritians. During his tenure from 1735 to 1746, he presided over many improvements to the island's infrastructure and promoted its economic development. He made Mauritius the seat of government for all French territories in the region, built up Port Louis, and strengthened the sugar industry by building the island's first sugar refinery. He also brought the first Indian immigrants, who worked as artisans in the port city.

Under French government rule, between 1764 and 1810, Port Louis gained prestige and wealth. The island's population increased, and its planters grew rich. Agricultural prosperity was achieved by exploiting cheap slave labor. Between 1767 and 1797, the population doubled to 59,000 inhabitants, including 6,200 whites, 3,700 free persons, and 49,100 slaves; the population in each category more than doubled during the period. Although the island's elite culture was distinctly French, its social structure grew more complex as the population grew. Port Louis, open to free trade after the demise of the French East India Company, saw a major increase in shipping, especially from Europe and North America. For example, from 1786 to 1810 almost 600 ships from the United States called on Mauritius, and the United States established a consulate in Port Louis in 1794. Privateering was an even greater boon to the economy.

News of the French Revolution reached Mauritius in 1790, prompting settlers unhappy with royal administration to establish more representative forms of government: a colonial assembly and municipal councils. When a squadron arrived three years later, however, to enforce the new French government's abolition of slavery, the settlers turned the squadron back. Napoleon sent a new governor to the island in 1803, resulting in the dissolution of the assembly and councils. The waning of French hegemony in the region permitted a British force of 10,000, carried from the Indian subcontinent by a fleet of seventy ships, to land on Mauritius in 1810. The French capitulated to the British, but the British agreed to leave in place existing legal and administrative structures. The 1814 Treaty of Paris awarded the island, together with the Seychelles and Rodrigues islands, to Britain. English became the official language, but French and Creole dominated. Few British immigrants came to the colony.

The plantation-owning Mauritians of French origin (FrancoMauritians ) resisted British attempts to eradicate slavery. Finally, after much investigation, petitioning, and subterfuge, the authorities abolished slavery in 1835. Plantation owners won several concessions from the government, however, including a payment of 2.1 million pounds sterling and laws obliging freed slaves to remain on their former owner's land as "apprentices" for six years. Widespread desertions by "apprentices" forced the abolition of the laws in 1838, two years before schedule, and created a severe labor shortage.


Mauritius - Rise of the Sugar Economy


Under the British, Mauritius was no longer a free port. To compensate for the resulting loss in trade, the government encouraged sugar production. In 1825 Britain equalized the duty on sugar from all of its colonies, providing a strong stimulus for Mauritians to produce more sugar. Production leaped from 11,000 tons in 1825 to 21,000 tons in 1826; by 1854 production exceeded 100,000 tons. By the mid-nineteenth century, Mauritius had reached the apex of its importance in the world sugar market: it was Britain's main sugar-producing colony and produced 9.4 percent of the world's sugarcane between 1855 and 1859. Although overall production would continue to rise into the twentieth century, declines in world prices and a massive increase in production in other countries robbed Mauritius of its dominant role in subsequent years. Nonetheless, as sugar increased in economic importance, the percentage of food crop production dropped accordingly, and landownership became concentrated in large, profitable estates.

Indentured workers from India replaced slaves as a source of cheap labor for the sugar plantations. Between 1834 and 1910 (the last year of arrivals), 451,776 Indians migrated to Mauritius, the majority arriving before 1865. Because 157,639 of these Indians left, the island had a net gain of 294,137 Indians during the period. Most workers came from Bengal and Madras, under contract to work for at least ten years for low wages under harsh conditions. At the end of their contracts, workers supposedly had the option of returning home, but plantation owners often succeeded in eliminating this choice. Many plantation owners punished workers with beatings, hunted down those who ran away and imprisoned them, and unjustly withheld pay. In 1878 a labor law regularized the pay system, and in 1917 the indenture system formally ended. Moreover, a 1922 law permitted workers to choose their places of work.

By 1871 more than 68 percent of the population was Indian, of which more than 25 percent had been born in Mauritius. In 1931 the proportion of Indians in the population was the same, but more than 93 percent of them were natives. By contrast, Mauritius had no immigration from Africa. The freed slaves and their Creole offspring left the plantations to become fishers, dockworkers, and civil servants and formed about 20 percent of the population in 1931. A number of Chinese immigrated during the nineteenth century, and this group made up about 2 percent of the population in 1931. The Indian rupee became the island's official currency in 1876.

Starting in the 1860s, the island's sugar economy declined in the face of varied pressures. As sugar beet production and sugarcane production in other countries increased, world prices declined. The opening of the Suez Canal in 1869 shifted trade routes away from the Indian Ocean. And, in addition to regularly occurring droughts and cyclones, a deadly malaria epidemic killed more than 40,000 people between 1867 and 1869. The FrancoMauritian plantation owners responded in several ways. They cut costs by centralizing sugar production in fewer factories. Furthermore, to increase the profitability of their operations, from the 1870s to about 1920 the planters sold the less productive portions of their landholdings. The process was known as the grand morcellement, and it permitted many Indians who could put together enough capital to become small landowners. This meant that for the first time, sugar was produced on small plots with free labor. Between 1864 and 1900, according to one scholar, Indians purchased 24 million rupees worth of land. By 1921 Indians owned about 35 percent of the island's cultivated land.


Mauritius - British Colonial Rule


Colonial rule amounted to a thin layer of British administrative and judicial officials attempting to preside over an assertive and powerful Franco-Mauritian elite. Although many members of this elite derived their status and wealth from owning plantations, some were senior police officials and magistrates. Below the Franco-Mauritians on the ladder of social status were the Creoles, descendants of African slaves, some of mixed white descent, who tended to be francophone and generally supportive of the Franco-Mauritians. In the nineteenth century, Indians were at the bottom of the social ladder until their economic opportunities broadened.

In 1831 the British introduced a constitution that provided for a Council of Government whose seven members were nominated by the governor. In an effort to win the support of the FrancoMauritians , who wanted a greater voice in government, Governor John Pope-Hennessy expanded the council to include ten elected members from nine electoral districts in the constitution of 1886. The franchise was limited to wealthy property owners, who constituted a scant 2 percent of the adult population. Elected municipal councils also appeared in the nineteenth century, first in Port Louis and then in four other major towns. The British established district councils at the end of the nineteenth century. . By 1907 the Creole middle class, led by Dr. Eugene Laurent, formed Liberal Action (Action Lib�rale), which sought to open up political and economic opportunities for themselves. Although it won Port Louis in the 1911 elections against the Oligarchs, Liberal Action dissolved shortly thereafter.

The Indo-Mauritians, who included both Hindus and Muslims, became active in the early twentieth century, thanks in part to the work of a lawyer from India named Manilal Maganlall Doctor. Sent to Mauritius in 1907 at the behest of Mohandas Gandhi (known as Mahatma Gandhi), Manilal was a tireless and eloquent proponent of Indian rights. He sought to inculcate a sense of self-respect in the community by teaching Mauritian Indians about their heritage, and he defended them in the courts against unscrupulous employers. Manilal also founded the Hindustani, a newspaper that expressed the concerns of the Indian community.

