A state of islands off the coast of eastern Africa, Mauritius has been characterized by a remarkably stable democracy, despite ethnic heterogeneity.
Contemporary history (up to 1995)
Consisting of the islands of Mauritius and Rodriguez, the state was named after Prince Maurice of Nassau by the Dutch who controlled the island (1598–1710). It came under French sovereignty in 1715, when African slaves were imported to work on sugar plantations, and was part of the British Empire from 1810. After the abolition of slavery in 1833, labour for the plantations was imported from India. The population of Mauritius became ethnically and religiously heterogeneous, with 69 per cent of Indian and 27 per cent of African descent. A minority of Whites, largely descendants of French planters, formed the country's commercial and political elite. Mauritius became independent on 12 March 1968, as a member of the Commonwealth. Ethnic tensions led to a series of riots in 1972, and triggered the introduction of a state of emergency.
In 1982 the Mauritian Labour Party (MLP) and the Mauritian Militant Movement (MMM) failed in their attempt to establish a Marxist state. Anerood Jugnauth (b. 1930) proceeded to found the Mauritian Socialist Movement, which emerged as the strongest party after the 1983 elections. As Prime Minister, Jugnauth presided over an economic boom in which salaries increased by an annual average of 8.8 per cent over the next ten years. Unemployment vanished, and average annual income per head increased from $1,240 to $3,060 in 1994. The country profited particularly from the international economic blockade against the apartheid regime in South Africa. Foreign investors came to Mauritius instead of South Africa, while many South African businesses came to Mauritius to escape the international ban. However, prosperity led to a relative decline in productivity, so that the high average wages became untenable in the long run.
Contemporary politics (since 1995)
Growing economic difficulties led to Jugnauth's defeat in the elections of 27 December 1995, when under the leadership of Navin Rangoolam his rivals, the MMM and the MLP, won all of the parliamentary seats with 65.2 per cent of the popular vote. Jugnauth was re-elected in 2000, whereupon he embarked upon a campaign to overcome corruption in politics and public administration. Jugnauth became President in 2003, and in 2005 the Mauritian Labour Party was returned to power, with Rangoolam becoming Prime Minister. Rangoolam was elected at a time of impending crisis, as sugar cane farmers, whose sugar constituted around 25 per cent of the EU's imports, lost their preferential access to EU markets at inflated prices, following a WTO ruling in 2005. Ramgoolam was re-elected in 2010.