Mauritius Table of Contents
The orientation of Mauritius toward other countries is influenced by its location, resources, colonial past, domestic politics, and economic imperatives. Mauritius has particularly strong relations with Britain, France, India, and since 1990 with South Africa. A member of the Commonwealth, Mauritius recognized Queen Elizabeth II as head of state until it became a republic in 1992. Mauritius enjoys warm political relations and important economic ties with Britain, and receives significant development and technical assistance.
France, another former colonial power, provides Mauritius with its largest source of financial aid, and also promotes the use of the French language in Mauritius. In addition to trade, in which France has traditionally been Mauritius's largest supplier as well as its largest or second largest customer, particularly of textiles, France provides Mauritius with numerous kinds of assistance. For example, France has helped computerize the island's government ministries, has performed road feasibility studies and highway maintenance, has undertaken livestock services and the construction of a cannery, and has loaned Mauritius US$60 million to construct a large diesel-electric power station in western Mauritius, completed in 1992. Other French-sponsored infrastructure projects have included the French firm Alcatel's supply and installation of 30,000 additional telephone lines, a contract awarded in December 1988, and a fiveyear project scheduled to begin construction in January 1995 by SCAC Delmas Vieljeux (SCV) to create a ninety-hectare free-port area and attendant facilities at Port Louis. The intent is that the free port should serve as a means for attracting African trade under the Preferential Trade Area for Eastern and Southern Africa.
An area of tension between France and Mauritius relates to the latter's claim to Tromelin Island, some 550 kilometers northwest of Mauritius, which France retained when Mauritius received its independence. Tromelin had been governed by France from Mauritius during the colonial period and Mauritius for a number of years has raised the question of the return of the one square kilometer island where France has a meteorological observation station. When French president François Mitterrand visited Mauritius (along with Madagascar, Comoros, and Seychelles) in 1990, Mauritius raised its claim; despite several subsequent discussions, the matter has not been resolved.
Mauritius acknowledges the legitimacy of France's military interests even though it supported the UN Indian Ocean Zone of Peace (IOZP) Resolution (adopted in 1971) calling for the demilitarization of the region. French military interests include the neighboring island of Reunion, a French département and headquarters for a military detachment. France has also provided the Special Mobile Force of Mauritius with MR2.8 million worth of military equipment and training.
India, which has deep social and historical links with a large portion of the population of Mauritius, is the country's second largest source of foreign assistance. India has devoted a large share of aid to cultural ventures, such as the Mahatma Gandhi Institute, a library and language school opened in 1976.
Apart from traditional cultural and trade relations of Mauritius with India, the two countries have exchanged visits by their leading officials in recent years; have engaged in numerous joint ventures, particularly in the textiles area; and have signed cooperation agreements in various spheres. For example, in 1990 cooperation agreements were concluded in the fields of agriculture; oceanography; maritime resources, including the exploitation of Mauritius's EEZ; science and technology; drug trafficking; and sports and youth affairs. India has provided Mauritius with technical expertise, such as computer and high sensing technology, radio and telecommunications, further expansion of Mauritius's telephone lines from 60,000 to 100,000 lines over a three-year period beginning in 1991, and the creation of a science center and planetarium.
In the early 1990s, Mauritius saw the new South Africa as a partner, particularly in an economic sense, and was willing to forget charges that in 1989 South Africans had engaged in drug trafficking to Mauritius and had sought to assassinate Prime Minister Jugnauth. A South African trade bureau was approved in 1990, a health cooperation agreement was concluded in 1991 whereby Mauritians requiring complex medical procedures could obtain them in South African hospitals, and President Frederik Willem de Klerk visit Mauritius in November 1991. The two countries initiated diplomatic relations at the consular level in March 1992, and a South African resort chain began activities in Mauritius in late 1992.
Mauritius has sought to increase cooperation among its fellow island entities. In 1982 the country forged an agreement that created the Indian Ocean Commission (IOC), whose members include Mauritius, Madagascar, Seychelles, Comoros, and Reunion (represented by France). IOC members have met regularly to discuss social and economic relations, and in 1989 the IOC established its secretariat in Mauritius. Mauritius has particularly close cooperation with Seychelles in the fields of agriculture, education, energy, fishing, and transportation.
Relations between the United States and Mauritius have been dominated by questions of trade and sovereignty over Diego Garcia Island, a British possession that is the site of a United States military base. Exports from Mauritius, mostly textiles, have grown from US$28 million in 1982 to US$120 million in 1987. United States import quotas have restricted the amount of Mauritian exports, however. Mauritian imports from the United States have increased from US$11 million in 1986 to US$48 million in 1991.
The question of Diego Garcia is a complex one. Mauritius ceded control over the Chagos Archipelago (including Diego Garcia) to Britain in exchange for 3 million pounds sterling in 1965 as one tacit precondition for independence. Despite UN objections to British control of the islands, Britain leased Diego Garcia to the United States in 1966 for fifty years. The United States established a major military base on the island, including anchorage facilities for large numbers of ships, an airfield capable of handling B-52s, and a satellite communications facility. After a period of relative indifference to the fate of the Chagos Archipelago following its cession, Mauritian governments since the late 1980s have called for its return to Mauritian sovereignty. There was no indication in 1994 that Britain or the United States was willing to acquiesce. Differences of opinion notwithstanding, between 1982 and 1987 the United States provided Mauritius with US$56.2 million in aid, mainly for development.
Mauritius has limited but growing trade relations with the industrializing countries of Asia, particularly Hong Kong and Japan. It also has close relations with China. Although it belongs to the Organization of African Unity (OAU) and has been an opponent of apartheid, Mauritius has closer links to South Africa than to any other country on the continent. These relations are based in large part on the economic exigency of obtaining mainly manufactured goods more cheaply from the closest developed country.
In addition to membership in the OAU, UN, and Commonwealth, Mauritius belongs to the Nonaligned Movement. It has received assistance from the World Bank, the IMF, and the European Development Bank.
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For an excellent overview of the history, society, economy and foreign relations of Mauritius, see Larry W. Bowman's Mauritius: Democracy and Development in the Indian Ocean. The best in-depth account of the country's pre-independence history, with special attention to the twentieth century, is Modern Mauritius by Adele Smith Simmons. Particularly useful for detailed and current economic and political information are publications of the Economist Intelligence Unit: the annual Country Profile: Mauritius, Seychelles and the quarterly Country Report: Madagascar, Mauritius, Seychelles, Comoros.
Other useful works include Mauritius: Development of a Plural Society by A.R. Mannick; The Economic and Social Structure of Mauritius by J.E. Meade, et al.; and the World Bank publication, Mauritius: Managing Success. Updates of mainly economic news appear in African Economic Digest and Marchés tropicaux et méditerranéens. (For further information and complete citations, see Bibliography.)
Data as of August 1994
Mauritius Table of Contents