In 1926 the first Indo-Mauritians were elected to the government council. This small victory, however, did not lead to better conditions in the community. Despite incremental improvements in contracts, wages, and working conditions on the sugar plantations and in processing plants, the work was as hard and daily life as precarious as they had been 100 years previously. In addition, the boom-or-bust nature of the world sugar economy meant that only the upper classes were insulated from hardship during periods of low world demand. Dissatisfaction on the part of Indian workers and small planters sparked widespread rioting on Mauritius in 1937 and 1943, and a strike in 1938.

During this period, Indian and Creole Mauritians formed several organizations aimed at improving labor laws and introducing political reforms. Dr. Maurice Cur�, a noted Creole politician, founded the MLP in 1936. The party attracted urban Creole workers and rural Indian farmers. Another important group was the Indian Cultural Association, and a notable member of this group was Seewoosagur Ramgoolam, who would become the country's first prime minister.


Mauritius - Toward Independence


After World War II, the pace of constitutional reform quickened as Britain began to loosen its grip on its colonies. In Mauritius this transformation was presided over by Donald Mackenzie Kennedy, governor from 1942 to 1949. A consultative committee, which for the first time included representatives of all Mauritian communities, made suggestions for a new constitution. In addition to providing for a Legislative Council that was more representative, the new constitution expanded the franchise in 1947 to all adults able to write their names in any of the island's languages. In the 1948 election, eleven of the nineteen candidates winning seats in the Legislative Council were Hindu. However, Governor Mackenzie Kennedy assured the dominance of British and Franco-Mauritian interests by nominating twelve conservatives to the body--some seats were appointed and others elected. This tactic was repeated after the 1953 election by Sir Hilary Blood, the new governor.

A new constitution in 1958 included several changes that increased political participation. It provided for suffrage to adults over twenty-one years of age and divided the country into forty single-member constituencies that elected representatives to the Legislative Council. Also, to assure representation of more constituencies, the constitution allowed the governor to appoint to the council "best losers," candidates whose support was not quite enough to win their races. In the 1959 election, the MLP won twenty-three seats, the Independent Forward Block (IFB) five, the Committee for Muslim Action (Comit� d'Action Musulman--CAM) five, the Mauritian Party (Parti Mauricien--PM) three, and Independents three. The governor awarded best-loser seats to the PM and to Chinese candidates.

After negotiations among the major parties in 1961, the British decided that the winning party's leader in the 1963 election would become premier. In addition, the Legislative Council would become the Legislative Assembly, and the Executive Committee would become the Council of Ministers. The new government would be responsible for all but the island's defense, internal security, and foreign affairs. Although the PM leader, Gaetan Duval, put up strong competition, the MLP, under Ramgoolam, won the election with nineteen seats. Leery that a Hindu victory would jeopardize its economic position, the Creole community expressed unease and opposition in May 1965 riots that left several dead.

A constitutional conference held in London in 1965, with members of all political parties present, decided that the island should become independent from Britain as soon as general elections returned a party in favor of such a notion. Some parties, however, opposed independence. The Franco-Mauritian community and many of the island's Creoles backed the Mauritian Social Democratic Party (Parti Mauricien Social D�mocrate--PMSD, formerly the PM), which strongly advocated continued "free association" with Britain. The PMSD representatives walked out of the constitutional conference when it became apparent that one price for independence would be the incorporation of the Chagos Archipelago (formerly administered from Mauritius) into the planned British Indian Ocean Territory (BIOT) along with portions of Seychelles. Other conferees, represented by the CAM, feared that their constituents would be placed at a disadvantage. In the end, the CAM joined the MLP and the IFB to form the winning coalition in the decisive general election of August 7, 1967. A Commonwealth of Nations observer team was satisfied that the highly participatory election was fair. The winning coalition took thirty-nine of the sixty-two seats in the assembly.


Mauritius - Independent Mauritius


On August 22, 1967, Prime Minister Ramgoolam moved that the assembly request independence according to arrangements made previously with Britain. The new nation came into being on March 12, 1968, as an independent member of the Commonwealth.

Over the years, some elections have been marked by ethnic discord; voting in 1948, 1953, 1959, and 1967, for example, was split roughly along ethnic lines. The Indo-Mauritian majority gained progressively at the expense of other groups as suffrage was extended. More significant was the ethnic rioting in 1964 and 1968. In May 1964, Hindu and Creole communities clashed in the village of Trois Boutiques, outside Souillac. One police officer and one Franco-Mauritian were killed. In early 1968, just six weeks before independence, violence between Creoles and Muslims in the nation's capital left at least twenty-five people dead and hundreds injured before British troops quelled the fighting.

Most Mauritians deplored these outbreaks of violence, and the government responded to both by declaring a state of emergency. One consequence of the unrest was an amendment to the constitution in 1969 extending the first parliament to 1976. Another effect was the entry of the PMSD into the ruling coalition, and the departure of the IFB to form a small opposition party.

Social and economic conditions after World War II contributed to the political conflicts. As the provision of health, education, pension, and other public welfare services expanded, expectations began to rise. The eradication of malaria and parasitic diseases in the 1940s and 1950s improved the life expectancy of the poor and helped fuel a population increase of 3 percent per year. Family planning measures reduced the population growth rate in the 1960s and 1970s, but the labor force continued to increase rapidly. Registered unemployment stood at more than 12 percent of the work force on the eve of independence.

The unemployed, especially the youth, rallied behind a new political party, the MMM, formed in 1969. Its organizers were Paul B�renger (a Franco-Mauritian), Dev Virahsawmy (a Telegu speaker), and Jooneed Jeerooburkhan (a Muslim). They appealed to poor and working-class Mauritians of all backgrounds with their radical program of socialist change. An early show of strength for the party was a by-election victory in the prime minister's district in 1970. With widespread union support, the MMM called a number of debilitating strikes in 1971, demanding better benefits for workers and elections by 1972, the year previously mandated. Four PMSD members made attempts on the lives of Virahsawmy and B�renger in November 1971. The authorities placed many of the party's leadership and rank and file in jail under the Public Order Act of 1971. The government also banned political meetings, suspended twelve unions, and closed Le Militant, the MMM newspaper. The government extended the state of emergency until 1976, proscribing most political opposition.

The MMM succeeded in placing the issue of job creation high on the list of priorities for the country's first economic development plan, covering 1971-75. The plan called for additional jobs in manufacturing and in agriculture outside sugar production. It also initiated a program called Work for All (Travail pour Tous), which created the Development Works Corporation (DWC) to hire laborers for public construction and relief projects. These policies, high sugar prices, growth in tourism, and the success of the newly created export processing zones (EPZs) helped reduce the unemployment rate to 7 percent by 1976.

The lack of economic progress enabled the MMM to make significant gains in the closely fought 1976 general elections; the party won 40 percent of the vote and thirty-four of the seventy assembly seats. Part of the MMM's success came from the lowering of the voting age to eighteen in 1975, which allowed the party to garner the youth vote across ethnic lines. In addition, the ruling coalition hurt itself by putting up incompetent and corrupt candidates, failing to win the support of trade unions, and maintaining unpopular positions regarding the Chagos Archipelago and the United States military presence on Diego Garcia. (The MMM favored returning to Mauritian sovereignty the Chagos Archipelago, of which Diego Garcia was a part.)

