Mauritius: Land and people

Extracted from: Rouikaya Kasenally 2009 "Chapter 8: Mauritius" IN Denis Kadima and Susan Booysen (eds) Compendium of Elections in Southern Africa 1989-2009: 20 Years of Multiparty Democracy, EISA, Johannesburg, 269, 270, 273.

The last two decades has seen Mauritius successfully move from a low- to a middle-income economy. This has been achieved through a diversification of services (from manufacturing to financial and ICT), a sustained investment in education and the independence of key institutions. Investing and doing business in Mauritius has been promoted using not only the positive economic indicators, but also the commendable track record of holding 'free and fair' elections on the island. The peaceful and tolerant attitude of Mauritians has also contributed.

Mauritius became independent in 1968, prior to which it was a French and British colony. In 1992 the constitution was amended and Mauritius acceded to the status of republic. The Republic of Mauritius consists of Mauritius, Rodrigues, the Saint Brandon islands, a group of some 22 islets, reefs and shoals lying some 39 kilometres north-north-east of Mauritius, and Agalega, two tiny islands connected by a sandbank lying 933 kilometres to the north. The Chagos Archipelago used to be part of Mauritius, but was removed from Mauritian control by Britain in 1965. Mauritius is still trying to regain sovereignty over the Chagos Archipelago, including Diego Garcia, which has become an important military base for the United States.

Mauritius has no indigenous population. The peopling of Mauritius is a 'deterritorialisation' of people from across the globe. The heterogeneity of the island is reflected by its ethnic groups, languages and religions. The major ethnic groups are Hindus, Muslims, Creoles, Franco-Mauritians (whites) and Chinese. Creoles and Franco-Mauritians are lumped together in a category known as 'General Population'. The population today is a potpourri of races, religions, cultures and languages. The official classification of ethnic groups is as follows: Hindus (52 per cent), Creoles (27 per cent), Muslims (16 per cent), Chinese (three per cent) and Franco-Mauritians (two per cent. Mauritius Census Figures 1972).

Table 1 [see Fact File] provides details of the latest economic, social and governance statistics. The economic indicators show that the island is a high performer and has earned an excellent reputation as one of the most prosperous and most stable economies of Sub-Saharan Africa. Social indicators such as school enrolment, level of literacy, life expectancy, and HIV/Aids prevalence indicate a healthy and educated population. The one weakness in this otherwise strong table of performance is the under-representation of women in key decision-making positions, and more specifically in politics and parliament.