Mauritius officially the Republic of Mauritius is an island nation in the Indian Ocean about 2,000 kilometers off the southeast coast of the African continent.
The country includes the islands of Mauritius, Rodrigues, Agaléga and St. Brandon. The islands of Mauritius and Rodrigues form part of the Mascarene Islands, along with nearby Réunion, a French overseas department.
The capital and largest city Port Louis is located on the main island of Mauritius.
The area of the country is 2,040 square kilometers, the nation’s Exclusive Economic Zone covers an area of 2.3 million square kilometers.
Mauritius is categorized as “high” in the Human Development Index. According to the World Bank, the country has an upper-middle-income economy. Mauritius is ranked as the most competitive and one of the most developed economies in the African region.
The country is a welfare state; the government provides free universal health care, free education up to tertiary level and free public transport for students, senior citizens, and the disabled. Mauritius was ranked among the safest or most peaceful countries by the Global Peace Index 2019.
The environment in Mauritius is typically tropical in the coastal regions with forests in the mountainous areas. Seasonal cyclones are destructive to its flora and fauna, although they recover quickly.
Mauritius ranked second in an air quality index released by the World Health Organization in 2011.
Situated near the Tropic of Capricorn, Mauritius has a tropical climate. There are 2 seasons: a warm humid summer from November to April, with a mean temperature of 24.7 °C and a relatively cool dry winter from June to September with a mean temperature of 20.4 °C.
The temperature difference between the seasons is only 4.3 °C. The warmest months are January and February with average day maximum temperature reaching 29.2 °C and the coolest months are July and August with average overnight minimum temperatures of 16.4 °C.
Annual rainfall ranges from 900 mm on the coast to 1,500 mm on the central plateau. Although there is no marked rainy season, most of the rainfall occurs in summer months.
The sea temperature in the lagoon varies from 22–27 °C.
The central plateau is much cooler than the surrounding coastal areas and can experience as much as double the rainfall. The prevailing trade winds keep the east side of the island cooler and bring more rain.
Occasional tropical cyclones generally occur between January and March and tend to disrupt the weather for about three days, bringing heavy rain.
The total land area of the country is 2,040 km2. It is the 170th largest nation in the world by size. The Republic of Mauritius is constituted of the main island of Mauritius and several outlying islands.
Mauritius is 2,000 km off the southeast coast of Africa,. It is 65 km long and 45 km wide. Its land area is 1,864.8 km2.
The island is surrounded by more than 150 km of white sandy beaches, and the lagoons are protected from the open sea by the world’s third-largest coral reef, which surrounds the island. Just off the Mauritian coast lie some 49 uninhabited islands and islets, several used as natural reserves for endangered species.
The island of Mauritius is relatively young geologically, having been created by volcanic activity some 8 million years ago. Together with Saint Brandon, Réunion, and Rodrigues, the island is part of the Mascarene Islands.
These islands emerged as a result of gigantic underwater volcanic eruptions that happened thousands of kilometers to the east of the continental block made up of Africa and Madagascar. They are no longer volcanically active and the hotspot now rests under Réunion Island.
Mauritius is encircled by a broken ring of mountain ranges, varying in height from 300–800 m above sea level. The land rises from coastal plains to a central plateau where it reaches a height of 670 m; the highest peak is in the southwest, Piton de la Petite Rivière Noire at 828 meters.
Streams and rivers speckle the island, many formed in the cracks created by lava flows.
The autonomous island of Rodrigues is located 560 km to the east of Mauritius, it has an area of 108 km2. Rodrigues is a volcanic island rising from a ridge along the edge of the Mascarene Plateau.
The island is hilly with a central spine culminating in the highest peak, Mountain Limon at 398 m. The island also has a coral reef and extensive limestone deposits.
According to Statistics Mauritius, at 1 July 2019, the population of the island was estimated at 43,371.
The Chagos Archipelago is composed of atolls and islands and is located approximately 2200 kilometers north-east of the main island of Mauritius. To the north of the Chagos Archipelago are Peros Banhos, Salomon Islands and Nelsons Island; to the south-west are The Three Brothers, Eagle Islands, Egmont Islands and Danger Island. Diego Garcia is in the south-east of the Archipelago.