The MLP and the PMSD, both of which had declined in popularity since the previous election, formed a coalition government to lock the MMM out of power. This government was plagued by internal division: MLP chief whip Harish Boodhoo broke off to form the Mauritian Socialist Party (Parti Socialiste Mauricien--PSM). In addition, the government suffered from political corruption scandals, poor economic performance, and the destructive effects of cyclones each year from 1979 to 1981. These and other factors were instrumental in the 1982 electoral victory of a new MMM-PSM coalition. In a concession to Hindu political sensibilities, Anerood Jugnauth was named prime minister. Paul B�renger served as minister of finance. Faced with the realities of governing the country, including heavy obligations to the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank, the government backed away from the radical policies the MMM espoused when it was in opposition. It succeeded in expanding regional cooperation abroad and worked at modest nationalization and job creation at home. The ruling coalition broke up in less than a year, however, and new elections were held in August 1983.

Prime Minister Jugnauth founded a new party, the Militant Socialist Movement (Mouvement Socialiste Militant), subsequently renamed the Mauritian Socialist Movement (Mouvement Socialiste Mauricien--MSM) after combining with PSM. The MSM joined during the 1983 election with the MLP and the PMSD to win comfortably. In 1984 some MLP members fell out with the government after several MLP ministers were dismissed. Those MLP members who stayed in the ruling coalition, called the Alliance, formed the Assembly of Mauritian Workers (Rassemblement des Travaillistes Mauricien--RTM). In December 1985, however, the government suffered several setbacks that would trouble it for many months to come: MMM municipal election victories; the death of Ramgoolam, a close adviser to Jugnauth and a respected figure in national politics; and a drug scandal involving four Alliance deputies caught with twenty-one kilograms of heroin at the Amsterdam airport. In a surprising electoral victory in 1987, the Alliance retained power, thanks in large part to Jugnauth's handling of the economy. The MMM, under the leadership of Dr. Prem Nababsing, won twenty-one seats and was allotted three bestloser seats.

Beginning with the PMSD's defection in August 1988, the Alliance began to unravel. The MSM thwarted the growing political threat posed by a resurgent MLP by forging an alliance with the MMM, built in part on the promise of making Mauritius a republic. The MSM/MMM coalition won a convincing victory in September 1991 and quickly passed changes in the constitution that led to the declaration of Mauritius as a republic in March 1992.


Mauritius - GEOGRAPHY


The island of Mauritius lies about 800 kilometers east of Madagascar between longitudes 57 18' and 57 49' east, and latitudes 19 59' and 20 32' south. Pearl-shaped, it is sixty-one kilometers long and forty-six kilometers wide at the extremes and has a total land area of some 1,865 square kilometers--about the size of Rhode Island. Mauritian territory also incorporates the island of Rodrigues, some 600 kilometers to the east, which is 119 square kilometers in area. Two tiny dependencies to the north of Mauritius, the Agalega Islands and the Cargados Carajos Shoals (also known as the St. Brandon Rocks), are unpopulated. Nonetheless, their location permits the nation's exclusive economic zone (EEZ) to cover about 1.2 million square kilometers of the Indian Ocean. Just off the Mauritian coast lie some twenty uninhabited islands. Mauritius and France both claim sovereignty over Tromelin, small islands that lie 483 kilometers to the northwest. Mauritius sought to regain sovereignty, lost just before independence in 1968, over the Chagos Archipelago (1,931 kilometers to the northeast), which includes the Diego Garcia atoll.

Mauritius and Rodrigues are part of the Mascarene Islands, a chain of volcanic islands that include Reunion, the nation's nearest neighbor at 145 kilometers to the southwest and governed as an overseas territory (d�partement) of France. The islands are perched on submarine ridges, including the Mascarene Plateau that runs for some 3,000 kilometers in an arc bowed outward from the African mainland, and the Rodrigues Fracture Zone that ripples eastward and connects this underwater plateau with the massive Mid-Indian Ridge.

Mauritius is relatively young geologically, having been created by volcanic activity some 12 million years ago. There has been no active volcano on the island for more than 100,000 years. The island consists of a broken ring of mountain ranges, some 600 to 800 meters above sea level, encircling a central tableland that slopes from a level of 300 meters in the north to 600 meters in the southwest. The mountains are surrounded by low-lying, sometimes hilly, coastal plains, except in the southwest where the drop-off is precipitous. The mountains are steepest toward the center of the island and are probably the tips of the eroded original shield volcano. The sea has built up a ring of coral reefs around most of the 160 kilometers of coastline, which form many shallow lagoons, white coral sand beaches, and dunes. Two of the best harbors are Port Louis and Mahebourg. Politically, the island is divided into eight administrative divisions called districts and one municipality where the capital, Port Louis, is located.

Lowland plains and gently undulating slopes cover about 46 percent of the total land area. Low-lying plains make up most of the Pamplemousses, Rivi�re du Rempart, and Flacq districts; southern Grand Port District; the heavily populated northwestern section of Plaines Wilhems District from Beau Bassin to Quatre Bornes and to the sea; and smaller areas around Chemin Grenier. These areas are planted with sugarcane and mixed vegetable crops. The districts of Port Louis and Black River and the more hilly interior plains leading up to the tableland support tea, rice, and sugarcane cultivation and include areas of savanna and scrub forest.

The central tableland covers about a quarter of the island. A large plateau spans most of the districts of Moka, eastern Plaines Wilhems, and western Grand Port, where mostly sugarcane and vegetables are harvested, except around Curepipe and Vacoas, where tea is grown. The southern part of the tableland--in the districts of Black River, Savanne, and southern Plaines Wilhems-- is much smaller and heavily dissected with a diverse topography. It contains tea and forest plantations, including reserves of indigenous trees.

Mountains cover about 18 percent of the terrain. The MokaLong Mountain Range is situated in the northwest near Port Louis, and its highest peak is Pieter Both (823 meters). The Rivi�re Noire Mountains and Savanne Mountains are in the west and southwest, where Mont Piton of the Petite Rivi�re Noire (828 meters) is the highest point on the island. The mountains are broken into four ridges that produce deep valleys, gorges, and waterfalls. The Grand Port Range lies in the east, and to its north are the isolated Mont Blanche (520 meters) and Fayences Mountain (425 meters).

Rivers and streams dot the island; many of them are formed in the crevices between land created by new and old lava flows. Drainage radiates from the central tableland to the sea, and many rivers are steeply graded with rapids and falls. Torrential flows are common during storms and cyclones. Marshes and ponds lie in the tableland and on the coastal plain, but the country has only two natural lakes, both crater lakes. The largest of several manmade reservoirs is the Mare aux Vacoas.

Rodrigues Island was formed earlier than Mauritius, but in a similar fashion. It sits lengthwise on an east-west axis, along which runs a spine-like mountain range some 600 meters above sea level. The north-south spurs of these mountains cut deep crevices into the terrain.

The other dependencies of Mauritius are coralline rather than volcanic islands. The two Agalega islands are connected by a sandbar and covered with coconut palms. The Cargados Carajos Shoals are a group of more than twenty islands, none more than one square kilometer in area, which are primarily fishing stations.



Mauritius - Climate


Mauritius has two kinds of climate. Below the 400-meter level on most of the windward (southeastern) side of the island and below 450 meters on the leeward side, a humid, subtropical climate prevails. Above these altitudes, the climate is more temperate, but there is no sharp break, and variations in exposure, altitude, and distance from the sea produce a wide range of patterns. The island has two seasons. The hot and wet summer lasts from November through April. February is the warmest month with temperatures averaging 27� C in the lowlands and 22� C on the plateau. Cyclone season runs from December through March, and the storms, which come from the northeast, have caused much destruction on the island over the years. For example, Cyclone Hollanda hit Mauritius February 10, 1994, leaving 1,400 persons homeless, and damaging 60 percent of the electrical system and 50 percent of the telephone network, as well as destroying between 20 and 30 percent of the sugarcane plantation. The overall cost of this cyclone was estimated at US$81 million.

