The Republic of Mauritius is an island country in the southwest Indian Ocean, about 900 km east of Madagascar. In addition to the island of Mauritius, the republic includes the islands of St. Brandon and Rodrigues and the Agalega Islands. Mauritius is part of the Mascarene Islands, with the French island of Réunion 200 km to the southwest.
"First God made Mauritius, then he copied it and made Paradise." -- Rudyard Kipling
"God modelled heaven on Mauritius." -- Mark Twain
Main article: History of Mauritius
The island was discovered by the Portuguese in 1505, and first colonised by the Dutch in 1638, naming the island in honour of Prince Maurice of Nassau. The French controlled the island during the 18th century and renamed it Ile de France. The island was taken over by the British in 1810 and reverted to its former name.
Independence was attained in 1968, with the country becoming 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 earning one of Africa's highest per capita incomes.
Main article: Politics of Mauritius
The head of state of Mauritius is the president, 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, while between 4 and 8 further members are appointed from "best losers" election candidates to represent ethnic minorities, depending on the results of the election. The government is headed by the prime minister and a council of ministers.
Districts and dependencies
Main article: Districts and dependencies of Mauritius
The island of Mauritius itself is divided into 9 districts:
Three islands or island groups also belonging to Mauritius are dependencies:
Main article: Geography of Mauritius
Together with Réunion and Rodrigues, Mauritius is part of the Mascarene Islands. 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, and the hotspot now rests under Réunion. The island of Mauritius itself is formed around a central plateau, with its highest peak in the southwest, Piton de la Riviere Noire at 828 m. Around the plateau, the original crater can still be distinguished from several mountains.
The local climate is tropical, modified by southeast trade winds; there is a warm, dry winter from May to November and a hot, wet, and humid summer from November to May. Cyclones affect the country during November-April.
The island's capital and largest city is Port Louis, in the northwest. Other important towns are Curepipe, Rose Hill, Quatre Bornes and Vacoas .
Main article: Economy of Mauritius
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 of the order of 5% to 6%. This remarkable achievement has been reflected in increased life expectancy, lowered infant mortality, and a much improved infrastructure.
Sugar cane is grown on about 90% of the cultivated land area and accounts for 25% of export earnings. A record-setting drought severely damaged the sugar crop in 1999, however. The government's development strategy centres on foreign investment. Mauritius has attracted more than 9,000 offshore entities, many aimed at commerce in India and South Africa, and investment in the banking sector alone has reached over USD 1 billion. Economic performance during the period from 2000 through 2004 combined strong economic growth with unemployment rising to 10.2% in 2003.
On the 4th of April 2005 during his budget speech, Hon. Pravind Jugnauth, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance and Economic Development announced that Mauritius will become a Duty Free Island and that will take about 4 years. Duty has been decreased (and for many products completely elimated) for more that 1850 products including clothing, food, jewellery, photographic equipment, audio visual equipment, lighting equipment etc.
The main motivations are (1) Attract more and more tourists going to Singapore and Dubai, and, (2) Make all Mauritians get access to quality products at affordable prices.
Main article: Demographics of Mauritius
The two official languages of Mauritius are English and French, of which French is the still the most widely spoken despite France having lost its colonial dominion over the island for close to 200 years. A French-based Creole language, with influence from English, Portuguese and Hindi languages, is also widely used by all Mauritians. A written Creole "language" has been evolving since the late sixties. It is based only on pronunciation, and does not resemble French by any means. Several Asian languages, including Hindi, Urdu, and other Indian languages such as Telugu are also spoken.
The latter South Asian language are spoken by descendants of the labourers brought from India by the British. These Indo-Mauritians form approximately 70% of the total population, while the rest of the population are of either African, French, Chinese or mixed descent. There are thought to be approximately 30 000 Mauritians of Chinese descent, from Hakka and Cantonese language groups.
Of all religiously affiliated Mauritians, Hindus constitute 50% with the remainder being composed mostly of Christians(28%) and Muslims (17%).
Main article: Culture of Mauritius
The mixed colonial past of Mauritius is reflected in its culture. For example, the cuisine of Mauritius is a blend of Dutch, French, Indian and Creole.
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. Nevertheless, the dodo is prominently featured as a supporter of the national coat-of-arms (see above).