Mauritius

May 28, 2012, 12:37 pm
Source: CIA World Factbook
Content Cover Image

View of Port Louis, Mauritius, harbor from the mountain Le Pouce. Source: Wikimedia Commons

Mauritius is an African island nation of one-and-a-third million people in the Indian Ocean, east of Madagascar.In addition to the main island of Mauritius, the country includes the Agalega Islands, Cargados Carajos Shoals (Saint Brandon), and the island of Rodrigues.

The main island, from which the country derives its name, is of volcanic origin and is almost entirely surrounded by coral reefs. It has a small coastal plain which rises to discontinuous mountains encircling a central plateau.  Mauritius was home of the dodo, a large flightless bird related to pigeons, driven to extinction by the end of the 17th century through a combination of hunting and the introduction of predatory species.

Mauritius's major environmental issues include:

It is susceptible to cyclones (November to April). 

Although known to Arab and Malay sailors as early as the 10th century, Mauritius was first explored by the Portuguese in the 16th century and subsequently settled by the Dutch - who named it in honor of Prince Maurits van Nassau - in the 17th century.

The French assumed control in 1715, developing the island into an important naval base overseeing Indian Ocean trade, and establishing a plantation economy of sugar cane.

The British captured the island in 1810, during the Napoleonic Wars. Mauritius remained a strategically important British naval base, and later an air station, playing an important role during World War II for anti-submarine and convoy operations, as well as the collection of signals intelligence. Independence from the UK 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, declining sugar prices, and declining textile and apparel production, have slowed economic growth, leading to some protests over standards of living in the Creole community.

Geography

Location: Southern Africa, island in the Indian Ocean, east of Madagascar

Geographic Coordinates: 20 17 S, 57 33 E

Area: total: 2,040 km2 (2,030 km2 land and 10 km2 water) note: includes Agalega Islands, Cargados Carajos Shoals (Saint Brandon), and Rodrigues

arable land: 49.02%
permanent crops: 2.94%
other: 48.04% (2005) 

Land Boundaries: 0 km

Coastline: 177 km

Maritime Claims: measured from claimed archipelagic straight baselines, territorial sea to 12 nautical miles, and an exclusive economic zone to 200 nautical miles. Also a continental shelf claim to 200 nautical miles or to the edge of the continental margin

Natural Hazards: cyclones (November to April); almost completely surrounded by reefs that may pose maritime hazards

Terrain: Small coastal plain rising to discontinuous mountains encircling central plateau. Its lowest point is the Indian Ocean (0 metres) and its highest point is Mont Piton (828 metres).

Climate: Tropical, modified by southeast trade winds; warm, dry winter (May to November); hot, wet, humid summer (November to May)

Satellite view of Mauritius. Source: NASA World Wind, OnEarth WMS layer

Ecology and Biodiversity

Mauritius is within the Mascarene forests ecoregion which covers the Macarene Islands of Réunion, Mauritius, and Rodrigues which are situated in a line along a submerged ridge, the Seychelles-Mauritius Plateau. These islands are unique in their isolation, speciation processes and assemblages, and possess many endemic species. When these islands were first visited in the 16th century, passing ships hunted the native fauna, causing the extinction of the ground dwelling dodo and the related Rodriguez solitaire. The ships also introduced European species such as rabbits and goats. Later, people permanently settled these islands. The combination of hunting, species introductions, deforestation, and farming has dramatically changed the habitats of these islands and caused the extinction of species on these islands. Many of the surviving endemic Mascarene species are seriously threatened with extinction.

The islands of Réunion and Mauritius are strongly influenced by their volcanic nature and rugged topographical features, including ravines and cliffs, although Mauritius is significantly older than Réunion. Soils are predominantly laterites in various stages of formation depending on the age of the volcanic parent material. Some volcanic activity is recent, and soils are still forming from the numerous lava beds and fields.

