..:: Mauritius Overview
Geography and History
Mauritius is situated in the south west Indian Ocean, slightly over the Tropic of Capricorn, in latitude 20º south and longitude 57º east of Greenwich. It is 2,000 km off the east coast of Africa and some 855 km west of Madagascar.
An island of volcanic origin with an area of 1,864 square kilometers, it is almost entirely surrounded by coral reefs. The land rises from coastal plains to a central plateau where it reaches a height of 670 meters. The plateau is bordered by three mountain ranges, the highest peak, the Piton de la Petite Rivière Noire, rising to 828m.
It enjoys a maritime sub-tropical climate with temperatures averaging 22ºC in the coastal regions in July-August and 27ºC in December-January. All temperatures are lower by some 5ºC on the central plateau.
The island was known to the early Arabs traders and on maps of 1500 it is shown by an Arabic name ‘Dina Arobi’, but the first European visitors were the Portuguese who landed in 1510. They used the island as a victualling stop on the way to Goa and Malacca but did not settle. The first attempt at settlement was made by the Dutch who arrived in 1598 and named the island Mauritius after Prince Maurice of Nassau. However, it was not until 1638 that they set up a small colony on the island. They introduced sugar-cane, domestic animals and a herd of Javanese deer. But the settlements never developed enough to produce dividends and the settlers eventually abandoned the island in 1710.
The French took possession of the island in 1715 and renamed it Isle de France. The first settlement was made in 1721, but it was only as from 1735 with the arrival of French governor Mahé de Labourdonnais that the colony started developing effectively. Port Louis was established as a naval base and numerous buildings, some of which are still standing to-day, set up. The French period ended in 1810 when the island was captured by the British who gave it back its former name of Mauritius. Rapid social and economic development followed. Slavery was abolished in 1835 and it was followed by the importation of Indian indentured labourers. Sugar cane production was given a boost and became the mainstay of the economy.
A series of constitutional reforms culminated in independence from Britain on 12 March 1968. Mauritius became an independent sovereign nation within the British Commonwealth and achieved the status of republic on 12 March 1992.
The Republic of Mauritius is constituted of the main island of Mauritius and several outlying islands. The second largest island is Rodrigues of an area of 108 square km, lying 560 km to the east. With a population of about 37,774, its economy is based mainly on fishing, cattle rearing and a developing tourism sector.
The twin islands of Agalega have a total land area of 2,600 hectares lying some 1,000 km to the north of Mauritius. Agalega has a population of around 289 inhabitants and its economy is based primarily on coconut exploitation.
St. Brandon is an archipelago comprising a number of sand-banks, shoals and islets. It is situated some 430 km to the north-east of Mauritius and is mostly used as a fishing base.
The total population of the Republic of Mauritius as at December 2009 was estimated 1,277,853. It is a melting pot of races, cultures and religions as Mauritians are descendants of successive waves of immigrants coming from Europe, Africa, the Indian sub-continent and China. The official language is English – but the most commonly used are French and the local dialects Creole and Bhojpuri. Most Mauritians can also speak their ancestral language such as Hindi, Chinese, Urdu.
Government and political system
The Republic of Mauritius is a sovereign democratic state within the Commonwealth with a long tradition of parliamentary democracy. Firmly attached to democratic principles, Mauritius retained the Westminster style of government when it was proclaimed independent in 1968. Since 1992 it is a republic where the Head of State is the President of the Republic and the government is led by the Prime Minister. The Constitution guarantees the separation of the legislative, executive and judicial powers. The National Assembly is constituted of 70 members, elected during general elections which are held every five years. The elections have always taken place in discipline and peace, with an orderly and smooth transition. The Constitution provides for a local government to manage local matters. In the urban areas there are five municipal councils and in the rural areas four district councils under which fall 126 village councils. The island of Rodrigues has its own Regional Assembly since October 2002.