Winter, lasting from May through October, is cool and dry, influenced by the steady southeasterly trade winds. July is the coolest month and has average temperatures of 22� C in the lowlands and 16� C in the plateau. Rainfall is abundant, ranging from 90 centimeters per year in the western lowlands to 500 centimeters in the tableland--an average of 200 centimeters per year overall. Nonetheless, the high rate of evaporation and uneven distribution necessitate irrigation. Humidity is frequently above 80 percent.

Mauritius has fertile soil that supports a variety of vegetation. All but 1 percent of the native hardwood forests that once covered most of the island have been cut down, threatening the survival of several bird species. Sugarcane is now the dominant crop, covering half the arable land, but other cash and food crops are grown as well. Coral reefs and marine life off the northwest coast have been hurt by pollution, mainly from large hotels. To prevent the destruction caused by rapid and poorly planned development and in response to foreign criticism for its lack of environmental protection, the government established the Ministry of the Environment in 1990. In July 1991, the legislature passed the Environmental Protection Act, which requires an environmental impact assessment for all new projects. The ministry has also established standards for existing industry, followed by inspections. Steps are being taken to induce the construction industry to shift from the use of coral sand (in the early 1990s the building trade used 600,000 tons of coral sand annually) to basaltic sand. Marine parks are being zoned to protect coral and marine life, and a sewerage master plan is being developed to prevent the discharge of untreated sewage into the ocean. Solid waste management is upgrading the handling of waste, and the principle of "the polluter must pay" is being introduced.


Mauritius - Population


The estimated population of Mauritius in July 1993 was 1,106,516 with a population growth rate of 0.95 percent for 1993. According to the 1990 census the population was 1,065,988, of whom 34,292 lived on Rodrigues and 170 on outer islands. The country's population density, more than 537 inhabitants per square kilometer, is one of the highest in the world. The majority of the island's inhabitants are young; some 58.6 percent were under the age of twenty-nine in 1990. The capital, Port Louis, is the largest city, with a population of 142,645. Other large metropolitan areas, in descending order, are Beau BassinRose Hill, Vacoas-Phoenix, Curepipe, and Quatre Bornes. In 1991 the population was relatively evenly divided between those residing in rural and urban areas.

The rate of population increase grew to between 3 percent and 4 percent in the 1950s, resulting, in large part, from the elimination of malaria, higher living standards, and improved health care. Worried that such high growth rates would impede the island's development and tax its resources, the government and private groups instituted extensive family planning efforts. Family planning services were centralized under the administration of the Maternal and Child Health Care Division of the Ministry of Health in 1972, and together with the nongovernmental Action Familiale, which promoted natural techniques of birth control, reduced the country's birthrate significantly. The rate dropped to around 2 percent in the 1960s, and fell to 1.1 percent in 1973. In the 1980s, the rate fell below 1 percent. According to a Ministry of Health publication, the following methods of birth control were used in 1985: birth control pills, 40 percent; barrier methods, 21 percent; natural methods, 16 percent; intrauterine device (IUD), 10 percent; tubal ligation, 8 percent; Depo Provera, 5 percent. Abortion is illegal, but a Mauritian family planning official has estimated that there is one abortion for every live birth. The crude birthrate in 1991 was 20.7 births per 1,000 population, and the crude death rate stood at 6.6 per 1,000.

<>Ethnicity, Religion, and Language

Updated population figures for Mauritius.


Mauritius - Ethnicity, Religion, and Language


The forebears of the various ethnic groups composing Mauritian society arrived as settlers, slaves, indentured laborers, and immigrants. Although the country's past contains dark chapters of inequality and exploitation, modern Mauritian history has been remarkable for its relatively smooth and peaceful transition from colonial rule and the rule of large plantation owners to multiparty democracy.

"Harmonious separatism" is the way in which one writer characterizes communal relations in Mauritius. The term, however, does not preclude the existence of tensions. Ethnicity, religion, and language have been important factors in shaping the way Mauritians relate to each other in the political and social spheres. And despite the fact that sectarian factors are less of a determining factor in people's social and political behavior, they remain an important clue to the people's past and selfidentity .

The 1968 constitution recognized four population categories: Hindus, Muslims, Sino-Mauritians, and the general population. According to a 1989 estimate, of a total population of 1,080,000, Hindus constituted about 52 percent (559,440); the general population, about 29 percent (309,960); Muslims, about 16 percent (179,280); and Sino-Mauritians, about 3 percent (31,320).

The ancestors of the Hindu and Muslim populations came predominantly from the Indian subcontinent, and, from the censuses of 1846 to 1952, were classified as "Indo-Mauritians." The ancestral language of most Hindus is Hindi or Bhojpuri, with a minority of Tamil or Telegu speakers. Hindu immigrants brought with them the caste system. Upon arrival to the island, many members of lower castes upgraded their status to join the Vaish middle caste. Although the caste system was not supported by the occupational structure as in India, minority members of the high Brahmin and Khsatriya castes sometimes joined with the Vaish to exclude lower castes from top civil service and political jobs. For the most part, however, the caste system is not an important factor in social organization and, if anything, lingers mainly as a basis for choosing spouses. Most of the Hindu population adhere to the orthodox rituals of the Sanatanist branch of the religion. These Hindus observe their rituals in rural community centers called baitkas. The Arya Samajists adhere to a reform branch of Hinduism popular with the lower classes and instrumental in the Indo-Mauritian community's political and cultural development in the early years of the twentieth century.

The Muslim population is approximately 95 percent Sunni and Hindi-speaking. Other languages include Bhojpuri, Gujarati, Urdu, and Arabic. The principal place of worship is the Jummah Mosque in Port Louis, but there are many smaller mosques in the towns and villages. Among the Shia minority, some have their origins in different parts of India, others are adherents of the Agha Khan from East Africa, and still others are Ahmadist from the Punjab.

The earliest Chinese immigrants to the island came from the Canton region and spoke Cantonese, but most Sino-Mauritians descend from Mandarin-speaking settlers from Hunan. Some adhere to Buddhism and other Chinese religions, but many converted to Roman Catholicism in the twentieth century.

Unlike members of these specific population categories, those grouped under the general population rubric do not share close ethnic and cultural bonds. Members of the general population have in common only the fact that they do not belong to the other three groups. This category includes Franco-Mauritians, other European immigrants, and Creoles. The Creoles are ethnically diverse, some with black African ancestry, others of mixed descent, and still others from parts of Asia. They share a common language, which is a patois based on French, and the Roman Catholic religion.

In the past, a close association existed between certain occupations and ethnic groups. Although these patterns persist, they are changing. The Chinese, for example, predominate in commerce, as store owners and assistants, and in the restaurant and casino businesses. Hindus form the majority of agricultural workers, and members of the Muslim and Creole populations are artisans. African Creoles tend to be dockworkers, fishers, transportation workers, or service employees. Franco-Mauritians dominate the sugar industry and own most of the hotels, banks, and manufacturing industries. The civil service attracts educated members of all groups.

