The African continent is comprised of 54 nations, each with its own independent government and sovereignty, GDP, culture, natural resources, language(s), military, and religion. The treasure trove of mineral and raw material wealth has scarcely been touched and the continent's largely untapped fertile lands could feed the world. Herewith is Jewel of Africa, an interactive adventure in the cradle of mankind, an exploration of nations from A-Z in alphabetical order.
Mauritius: A diamond and
pearls in the Indian Ocean
Mauritius, officially the Republic of Mauritius, is an island nation off the coast of Africa in the southwest Indian Ocean, about 560 miles east of Madagascar. Largely populated by Indian and Creole descendants of those brought in to work the sugar plantations, Mauritius shines for its political stability and inter-ethnic harmony.
Mauritius, which has the second highest GDP per capita in Africa, aims to become the business hub of the Indian Ocean. New business opportunities in banking and the technology sector are being actively sought.
As with other island nations, it also capitalizes on its beautiful scenery to attract upscale tourists. Though it was once the home of the extinct dodo bird, today Mauritius is working to preserve and restore its indigenous plants and animals, some of them rare.
In addition to the island of Mauritius, the republic includes the islands of St. Brandon, Rodrigues, and the Agalega Islands. Mauritius is part of the Mascarene Islands, with the French island of Réunion, 125 miles to the southwest, and the island of Rodrigues 570 km to the east-northeast.
This archipelago was formed in a series of undersea volcanic eruptions, as the African plate drifted over the Réunion hotspot. Mauritius and Rodrigues were formed 8-10 million years ago. They are no longer volcanically active.
The island of Mauritius itself consists of a broken ring of mountain ranges around a central plateau, with its highest peak in the southwest: Piton de la Petite Rivière Noire at 2,717 feet. Around the mountains are low-lying, sometimes hilly, coastal plains that cover almost half of the land area. The plateau covers about a quarter of the island and mountains about 18 percent. Rivers and streams are plentiful, many deeply graded as they flow from the tableland to the sea. Marshes and ponds lie in the tableland and the plain.
Rodrigues Island sits lengthwise on an east-west axis and has a spine-like mountain range. The two Agalega islands are formed from coral. They are connected by a sandbar and covered with coconut palms. The local climate is tropical, with variations depending on the altitude, and is modified by southeast trade winds; there is a warm, dry winter from May to October and a hot, wet, and humid summer from November to May. Rainfall is abundant. Cyclones affect the country from November to April. The island's capital and largest city is Port Louis, in the northwest. Other important towns are Curepipe, Vacoas, Phoenix, Quatre Bornes, Rose-Hill, and Beau-Bassin.
Flora and fauna
Mauritius is well known for its exceptional natural beauty. The Black River Gorges hold a nature reserve with a humid sub-tropical primary forest. The Macchabée forest, another reserve, also contains rare species. In the region of the Piton de la Petite Rivière Noire, the highest peak on the island, is the Valriche nature reserve with a wide variety of indigenous, medicinal, and fruit trees. Fauna dwelling there include deer, wild boars, monkeys, bats, and rare bird species such as the grosse cateau vert and the paille en queue.
About 20 small islands surround Mauritius. Some of them, such as l'Ile Ronde and l'Ile aux Aigrettes, have been proclaimed natural reserves and are home to several rare bird species such as the paille-en-queue, the fouquet, and the kestrel. On Ile aux Aigrettes are the remnants of a
Mauritius is a volcanic island of lagoons and palm-fringed beaches with coral reefs surrounding most of the coastline. ... These features make the island a unique place in the world. It is perhaps best known for its wonderful white beaches and the island boasts nearly 100 miles of beaches around its shoreline. Lemorne Mauritius. Leading away from the beaches, the fertile, gently sloping land is widely planted with sugar cane and forested areas including ebony and eucalyptus trees.
Mauritius is as robust in its gran- deur as it is beautiful, flexing rugged mountain peaks, and rocky coves and inlets. Mauritius is also pink slopes and rouge floral landscapes, exhaling water falls and cool wooded paths.
