Few people have ever heard of the island nation of Mauritius, located 1,200 miles off the coast of Africa. Perhaps its sole claim to fame, if any, is that it was the only habitat of the extinct dodo. But as op-ed in the Daily Maverick reveals, this tiny country of just 1.3 million is a regional heavyweight in social, economic, and political development:
Mauritius’ average score in the World Bank’s Ease of Doing Business indicators is 77.54, ranking it 25th worldwide, compared to the sub-Saharan average of 50.43, or the score of its Indian Ocean neighbour Madagascar in 162nd position at 47.67. The next highest sub-Saharan African country, Rwanda, is in 41st slot. Kenya is at 80, South Africa 81st, and Botswana 82nd.
On the Ibrahim Index of African Governance, defined as the provision of the political, social and economic public goods, Mauritius again tops the African rankings, scoring 81.4 in 2017. Seychelles is second with 73.4, with Botswana completing the top three with a score of 72.7.
Mauritius’ GDP per capita is $9,630, well above the sub-Saharan African average ($1,464), that of Madagascar ($401), and South Africa and Botswana ($5,284 and $6,924). Only in this key regard does it rank below Seychelles where, with a population of just 95,000, it’s over $15,000. The average life expectancy of Mauritians in 1960 was 58; now it’s 74, whereas sub-Saharan Africa has gone from 40 to 59 over the same period.
Indeed, Mauritius’ economy has enjoyed average annual growth of 5 percent since its independence from the U.K. in 1968. This is a rare distinction both regionally and globally, and speaks to the country’s stable and effective governance despite its humble and unpromising beginnings.
In the early 1960s, analysts gave the island little hope of progress, given its geographic isolation and rapid population growth, and a fraught colonial history. Now some put its success down to its diverse national make-up, albeit with a clear Indian majority. Yet plenty in Africa have a similar ethnic tapestry, which more often than not has been given as a reason for corruption or instability.
So why Mauritius?
Why do other governments in Africa not make similar choices when the examples of success abound? Or, more bluntly, why has nearby Madagascar been such an abject comparative failure?
Part of the answer may lie in Mauritius’ democratic status. In 1980 it was one of two African countries considered as democratic, the other being Botswana. It has maintained its democratic record since independence, notwithstanding a wobble in the early 1970s. Today Freedom House ranks it at 89/100, where 100 is regarded as “most free”, the highest score in Africa. By comparison, the lowest, Eritrea, is at 3 and South Sudan is at 4; South Africa is at 78 and Botswana at 72, Seychelles at 71; Kenya is 51 and Nigeria 50.
This goes hand-in-hand with a developed legal system and code which have made the foreign investment climate in Mauritius one of the best in the region, along with other strong institutions. This relates to the level of investment in people, with 90% of entrepreneurs in the Export Processing Zones and in the manufacturing sector Mauritian nationals.
In fact, if the latest Democracy Index is any indication, Mauritius is not just a vibrant democracy, but one of the most democratic societies in the world: it ranks 16th out of 167, ahead of the likes of the U.S., South Korea, Japan, and France. It is one of only 19 countries to be considered a “full democracy” under the index, meaning that it does exceptionally well in every indicator of democratic success, from political participation to civil liberties. Its score in the Human Development Index is also the highest in Africa.
Even if you doubt some of the data — it is indeed amazing to think that Mauritius is more democratic than a fair chunk of the West — it is clear that this little-known island nation is one of the world’s biggest success stories. It is also an encouraging example for the rest of the continent, if not the wider developing world, to follow.