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Background: Discovered by the Portuguese in 1505, Mauritius was subsequently held by the Dutch, French, and British before independence was attained in 1968. A stable democracy with regular free elections and a positive human rights record, the country has attracted considerable foreign investment and has earned one of Africa’s highest per capita incomes. Recent poor weather and declining sugar prices have slowed economic growth leading to some protests over standards of living in the Creole community.
Government type: parliamentary democracy
Capital: Port Louis
Currency: 1 Mauritian rupee (MauR) = 100 cents

Geography of Mauritius 

Location: Southern Africa, island in the Indian Ocean, east of Madagascar
Geographic coordinates: 20 17 S, 57 33 E
total: 1,860 sq km
land: 1,850 sq km
water: 10 sq km
note: includes Agalega Islands, Cargados Carajos Shoals (Saint Brandon), and Rodrigues
Land boundaries: 0 km
Coastline: 177 km
Maritime claims:
continental shelf: 200 nm or to the edge of the continental margin
exclusive economic zone: 200 nm
territorial sea: 12 nm
Climate: tropical, modified by southeast trade winds; warm, dry winter (May to November); hot, wet, humid summer (November to May)
Terrain: small coastal plain rising to discontinuous mountains encircling central plateau
Elevation extremes:
lowest point: Indian Ocean 0 m
highest point: Mont Piton 828 m
Natural resources: arable land, fish
Land use:
arable land: 49%
permanent crops: 3%
permanent pastures: 3%
forests and woodland: 22%
other: 23% (1993 est.)
Irrigated land: 170 sq km (1993 est.)
Natural hazards: cyclones (November to April); almost completely surrounded by reefs that may pose maritime hazards
Environment – current issues: water pollution, degradation of coral reefs
Environment – international agreements:
party to:  Biodiversity, Climate Change, Desertification, Endangered Species, Environmental Modification, Hazardous Wastes, Law of the Sea, Marine Life Conservation, Nuclear Test Ban, Ozone Layer Protection, Ship Pollution
signed, but not ratified: none of the selected agreements
Geography – note: the main island, from which the country derives its name, is of volcanic origin and is almost entirely surrounded by coral reefs.

People of Mauritius 

Mauritian Creoles trace their origins to the plantation owners and slaves who were brought to work the sugar fields. Indo-Mauritians are descended from Indian immigrants who arrived in the 19th century to work as indentured laborers after slavery was abolished in 1835. Included in the Indo-Mauritian community are Muslims from the Indian subcontinent. The Franco-Mauritian elite controls nearly all of the large sugar estates and is active in business and banking. As the Indian population became numerically dominant and the voting franchise was extended, political power shifted from the Franco-Mauritians and their Creole allies to the Hindus.

Population: 1,230,602 (July 2005 est.)
Age structure:
0-14 years:  25.53% 
15-64 years:  68.24% 
65 years and over:  6.23%
Population growth rate: 0.88% 
Birth rate: 16.5 births/1,000 population 
Death rate: 6.82 deaths/1,000 population 
Net migration rate: -0.92 migrant(s)/1,000 population 
Infant mortality rate: 17.19 deaths/1,000 live births 
Life expectancy at birth:
total population:  71.25 years
male:  67.26 years
female:  75.31 years 
Total fertility rate: 2.01 children born/woman 
noun: Mauritian(s)
adjective: Mauritian
Ethnic groups: Indo-Mauritian 68%, Creole 27%, Sino-Mauritian 3%, Franco-Mauritian 2%
Religions: Hindu 52%, Christian 28.3% (Roman Catholic 26%, Protestant 2.3%), Muslim 16.6%, other 3.1%
Languages: English (official), Creole, French, Hindi, Urdu, Hakka, Bojpoori
definition: age 15 and over can read and write
total population: 82.9%
male: 87.1%
female: 78.8% (1995 est.)

History of Mauritius 

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 Economy

Economy – overview: Since independence in 1968, Mauritius has developed from a low-income, agriculturally based economy to a middle-income diversified economy with growing industrial, financial, and tourist sectors. For most of the period, annual growth has been in the order of 5% to 6%. This remarkable achievement has been reflected in increased life expectancy, lowered infant mortality, and a much-improved infrastructure. Sugarcane is grown on about 90% of the cultivated land area and accounts for 25% of export earnings. The government’s development strategy centers on foreign investment. Mauritius has attracted more than 9,000 offshore entities, many aimed at commerce in India and South Africa, and investment in the banking sector alone has reached over $1 billion. Economic performance since 1991 has continued strong with solid growth and low unemployment.

GDP: purchasing power parity – $12.3 billion (2000 est.)
GDP – real growth rate: 7.5% (2000 est.)
GDP – per capita: purchasing power parity – $10,400 (2000 est.)
GDP – composition by sector:
agriculture: 10%
industry: 29%
services: 61% (1996)
Inflation rate (consumer prices): 5.3% (2000 est.)
Labor force: 514,000 (1995)
Labor force – by occupation: construction and industry 36%, services 24%, agriculture and fishing 14%, trade, restaurants, hotels 16%, transportation and communication 7%, finance 3% (1995)
Unemployment rate: 6.4% (1999 est.)
revenues: $1.1 billion
expenditures: $1.2 billion (1999 est.)
Industries: food processing (largely sugar milling), textiles, clothing; chemicals, metal products, transport equipment, nonelectrical machinery; tourism
Industrial production growth rate: 8% (2000 est.)
Electricity – production: 1.26 billion kWh (1999)
Electricity – production by source:
fossil fuel:  91.27%
hydro:  8.73%
nuclear:  0%
other:  0% (1999)
Electricity – consumption: 1.172 billion kWh (1999)
Agriculture – products: sugarcane, tea, corn, potatoes, bananas, pulses; cattle, goats; fish
Exports: $1.7 billion (f.o.b., 1999)
Exports – commodities: clothing and textiles, sugar, cut flowers, molasses
Exports – partners: United Kingdom 32%, France 19%, United States 15%, Germany 6%, Italy 4% (1999 est.)
Imports: $2.3 billion (f.o.b., 1999)
Imports – commodities: manufactured goods, capital equipment, foodstuffs, petroleum products, chemicals (1996)
Imports – partners: France 14%, South Africa 11%, India 8%, United Kingdom 5% (1999 est.)
Debt – external: $1.9 billion (1998 est.)
Economic aid – recipient: $42 million (1997)
Currency: Mauritian rupee (MUR)

Map of Mauritius