Mauritius, an Indian Ocean island nation, is known for its beaches, lagoons and reefs. The rugged mountainous interior includes Black River Gorges National Park, with rainforests, hiking trails and wildlife like the flying fox. Capital Port Louis has sites such as the Champs de Mars horse track, Eureka plantation house and 18th-century Sir Seewoosagur Ram- goolam Botanical Gardens. Port Louis is its most populous city bearing 155,226 people. The cur- rent total population of Mauritius is 1.2 million.
Mauritius is not only defined by its beauty and brawn. It is very much a land of fruitfulness bringing forth familiar and not- so-familiar tropical fruit to feed its people. The island enjoys an abundance of bright and colorful tropical fruits, from paw paw and pomegranate to pamplemousse or grapefruit, lychee, soursop, dragonfruit, jamayac, logan fruit, ceyaw, banana zinzli, as well as the more common watermelon, grapes, oranges, coconut, and pineapple. In 2020, agricultural imports accounted for $1.1 billion or 26.1 percent of all Mauritian imports. Imports included fresh and frozen vegetables, fruit, wheat, and cereals.
Port Louis is the capital city of Mauritius, and its economic and cultural center. It is also the coun- most populous city with 155,226 people. Port Louis covers 66 square miles and is governed by the City Council of Port Louis and is one of five municipal councils responsible for the urban areas in Mauritius. The economy of the city is dominated by its financial center, port facilities, touriscals, plastics and pharmaceuticals. m and the manufacturing sec- tor, which include textiles, chemi-
Port Louis is home to the biggest port facility in the Indian Ocean Ocean and one of Africa's major financial centers. Port Louis is home to the nation's main harbor, which is the only official port of entry and exit for sea vessels in Mauritius. Ships must be cleared in the port before visiting any other anchorage.
coastal forest where the dodo, long since extinct, sought shelter. It is still home to a large number of plants and animal species that are unique to Mauritius but threatened with extinction. The Mauritian Wildlife Foundation has cleared, replanted, and restored 90 percent of this islet. It has reintroduced indigenous plants, birds, and reptiles, such as giant tortoises.
Fish abound in the coral reefs around the island, particularly the northern part, such as morays, clown-fish, and golden perch, as well as a variety of sharks, including the black-tail shark, the reef shark, and the black tip reef shark.
The first record of Mauritius comes from Arab and Malay sailors as early as the tenth century. Portuguese sailors first visited it in 1505 and established a visiting base, leaving the island uninhabited. Three ships of the eight in a Dutch fleet that was en route to the Spice Islands were blown off course during a cyclone and landed on the island in 1598. The Dutch named it in honor of Prince Maurice of Nassau, the stadt holder (head of state) of the Netherlands. In 1638, the Dutch established the first of two settlements.
Because of tough climatic conditions, including cyclones, and the deterioration of the settlement, they abandoned the island by 1710, leaving as a legacy the extinction of the dodo bird, ravaged ebony forests, and the introduction of sugarcane.
The French, who controlled the neighboring islands of Rodrigues and Réunion), seized Mauritius in 1715 and in in 1722 established a settlement they named Ile de France (Isle of France). Under the French, the population increased and the economy, based on sugar, prospered through slave labor. Port Louis became a major shipping center. The French, however, harbored the mercenary pirates who preyed on British vessels laden with gold, precious gems, silk, and spices on their way to Britain from India.
The British set out to gain military control of the island. Despite winning the famous Battle of Grand Port. Napo-leon's only naval win over the British, the French were defeated by the British in the north of the island, at Cap Malheureux (Hapless Cape) three months later, and thus lost possession to the British in 1810. The 1814 Treaty of Paris formally awarded the island, with others, to Britain, but French remained the dominant culture as the plantation-owning Mauritians of French origin retained their holdings and influence. Slavery ended in 1835. Mauritius became Britain's main sugar-producing colony, growing almost 10 percent of the world's sugarcane by the mid 19th century, though that role declined as other countries increased their production. Indentured workers were brought from India to replace the slaves as cheap labor. By 1871, two-thirds of the population was Indian.