Mauritian society is noteworthy for its high degree of religious tolerance. Mauritians often share in the observances of religious groups other than their own. In part as a result of the multiplicity of religions, Mauritius has more than twenty national holidays. In addition, the government grants subsidies to all major religious groups according to their membership. According to the 1990 census, 49 percent of the population was Hindu, 27 percent Roman Catholic, 16 percent Muslim, and 0.5 percent Protestant; 7.5 percent belonged to other groups.

Language is perhaps the most complex and perplexing aspect of the Mauritian social mosaic. This intricacy derives from the number of languages spoken combined with the uses to which they are put and the sociopolitical connotations they bear. Philip Baker and Peter Stein, scholars studying language use in Mauritius, have found that English is associated with "knowledge," French with "culture," Creole with "egalitarianism," and other languages, "ancestral heritage." Consequently, although Creole is the most widely spoken language in the country, French predominates in the media, and English is the official language of government and school instruction.

The growing use of Creole by non-Creole Mauritians reflects a widespread movement away from ethnically based language use. Among Muslims and Sino-Mauritians, for example, Creole is the principal language. According to the 1983 census, the top five languages were: Creole, 54.1 percent; Bhojpuri, 20.4 percent; Hindi, 11.5 percent; French, 3.7 percent; and Tamil, 3.7 percent. These figures indicate the principal language used in the home. Most Mauritians, however, speak several languages.



Mauritius - Education


The education system in Mauritius, patterned after the British model, has improved greatly since independence. It has been free through the secondary level since 1976 and through the postsecondary level since 1988. The government has made an effort to provide adequate funding for education, occasionally straining tight budgets. In 1991-92, reflecting the trend of earlier budgets, the government allocated 13 percent for education, culture and art. Nonetheless, facilities in rural areas tend to be less adequate than those in Port Louis and other cities. Literacy in 1990 for the population over fifteen years of age on the island of Mauritius was 80 percent overall, 85 percent for males, and 75 percent for females.

In 1979 the government established a new unit in the Ministry of Education and Cultural Affairs to oversee and coordinate teaching resources at some 900 private preschools. The increasing participation of women in the labor force necessitated the expansion of the preschool system. The government established public preschools in 1984. Primary education (standard 1-6) is compulsory, and 6,507 teachers taught 137,491 students in 283 schools in 1990, representing an estimated 92 percent of children in that age group. During the same period at the secondary level (forms 1-6), 3,728 teachers taught 78,110 students in 124 schools. As in the British system, students must pass standardized exams at several stages to be able to continue their studies. About 50 to 60 percent of primary students pass the exam for admission to secondary school. In 1986, 60.7 percent of the form 5 students taking the School Certificate exam passed; not all went on to form 6. In the same year, 53.7 percent of the form 6 students taking the Higher School Certificate exam passed. In addition to government schools, there are many private primary and secondary schools, but statistical data on these are lacking.

The country's principal institution of higher education is the University of Mauritius, where 1,190 students were enrolled in 1991. Other postsecondary institutions include the Mauritius Institute of Education for teacher training; the Mauritius College of the Air, which broadcasts classes; and the Mahatma Gandhi Institute. Of the several hundred Mauritians studying abroad each year, most go to Britain, France, and India. In addition, 1,190 students were enrolled at eleven vocational training centers, and 690 were taking courses at three technical institutions and five handicraft training centers in 1991.

From standard 4 onward, English is the sole language of instruction. Before that, teachers use Creole and Bhojpuri when teaching English to those students who do not already know it. From standard 3 onward, French is a required course. Students may also take classes in several Asian languages.

The government of Mauritius regards education as a sphere of utmost importance in its move toward the "second stage" of economic development, namely becoming a newly industrialized country. Therefore, at a donors' meeting in Paris in November 1991, the minister of education presented an ambitious Education Master Plan for the years 1991-2000. The plan calls for expanding education at all levels, from preprimary through university, through the establishment of new schools and the improvement of existing facilities, especially technical and vocational education; the latter is an area that to date had not provided the technical skills required by island industries. Despite the population's 95 percent literacy rate for those under thirty years of age, government officials have been concerned at the high dropout rate, especially at the secondary level. University places are also being increased to 5,000, and new courses of study are being introduced. The donor response to the plan was very favorable. The World Bank pledged US$20 million, the African Development Bank US$15 million, and other donors an additional US$14 million.


Mauritius - Media


The news media in Mauritius, especially the press, are lively and free. During the 1970s, the government attempted to impose some restrictions, particularly on those newspapers opposed to its policies, but fierce opposition led to the elimination of the laws.

There were five French dailies (the two principal ones being L'Express and Le Mauricien) and two small Chinese dailies with a combined circulation of more than 80,000 in 1993. Several weekly, biweekly and monthly papers and magazines are also published, some of them in English. Most of the printed media are in the hands of political parties, religious organizations, or private firms.

The government controls the Mauritius Broadcasting Corporation (MBC), which regulates television and radio broadcasting. Mauritius has two television and two radio stations, which broadcast in twelve languages. About 50 percent of MBC broadcasts are in French, 25 percent in Hindi or Bhojpuri, 14 percent in English, and 11 percent in other languages. Most Mauritians also receive French television broadcasts from Reunion.


Mauritius - Health and Welfare


Government-funded health services and facilities are widespread and accessible to most of the population, although facilities are concentrated in urban centers. According to data from the Ministry of Economic Planning and Development, between 1972 and 1987 the number of doctors per 100,000 population increased from twenty-seven to eighty. The number of hospital beds decreased from 328 to 285 per 100,000 population in the same period. In 1992 Mauritius had 3,094 hospital beds, and 1,090 physicians (including 152 specialists). Life expectancy at birth in 1994 on the island of Mauritius was 74.6 years for females and 66.6 years for males, for an overall life expectancy of 70.5 years. In 1994 infant mortality stood at 18.4 per 1,000 live births. In its 1991-92 national budget, the government allocated 7.7 percent (about US$57.9 million) to health care.

Malaria, tuberculosis, and other diseases prevalent in preWorld War II years have been brought under control by successful public health measures. The major causes of death in 1990, in descending order, were diseases of the circulatory system, diseases of the respiratory system, and cancers. With growing affluence and changes in social conditions, drug abuse has become a problem. By 1993 all the population had easy access to potable water. Nutritional standards are high; the daily per capita caloric intake in 1987 was 2,680, or 124 percent of the United Nations (UN) Food and Agriculture Organization recommended requirement.

In the early 1980s, forty social welfare centers and thirty village centers provided training in nutrition and maternal and child health care, as well as recreational facilities and courses in home economics and dressmaking. The government provides services, including board and lodging, to the elderly and the infirm. Family welfare allowances are also available for the poor. The Central Housing Authority and the Mauritius Housing Corporation provide funding for low-income housing.


Mauritius - Role of Women


As in other industrializing countries, the role of women is changing rapidly. A major force for change has been the rapid influx of women into the many jobs created in the 1980s in the export processing zones (EPZs). Although low-paying for the most part, the jobs allow women formerly confined to the roles of mother and wife to gain a certain degree of personal and social freedom. One woman, in a 1993 National Geographic article, said:

For a Mauritian woman, to work is to be free. Before, a girl could not leave home until her parents found a husband for her, and then she moved into her husband's family's home and spent the rest of her life having babies. I met my husband at work, and it was my decision to marry him. Now we live in our own house.