In 2016, the Chagossians population was estimated at 8,700 in Mauritius including 483 natives, 350 Chagossians live in Seychelles including 75 natives while 1200 Chagossians moved to the UK which has grown up to 3,000 including 127 natives.
St. Brandon, also known as Cargados Carajos Shoals, is located 402 kilometers northeast of Mauritius Island. The archipelago consists of 16 Islands and Islets.
The twin islands of Agaléga are located some 1,000 km (620 mi) to the north of Mauritius. Its North Island is 12.5 kilometers long and 1.5 kilometers wide, while its South Island is 7 kilometers long and 4.5 kilometers wide. The total area of both islands is 26 km2.
According to Statistics Mauritius, on 1 July 2019, the population of Agaléga and St. Brandon was estimated at 274.
Tromelin island lies 430 km northwest of Mauritius. Mauritius claims sovereignty over Tromelin island, as does France.
Districts of Mauritius Island
Mauritius is subdivided into nine Districts, they consist of different cities, towns, and villages.
Mauritius has long sought sovereignty over the Chagos Archipelago, located 1,287 kilometers to the northeast. Chagos was administratively part of Mauritius from the 18th century when the French first settled the islands. All of the islands forming part of the French colonial territory of Isle de France (as Mauritius was then known) were ceded to the British in 1810 under the Act of Capitulation signed between the two powers.
In 1965, three years before the independence of Mauritius, the United Kingdom split the Chagos Archipelago from Mauritius and the islands of Aldabra, Farquhar, and Desroches from Seychelles to form British Indian Ocean Territory (BIOT). The islands were formally established as an overseas territory of the United Kingdom on 8 November 1965.
On 23 June 1976, Aldabra, Farquhar, and Desroches were returned to Seychelles as a result of its attaining independence. The BIOT now comprises the Chagos Archipelago only. The UK leased the main island of the archipelago Diego Garcia to the United States under a 50-year lease to establish a military base.
In 2016, Britain unilaterally extended the lease to the US until 2036. Mauritius has repeatedly asserted that the separation of its territories is a violation of United Nations resolutions banning the dismemberment of colonial territories before independence and claims that the Chagos Archipelago, including Diego Garcia, forms an integral part of the territory of Mauritius under both Mauritian law and international law.
After initially denying that the islands were inhabited, British officials forcibly expelled to the mainland approximately 2,000 Chagossians who had lived on those islands for a century. The UK threatened the Chagossians and choked their dogs to death with vehicles fumes being pumped into the building, while others were shot or poisoned.
In the United Nation and in statements to its Parliament the UK pretended that there was no “permanent population” in the Chagos Archipelago and described the population as mere “contract laborers” who were relocated.
Since 1971, only the atoll of Diego Garcia is inhabited, home to some 3,000 UK and US military and civilian contracted personnel. Chagossians have since engaged in activism to return to the archipelago, claiming that their forced expulsion and dispossession were illegal.
Permanent Court of Arbitration
On 20 December 2010, Mauritius initiated proceedings against the United Kingdom under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) to challenge the legality of the Chagos Marine Protected Area (MPA), which the UK purported to declare around the Chagos Archipelago in April 2010. The dispute was arbitrated by the Permanent Court of Arbitration.
The sovereignty of Mauritius was explicitly recognized by two of the arbitrators and denied by none of the other three. Three members of the Tribunal found that they did not have jurisdiction to rule on that question; they expressed no view as to which of the two States has sovereignty over the Chagos Archipelago. Tribunal Judges Rüdiger Wolfrum and James Kateka held that the Tribunal did have jurisdiction to decide this question, and concluded that the UK does not have sovereignty over the Chagos Archipelago.
They found that:
Internal United Kingdom documents suggested there was an ulterior motive behind the ‘MPA’ and noted the disturbing similarities and common pattern between the establishment of the so-called “BIOT” in 1965 and the proclamation of the ‘MPA’ in 2010;
The excision of the Chagos Archipelago from Mauritius in 1965 shows a complete disregard for the territorial integrity of Mauritius by the UK;
UK Prime Minister Harold Wilson’s threat to Premier Sir Seewoosagur Ramgoolam in 1965 that he could return home without independence if he did not consent to the excision of the Chagos Archipelago amounted to duress; Mauritian Ministers were coerced into agreeing to the detachment of the Chagos Archipelago, and that this detachment violated the international law of self-determination;
The ‘MPA’ is legally invalid.
