Country profile: Mauritius

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Country Profile: Mauritius

In 1972, V S Naipaul, who won the Nobel Literature Prize, wrote The Overcrowded Barracoon. This showed Mauritius as a terrible, smelly place, so the Labour government banned all his writing. Now there is a Labour government in power again, and they are still stopping people expressing themselves freely. But it was impossible for V S Naipaul to predict that advertising execs have turned Mauritius into ‘paradise’. Or that the IMF/World Bank have called Mauritius a ‘success story’. Or that Mauritius would become the ‘biggest investor in India’.

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Empty billboards symbolise the economic downturn. Lindsey Collen

Strangely, all these four images contain truth and lies. Mauritius is like that. Opposites and extremes.

The dodo became extinct in 1780 because man killed them all. But the pink pigeon was saved from extinction 200 years later. A woman in slave times led a rebellion against the Dutch colonizers. These colonizers abandoned the country twice. The French were forced to leave in 1810 by the British. And the British were forced to leave at Independence in 1968. And twice since then, in 1982 and 1995, the Mauritian people have voted against the government parties so completely that they lost every seat in the National Assembly. Between these times, there is calm.

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When it was a colony, Mauritius only produced sugar-cane. But the Royal Road in the capital, Port Louis, was full of hardware stores for ship’s chandlers worldwide. And Port Louis was a big market for East-West trade. The colonizers actually made everyone in the country come to the capital to earn profit from these three businesses. So Mauritius became like a huge prison for slaves – for 100 years under slavery, 100 years under the legal servant “indenture”, and 100 years under laws which kept the wages at very low, slavery-type levels.

The colonizers invented the country. Maybe this is why it has all the extremes. Or maybe they are because of the ‘cyclones’, that, from time to time, build up and then destroy.

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Sticking up posters to fight for for education in their native language. This started for the first time in 2012. Lindsey Collen

The most recent destruction was by the World Trade Organization. It stopped guaranteeing the markets for sugar and textiles. This was part of the reason why employment fell from 50,000 to 3,500 in sugar and from 100,000 to 55,000 in textiles. The government wasted the money given by the European Union in compensation. They gave it to the bosses of the sugar businesses. This meant that the money destroyed jobs when it was intended to create jobs. The money for ‘restructuring the economy’ was used to ‘restructure the sugar industry’. They still grow sugar cane, but now they use to make ethanol from molasses, electricity from straw, and for refined sugar.

Now, the largest work area is tourism. When VS Naipaul wrote his book, there were almost no hotels. Now they are everywhere. All of them say they are ‘paradise’ – they all have beautiful, green plants, but it never rains, and the hotel workers smile all day. Tourism is always changing, following, for example, economic problems in Europe. And tourism is not good for the paradise environment that it needs so much.

In the 1970s, Mauritius got lots of money in loans from the IMF and the World Bank. But the country could never carry out the conditions of the loans. It was a lively democracy. Many groups (opposition political parties, social associations and strong trade unions) were fighting to keep universal benefits: free education up to university, good free healthcare, old age pensions for all, and free bus travel at all times for pensioners, disabled people and students. So the greatest ‘success’ was that IMF ‘medicine’ was not given.

Another big area is ‘offshore’. It has a non-double-tax agreement with India. So investors from the US invest money in Mauritius when they invest in India, as they choose to pay no tax. This produces the true lie that Mauritius is the biggest investor in India.

The republic consists of many islands, including the main island Mauritius, other islands Rodrigues, Agalega, St Brandon – and Chagos, including Diego Garcia (which is illegally occupied by the UK, which sublets part of it to the US for a military base) and Tromelin, which is jointly managed with France because of a disagreement over land.

Country Profile: Mauritius Fact File

Leader Prime Minister Navin Ramgoolam.

Economy GNI per capita $7,740 (Madagascar $440, UK $38,540)

Monetary unit Mauritian Rupee.

Main exports Textiles, sugar, seafood

People 1.3 million. Population growth rate 1990-2010 1.0%. People per sq km 637 (UK 253)

Health Infant mortality 13 per 1,000 live births (Madagascar 43, UK 5). Lifetime risk of maternal death 1 in 1,600 (UK 1 in 4,700). HIV 1.0%.

Environment Too many nitrates has made the soil weak and destroyed some lagoons. Car exhaust pollution bad in the capital. Soil erosion in Rodrigues Island.

Culture Many different cultures, from India, the West and Africa. Music often a mix – jazz, Western classical, Indian, traditional Mauritian around sega and Bhojpuri songs. Literature in Kreol, French, English, Hindi. Lots of visual arts.

Religion Hindu (50%), Catholic (25%), Muslim (20%), plus Buddhist, atheist, other Christian.

Language Kreol (84%), Bhojpuri (5.3%), French 3.6%. The official language in the National Assembly and all administration is, however, English.

Human development index 0.729 – 77th out of 187 countries (Madagascar 0.490, UK 0.963).

Country Profile: Mauritius ratings in detail

Previously reviewed 2002

Income distribution A rich man pays more for monthly car parking than a poor woman earns per month. And the GINI co-efficient is getting worse.

Life expectancy 73 years (Madagascar 66, UK 80).

Position of women Women are oppressed but organized. The 2012 law means that there are 30% women candidates for parties in municipal and village elections. But no-one is doing anything about women’s emancipation.

Literacy Officially 88%, but government statistics are taken simply from school attendance. Actual literacy is more like 65%, mainly because they don’t use mother tongues in schools.

Freedom Demonstrations are now illegal if the police are not informed eight days in advance. Recent use of repressive laws against political opponents. New laws against strikes are being prepared.

Sexual minorities Rural society is OK with male homosexuality, but in cities gays have many problems. Recent laws protect against discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation. An association called ‘Arc-en-ciel’ (‘rainbow’) unites gay people.

NI Assessment (Politics) The Labour government wants to ‘democratize the economy’, in a similar way to South Africa’s ‘black business empowerment’. It means the State helping companies that are not the established capitalists from colonial times. But it makes little difference which group your boss comes from when there are strict new labour laws which make it much easier for them to sack you. A new Equal Opportunities Act was passed in 2012 against discrimination. A new ‘social register’ to help the poor has been started, but this might stop everyone else from receiving benefits.

As this article has been simplified, the words, text structure and quotes may have been changed. For the original, please see: http://newint.org/columns/country/2013/04/01/country-profile-mauritius/