The vegetation of the islands was originally quite diverse, ranging from coastal wetlands and swamp forests, through lowland dry forest, rain forest, and palm savanna to montane deciduous forests and finally (on Réunion) to heathland vegetation types on the highest mountains. Most of the original vegetation is now destroyed. Moreover, almost all remaining native plant communities are badly degraded by introduced species. Major plant families include Sapotaceae, Ebenaceae, Rubiaceae, Myrtaceae, Clusiaceae, Lauraceae, Burseraceae, Euphorbiaceae, Sterculiaceae, Pittoscoraceae, and Celastracea.

The flora is diverse and contains many unique species. There are approximately 955 species of flowering plants on these islands in 108 different families and 323 genera. Thirty-eight of the plant genera are considered endemic, and there are approximately 695 endemic species. Most of the flora has affinities with Africa and Madagascar; however, a small percentage is more closely related to that of Asia. Of particular interest is the high diversity of palm species, including many endemic genera.

Mauritius has one of the highest human population densities in the world, 634 persons/km2. On all of the Mascarene Islands, there has been a vast loss of the original forest habitat. On Mauritius, only about 5 percent of the natural vegetation survives; and on Rodrigues, the natural vegetation covers around 1 percent of the total land area. On Mauritius, sugar cane, tea, and conifer plantations have replaced the natural vegetation. On Rodrigues, the effects of feral animals and shifting cultivation have changed the forest habitats to a savanna with scattered trees, and introduced plants have then taken over the remaining habitats.

On Mauritius, there are several protected areas. The largest is the Black River National Park (66 km2), which is under the process of enlargement. Some offshore islets are also reserved for conservation. There are a number of fishing reserves, but these have not been considered here. On Rodrigues there are only three protected areas (comprising only 0.58 km2), which include the only surviving remnants of natural vegetation. Two of these are small islands and one is located on the mainland. Some other areas have also been fenced to allow regeneration of the natural habitat.

Panoramic view from Le Pouce. Source: Clement I./Flickr

People and Society

Population: 1,313,095 (July 2012 est.)

Ethnic groups: Indo-Mauritian 68%, Creole 27%, Sino-Mauritian 3%, Franco-Mauritian 2%

Age Structure:

0-14 years: 21.8% (male 145,185/female 139,579)
15-64 years: 70.7% (male 457,743/female 463,875)
65 years and over: 7.5% (male 38,944/female 58,391) (2011 est.)

Population Growth Rate: 0.705% (2012 est.)

Birth Rate: 13.78 births/1,000 population (2012 est.)

Death Rate: 6.73 deaths/1,000 population (July 2012 est.)

Net Migration Rate: 0 migrant(s)/1,000 population (2012 est.)

Life Expectancy at Birth: 74.71 years 

male: 71.25 years
female: 78.35 years (2012 est.)

Total Fertility Rate: 1.78 children born/woman (2012 est.)

Languages: Creole 80.5%, Bhojpuri 12.1%, French 3.4%, English (official; spoken by less than 1% of the population), other 3.7%, unspecified 0.3% (2000 census)

Literacy (2000 census): 84.4% (male: 88.4% - female: 80.5%)

Urbanization: 42% of total population (2010) growing at a 0.8% annual rate of change (2010-15 est.)

History

While Arab and Malay sailors knew of Mauritius as early as the 10th century AD and Portuguese sailors first visited in the 16th century, the island remained uninhabited until colonized in 1638 by the Dutch. Mauritius was populated over the next few centuries by waves of traders, planters and their slaves, indentured laborers, merchants, and artisans. The island was named in honor of Prince Maurice of Nassau by the Dutch, who abandoned the colony in 1710.

The French claimed Mauritius in 1715 and renamed it Ile de France. It became a prosperous colony under the French East India Company. The French Government took control in 1767, and the island served as a naval and privateer base during the Napoleonic wars. In 1810, Mauritius was captured by the British, whose possession of the island was confirmed 4 years later by the Treaty of Paris. French institutions, including the Napoleonic code of law, were maintained. The French language is still used more widely than English.