The Tribunal’s decision determined that the UK’s undertaking to return the Chagos Archipelago to Mauritius gives Mauritius an interest in significant decisions that bear upon possible future uses of the Archipelago. The result of the Tribunal’s decision is that, it is now open to the Parties to enter into the negotiations that the Tribunal would have expected prior to the proclamation of the MPA, with a view to achieving a mutually satisfactory arrangement for protecting the marine environment, to the extent necessary under a “sovereignty umbrella”.
Along with the other Mascarene Islands, Mauritius is known for its varied flora and fauna, with many species endemic to the island. The island was the only known home of the dodo, which, along with several other avian species, was made extinct by human activities relatively shortly after the island’s settlement.
The country is home to some of the world’s rarest plants and animals, but human habitation and the introduction of non-native species have threatened its indigenous flora and fauna.
Due to its volcanic origin, age, isolation, and its unique terrain, Mauritius is home to a diversity of flora and fauna not usually found in such a small area.
Before the Portuguese arrival in 1507, there were no terrestrial mammals on the island. This allowed the evolution of a number of flightless birds and large reptile species. The arrival of man saw the introduction of invasive alien species and the rapid destruction of habitat and the loss of much of the endemic flora and fauna.
Less than 2% of the native forest now remains, concentrated in the Black River Gorges National Park in the southwest, the Bambous Mountain Range in the southeast, and the Moka-Port Louis Ranges in the northwest.
There are some isolated mountains, Corps de Garde, Le Morne Brabant, and several offshore islands with remnants of coastal and mainland diversity.
Over 100 species of plants and animals have become extinct and many more are threatened. Conservation activities began in the 1980s with the implementation of programs for the reproduction of threatened bird and plant species as well as habitat restoration in the national parks and nature reserves.
In 2011, The Ministry of Environment & Sustainable Development issued the “Mauritius Environment Outlook Report” which recommended that St Brandon be declared a Marine Protected Area.
In the President’s Report of the Mauritian Wildlife Foundation dated March 2016, St Brandon is declared an official MWF project in order to promote the conservation of the atoll.
The Mauritian Flying Fox is the only remaining mammal endemic to the island and has been severely threatened in recent years due to the government-sanctioned culling introduced in November 2015 due to the belief that they were a threat to fruit plantations.
Prior to 2015, the lack of severe cyclones had seen the fruit bat population increase and the status of the species was then changed by the IUCN from Endangered to Vulnerable in 2014.
October 2018, saw the authorization of the cull of 20% of the fruit bat population, amounting to 13,000 of the estimated 65,000 fruit bats remaining, although their status had already reverted to Endangered due to the previous years’ culls.
When it was discovered, Mauritius was the home of a previously unknown species of bird, the dodo, descendants of a type of pigeon that settled in Mauritius over four million years ago. With no predators to attack them, they had lost their ability to fly.
Arabs became the first humans to set foot on Mauritius, followed by Portuguese around 1505. The island quickly became a stopover for ships engaged in the spice trade. Weighing up to 23 kg, the dodo was a welcome source of fresh meat for the sailors. Large numbers of dodos were killed for food.
Later, when the Dutch used the island as a penal colony, new species were introduced to the island. Rats, pigs, and monkeys ate dodo eggs in the ground nests.
The combination of human exploitation and introduced species significantly reduced the dodo population.
Within 100 years of the arrival of humans on Mauritius, the once abundant dodo became a rare bird. The last one was killed in 1681.
The dodo is prominently featured as a (heraldic) supporter of the national coat of arms of Mauritius.
The people of Mauritius are multiethnic, multi-religious, multicultural and multilingual. The island’s government is closely modeled on the Westminster parliamentary system, and Mauritius is highly ranked for democracy and for economic and political freedom.