In the 20th century, movements to improve labor laws and introduce political reforms began to be organized, a process that accelerated after World War II. A constitutional conference held in London in 1965 decided the island should become independent. One price would be to split the Chagos Archipelago from Mauritius to create the British Indian Ocean Territory, so Britain could use the strategic islands for defense purposes in cooperation with the United States. Although the government of Mauritius agreed to the move at the time, subsequent administra- tions have laid claim to the islands, stating that the divestment was illegal under international law — a claim recognized by the United Nations. Mauritius attained independence in 1968 and the country became a republic within the Commonwealth in 1992.
Mauritius has been a stable democracy with regular free elections and a positive human rights record, and has attracted considerable foreign investment. It has one of Africa's highest per capita incomes.
Mauritius is a parliamentary democracy based on the British model. The head of state of Mauritius is the pres- ident, who is elected for a five-year term by the National Assembly, the unicameral Mauritian parliament. The National Assembly consists of 62 members elected directly by popular vote, with between four and eight further members appointed from among the "best losers" of the candidates to represent ethnic minorities, if underrep- resented after the elections. The government is headed by the prime minister and a council of ministers. Histori- cally, elections have always adhered to a system comprising two major coalitions of parties.
Mauritian law is an amalgam of French and British legal traditions. The Supreme Court—a chief justice and five other judges—is the highest judicial authority. There is an additional right of appeal to the Queen's Privy Council. 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.
Mauritius has particularly strong relations with Britain, France, India, and South Africa. It is part of the African Union, the Indian Ocean Commission, the Southern African Development Community, the Commonwealth of Nations, and La Francophonie (French-speaking countries), among others. Both Britain and France are important sources of aid, as well as is India. Considered part of Africa geographically, Mauritius has friendly relations with other African states in the region. Mauritian investors are gradually entering African markets, notably Madagascar and Mozambique. Mauritius coordinates much of its foreign policy with the Southern Africa Development Commu- nity and the African Union.
Mauritius does not have a standing army. All military, police, and security functions are carried out by 10,000 active-duty personnel under the command of the Commissioner of Police. The 8,000-member National Police is responsible for domestic law enforcement. The 1,400-member Special Mobile Force (SMF) and the 688-member National Coast Guard are the only two paramilitary units in Mauritius. Both units are composed of police officers on lengthy rotations to those services. The SMF is organized as a ground infantry unit and engages extensively in civic works projects. The Coast Guard has four patrol craft for search-and-rescue missions and surveillance of territorial waters. A 100-member police helicopter squadron assists in search-and-rescue operations. There also is a special supporting unit of 270 members trained in riot control.
Districts and dependencies
The island of Mauritius itself is divided into nine districts:
• Rodrigues, an island northeast of Mauritius that attained limited autonomy in October 2002.
• Agalega, two small islands about 580 miles north of Mauritius.
• Cargados Carajos Shoals, also known as the Saint Brandon islands, about 250 miles north of Mauritius.
Other Mauritian territories:
• Soudan Banks (including East Soudan Bank)
• Nazareth Bank
• Saya de Malha Bank
• Hawkins Bank
Mauritius also claims the following islands:
• In French possession: Tromelin Island, Île Saint-Paul, Île Amsterdam
• In Seychellois possession: Île Platte and Coëtivy Island
• In British possession: Chagos Archipelago
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 around 5-6 percent. This has been reflected in increased life expectancy, lowered infant mortality, and a much improved infrastructure. Mauritius has the second highest GDP per capita in Africa, only exceeded by Equatorial Guinea, which derives most of its revenue from oil exports. Mauritius has a mature economy with a great deal of wealth distribution among its citizens. The economy is mainly dependent on sugar- cane plantations, tourism, textiles, and financial services.
In recent years, information and communication technology (ICT) and seafood have emerged as important sectors of the economy. However, since 2002, the economy started to face some serious challenges as a result of global- ization, involving the erosion of trade preferences for both textiles and sugar, two pillars of the economy. Economic growth declined to 3-4 percent while unemployment, the budget deficit, and public debt increased steadily.