Mauritian Creoles trace their origins to the plantation owners and slaves who were brought to work the sugar fields. Indo-Mauritians (primarily Hindus, but also Muslims and Christians) are descended from immigrants who arrived in the 19th century from the Indian subcontinent to work as indentured laborers after slavery was abolished in 1835. Franco-Mauritians still control most of the large sugar estates and are active in business and banking. As the Indo-Mauritian population became numerically dominant and the voting franchise was extended, political power shifted from the Franco-Mauritians and their Creole allies to the Indo-Mauritian Hindus.

Elections in 1947 for the newly created Legislative Assembly marked Mauritius' first steps toward self-rule. An independence campaign gained momentum after 1961, when the British agreed to permit additional self-government and eventual independence. A coalition composed of the Mauritian Labor Party (MLP), the Muslim Committee of Action (CAM), and the Independent Forward Bloc (IFB)--a traditionalist Hindu party--won a majority in the 1967 Legislative Assembly election, despite opposition from Franco-Mauritian and Creole supporters of Gaetan Duval's Mauritian Social Democratic Party (PMSD). The contest was interpreted locally as a referendum on independence. Following a period of communal strife, brought under control with assistance from British troops, Seewoosagur Ramgoolam, MLP leader and chief minister in the colonial government, became the first prime minister at independence, on March 12, 1968.

Alone or in coalition, the Mauritius Labor Party (MLP) ruled from 1947 through 1982, returning to power from 1995 to 2000, and again regaining power in 2005. From 1982 through 1995, power was in the hands of the Mauritian Militant Movement (MMM), the Mauritian Socialist Party (PSM), and the Militant Socialist Movement (MSM) in various combinations and alliances. In December 1995, the MLP returned to power, this time in coalition with the MMM. Labor's Navinchandra Ramgoolam, son of the country's first prime minister, became prime minister himself. Ramgoolam dismissed his MMM coalition partners in mid-1997, leaving Labor in power with several small parties allied with it.

Elections in September 2000 saw the re-emergence of the MSM-MMM as a winning alliance, and Anerood Jugnauth once again became the prime minister with the caveat that mid-term, the leader of the MMM party would take over as prime minister and Prime Minister Jugnauth would become the next President of the Republic. In September 2003, in keeping with the campaign promise which forged the coalition, Jugnauth stepped down as Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Minister Paul Raymond Berenger became Prime Minister. One month later, the Berenger-led National Assembly elected Anerood Jugnauth as President of the Republic. Berenger became the first Catholic, Franco-Mauritian to head the government. The move created a historic precedent of having a non-Hindu, non-majority member head the national government.

The 2005 parliamentary elections returned Navinchandra Ramgoolam to office as prime minister, and he retained that position following the 2010 elections. President Jugnauth resigned his office on March 31, 2012. Vice President Monique Ohsan Bellepeau became acting President. The Mauritian constitution provides that in the event of a vacancy in the office of president, the vice president assumes the office, but only until such time as the prime minister appoints, and the National Assembly concurs, in the appointment of a new president.

Government

Government Type: Parliamentary Democracy

Mauritian politics are vibrant and characterized by coalition and alliance building. All parties are centrist and reflect a national consensus that supports democratic politics and a relatively open economy with a strong private sector. Mauritius became a republic on March 12, 1992. The most immediate result was that a Mauritian-born president became head of state, replacing Queen Elizabeth II. Under the amended constitution, political power remained with parliament, with the office of the president being largely ceremonial. The National Assembly elects the president. The Council of Ministers (cabinet), responsible for the direction and control of the government, consists of the prime minister (head of government, who is also the leader of the majority party in the legislature), and about 24 ministers. The unicameral National Assembly has up to 70 deputies. Sixty-two are elected by universal suffrage, and as many as eight "best losers" are chosen from the runners-up by the Electoral Supervisory Commission using a formula designed to give at least minimal representation to minority ethnic communities. Elections are scheduled at least every 5 years. Parliamentary elections were last held in May 2010. The next elections are expected to be held in 2015.