The estimated population of the Republic of Mauritius was at 1,265,985. Mauritius has the highest population density in Africa.
Subsequent to a Constitutional amendment in 1982, there is no need for Mauritians to reveal their ethnic identities for the purpose of population census.
Official statistics on ethnicity are not available. The 1972 census was the last one to measure ethnicity. Mauritius is a multiethnic society, drawn from Indian, African, Chinese and European (mostly French) origin.
The Mauritian constitution makes no mention of an official language. The Constitution only mentions that the official language of the National Assembly is English; however, any member can also address the chair in French.
English and French are generally considered to be de facto national and common languages of Mauritius, as they are the languages of government administration, courts, and business.
The constitution of Mauritius is written in English, while some laws, such as the Civil code and Criminal code, are in French.
The Mauritian currency features the Latin, Tamil and Devanagari scripts.
The Mauritian population is multilingual; while Mauritian Creole is the mother tongue of most Mauritians, most people are also fluent in English and French; they tend to switch languages according to the situation.
French and English are favored in educational and professional settings, while Asian languages are used mainly in music, religious and cultural activities.
The media and literature are primarily in French.
The Creole language, which is French-based with some additional influences, is spoken by the majority of the population as a native language. The Creole languages which are spoken in different islands of the country are more or less similar: Mauritian Creole, Rodriguan Creole, Agalega Creole and Chagossian Creole are spoken by people from the islands of Mauritius, Rodrigues, Agalega and Chagos.
Some ancestral languages that are also spoken in Mauritius include Bhojpuri, Chinese, Hindi, Marathi, Tamil, Telugu and Urdu. Bhojpuri, once widely spoken as a mother tongue, has become less commonly spoken over the years. According to the 2011 census, Bhojpuri was spoken by 5% of the population compared to 12% in 2000.
School students must learn English and French; they may also opt for an Asian language or Mauritian Creole. The medium of instruction varies from school to school but is usually Creole, French and English.
In 1598, the Dutch took possession of Mauritius, abandoning the island in 1710; the French took control in 1715, renaming it Isle de France. France officially ceded Mauritius including all its dependencies to the United Kingdom (UK) through the Treaty of Paris, signed on 30 May 1814 and in which Réunion was returned to France.
The British colony of Mauritius consisted of the main island of Mauritius along with Rodrigues, Agalega, St Brandon, Tromelin and the Chagos Archipelago, while Seychelles became a separate colony in 1906. The sovereignty of Tromelin is disputed between Mauritius and France as some of the islands such as St. Brandon, Chagos, Agalega and Tromelin were not specifically mentioned in the Treaty of Paris.
In 1965, three years prior to the independence of Mauritius, the UK split the Chagos Archipelago from Mauritian territory, and the islands of Aldabra, Farquhar and Desroches from the Seychelles, to form the British Indian Ocean Territory (BIOT). The UK forcibly expelled the archipelago’s local population and leased its largest island, Diego Garcia, to the United States. The UK has restricted access to the Chagos Archipelago; it has been prohibited to casual tourists, the media, and its former inhabitants. The sovereignty of the Chagos is disputed between Mauritius and the UK. In February 2019, in an advisory opinion given by the International Court of Justice on this dispute, the UK was ordered to hand back the Chagos Islands to Mauritius as rapidly as possible, in order to complete the decolonisation of Mauritius.
The island of Mauritius was uninhabited before its first recorded visit during the Middle Ages by Arab sailors, who named it Dina Arobi.
In 1507, Portuguese sailors came to the uninhabited island and established a visiting base. Diogo Fernandes Pereira, a Portuguese navigator, was the first European known to land in Mauritius. He named the island “Ilha do Cirne” (“Island of Cirne”). The Portuguese did not stay long as they were not interested in these islands.
The Mascarene Islands were named after Pedro Mascarenhas, Viceroy of Portuguese India, after his visit to the islands in 1512.
Rodrigues Island was named after Portuguese explorer Diogo Rodrigues, who first came upon the island in 1528.
