|Official Country Name:||Republic of Mauritius|
|Region (Map name):||Africa|
|Language(s):||English, Creole, French, Hindi, Urdu, Hakka, Bojpoori|
Background & General Characteristics
A small island nation, located east of Madagascar in the Indian Ocean, having a population of slightly more than 1.1 million, Mauritius is a stable democracy based on a plural society of several ethnic communities, including three main ones: Indians (Hindus and Muslims), Chinese, and Creoles. Citizens of Indian origin are divided among Hindus (52 percent) and Muslims (16 percent); Christians total about 28 percent, and Buddhists and others about 2 percent. Chinese residents are usually either Buddhist or Catholic. Creoles are mostly of French mixed descent and follow the Catholic faith.
Because of its history, English and French influences are evident, with French preferred over English. This is seen also in the circulation of newspapers in the two languages.
Mauritius is internationally regarded as a functioning democracy with a commendable record of regular fair and free elections and a fairly good human rights record as well. It boasts the highest per capita income in Africa.
Mauritius was a British colony before it attained independence on March 12, 1968. The island was first discovered by Arab explorers in 975 A.D. Among the European powers, it first came under Portuguese control in 1505. By the end of the sixteenth century, Mauritius fell under Dutch authority when, in 1598, the Dutch Admiral Van Warwyck landed his fleet in a bay on the southeast end of the island and named it after himself; Warwick Bay was later renamed Grand Port. Van Warwyck named the island Mauritius after Prince Mauritius Van Nassau, the stadhouder of the Netherlands at that time. Although Dutch ships on the way to the Dutch East Indies (modern Indonesia) occasionally stopped in Warwick Bay for shelter, food, and fresh water, there was no serious effort to develop the island.
In September 1715, Guillaume Dufresne d'Arsel occupied Mauritius in the name of French King Louis XV, naming it Ile de France. Warwyck Bay was renamed Port Bourbon and a little used dock in the northwest was named Port Louis.
The transformation of Port Louis into a thriving sea port was the work of Bertrand Mahe de Labourdonnais, who, in the 1740s, built forts, barracks, warehouses, hospitals, and houses. Roads were built throughout the island, and a shipbuilding industry was founded. The French period also marked the beginning of the island's sugar industry and the importation of African slaves.
In 1785, Ile de France became the headquarters of all the French possessions east of Cape Horn. During the Napoleonic wars, the British occupied Mauritius in 1810. The Treaty of Paris restored most of the former French possessions to the Bourbon King of France, but not Mauritius, which remained a British possession.
Under the British, the sugar industry experienced rapid growth as an export crop. In addition, although the slave trade was abolished in 1807 and slavery itself in 1833, plantation owners in Mauritius kept both practices alive until 1835. Even then, it took a payment of 2 million pounds to the owners to get them to abide by abolition. In the following years, the British encouraged thousands of Indians, both Hindus and Muslims, to migrate to Mauritius as indentured laborers. That process continued until 1907 when indentured labor was also abolished.
During World War II, Mauritius became important to the war effort because of its strategic location. The British based their fleet at Port Louis and Grand Port and built an airport at Plaisance and a sea plane base at Baie du Tombeau. During the war, a large telecommunications facility was built at Vacoas.
The Republic of Mauritius is a parliamentary democracy, governed by a prime minister, a council of ministers, and a National Assembly with 62 elected members and 4 others nominated by the election commission from the losing political parties to give representation to ethnic minorities. Assembly members serve five-year terms. The president and vice-president are elected by the National Assembly, also for five years. National and local elections, supervised by an independent commission, take place at regular intervals.
Politics did not become an important part of island life until 1936, when the Labour Party was founded. After World War II, the Mauritius Labour Party (MLP) won the majority of seats in the Legislative Council established under the 1948 constitution. By 1959, the party had gained wide acceptance, and that year, MLP leader Dr. (later Sir) Seewoosagur Ramgoolam was elected Chief Minister. In 1965 he became Prime Minister, a post he held until 1982. During Ramgoolam's administration, Mauritius became an independent country within the Commonwealth of Nations in 1968; in 1992, it became a republic.
The island's politics were marred by violence when the Mouvement Militant Mauricien (MMM), under the leadership of Franco-Mauritian Paul Berenger, gained power in the elections of 1982. With Berenger as the MMM's General Secretary, and Hindu British-trained lawyer Anerood Jugnauth serving as President, the MMM captured all 62 seats in the legislature. Jagnauth became Prime Minister and Berenger his Finance Minister. In elections held September 17, 2000, Jugnauth retained his post as Prime Minister, with Berenger as his Deputy Prime Minister.
The oldest newspaper published in Africa was in Mauritius: Le Cerneen, which was a French-language organ of the sugar industry. The second oldest daily in Mauritius, also in French, was first published in 1908 to represent the interests of the Creole community.
The growing numbers of immigrant Chinese and Indian laborers and their descendants produced the first Chinese paper, Chinese Daily News, in 1932, and the first Indian daily, Advance, in 1939. Improved literacy and the people's growing interest in politics led to more dailies: China Times (1953), New Chinese Commercial Paper (1956), Star (1963), L'ExpressLe Militant (1969), Liberation (1971), The Nation (1971) and Le Populaire (1973).