The government has taken measures to promote equality of the sexes by repealing discriminatory laws dealing with inheritance and emigration. In 1989 the government appointed equal opportunity officers in the principal ministries to deal with women's issues. Reports by the Ministry of Women's Rights and Family Welfare and others indicate, however, that violence against women is prevalent. The increased employment of women has created the need for more child-care services and for more laborsaving devices in the home.


Mauritius - ECONOMY


The Mauritian economy has undergone remarkable transformations since independence. From a poor country with high unemployment exporting mainly sugar and buffeted by the vagaries of world demand, Mauritius has become relatively prosperous and diverse, although not without problems.

The 1970s were marked by a strong government commitment to diversify the economy and to provide more high-paying jobs to the population. The promotion of tourism and the creation of the EPZs did much to attain these goals. Between 1971 and 1977, about 64,000 jobs were created. However, in the rush to make work, the government allowed EPZ firms to deny their workers fair wages, the right to organize and strike, and the health and social benefits afforded other Mauritian workers. The boom in the mid1970s was also fueled by increased foreign aid and exceptional sugar crops, coupled with high world prices.

The economic situation deteriorated in the late 1970s. Petroleum prices rose, the sugar boom ended, and the balance of payments deficit steadily rose as imports outpaced exports; by 1979 the deficit amounted to a staggering US$111 million. Mauritius approached the IMF and the World Bank for assistance. In exchange for loans and credits to help pay for imports, the government agreed to institute certain measures, including cutting food subsidies, devaluing the currency, and limiting government wage increases.

By the 1980s, thanks to a widespread political consensus on broad policy measures, the economy experienced steady growth, declining inflation, high employment, and increased domestic savings. The EPZ came into its own, surpassing sugar as the principal export-earning sector and employing more workers than the sugar industry and the government combined, previously the two largest employers. In 1986 Mauritius had its first trade surplus in twelve years. Tourism also boomed, with a concomitant expansion in the number of hotel beds and air flights. An aura of optimism accompanied the country's economic success and prompted comparisons with other Asian countries that had dynamic economies, including Hong Kong, Singapore, Taiwan, and the Republic of Korea (South Korea).

The economy had slowed down by the late 1980s and early 1990s, but the government was optimistic that it could ensure the long-term prosperity of the country by drawing up and implementing prudent development plans. According to Larry W. Bowman, an expert on Mauritius, four development aims of the country into the 1990s will be "modernizing the sugar sector, expanding and diversifying manufacturing infrastructure, diversifying agriculture, and developing tourism." In addition, because of the threats to agriculture resulting from Europe's common agricultural policy and the potential effects on textiles of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT), Mauritius hopes to transform itself into a center for offshore banking and financial services. A stock exchange opened in Port Louis in 1989. Another sector needing attention is that of housing because increased family incomes have raised the demand for housing. Overall, Mauritius had a 1993 gross domestic product (GDP) estimated at US$8.6 billion, with a growth rate of 5.5 percent, and a 1993 inflation rate of 10.5 percent.



Mauritius - Agriculture



In 1990 the government initiated a five-year plan costing MauR7.3 billion to bolster the sugar industry. Sugarcane covers 45 percent of the total area of Mauritius and more than 90 percent of the cultivated land. Nineteen large estates account for about 55 percent of the 76,000 hectares planted in cane and range in size from about 730 hectares to 5,500 hectares. (Land in Mauritius is also measured in an archaic French unit, the arpent.) Mauritian firms own fifteen of these plantations; the British multinational Lonrho owns two and controls a Mauritian firm which owns another; and the Mauritian government owns one estate. Some 35,000 small growers (with plots ranging from less than one hectare to about 400 hectares) tend the remainder of the crop and send their harvest for processing to the large planters, each of whom owns a sugar factory.

Since 1951 the production of sugar has been encouraged by marketing arrangements with consuming countries (principally Britain), which have guaranteed prices and markets for the Mauritian crop. The government has acquired a portion of this reliable sugar income through a sugar export tax. By the mid1980s this tax had evolved into a steeply progressive one, with producers of under 1,000 tons of cane paying no tax, producers of 1,000 to 3,000 tons paying 15.75 percent, and producers of more than 3,000 tons paying 23.625 percent. This tax provided 13 percent of the government's revenues in 1986. However, complaints mainly by the large miller/planters and severe economic pressures on the sugar industry prompted the government in 1993 to reduce the tax in each category by 9.4 percent. This move met opposition by many who claimed the large growers were being given favorable treatment.

Since 1975 Mauritius has had an export quota of about 500,000 tons per year under the Sugar Protocol of the Lom� Convention, the largest share of all nineteen signatories. The guaranteed price in 1991 was nearly twice the world freemarket price. In 1992 the country exported 597,970 tons of sugar; of this amount, Britain received 498,919 tons.

Production has remained steady at between 600,000 and 700,000 tons since the mid-1960s. The exception occurs when severe cyclones or droughts cause a decline in the cane harvest.

Since 1984 the Mauritius Sugar Authority, operating under the Ministry of Agriculture, has advised the government regarding sugar policy. In addition, the authority acts as a nexus between the government and the numerous organizations involved in sugar production. These organizations include parastatal, producers', and workers' organizations, as well as extension and research bodies. The private Mauritius Sugar Syndicate, which has offices in London and Brussels, handles all aspects of domestic and foreign sugar marketing, including transportation, finance, insurance, and customs duties. The Mauritius Sugar Industry Research Institute (MSIRI) conducts research in such areas as plant breeding, entomology, and food-crop agronomy.

<>Other Crops


Mauritius - Tea


As part of its agricultural diversification efforts, the government supported the large-scale production of tea in the late 1960s. Second to sugar in exports, tea covered 2,870 hectares in 1991. The Tea Development Authority (TDA) owned and managed three-fourths of this land, which it leased to tenant growers. Although tea thrives on the island's higher elevations, production has been hindered by high costs, including labor, and fluctuations in world prices. Since 1986 the government has subsidized tea production to compensate for low prices. In the same year, it established the Mauritius Tea Factories Company to manage four factories that had been run by the TDA.

Tea production reached 8,115 tons in 1985, its highest level, only to decline steadily to 5,918 tons in 1991. Export earnings have declined from MauR104 million in 1986 to MauR83 million in 1991. The government is considering other uses for its teaplanted land in the face of continuing economic pressures.


Mauritius - Other Crops


Mauritius produces enough potatoes and fresh vegetables to meet domestic demand. The government subsidizes the production of some crops. The area under cultivation for food crops was 5,494 hectares in 1991; total production was 64,090 tons. Between 1987 and 1989, food crops suffered from poor weather, including cyclones, disease, and lack of land for tenant farmers. Tobacco covered 623 hectares in 1991, and production amounted to 876 tons. British American Tobacco processed the entire crop for domestic consumption. Cut flowers have proved to be a very successful crop, beginning in the late 1980s, and efforts are also being made to produce tropical fruits for export.


Mauritius - Livestock


Although self-sufficient in poultry and pork, Mauritius had to import 80 percent of its dairy products and 90 percent of its beef in 1991. The following are figures for livestock production in 1991: beef, 544 tons; goat and mutton, 178 tons; pork, 906; poultry, 13,250; and milk, 10,800,000 liters.