Dutch Mauritius (1638–1710)
In 1598 a Dutch squadron under Admiral Wybrand Van Warwyck landed at Grand Port and named the island “Mauritius” after Prince Maurice of Nassau (Dutch: Maurits van Nassau) of the Dutch Republic. The Dutch inhabited the island in 1638, from which they exploited ebony trees and introduced sugar cane, domestic animals and deer. It was from here that Dutch navigator Abel Tasman set out to discover the western part of Australia. The first Dutch settlement lasted twenty years. Several attempts were subsequently made, but the settlements never developed enough to produce dividends, causing the Dutch to abandon Mauritius in 1710.
French Mauritius (1715–1810)
France, which already controlled neighbouring Île Bourbon (now Réunion), took control of Mauritius in 1715 and renamed it Isle de France. In 1723, the Code Noir was established to categorise one group of human beings as “goods”, in order for the owner of these goods to be able to obtain insurance money and compensation in case of loss of his “goods”. The 1735 arrival of French governor Bertrand-François Mahé de La Bourdonnais coincided with development of a prosperous economy based on sugar production. Mahé de La Bourdonnais established Port Louis as a naval base and a shipbuilding centre.
Under his governorship, numerous buildings were erected, a number of which are still standing. These include part of Government House, the Château de Mon Plaisir, and the Line Barracks, the headquarters of the police force. The island was under the administration of the French East India Company which maintained its presence until 1767.
From 1767 to 1810, except for a brief period during the French Revolution when the inhabitants set up a government virtually independent of France, the island was controlled by officials appointed by the French government. Jacques-Henri Bernardin de Saint-Pierre lived on the island from 1768 to 1771, then went back to France, where he wrote Paul et Virginie, a love story, which made the Isle de France famous wherever the French language was spoken. Two famous French governors were the Vicomte de Souillac (who constructed the Chaussée in Port Louis and encouraged farmers to settle in the district of Savanne), and Antoine Bruni d’Entrecasteaux (who saw to it that the French in the Indian Ocean should have their headquarters in Mauritius instead of Pondicherry in India). Charles Mathieu Isidore Decaen was a successful general in the French Revolutionary Wars and, in some ways, a rival of Napoléon I. He ruled as Governor of Isle de France and Réunion from 1803 to 1810. British naval cartographer and explorer Matthew Flinders was arrested and detained by General Decaen on the island, in contravention of an order from Napoléon. During the Napoleonic Wars, Mauritius became a base from which French corsairs organised successful raids on British commercial ships. The raids continued until 1810, when a Royal Navy expedition led by Commodore Josias Rowley, R.N., an Anglo-Irish aristocrat, was sent to capture the island. Despite winning the Battle of Grand Port, the only French naval victory over the British during these wars, the French could not prevent the British from landing at Cap Malheureux three months later. They formally surrendered the island on the fifth day of the invasion, 3 December 1810, on terms allowing settlers to keep their land and property and to use the French language and law of France in criminal and civil matters. Under British rule, the island’s name reverted to Mauritius. The swift conquest of Mauritius was fictionalised in the novel The Mauritius Command by Patrick O’Brian, first published in 1977.
British Mauritius (1810–1968)
The British administration, which began with Sir Robert Farquhar as Governor, led to rapid social and economic changes. However, it was tainted by the Ratsitatane episode. Ratsitatane, nephew of King Radama of Madagascar, was brought to Mauritius as a political prisoner. He managed to escape from prison and plotted a rebellion that would free the island’s slaves. He was betrayed by an associate and was caught by the British forces, summarily judged, and condemned to death. He was beheaded at Plaine Verte on 15 April 1822, and his head was displayed as a deterrent against future uprisings among the slaves.
In 1832, Adrien d’Épinay launched the first Mauritian newspaper (Le Cernéen) which was not controlled by the government. In the same year, there was a move by the procureur-general to abolish slavery without compensation to the slave owners. This gave rise to discontent, and, to check an eventual rebellion, the government ordered all the inhabitants to surrender their arms. Furthermore, a stone fortress, Fort Adelaide, was built on a hill (now known as the Citadel hill) in the centre of Port Louis to quell any uprising.
