Modern Mauritius: how 50 years of independence has transformed the island

Tourism is important but as independent Mauritius hits 50, it’s growing into a diverse and modern home for its people

it’s easy to assume Mauritius is just a sun seeker’s paradise out in the Indian Ocean

Thinking of its palms, sandy beaches and laid-back holiday reputation, it’s easy to assume Mauritius is just a sun seeker’s paradise out in the Indian Ocean. But it’s been a rapid road to modernisation for the island since gaining independence from Britain in 1968. And now, the country is keen to be known for more than just its tourism industry.

Beyond tourism

There’s no doubting tourism is essential for Mauritius, with almost 1.3 million holiday makers now expected to descend on the island each year. And the tourist dollar has been used for good in many ways, improving infrastructure, and encouraging innovation and development.

Exposure to the world outside the palm-lined island has been an important by product of the international arrivals too. Young Mauritians are increasingly educated, cosmopolitan and keen to push their country’s development forward.

Now, the business, IT and financial districts are thriving. Since 2010, the Mauritius Business Growth Scheme (MBGS) Unit, set up by the government in collaboration with the World Bank, has helped the private sector to increase productivity and competitiveness, by working to upgrade technology and business standards, as well as training.  Details of other large scale initiatives in Mauritius can be found via the Mauritius board of Investment

Imports are starting to make a dent internationally. Seafood is important, with grand plans to turn the island into a ‘seafood hub’ of modern transportation, freezing and storage methods to provide international distribution.

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And, like the Caribbean before it, Mauritius is making the most of its huge potential to grow sugarcane. Sugarcane is grown on 85 per cent of Mauritius’ arable land, with around 600,000 tonnes of sugar produced each year, most of which goes to the EU.

Sugar products of course, include rum, and with three distilleries on the island, it’s likely we’ll be seeing an influx of Mauritian rum taking on the Caribbean in the years to come.

Another, perhaps more surprising, essential to the broadening Mauritian economy is tea, which has a huge home market as well as export opportunity. In 2016, the government gave the tea industry a boost with the tea sector support scheme, including the provision of free tea picking shears and seedlings to farmers, and subsidies on fertiliser. The hope is to bring back the tea industry of old Mauritius, which has dwindled in recent decades.

The plan also aims to diversify the types of tea grown, working on fine and rare varieties and introducing new tastes. So tea fans, watch out!

Protecting old towns, growing modern cities

The rapid pace of change has demanded modern buildings, facilities and transport from Mauritius. A new terminal at the airport opened in 2013 showing off modern architectural design, and upping the number of passengers it could process to four and a half million a year. The design of the terminal roof was modelled on the ravenala palm, a tree common on the island.

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Along with the new terminal, work over the past two decades has upped Mauritius’ infrastructure to modern international standards, and since 2000 it’s been well maintained and fully able to carry the country’s traffic volume.

But as well as incorporating traditional design elements into modern buildings, an effort has been made to protect and preserve the civic architecture of the cities.

One way of doing this is to build new complexes away from the traditional urban areas.

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Just over 15 years ago, Mauritius built its first Cybercity, Ebène, on sugarcane fields just outside Port Louis. The plan was to create a modern working environment for Mauritians and bring a hi-tech hub to the island. It has super fast internet (though this is rapidly percolating the island), and intelligent buildings, air-con, back up generators - everything you’d expect from Africa’s answer to silicon valley.

There is debate over whether these type of cities are beneficial or not to the wider country, but the government seems to believe they are, with plans to roll out several new ‘smart cities’ to provide working space for Mauritius’ growing band of professionals and entrepreneurs.

Quality of life for the people - not just the tourists

The government has been keen to step up to the increasing demands for modernity from its people.

The Government Programme 2012-2015 stated that its people's quality of life was paramount and that it would be looking at key economic and social indicators to improve the experience of life for ordinary Mauritians, including healthcare, education, work and security.

Since then, a number of projects to improve access to education and healthcare have been set up.

On a more superficial level too, modern shopping complexes are now a common sight around the island, giving locals access to the conveniences of modern life, and leisure activities such as cinemas showing international films are just as common on this palm-fringed island as they would be in any European or US city.

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