Mauritius - Fishing


Declines in local fishing catches in the early 1980s prompted the government to institute programs aimed at ensuring selfsufficiency in fish. The programs included the construction of fishing wharves and the purchase of new vessels. In 1990 the total catch amounted to 13,985 tons, which included fish caught by foreign vessels for the tuna canning industry.


Mauritius - Industry


Export Processing Zones

Industrial development in Mauritius expanded rapidly after 1971, when the government established EPZs. In return for tax benefits, duty-free imports of raw materials and machinery, and other inducements, the owners of EPZ enterprises agree to export all their products. In the first year of operation, nine EPZ firms employing 644 persons accounted for 1 percent of export earnings. In 1992 a total of 568 EPZ enterprises employing 89,949 persons produced such items as flowers, furniture, jewelry, and leather goods. The EPZ rate of growth of employment and foreign exchange earnings slowed in the 1980s and early 1990s. However, the value of EPZ exports in 1993 set a record of MauR15.8 billion.

Textiles are the main EPZ product, accounting for 89 percent of jobs and 83 percent of exports. With regard to wearing apparel, Mauritius benefits from preferential treatment in the European Community (EC) marked under the Lom� Convention. Hong Kong, the source of 22 percent of all foreign investment, is the largest foreign investor in the textile sector. Other countries participating include France, Britain, and Germany. Two foreign firms dominate the textile industry: Socota and Woventex. In a 1991 policy paper, the government urged diversification of EPZ industries and pledged to give priority to nonclothing industries such as electronics.


The construction industry's contribution to GDP grew from 5.3 percent in 1987 to about 7.6 percent in 1992, thanks to investment in housing, roads, hotels, factories, and a new airport terminal. Average annual real growth in the construction sector between 1989 and 1992 has been around 10 percent. In 1992 an estimated 10,600 persons were employed in the industry, accounting for about 3.7 percent of total employment.


Mauritius - Tourism


The attractive climate and numerous beaches of Mauritius have been among the features that have attracted record numbers of tourists each year since 1984. Some 300,000 tourists visited in 1991, earning the country MauR3.9 million in foreign exchange; in 1993 the number rose to 375,000 tourists, bringing in MauR5.3 million in foreign exchange. In 1993 Mauritius had eighty-five hotels with 10,980 beds and an occupancy rate for the larger hotels of 68.5 percent; tourism employs more than 11,000 people.

The three principal sources of tourists in 1993 were Reunion (26 percent), France (21 percent), and South Africa (11 percent). Tourism increased by 10 percent in 1993 over 1992--Mauritius has concentrated on developing a quality tourist industry rather than on appealing to the mass market. Most investors in tourism are Mauritian; South Africans, French, British, and Germans also invest in tourism.




Structure of Government

The 1968 constitution proclaims that Mauritius is a "democratic state" and that the constitution is the supreme law of the land. It guarantees the fundamental rights and freedoms of the people, including the right to hold private property and to be free from racial or other discrimination. Fundamental rights can only be suspended during wars or states of emergency, which must be duly declared by the parliament and reviewed every six months.

The political structure is patterned to a large extent on the British system. As in Britain, the political party that can gain support from a majority in parliament chooses the prime minister, who, along with the cabinet, wields political power.

The National Assembly (Assembl�e Nationale or parliament), the country's prime law-making body, consists of representatives elected from twenty three-member constituencies and one twomember district on Rodrigues. In addition, unlike the British system, eight assembly seats are apportioned to the "best losers" among the nonelected candidates, according to their ethnoreligious affiliation--two each for Hindus, Muslims, Chinese, and the general population. An attempt must be made to distribute these seats proportionally to the major political parties, which are expressly referred to in the constitution. The sixty seats from the constituencies, together with the eight best-loser seats and the two seats representing Rodrigues, constitute the seventymember parliament or National Assembly. Parliament may remain in office for a maximum of five years, unless it is dissolved by a vote of no-confidence or an act of the prime minister. A constitutional amendment, however, provided that the first assembly reckon its term from 1971, a de facto term of eight years. The assembly is responsible for all legislation and appropriations and may amend the constitution by either a twothirds or three-quarters majority, depending on the part of the constitution in question. A largely titular governor general presided over parliament in the name of the British monarch from independence in 1968 until March 12, 1992, when Mauritius declared itself a republic. Since then a president, appointed by the prime minister and ratified by the parliament, has assumed the role of the governor general.

The constitution also provides for three important commissions--the Judicial and Legal Service Commission, the Public Services Commission, and the Police Service Commission--as well as an ombudsman. The commissions oversee the appointment of government officials; the ombudsman investigates official misconduct.

The country's legal system is based on the Napoleonic Code and English common law. The Supreme Court heads the judicial system and has the power to interpret the constitution and to judge the constitutionality of legislation brought to its attention. Appointed by the prime minister and president, the chief justice helps select five other judges on the court. The Supreme Court also serves as the Court of Criminal Appeal and the Court of Civil Appeal. Mauritius continues to refer legal and constitutional matters of undeterminable jurisdiction to Britain's Privy Council. Lower courts having original jurisdiction over various kinds of cases include the Intermediate Court, the Industrial Court, and ten district courts.

The constitution does not specify the form of local government. Port Louis has a city council, whereas the four townships--Beau Bassin-Rose Hill, Curepipe, Quatre Bornes, and Vacoas-Phoenix--each has a municipal council. There are district councils for Pamplemousses-Rivi�re du Rempart, Moka-Flacq, and Grand Port-Savanne; 124 village councils; and five parish councils on Rodrigues. All councils are elected bodies, but the cabinet occasionally--over much opposition--has suspended municipal elections because of political unrest. In the August 30, 1992, village elections, villages each elected twelve village councillors, who then are grouped into four district councils. In seven of the 124 villages, the candidates were unopposed. In the remaining villages, 3,577 persons ran for 1,404 seats. The election turnout represented 68 percent of eligible voters. Local governments depend on the central government for more than 70 percent of their revenues, and only the municipal councils have the power to levy their own taxes.

<>Politics of the Republic of Mauritius
<>Foreign Relations


Mauritius - Politics of the Republic of Mauritius


Mauritius became the twenty-ninth republic under the British Commonwealth on March 12, 1992. Even during the transition period, the varied and lively social and political forces of the country manifested themselves. The former governor general, Sir Veerasamy Ringadoo, a Hindu, was appointed first president for three months to appease Hindu voters. On July 1, in accordance with an electoral pact between the ruling parties, the MSM and the MMM, the MMM obtained the post of president for Cassam Uteem, a Muslim and former deputy leader of the party. His appointment aroused widespread opposition from MSM politicians and from the island's Hindu majority, the source of much MSM support. Critics feared that Uteem, formerly minister of industry and industrial technology, would unduly politicize his office and promote a strongly pro-Muslim agenda. Upon taking office, Uteem tried to assuage these misgivings by stating that he would look after the interests of all Mauritians, regardless of religion, ethnicity, or politics. He also said that he would play an active (not merely ceremonial), impartial role in the political life of the country.

Although the MLP and PMSD suffered heavy electoral losses in the September 1991 general election and were faced with internal weakness, they attempted to act as an assertive and contentious opposition. The PMSD lost its veteran leader Sir Gaetan Duval at the end of 1991 after his retirement. The MLP's leader, Dr. Navin Ramgoolam, has been attacked by his own political allies for his inexperience in high office and frequent overseas travels. The opposition was quick to criticize the prime minister, Sir Anerood Jugnauth, for issuing a new MR20 bank note with the image of the prime minister's wife in mid-1992. In addition, the opposition and the ruling coalition have taken each other to court over charges of fraud in the 1991 election.