Slavery was abolished in 1835, and the planters ultimately received two million pounds sterling in compensation for the loss of their slaves who had been imported from Africa and Madagascar during the French occupation. The abolition of slavery had important impacts on Mauritius’s society, economy and population. The planters brought a large number of indentured labourers from India to work in the sugar cane fields. Between 1834 and 1921, around half a million indentured labourers were present on the island. They worked on sugar estates, factories, in transport and on construction sites. Additionally, the British brought 8,740 Indian soldiers to the island. Aapravasi Ghat, in the bay at Port Louis and now a UNESCO site, was the first British colony to serve as a major reception centre for indentured servants.
An important figure of the 19th century was Rémy Ollier, a journalist of mixed origin. In 1828, the colour bar was officially abolished in Mauritius, but British governors gave little power to coloured persons, and appointed only whites as leading officials. Rémy Ollier petitioned to Queen Victoria to allow coloureds in the council of government, and this became possible a few years later. He also made Port Louis become a municipality so that the citizens could administer the town through their own elected representatives. A street has been named after him in Port Louis, and his bust was erected in the Jardin de la Compagnie in 1906. In 1885 a new constitution was introduced to Mauritius. It created elected positions on the governing council, but the franchise was restricted mainly to the French and Creole classes.
The labourers brought from India were not always fairly treated, and a German, Adolph von Plevitz, made himself the unofficial protector of these immigrants. He mixed with many of the labourers, and in 1871 helped them to write a petition which was sent to Governor Gordon. A commission was appointed to look into the complaints made by the Indian immigrants, and in 1872 two lawyers, appointed by the British Crown, were sent from England to make an inquiry. This Royal Commission recommended several measures that would affect the lives of Indian labourers during the next fifty years.
In November 1901, Mahatma Gandhi visited Mauritius, on his way from South Africa to India. He stayed on the island for two weeks, and urged the Indo-Mauritian community to take an interest in education and to play a more active role in politics. Back in India, he sent over a young lawyer, Manilal Doctor, to improve the plight of the Indo-Mauritians. During the same year, faster links were established with the island of Rodrigues thanks to the wireless.
In 1903, motorcars were introduced in Mauritius, and in 1910 the first taxis, operated by Joseph Merven, came into service. The electrification of Port Louis took place in 1909, and in the same decade the Mauritius Hydro Electric Company (managed by the Atchia Brothers) was authorised to provide power to the towns of upper Plaines Wilhems.
The 1910s were a period of political agitation. The rising middle class (made up of doctors, lawyers, and teachers) began to challenge the political power of the sugar cane landowners. Dr. Eugène Laurent, mayor of Port Louis, was the leader of this new group; his party, Action Libérale, demanded that more people should be allowed to vote in the elections. Action Libérale was opposed by the Parti de l’Ordre, led by Henri Leclézio, the most influential of the sugar magnates. In 1911 there were riots in Port Louis due to a false rumour that Dr. Eugène Laurent had been murdered by the oligarchs in Curepipe. Shops and offices were damaged in the capital, and one person was killed. In the same year, 1911, the first public cinema shows took place in Curepipe, and, in the same town, a stone building was erected to house the Royal College. In 1912, a wider telephone network came into service, and it was used by the government, business firms, and a few private households.
World War I broke out in August 1914. Many Mauritians volunteered to fight in Europe against the Germans and in Mesopotamia against the Turks. But the war affected Mauritius much less than the wars of the eighteenth century. On the contrary, the 1914–1918 war was a period of great prosperity because of a boom in sugar prices. In 1919 the Mauritius Sugar Syndicate came into being, and it included 70% of all sugar producers.
The 1920s saw the rise of a “retrocessionism” movement which favoured the retrocession of Mauritius to France. The movement rapidly collapsed because none of the candidates who wanted Mauritius to be given back to France was elected in the 1921 elections. Due to the post-war recession, there was a sharp drop in sugar prices. Many sugar estates closed down, and it marked the end of an era for the sugar magnates who had not only controlled the economy, but also the political life of the country. Raoul Rivet, the editor of Le Mauricien newspaper, campaigned for a revision of the constitution that would give the emerging middle class a greater role in the running of the country. The principles of Arya Samaj began to infiltrate the Hindu community, who clamoured for more social justice.
