Mauritius is a mountainous island in the Indian Ocean east of Madagascar.
Parliamentary democracy within the British Commonwealth.
After a brief Dutch settlement, French immigrants who came in 1715 named the island Île de France and established the first road and harbor infrastructure, as well as the sugar industry, under the leadership of Gov. Mahe de Labourdonnais. Blacks from Africa and Madagascar came as slaves to work in the sugarcane fields. In 1810, the British captured the island and in 1814, by the Treaty of Paris, it was ceded to Great Britain along with its dependencies.
Indian immigration, which followed the abolition of slavery in 1835, rapidly changed the fabric of Mauritian society, and the country flourished with the increased cultivation of sugarcane. The opening of the Suez Canal in 1869 heralded the decline of Mauritius as a port of call for ships rounding the southern tip of Africa, bound for South and East Asia. The economic instability of the price of sugar, the main crop, in the first half of the 20th century brought civil unrest, then economic, administrative, and political reforms. Mauritius became independent on March 12, 1968.
The effects of Cyclone Claudette in 1979 and of falling world sugar prices in the early 1980s led the government to initiate a vigorous program of agricultural diversification and develop the processing of imported goods for the export market. The country formally broke ties with the British Crown in March 1992, becoming a republic within the Commonwealth.
In addition to sugarcane, textile production and tourism are the leading industries. Primary education is free, and Mauritius boasts one of the highest literacy rates in sub-Saharan Africa.
With a complicated ethnic mix—about 30% of the population is of African descent and the remainder is mostly of Indian descent, both Hindu and Muslim—political allegiances are organized according to class and ethnicity.
In Feb. 2002, Mauritius went through four presidents in succession. Two resigned within days of each other, each after refusing to sign a controversial anti-terrorism law that severely curtailed the rights of suspects. The law, supported by the prime minister, was ultimately signed by a third, interim president. At the end of February, a fourth president, Karl Offman, was elected by parliament.
In Oct. 2003, Paul Berenger, a white Mauritian of French ancestry, became the first non-Hindu prime minister in the history of Mauritius. Berenger and the previous prime minister, Anerood Jugnauth, formed a coalition during Sept. 2000 elections. Under their agreement, Jugnauth served as prime minister for three years and Berenger assumed the prime ministership for the remaining two years of the term. Jugnauth then became president in 2003, and in July 2005, Navin Ramgoolam, prime minister from 1995 to 2000, again assumed that office.
President Jugnauth Resigns and Becomes Prime Minister for the Sixth Time
On March 30, 2012, President Anerood Jugnauth resigned. He cited his disagreement with new government policies and programs as well as a lack of accord with other members of the government. Recently, he had a very public conflict with Prime Minister Ramgoolam. Earlier in March, the tension between the two men erupted when a new opposition alliance, to be led by Jugnauth, was announced. Ramgoolam asked for Jugnauth's resignation if news of the new alliance was true. "I'm not in agreement with the philosophy of the government and the way the country is run," Jugnauth said to the local media while announcing his resignation. Vice President Monique Ohsan Bellepeau was named acting president.
Mauritius National Assembly elected Rajkeswur Purryag as president. He was sworn in on July 21, 2012.
In the 2014 General Elections, Anerood Jugnauth became prime minister for the sixth time. To become prime minister again, he led a historic alliance against the two largest parties in Mauritius, the Labour Party and Mauritian Militant Movement.
Gurib-Fakim Becomes First Woman Elected President
On May 29, 2015, Rajkeswur Purryag resigned to make room for Jugnauth's new alliance candidate, Ameenah Gurib-Fakim, to be elected president. Both Jugnauth and Leader of the Opposition Paul Berenger welcomed her nomination. A biodiversity scientist, Ameenah Gurib-Fakim was unanimously approved by the National Assembly.
Gurib-Fakim took office on June 5, becoming the first woman elected president of Mauritius. Both Elizabeth II and Monique Ohsan Bellepeau have served as president, but Gurib-Fakim was the first to be elected.
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