“You gather the idea that Mauritius was made first and then heaven was copied after Mauritius.” Mark Twain.
HOME to a mere one million people, the tiny multi-cultural Indian Ocean island nation of Mauritius is a ceaseless wonder.
Located east of Madagascar and south east of Seychelles in Southern Africa, Mauritius is one of the fast growing nations on the continent.
Its selection as Africa’s most competitive nation by the World Economic Forums’ (WEF) Africa competitive report released recently bears testimony of its ever rising growth. Competitiveness, according to the researchers constitutes factors, institutions, and policies that determine a country’s level of productivity.
Productivity, in turn, sets the sustainable level and path of prosperity that a country can achieve.
The competitive index takes note of a country’s progress in areas like infrastructure, macroeconomic environment, health and primary education, technological readiness, business sophistication, Innovation, Goods market efficiency, Labour market efficiency, financial market development among others.
Not often talked about as a continental heavy weight in terms of economic accomplishments, it is befitting that one takes a closer look at the small nation’s rise to the apex ahead of some of Africa’s biggest economies like South Africa and Nigeria.
The tropical island, once a haunt for pirates, is now best known as a safe haven with a thriving tourism industry.
With luxury hotels on white sand beaches and volcanic mountain backdrops, it is an island for exploring.
Indian temples, colonial houses, botanical gardens, and opportunities to spot rare birds among soaring ebony trees, walk with lions or swim with dolphins attests to this.
The tourism hub is in the north around Grand Baie, which has the greatest concentration of hotels, beaches and entertainment. The east coast is most renowned, with some of the most celebrated hotels and stretches of arguably the most beautiful white sand beaches.
Unlike some nations on the continent where luxury is out of reach for the average person, extravagance in Mauritius is surprisingly affordable offering one of the best value deals in the region.
Health wise, about 9,8 percent of government’s total annual expenditure goes to the public healthcare system where Mauritians and permanent residents benefit from free medical services. The African nation’s per capita expenditure on health has been rising, standing at over US$482 according to statistics from the World Bank.
There are numerous public clinics and hospitals, and inexpensive private facilities in Mauritius.
State-run clinics and hospitals provide free medical services, including maternity care and financial assistance to eligible individuals.
In the four decades since the end of British rule, Mauritius has seen average annual growth figures of between five and six per cent – transforming itself from a poor, essentially single-crop, agricultural economy into a diversified middle-income economy with growing textile manufacturing, fish and seafood processing and financial sectors and a thriving tourism industry.
Sugarcane fields can still be found across the island – accounting for a whopping 90 per cent of all agricultural land – but they now compete for space with new-build luxury hotel properties.
Per capita gross domestic product, measured at purchasing power parity, stands at US$12,356 – the region’s sixth highest, behind the Seychelles, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, Libya and Botswana.
Mauritius is one of only three African countries to achieve a high UN Human Development Index rating.
The government’s ongoing development strategy centres on foreign investment. Mauritius has attracted more than 9 000 offshore business entities over the past decade, with many targeting commerce with South Africa and India and a growing number in the medical sector. Inward business investment has reached more than US$1 billion.
To attract tourists and stimulate the economy, Mauritius is aiming to achieve duty-free status within the next five years.
Already, tax has been reduced or eliminated altogether on more than 1850 products, including food, clothing and audio-video and photo equipment, while corporation tax has been lowered to 15 per cent to encourage non-resident companies to trade or invest through a permanent establishment on the island or otherwise.
Last year, Mauritius revamped its ICT industry retaining its position as the African country with the highest ICT development index according to research by Frost and Sullivan in its 2016 report.
The World Economic Forum in 2015 identified Mauritius as the third best country when it comes to telecom and internet connectivity costs in its Global Information Technology Report.
The establishment of a new techno park, a third submarine fibre optic cable as well as enhanced integration of ICT and business in the country is boosting competitiveness in the Information Technology sector.
“Mauritius continues to retain the highest ICT development index (IDI) rank (out of countries in southern Africa) and the highest networked readiness index (NRI) rank in the Southern African region,” read the report in part.
Commenting on Mauritius progress, the WEF said: “Mauritius continues to outperform its continental peers because its leaders have removed the hurdles that prevent so many other countries from achieving prosperity; in this case, streamlining its goods market, building solid infrastructure and promoting a healthy workforce.”
Such a fast growing nation did not achieve all this overnight but has a rich history.
The island of Mauritius was first discovered around the 10th century by Arab sailors who chose to call the endless uninhabited dense forest, Dinarobin (Desert Island.) They however decided against inhabiting the land.
After them came the Portuguese then Dutchman, Wybrant Warwijck around 1598 who renamed it Maurits after Dutch Stadtholder Maurits also known also as Maurice of Nassau.
The French also settled in 1715 but were defeated by the British in 1810, ceding power to them.
Slaves from various African countries coupled by the importation of Indian indentured labourers to work in the sugar cane fields made the island nation a multicultural society.
Independence was attained on the March 12 1968 with Seewoosagur Ramgoolam as prime minister but the status of republic was realised 24 years later on March 12 1992.