« Edward Said dead | Gene Expression Front Page | Wish I had a bigger head »
September 25, 2003

Mauritius as an African model?

Full article attached below for non-subscribers. Mauritius seems to be a model for co-existence of many ethnic groups, and with a market dominant minority (whites) to boot. See this page for an explanation of the Byzantine Mauritian ethnic structure.

Mauritius changes government

Offshore and upbeat
Sep 25th 2003 | PORT LOUIS
From The Economist print edition

Picture postcards tell the truth about the place, more or less

A HAPPY game of musical chairs is due to begin on September 30th. Shortly after lunch, Sir Anerood Jugnauth, the prime minister of Mauritius, will resign, to be replaced within hours by his deputy, Paul Bérenger. A few days later, Sir Anerood takes up the largely ceremonial job of president. It is a measure of the stability of this Indian Ocean island, far off Africa's east coast, that all this has been in the offing since an election in 2000. The party leaders struck a power-sharing deal, and stuck to it. This, says the prime minister-to-be, shows that “Mauritius is in great health with a real, lively democracy.”

Complicating matters, Mr Bérenger has a white skin, and traces his family roots to Marseilles in France. In most of Africa (Mauritius is a member of the African Union), the return of a white leader to power would be unlikely if not impossible. In Mauritius, there were no more than a few grumbles from the majority Indian group that, until now, has produced every prime minister since independence in 1968.

Some of the most resentful grumbles have come from Mouvement Républicain, a left-wing opposition party which is suggesting that Mr Bérenger's two-year rule, until the next election, will threaten national unity. It argues that the whites, who constitute just 2% of the 1.2m islanders, do not deserve political power because they already have too much of the economic sort, especially in tourism.

Mr Bérenger agrees that there are tensions between the different ethnic groups from Africa, India, China and Europe; and says that “under the surface of the nice postcard, Mauritius is still fragile.” Pretty deep under the surface, one might add: when asked about violence, people speak of an incident in 1999 when the police shot two rioters after a singer died in jail.

In 1982, Mauritius became the first African country to vote an opposition party successfully into office. Rival politicians usually agree on the policies that matter: Mr Bérenger has long dropped his once-socialist leanings. Co-operation between parties, especially on economic matters, reassures investors and has made Mauritians far richer than most African countries. Some 18,000 offshore financial companies are listed on the island; foreign tourists flock to its beaches; and investors are building a $100m high-tech “cyber city” for telecom and computer companies. An enviable model, indeed.

Posted by razib at 01:00 PM

In Taiwan in 1984 I met a Mauritius Chinese. He told me that the Mauritius Chinese were Hakkas.

Posted by: Zizka at September 25, 2003 08:50 PM

So what's the cause? Why has Mauritius been successful and built a dynamic and propsperous developed economy, despite all its handicaps (large black population, geography) while other majority Indian-expat societies like Guyana, Trinidad and Fiji are largely failures? If I am aware, all four nations draw their large Indian populations from low-caste coolie labourers imported by the British Raj from Bihar, Uttar Pradesh and the "Hindi heartland".

Mauritius is quite an anamoly.

Posted by: sen at September 25, 2003 09:46 PM

well, one difference is that only in mauritius have indians had socio-political dominance. in guyana & trinidad the educated black-mixed race population have traditionally dominated public service & the military and until recently political leadership. in fiji the dominance of the native fijians is even stronger because it is given legal sanction (they own most of the land communally and indians can't purchase it) and traditional weight (the native fijians are native after all).

also, here are the % of south asians in all three areas:

fiji: Fijian 51% (predominantly Melanesian with a Polynesian admixture), Indian 44%, European, other Pacific Islanders, overseas Chinese, and other 5% (1998 est.)

guyana: East Indian 50%, black 36%, Amerindian 7%, white, Chinese, and mixed 7%

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

t & t: black 39.5%, East Indian (a local term - primarily immigrants from northern India) 40.3%, mixed 18.4%, white 0.6%, Chinese and other 1.2%

now, you forget suriname: Hindustani (also known locally as "East Indians"; their ancestors emigrated from northern India in the latter part of the 19th century) 37%, Creole (mixed white and black) 31%, Javanese 15%, "Maroons" (their African ancestors were brought to the country in the 17th and 18th centuries as slaves and escaped to the interior) 10%, Amerindian 2%, Chinese 2%, white 1%, other 2%

Posted by: razib at September 26, 2003 12:14 AM