Learning from an African island

by Munir Ahmed for Daily Times PK

Republic of Mauritius is an island in the Indian Ocean. Located about 2,000 kilometres off the southeast coast of the African continent, the country had been a colony of the Dutch, French and Britain before it got independence on March 12, 1968.

A thinly populated country is facing the aging challenge while it also fears to have drastic impact of the changing climate. But, Mauritians are quite happy and satisfied with the wealth and facilities they have. A country of about 1.3 million people (less than the total population of Islamabad Capital Territory – ICT) attracts 1.5 million tourists a year mostly from across Europe, Canada, USA, UK and other rich countries because of the clean beaches and adventures in the sea.

The blue-economy gets Mauritius a huge turnover but it’s not the main source of GDP. The Information and Communication Technology (ICT) is also a major source of income. However, 70 per cent of the GDP comes from the financial sector because of external deposits and investments in the country. The foreign investors have ultimate confidence in the consistent policies and investment-friendly environment in Mauritius. The investments bring some good gains even simple deposits while the money has full protection that lands in the Mauritian banks.

Most of the money is invested in the hospitality sector and in the expansion of Information and Communication Technology (ICT). Sugarcane is the only crop while the fisheries add more value to the economy. Both are done on the principles of sustainability.

Though, the GDP growth is about 10 per cent, it is sufficient to provide all the Mauritian children free education and books till the completion of their university education, old-age benefits and universal health access to all, and an economy-housing unit to every citizen. The country is ranked 65 on the Human Development Index (HDI) while the literacy rate is 100 per cent.

Soobadar Rashidally, the Mauritius High Commissioner in Pakistan, believes that social justice and the rule of law is the backbone of the steady growth and peace in the country.

Environment is well-taken care of in Mauritius. No plastics and no littering. Domestic and municipal waste is properly managed. So, there is no water pollution. Even air pollution is also controlled by the regular inspection and maintenance of the vehicles running on the road. Every citizen and responsible agency does it very religiously. The small-scale industry is also well managed by taking adequate environmental management.

What could be the reasons behind the surprising facts about Mauritius? Seemingly three: firstly the country controlled its population on the instruction of the government. It means the citizens had confidence on their social and political leadership. Secondly, as I derived from the statement of the Mauritius High Commissioner Soobadar Rashidally, the country fully focused on the free universal literacy and high quality free education for all until the students graduate from their universities. Thirdly and most importantly, the country enjoys rule of law that also leads to good governance.

The country is a plural society and a cocktail of ethnic races and religion with Christian majority about 60 per cent and 15 per cent Muslim population. No one is allowed ethnic or religious encroachment. Everyone has the liberty to practice its rituals without disturbing others.

Pleasantly surprising are the facts about a country that has only 20 embassies in the world and soft visa policy for the foreign tourists. Investment-friendly policies attract individuals and companies to invest mainly in the housing and estate, ICT and telecommunication, and in the financial sector.

Soobadar Rashidally, the Mauritius High commissioner termed his country, one of the best environment-friendly and welfare states. Free books, transport and education to all students, free health for all – no medical professional is allowed to have his private clinic. If anyone needs medical treatment abroad, 60-70 per cent of the expenses are borne by the Mauritius government. At the age of 60, every person gets an amount equalling to 20 thousand Pakistani rupees for personal expenses in addition to what is paid as pension. Almost 95 per cent population owns a house given by the government at interest-free installments.

Banning plastic shopping bags and in other forms in Mauritius was done in three months after the parliament approved the legislation. And, it was years back. Soobadar Rashidally told very proudly.

Pakistan is suffering from the menace of plastic shopping bags. It was first banned in 2003. Since then the federal and provincial governments have banned many times the usage of shopping of plastic bags. But no implementation is seen as yet.

There is a lot to learn from Mauritius – an African island country. What mainly they did after their independence was the population control. And, they did it quite religiously and in the best national interest. They knew that they had meagre resources to survive as a country.

Munir AhmedThe writer, Munir Ahmed, is an Islamabad-based policy advocacy, strategic communication and outreach expert

This article first appeared on Daily Times PK

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.