The government that took office in July 2005 embarked on a bold economic reform program aimed at moving Mauritius from reliance on trade preferences to global competitiveness. The reform strategy was designed not only to remedy fiscal weaknesses but also to open up the economy, facilitate business, improve the investment climate, and mobilize foreign direct investment and expertise.
In addition to encouraging the restructuring and modernization of the textile and sugar sectors, the government put much emphasis on the development of the ICT sector and the promotion of Mauritius as a regional seafood hub. To further diversify the economic base and generate sustainable growth, the government is actively encour- aging the following economic activities: (a) land-based oceanic industry, (b) hospitality and property develop- ment, (c) health care and biomedical industry, (d) agro-processing and biotechnology, and (e) knowledge industry.
Mauritius has a long tradition of private entrepreneurship, which has led to a strong and dynamic private sector with a well-developed legal and commercial infrastructure. It also has a well-developed digital infrastructure and offers state-of-the-art telecommunications facilities. The government's policy is to facilitate business, leaving production to the private sector. However, it still controls key utility services directly or through parastatals, including electricity, water, waste water, postal services, and broadcasting. The State Trading Corporation controls imports of rice, flour, petroleum products, and cement.
The government's development strategy centers on foreign investment. Mauritius has attracted more than nine thousand offshore entities, many aimed at commerce in India and South Africa. Investment in the banking sector alone has reached over $1 billion. France is the country's biggest trading partner and provides technical assistance in various forms. Mauritius is gearing toward becoming a duty-free island. Duty has been decreased (and for many products completely eliminated) for more than 1,850 products, including clothing, food, jewelry, photographic equipment, audio-visual equipment, and lighting equipment.
The main motivations are to (1) attract more tourists instead of going to Singapore and Dubai, and, (2) give all Mauritians easier access to quality products at affordable prices. Agriculture includes sugar, sugar derivatives, tea, tobacco, vegetables, fruits, flowers, and fishing. Manufacturing focuses on labor-intensive goods for export, including textiles and clothing, watches and clocks, jewelry, optical goods, toys and games, and cut flowers. Major markets are Europe and the US. It imports meat, dairy products, fish, wheat, rice, wheat flour, vegetable oil, petroleum products, iron and steel, cement, fertilizers, machinery and transport equipment, and textile industry raw materials. The major suppliers are South Africa, France, China, India, Bahrain, Finland, United Kingdom, Japan, Australia, and Germany.
In 1847, Mauritius became the fifth country in the world to issue postage stamps. The two types of stamps issued then, known as the Red Penny and the Blue Penny are probably the most famous stamps in the world, being very rare and therefore also very expensive. When discovered, the island of Mauritius was home to a previously unknown species of bird, which the Portuguese named the dodo (simpleton), as they appeared not too bright.
However, by 1681, all dodos had been killed by settlers or their domesticated animals. An alternate theory suggests that the imported wild boar destroyed the slow-breeding dodo population. Nevertheless, the dodo is prominently featured as a supporter of that. In 1847, Mauritius became the fifth country in the world to issue postage stamps. The two types of stamps issued then, known as the Red Penny and the Blue Penny are probably the most famous stamps in the world, being very rare and therefore also very expensive. When discovered, the island of Mauritius was home to a previously unknown species of bird, which the Portuguese named the dodo the dodo (simpleton), as they appeared not too bright.
However, by 1681, all dodos had been killed by settlers or their domesticated animals. An alternate theory suggests that the imported wild boar destroyed the slow-breeding dodo population. Nevertheless, the dodo is prominently featured as a supporter of the national coat-of-arms
The historical evolution of the rum industry in Mauritius is no less enriching than that of the Caribbean or that of South America. Sugarcane was first introduced on the island when the Dutch colonized it in 1638. Even then, the propensity of making rum out of sugarcane was strongly recognized. Sugarcane was mainly cultivated for the production of “arrack,” a precursor to rum. Only much later, almost 60 years after, was the first proper sugar produced. However, it was during the French and English administration that sugar production was fully exploited. This highly contributed to the economic development of the island. It was Pierre Charles François Harel who initially proposed the concept of local distillation of rum in Mauritius, in 1850. In part due to his efforts, Mauritius today houses three distilleries and is opening another three.