Capital: Port Louis - 149,000 (2009)

Port Louis, the capital city of Mauritius.  This image was taken from Mount Signal, to the south of the city. In this image you can see among other things financial district, Caudan waterfront, and the large square unmistakable police compound. In the distance, the northern shores of the island are visible with a shape of Point aux Cannonier barely discernible. Source: Peter Kuchar/Wikimedia Commons
 

Administrative Divisions:Local government has nine administrative divisions, with municipal and town councils in urban areas and district and village councils in rural areas. The island of Rodrigues forms the country's 10th administrative division.

9 districts and 3 dependencies*;

  • Agalega Islands*,
  • Black River,
  • Cargados Carajos Shoals*,
  • Flacq,
  • Grand Port,
  • Moka,
  • Pamplemousses,
  • Plaines Wilhems,
  • Port Louis,
  • Riviere du Rempart,
  • Rodrigues*,
  • Savanne

Independence Date: 12 March 1968 (from UK)

Legal System: based on French civil law system with elements of English common law in certain areas; accepts compulsory ICJ jurisdiction with reservations. Mauritian law is an amalgam of French and British legal traditions. The Supreme Court--a chief justice and 18 other judges--is the highest judicial authority. There is an additional right of appeal to the Queen's Privy Council in London.

Source: Wikimedia Commons

Suffrage: 18 years of age; universal

International Environmental Agreements

Mauritius is party to international agreements on: Antarctic-Marine Living Resources, Biodiversity, Climate Change, Climate Change-Kyoto Protocol, Desertification, Endangered Species, Environmental Modification, Hazardous Wastes, Law of the Sea, Marine Life Conservation, Ozone Layer Protection, Ship Pollution, and Wetlands.

Water

Total Renewable Water Resources: 2.2 cu km (2001)

Freshwater Withdrawal: Total: 0.61 cu km/yr (25% domestic, 14% industrial, 60% agricultural). Per capita: 488 cu m/yr (2000)

Agriculture

Sugarcane is grown on about 90% of the cultivated land area and accounts for 15% of export earnings.

Agricultural Products: sugarcane, tea, corn, potatoes, bananas, pulses; cattle, goats; fish

Irrigated Land: 220 sq km (2003)

Sugar cane field. Piton de la Petite Rivière Noire, Mauritius. Source: Yann Crettaz/Mauritius.

Resources

Natural Resources: arable land, fish.

Energy

Energy in Mauritius
  Production Consumption Exports Imports Reserves
Electricity 2.402 billion kWh
(2008 est.)
2.234 billion kWh
(2008 est.)
0 kWh
(2009 est.)
0 kWh
(2009 est.)
 
Oil 0 bbl/day
(2010 est.)
23,000 bbl/day
(2010 est.)
0 bbl/day
(2009 est.)
20,750 bbl/day
(2009 est.)
0 bbl
(1 January 2011 est.)
Natural Gas 0 cu m
(2009 est.)
0 cu m
(2009 est.)
0 cu m
(2009 est.)
0 cu m
(2009 est.)
0 cu m
(1 January 2011 est.)
Source: CIA Factbook

Conflict

International Disputes: Mauritius claims the Chagos Archipelago (UK-administered British Indian Ocean Territory), and its former inhabitants, who reside chiefly in Mauritius; claims French-administered Tromelin Island

Landscape near Les Mariannes, Mauritius. Source: Hansueli Krapf/Wikimedia Commons

Economy

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 more equitable income distribution, increased life expectancy, lowered infant mortality, and a much-improved infrastructure.

The economy rests on sugar, tourism, textiles and apparel, and financial services, and is expanding into fish processing, information and communications technology, and hospitality and property development. Sugarcane is grown on about 90% of the cultivated land area and accounts for 15% of export earnings. The government's development strategy centers on creating vertical and horizontal clusters of development in these sectors.