As of 2002, there were a dozen privately-owned newspapers published in Mauritius and one on nearby Rodrigues Island. Most of them freely express their views in opposition to reigning government, and although sometimes they seemingly overstep their limits, the government has yet to invoke the libel laws available to it. With the exception of the Chinese dailies, all daily newspapers are published in both French and English. Additionally, the Mauritius News, a bilingual newspaper that is published monthly in London, England, has a wide circulation in Mauritius as well as in the Mauritian community in the United Kingdom. The newspapers extensively use two wire services: the All Africa Newswire available in English and French, and the Pan African News Agency, which provides its news stream in English, French, and Arabic. Copies of the larger Mauritian newspapers and magazines, such as ImpactNews, Le Quotidien, News on Sunday,5-Plus Dimanche, The Sun, Sundayand Week-End are all available on microfilm at the U.S. Library of Congress facility in New Delhi.
After its independence from Britain, Mauritius drastically revolutionized its low-income, agricultural-based economy that largely relied on sugar production to a labor intensive, export oriented industrialized economy that also features a thriving tourist sector. The tourist department advertises Mauritius as "the most cosmopolitan island in the sun" with a "charming population, always wearing a smile." The island nation does offer excellent hotel accommodation, a full range of water and land sports, beautiful beaches, and deep blue lagoons, all of which have combined to make the island a popular tourist destination, which contributes to the economy and well-being of its slightly more than one million inhabitants. Despite the recent industrialization, sugar exports still account for 25 percent of the country's export earnings. Mauritius has also developed into an off-shore finance and investment center, attracting more than 9,000 offshore "entities," mostly interested in conducting trade with India and South Africa, as well as an investment in the banking sector. The island's annual economic growth rate has averaged 5 to 6 percent, which in turn has led to increased life expectancy rates, lower infant mortality, and the creation of a sophisticated infrastructure. In 1999, Mauritian exports were estimated at $1.6 billion and its largest export clients were the United Kingdom (32 percent), France (19 percent), and Germany (6 percent). That same year, its imports were valued at $2.3 billion, with most goods coming from France (14 percent), South Africa (11 percent), India (8 percent), and the United Kingdom (5 percent). The country's external debt stood at $1.9 billion in 2001.
The Constitution, adopted on March 12, 1968, and amended on March 12, 1992, recognizes freedom of speech and of the press. By all accounts, the government of Mauritius respects these freedoms. The Constitution prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention, but because there were reports of several prisoners dying while in police custody in 1998 and early 1999, the Commissioner of Police established a Complaint Investigation Bureau (CIB) in October 1999 to investigate complaints against the police. The national Human Rights Commission established in April 2001 supervises the CIB. The government has permitted prison visits by foreign diplomats, the national ombudsman, the United Nations Human Rights Commission (UNHRC), and the press. In fact, the press has taken an active role in making prison visits and in reporting the living conditions in the media. The government recognizes the fact that many of its citizens greatly respect what it considers to be the fundamental freedoms. For example, although the Public Security Act of 2000 allows police officers of the rank of assistant superintendent and above to search a premises without a warrant in any situation where the delay in obtaining a warrant may be prejudicial to public safety, the government had not implemented the law as of 2002 because of strong public pressures against it.
However, in March 2001, the police briefly detained the editor of the newspaper on Rodrigues island on a charge of publishing false information. The article in question, alleged that a Rodrigues man died as a result of injuries received in police custody. A hearing originally scheduled for November 2001 was postponed to 2002. The Constitution provides for an independent judiciary, which consists of the Supreme Court with appellate powers, and a series of lower courts. The government respects the independence and integrity of the judiciary.
Broadcast & ELECTRONIC News Media
Since 1999 there has been considerable debate about and subsequent changes to the government's control over radio and television broadcasting. In the campaign preceeding the September 2000 elections, the issue of the government's control and misuse of the state-owned Mauritius Broadcasting Corporation (MBC) held center-stage. After the elections, the new government vowed to depoliticize the MBC. By the end of that year, the Mauritian Journalists Association noted in its report that the government was placing far less pressure on it than it had before the election.
Meanwhile, in August 2000, the National Assembly passed the Independent Broadcasting Authority Act, which created the Independent Broadcasting Authority (IBA) with a mandate to regulate and license all radio and television broadcasting. The law provided for the private ownership of broadcast stations and reemphasized the independence of the IBA. However, the IBA is composed of representatives of several ministries and is chaired by Ashok Radhakissoon, an appointee of the Prime Minister, It also is answers to the Prime Minister on matters of national security and public order. The following July and August, the IBA began formulating licensing rules and hearing applications for broadcast licenses. In December 2001, it authorized two private radio stations and announced that a third radio station would be authorized to broadcast. However, the stations were not able to broadcast at the time the they were authorized because they had not yet received "multicarrier" service. Thus the implementation of the law has been slow and the government's monopoly in broadcasting local news and programming continued in early 2002. Some government observers felt that the government was intentionally causing the delays because it did not want to let go of its control over broadcasting. However, while the new stations were waiting to provide service, a private news organization opened up on the Internet that broadcast local news out over the Internet, thereby circumventing the ban on private party television or radio local news broadcasts. Also, foreign international news services such as the British Sky News, French Canal Plus, and CNN were already available to anyone by subscription. Additionally, almost all major Australian cities carry news from Mauritius by broadcasting programs in French. Two popular community radio programs are: the Melbourne South Eastern Community—Mauritian Community Program on 3 SER 97.7 FM (stereo) and the Mauritian, Rodriguan, and Seychelles Community Program, which is run by volunteers, on 3 ZZZ 92.3 FM. The stations broadcast music, news, quiz programs, interviews, and "radiothons" in French and Mauritian Creole.
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. Available on the Internet at http://www.world-Newspapers.com .
Damodar R. SarDesai