Mauritian society is highly multi-ethnic. Although tensions exist, in general "harmonious separatism" prevails. Most of the island's residents are the descendants of people from the Indian subcontinent. Mauritius also has large immigrant populations from continental Africa, Madagascar, France, Great Britain, and China, among other places.
The official language is English, the language of all government documents. French is also used in the educa- tional system. French, however, predominates in the media, both broadcast and printed, as well as in business. Mauritian Creole, which is derived from French with influences from the other dialects, is widely spoken and is considered the native tongue of the country. Creole was the language used by the African slaves to communicate with their French masters. Today, Creole is used in everyday life by all Mauritians. Hindi is also widely spoken, though restricted to the Indian community. Several other languages, including Arabic, Urdu, Tamil, Telugu, Marathi, Bhojpuri, Gujarati, Punjabi, and dialects of Chinese, such as Cantonese, Hakka, and Mandarin, are also spoken.
Small groups of foreign students from Europe or the Indian Ocean region are also present. The recent years have seen a steady flow of foreign workers, mostly Chinese women, into the textile industry, Indian workers in the con- struction industry, and Taiwanese men in harbor-related activities. Immigration policy does not provoke much debate in Mauritius, and the relative economic stability of the island is attracting more foreign workers.
An officially secular state, Mauritius is a religiously diverse nation, with freedom of religion being enshrined as a constitutional right. The culture of the Mauritian people is reflected in the various religious festivities that are celebrated throughout the year, some of which are recognized as public holidays. Roughly 50 percent of the Mauritian population adheres to Hinduism, mostly Biharis with Tamil, Telugu, and Marathi minorities. Other religious affiliations include Christianity and Islam.
Education has been free through the secondary level since 1976 and through the postsecondary level since 1988. The principal institution of higher learning is the University of Mauritius. English is the main language of instruction, but French is also required. Nearly 85 percent of the adult population is literate.
The sega is the local folklore music. Sega has African roots, and the music is produced using goat-skin percussion instruments called ravane and metallic clicks using metal triangles. The song usually describes the miseries of slavery and has been adapted nowadays as social satires to voice inequalities felt by the Blacks. The rhythm, however, remains very festive and while the men are at the instruments, the Creole women gyrate in large fluid and revealing skirts with bright colors. Shows are regularly hosted in the coastal hotels.
The cuisine of Mauritius is a blend of Indian cuisine, Creole, Chinese, and European. It is not uncommon for a combination of cuisines to form part of the same meal. The "cari poule" or chicken curry, for example, is a very popular dish. The "mine-frit" (Chinese fried noodles) and "niouk nien" (dumplings) are loved by all and readily bought by the Mauritian community either in restaurants or on the sidewalks of main streets. “Alouda” (a milk-based drink with basil seeds) has become a typical Mauritian drink, and the “dholl puri” can be considered a favorite with all communities.
The national sport of Mauritius is soccer and its most popular sport to date. The national football team is called the Club M and represents the country in international matches. They became a member of FIFA in 1962 and Confed- eration of African Football in 1963. Soccer has had a tumultuous history in Mauritius mostly due to changes in leadership which then causes many changes in the management of the games, not to mention the constant problem of financial shortages. But with all these taken into consideration, soccer remains the national passion.
There are other sports that Mauritians do enjoy such as athletics, badminton, basketball, boxing, bodybuilding, cycling, handball, judo, karate, table tennis, taekwondo, volleyball, and weightlifting. Even horseracing is very popular that dates back in the early 19th century when their race stadium Champ de Mars Racecourse was opened to the public. Mauritius also has hosted various international sporting events such as the Indian Ocean Island Games which they did twice (1985 and 2003).
Horse racing (April-December) is another popular sports on the island and the electrifying ambiance at Port Louis (Champ de Mars), notably for the Maiden Cup (listed race), is unique in world racing..
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