Mauritius has attracted more than 32,000 offshore entities, many aimed at commerce in India, South Africa, and China. Investment in the banking sector alone has reached over $1 billion.

Mauritius, with its strong textile sector, has been well poised to take advantage of the U.S. Africa Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA).

Mauritius' sound economic policies and prudent banking practices helped to mitigate negative effects from the global financial crisis in 2008-09. GDP grew more than 4% per year in 2010-11, and the country continues to expand its trade and investment outreach around the globe.

Mauritius has one of the most successful and competitive economies in Africa; 2010 GDP at market prices was estimated at $9.5 billion and per capita income at $7,420, one of the highest in Africa. The economy is based on tourism, textiles, sugar, and financial services. In recent years, information and communication technology, seafood, hospitality and property development, healthcare, renewable energy, and education and training have emerged as important sectors, attracting substantial investment from both local and foreign investors.

Mauritius’s economy suffered at the turn of the millennium as longstanding trade preferences in textiles and sugar--the foundation of its growth strategy--were phased out. In 2005, the government embarked on an economic reform program aimed at opening up the economy, facilitating business, improving the investment climate, and mobilizing foreign direct investment and expertise. These reforms accelerated the rate of growth, reduced unemployment, and sped up the pace of diversification of the economy through the development of new sectors. All of these factors contributed to absorb the shock of the global economic recession as well as the Eurozone crisis and set the stage for Mauritius to resume accelerated growth in 2010. GDP growth was forecast at 4.1% for 2011, compared with 4.2% in 2010.

Mauritius has built its success on a free market economy. According to the 2010 Index of Economic Freedom, developed by the U.S.-based Heritage Foundation and the Wall Street Journal, Mauritius led Sub-Saharan Africa in economic freedom and was ranked 12th worldwide. The report’s ranking of 183 countries was based on measures of economic openness, regulatory efficiency, rule of law, and competitiveness. For the fourth consecutive year, the World Bank’s 2012 Doing Business report ranks Mauritius first among African economies (23rd worldwide, out of 183 economies in all) in terms of overall ease of doing business. The government’s objective is for Mauritius to rank among the top 10 most investment- and business-friendly locations in the world.

Mauritius has a long tradition of private entrepreneurship, which has led to a strong and dynamic private sector. Firms entering the market will find a robust legal and commercial infrastructure. Mauritius has a well-developed digital infrastructure with state-of-the-art telecommunications facilities including international leased lines and high-speed Internet access. Government policy is to act as a facilitator to business, leaving production to the private sector. However, it still controls key utility services--including electricity, water, waste water, postal services, and television broadcasting--directly or through parastatals. The government also controls, through the State Trading Corporation, the import of what it deems to be strategic products such as rice (only non-basmati or other non-luxury rice), wheat flour, petroleum products, and cement.

GDP (Purchasing Power Parity): $19.28 billion (2011 est.)

GDP (Official Exchange Rate): $11 billion (2011 est.)

GDP- per capita (PPP): $15,000 (2011 est.)

GDP- composition by sector:

agriculture: 4.4%
industry: 23.8%
services: 71.8% (2011 est.)

Population Below Poverty Line: 8% (2006 est.)

Industries: food processing (largely sugar milling), textiles, clothing, mining, chemicals, metal products, transport equipment, nonelectrical machinery, tourism

Exports: clothing and textiles, sugar, cut flowers, molasses, fish

Export Partners: UK 28.4%, UAE 14.2%, France 13.2%, US 7.9%, Madagascar 5.7%, Italy 4.4%, Belgium 4% (2006)

Imports: manufactured goods, capital equipment, foodstuffs, petroleum products, chemicals

Import Partners: India 15.1%, France 13.1%, South Africa 8.2%, China 7.9% (2006)

Economic Aid Recipient: $31.93 million (2005)

Currency: Mauritian rupee (MUR)

Ports and Terminals: Port Louis

Glossary

Citation

Agency, C., Fund, W., & Department, U. (2012). Mauritius. Retrieved from http://www.eoearth.org/view/article/154523

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