The first recorded discovery of Mauritius was made by Arab seamen in AD975 who named it Dinarobin (Silver Island). In 1507, the Portuguese sailor Domingo Fernandez came across and renamed it Ilha do Cerne (‘island of the swan’). The Dutch, led by Admiral van Warwyck, landed in 1598 and the island was named Mauritius after the Dutch Prince Maurice of Nassau, which they left in 1710. The French arrived in 1715 and in 1735, Mahé de Labourdonnais was made Governor. The French ruled over Isle de France (the new name they gave to the island) till 1810, date at which the British took possession of the island offering generously the French inhabitants capitulation terms that allowed them to preserve their French laws, customs, language, religion and property. Mauritius remained a British colony till 1968 where the island won independence. In 1992, Mauritius proclaimed itself a republic and the first Mauritian president was Sir Veerasamy Ringadoo.
The Mauritian parliamentary system is based on the British Westminster system where the President is the ceremonial head of state while executive power is held by the Cabinet, headed by the Prime Minister who is the leader of the majority group in parliament. The Constitution of the island provides that general elections must be held every five years.
The Mauritian legal system is based on both French and English law. The Constitution guarantees the independence of the judiciary. The island is divided into nine administrative districts and Rodrigues Island forms the tenth.
Introduced by the Dutch in 1639, sugarcane has been the pillar of the Mauritian economy for years. Originally grown to provide alcohol for the making of ‘arrack’, a crude popular drink for sailors, sugar cane was later widely propagated as a crop able to withstand the ravages of the occasional cyclones. At one point in time, almost 80% of the island’s arable land was planted with sugar. Sugar being a fragile commodity, economic growth fell due to unfavorable climatic conditions and drop in world sugar prices.
As a result, the diversification of the economy became a must and in the early 1970’s, instead of relying at 100% on the export of sugar, the Export Processing Zone (EPZ) was created to encourage the production of goods for export to other islands in the region. The EPZ provided thousands of jobs and investment opportunities.
The Mauritius Stock Exchange was established in 1989 and as from 2004, Mauritius continued to promote itself as an offshore banking center. Port Louis has been transformed into a free port and plans to transform Mauritius into a ‘cyber island’ are almost complete with the construction of the Cyber City in Ebène together with the creation of thousands of jobs within the Information and Communication and Technology sectors (ICT).
Tourism, another pillar of the economy after the E.P.Z. manufacturing sector and Agriculture, contributes significantly to economic growth and has been a key factor in the overall development of Mauritius. In the past two decades tourist arrivals increased at an average annual rate of 9 % with a corresponding increase of about 21% in tourism receipts. In 2000, gross tourism receipts were 14.2 billion rupees (508.3 million US $) and contributed to about 11 % of our GDP.
The real estate and construction sector, an essential component of the investment strategy of Mauritius, has accounted for more than 40% of the total influx of Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) for the past 5 years. For 2012, the sector is expected to attract investment amounting to Rs. 27.4 billion out of which FDI representing Rs. 5.5 billion. Moreover, the sector accounts for 19% of the country’s GDP
Tourist arrivals have been expanding consequently, thus rising from 103,000 in 1977 to 656,450 in 2000, a more than six-fold increase. Mauritius is predominantly a holiday destination for beach-resort tourists. It possesses a wide range of natural and man-made attractions, enjoys a sub-tropical climate with clear warm sea waters, attractive beaches, tropical fauna and flora complemented by a multi-ethnic and cultural population that is friendly and welcoming. The largest number of tourists each year comes from Réunion Island followed by France, South Africa, Germany, Australia and U.K.
There is a road network of about 2,020km in Mauritius, almost half of which are main roads, about 30% are secondary roads and less than 5% are motorways (2007). Mauritius has a fully modern airport, Sir Seewoosagur Ramgoolam International Airport, located in Plaisance, about 50km away from the capital, Port Louis; Air Mauritius is the main carrier. Port Louis maintains a deep-sea harbour; it is the main harbour and the only commercial port. Port facilities include a container terminal and terminals for the bulk handling of goods such as sugar, oil, wheat and cement. Mauritius functions as a freeport and therefore provides exemption of duties on goods imported into the free zone and access to local market and banking services.
The population of Mauritius in July 2012 is estimated at 1,313,095 and due to the limited size of the island, the population density of the island is about 1675 people per square kilometer, propelling the island among the top 10 of the most densely populated countries. The life expectancy for the whole population is valued at 74.71 years and the population growth rate is 0.705%.