A particularly acrimonious row developed over Ramgoolam's absence from parliament beginning in July 1992 in order to pursue a law degree in London. The speaker of the National Assembly claimed that the MLP leader violated rules relating to absences by members of parliament. The case was referred to the Supreme Court. The Ramgoolam affair not only has prompted grumbling within the MLP but also has highlighted the tension within the ruling coalition, namely, the continuing friction between Paul B�renger, external affairs minister and secretary general of the MMM, and Prime Minister Jugnauth. B�renger criticized Jugnauth for calling the National Assembly out of recess while Ramgoolam was out of the country, claiming that the prime minister was merely creating another pretext for stripping the MLP leader of his seat.

Matters came to a head in August 1993 when the prime minister dismissed B�renger because of his continuing criticism of government policy. The ouster led to a split in the MMM between members of the party who remained allied with the government of MSM Prime Minister Jugnauth, led by Deputy Prime Minister Prem Nababsing, and those MMM parliamentary members who supported B�renger and went into opposition. B�renger declined to become opposition leader, although his group was the largest single opposition element; he allowed the leader of the Labor Party, Navin Ramgoolam, to continue as opposition leader. In April 1994, B�renger and Navin Ramgoolam reached an electoral agreement according to which the two groups were to cooperate.


Mauritius - Foreign Relations


The orientation of Mauritius toward other countries is influenced by its location, resources, colonial past, domestic politics, and economic imperatives. Mauritius has particularly strong relations with Britain, France, India, and since 1990 with South Africa. A member of the Commonwealth, Mauritius recognized Queen Elizabeth II as head of state until it became a republic in 1992. Mauritius enjoys warm political relations and important economic ties with Britain, and receives significant development and technical assistance.

France, another former colonial power, provides Mauritius with its largest source of financial aid, and also promotes the use of the French language in Mauritius. In addition to trade, in which France has traditionally been Mauritius's largest supplier as well as its largest or second largest customer, particularly of textiles, France provides Mauritius with numerous kinds of assistance. For example, France has helped computerize the island's government ministries, has performed road feasibility studies and highway maintenance, has undertaken livestock services and the construction of a cannery, and has loaned Mauritius US$60 million to construct a large diesel-electric power station in western Mauritius, completed in 1992. Other French-sponsored infrastructure projects have included the French firm Alcatel's supply and installation of 30,000 additional telephone lines, a contract awarded in December 1988, and a fiveyear project scheduled to begin construction in January 1995 by SCAC Delmas Vieljeux (SCV) to create a ninety-hectare free-port area and attendant facilities at Port Louis. The intent is that the free port should serve as a means for attracting African trade under the Preferential Trade Area for Eastern and Southern Africa.

An area of tension between France and Mauritius relates to the latter's claim to Tromelin Island, some 550 kilometers northwest of Mauritius, which France retained when Mauritius received its independence. Tromelin had been governed by France from Mauritius during the colonial period and Mauritius for a number of years has raised the question of the return of the one square kilometer island where France has a meteorological observation station. When French president Fran�ois Mitterrand visited Mauritius (along with Madagascar, Comoros, and Seychelles) in 1990, Mauritius raised its claim; despite several subsequent discussions, the matter has not been resolved.

Mauritius acknowledges the legitimacy of France's military interests even though it supported the UN Indian Ocean Zone of Peace (IOZP) Resolution (adopted in 1971) calling for the demilitarization of the region. French military interests include the neighboring island of Reunion, a French d�partement and headquarters for a military detachment. France has also provided the Special Mobile Force of Mauritius with MR2.8 million worth of military equipment and training.

India, which has deep social and historical links with a large portion of the population of Mauritius, is the country's second largest source of foreign assistance. India has devoted a large share of aid to cultural ventures, such as the Mahatma Gandhi Institute, a library and language school opened in 1976.

Apart from traditional cultural and trade relations of Mauritius with India, the two countries have exchanged visits by their leading officials in recent years; have engaged in numerous joint ventures, particularly in the textiles area; and have signed cooperation agreements in various spheres. For example, in 1990 cooperation agreements were concluded in the fields of agriculture; oceanography; maritime resources, including the exploitation of Mauritius's EEZ; science and technology; drug trafficking; and sports and youth affairs. India has provided Mauritius with technical expertise, such as computer and high sensing technology, radio and telecommunications, further expansion of Mauritius's telephone lines from 60,000 to 100,000 lines over a three-year period beginning in 1991, and the creation of a science center and planetarium.

In the early 1990s, Mauritius saw the new South Africa as a partner, particularly in an economic sense, and was willing to forget charges that in 1989 South Africans had engaged in drug trafficking to Mauritius and had sought to assassinate Prime Minister Jugnauth. A South African trade bureau was approved in 1990, a health cooperation agreement was concluded in 1991 whereby Mauritians requiring complex medical procedures could obtain them in South African hospitals, and President Frederik Willem de Klerk visit Mauritius in November 1991. The two countries initiated diplomatic relations at the consular level in March 1992, and a South African resort chain began activities in Mauritius in late 1992.

Mauritius has sought to increase cooperation among its fellow island entities. In 1982 the country forged an agreement that created the Indian Ocean Commission (IOC), whose members include Mauritius, Madagascar, Seychelles, Comoros, and Reunion (represented by France). IOC members have met regularly to discuss social and economic relations, and in 1989 the IOC established its secretariat in Mauritius. Mauritius has particularly close cooperation with Seychelles in the fields of agriculture, education, energy, fishing, and transportation.

Relations between the United States and Mauritius have been dominated by questions of trade and sovereignty over Diego Garcia Island, a British possession that is the site of a United States military base. Exports from Mauritius, mostly textiles, have grown from US$28 million in 1982 to US$120 million in 1987. United States import quotas have restricted the amount of Mauritian exports, however. Mauritian imports from the United States have increased from US$11 million in 1986 to US$48 million in 1991.

The question of Diego Garcia is a complex one. Mauritius ceded control over the Chagos Archipelago (including Diego Garcia) to Britain in exchange for 3 million pounds sterling in 1965 as one tacit precondition for independence. Despite UN objections to British control of the islands, Britain leased Diego Garcia to the United States in 1966 for fifty years. The United States established a major military base on the island, including anchorage facilities for large numbers of ships, an airfield capable of handling B-52s, and a satellite communications facility. After a period of relative indifference to the fate of the Chagos Archipelago following its cession, Mauritian governments since the late 1980s have called for its return to Mauritian sovereignty. There was no indication in 1994 that Britain or the United States was willing to acquiesce. Differences of opinion notwithstanding, between 1982 and 1987 the United States provided Mauritius with US$56.2 million in aid, mainly for development.

Mauritius has limited but growing trade relations with the industrializing countries of Asia, particularly Hong Kong and Japan. It also has close relations with China. Although it belongs to the Organization of African Unity (OAU) and has been an opponent of apartheid, Mauritius has closer links to South Africa than to any other country on the continent. These relations are based in large part on the economic exigency of obtaining mainly manufactured goods more cheaply from the closest developed country.

In addition to membership in the OAU, UN, and Commonwealth, Mauritius belongs to the Nonaligned Movement. It has received assistance from the World Bank, the IMF, and the European Development Bank.


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