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
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
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 Île 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
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
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 Libérale), 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 Curé, 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 (Comité 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
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 Démocrate--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 Bérenger (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 Bérenger 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 Bérenger served as
minister of finance. Faced with the realities of governing the country,
including heavy obligations to the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the
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
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
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 (département)
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
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,
Rivière 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
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 Rivière Noire Mountains
and Savanne Mountains are in the west and southwest, where Mont Piton of
the Petite Rivière 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
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
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
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
"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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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 Lomé 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.
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,
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
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 Lomé 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
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.
Mauritius - GOVERNMENT AND POLITICS
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 (Assemblée 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-Rivière 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
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 Bérenger, external affairs minister and secretary general
of the MMM, and Prime Minister Jugnauth. Bérenger 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 Bérenger 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 Bérenger and went into opposition.
Bérenger 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, Bérenger 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
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 François
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 département 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
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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