The 1930s saw the birth of the Labour Party, launched by Dr. Maurice Curé. Emmanuel Anquetil rallied the urban workers while Pandit Sahadeo concentrated on the rural working class. The Uba riots of 1937 resulted in reforms by the local British government that improved labour conditions and led to the un-banning of labour unions. Labour Day was celebrated for the first time in 1938. More than 30,000 workers sacrificed a day’s wage and came from all over the island to attend a giant meeting at the Champ de Mars.
At the outbreak of World War II in 1939, many Mauritians volunteered to serve under the British flag in Africa and the Near East, fighting against the German and Italian armies. Some went to England to become pilots and ground staff in the Royal Air Force. Mauritius was never really threatened, but several British ships were sunk outside Port Louis by German submarines in 1943.
During World War II, conditions were hard in the country; the prices of commodities doubled, but the salaries of workers increased only by 10 to 20 percent. There was civil unrest, and the colonial government crushed all trade union activities. However, the labourers of Belle Vue Harel Sugar Estate went on strike on 27 September 1943. Police officers eventually fired on the crowd, and killed three labourers including a boy of ten and a pregnant woman, Anjaly Coopen.
The first general elections were held on 9 August 1948 and were won by the Labour Party. This party, led by Guy Rozemont, bettered its position in 1953, and, on the strength of the election results, demanded universal suffrage. Constitutional conferences were held in London in 1955 and 1957, and the ministerial system was introduced. Voting took place for the first time on the basis of universal adult suffrage on 9 March 1959. The general election was again won by the Labour Party, led this time by Sir Seewoosagur Ramgoolam.
A Constitutional Review Conference was held in London in 1961, and a programme of further constitutional advance was established. The 1963 election was won by the Labour Party and its allies. The Colonial Office noted that politics of a communal nature was gaining ground in Mauritius and that the choice of candidates (by parties) and the voting behaviour (of electors) were governed by ethnic and caste considerations. Around that time, two eminent British academics, Richard Titmuss and James Meade, published a report of the island’s social problems caused by overpopulation and the monoculture of sugar cane. This led to an intense campaign to halt the population explosion, and the decade registered a sharp decline in population growth.
Independence (since 1968)
At the Lancaster Conference of 1965, it became clear that Britain wanted to relieve itself of the colony of Mauritius. In 1959, Harold Macmillan had made his famous Winds of Change Speech where he acknowledged that the best option for Britain was to give complete independence to its colonies. Thus, since the late Fifties, the way was paved for independence.
Later in 1965, after the Lancaster Conference, the Chagos Archipelago was excised from the territory of Mauritius to form the British Indian Ocean Territory (BIOT). A general election took place on 7 August 1967, and the Labour Party and its two allies obtained the majority of seats. In January 1968, six weeks before the declaration of independence the 1968 Mauritian riots occurred in Port Louis leading to the deaths of 25 people.
Mauritius adopted a new constitution and independence was proclaimed on 12 March 1968. Sir Seewoosagur Ramgoolam became the first prime minister of an independent Mauritius with Queen Elizabeth II remaining head of state as Queen of Mauritius. In 1969, the opposition party Mauritian Militant Movement (MMM) led by Paul Bérenger was founded. Later in 1971, the MMM, backed by unions, called a series of strikes in the port which caused a state of emergency in the country. The coalition government of the Labour Party and the PMSD (Parti Mauricien Social Démocrate) reacted by curtailing civil liberties and curbing freedom of the press. Two unsuccessful assassination attempts were made against Paul Bérenger. The second one led to the death of Azor Adélaïde, a dock worker and activist, on 25 November 1971. General elections were postponed and public meetings were prohibited. Members of the MMM including Paul Bérenger were imprisoned on 23 December 1971. The MMM leader was released a year later.
In May 1975, a student revolt that started at the University of Mauritius swept across the country. The students were unsatisfied with an education system that did not meet their aspirations and gave limited prospects for future employment. On 20 May, thousands of students tried to enter Port-Louis over the Grand River North West bridge and clashed with police. An act of Parliament was passed on 16 December 1975 to extend the right to vote to 18-year-olds. This was seen as an attempt to appease the frustration of the younger generation.
The next general election took place on 20 December 1976. The Labour Party won 28 seats out of 62 but Prime Minister Sir Seewoosagur Ramgoolam managed to remain in office, with a two-seat majority, after striking an alliance with the PMSD of Gaetan Duval.
In 1982 an MMM government led by Prime Minister Anerood Jugnauth and Paul Bérenger as Minister of Finance was elected. However, ideological and personality differences emerged within the MMM leadership. The power struggle between Bérenger and Jugnauth peaked in March 1983. Jugnauth travelled to New Delhi to attend a Non-Aligned Movement summit; on his return, Bérenger proposed constitutional changes that would strip power from the Prime Minister. At Jugnauth’s request, PM Indira Gandhi of India planned an armed intervention involving the Indian Navy and Indian Army to prevent a coup under the code name Operation Lal Dora.
The MMM government split up nine months after the June 1982 election. According to an Information Ministry official the nine months was a “socialist experiment”. The new MSM party, led by Anerood Jugnauth, was elected in 1983. Gaëtan Duval became the vice-prime minister. Throughout the decade, Anerood Jugnauth ruled the country with the help of the PMSD and the Labour Party.
That period saw a growth in the EPZ (Export Processing Zone) sector. Industrialisation began to spread to villages as well, and attracted young workers from all ethnic communities. As a result, the sugar industry began to lose its hold on the economy. Large retail chains began opening stores in 1985 and offered credit facilities to low income earners, thus allowing them to afford basic household appliances. There was also a boom in the tourism industry, and new hotels sprang up throughout the island. In 1989 the stock exchange opened its doors and in 1992 the freeport began operation. In 1990, the Prime Minister lost the vote on changing the Constitution to make the country a republic with Bérenger as President.
Republic (since 1992)
On 12 March 1992, twenty-four years after independence, Mauritius was proclaimed a republic within the Commonwealth of Nations. The last governor general, Sir Veerasamy Ringadoo, became the first president. This was under a transitional arrangement, in which he was replaced by Cassam Uteem later that year. Political power remained with the prime minister.
Despite an improvement in the economy, which coincided with a fall in the price of petrol and a favourable dollar exchange rate, the government did not enjoy full popularity. As early as 1984, there was discontent. Through the Newspapers and Periodicals Amendment Act, the government tried to make every newspaper provide a bank guarantee of half a million rupees. Forty-three journalists protested by participating in a public demonstration in Port Louis, in front of Parliament. They were arrested and freed on bail. This caused a public outcry and the government had to review its policy.
There was also dissatisfaction in the education sector. There were not enough high-quality secondary colleges to answer the growing demand of primary school leavers who had got through their CPE (Certificate of Primary Education). In 1991, a master plan for education failed to get national support and contributed to the government’s downfall.
Navin Ramgoolam was elected as prime minister in 1995. In February 1999, the country experienced a brief period of civil unrest. President Cassam Uteem and Cardinal Jean Margéot toured the country and, after four days of turmoil, calm was restored. A commission of enquiry was set up to investigate the root causes of the social disturbance. The resulting report delved into the cause of poverty and qualified many tenacious beliefs as perceptions.
Anerood Jugnauth of the MSM returned to power in 2000 after making an alliance with the MMM. In 2002, the island of Rodrigues became an autonomous entity within the republic and was thus able to elect its own representatives to administer the island. In 2003, the prime ministership was transferred to Paul Bérenger of the MMM, and Anerood Jugnauth went to Le Réduit to serve as president.
Berenger was the first Franco-Mauritian premier in the country’s history. In 2005, Navin Ramgoolam and the Labour Party returned to power. Ramgoolam lost power in 2014. He was succeeded by Anerood Jugnauth.
On 21 January 2017, Anerood Jugnauth announced that in two days time he would resign in favour of his son, Finance Minister Pravind Jugnauth, who would assume the office of prime minister. The transition took place as planned on 23 January 2017.
In 2018, Mauritian president Ameenah Gurib-Fakim (the only erstwhile female head of state in the African Union) resigned over a financial scandal. The current acting president is Barlen Vyapoory.