Mauritius (pronounced /məˈrɪʃəs/; French: L’île Maurice pronounced: [lil mɔˈʁis], Mauritian Creole: Moris), officially the Republic of Mauritius (French: République de Maurice) is an island nation off the coast of the African continent in the southwest Indian Ocean, about 900 km (560 mi) east of Madagascar. In addition to the island of Mauritius, the Republic includes the islands of Cargados Carajos, Rodrigues, and the Agalega Islands.
Uninhabited until the 17th century, the island was ruled first by the Dutch and then the French after the Dutch had abandoned it. The British took control during the Napoleonic Wars and Mauritius became independent from the UK in 1968. Mauritius is a parliamentary republic and is member of the Southern African Development Community, the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa the African Union and the Commonwealth of Nations.
The main languages spoken in Mauritius are Mauritian Creole, French and English. English is the main official language but the lingua franca is Creole and the newspapers and television programmes are usually in French. Ethnically, the majority of the population is Indian, but there are also many people of African descent on the island. There are also European and Chinese minorities. It is the only African nation where the largest religion is Hinduism although Christianity and Islam also have significant populations.
The island of Mauritius is renowned for having been the only known home of the dodo. First sighted by Europeans around 1600 on Mauritius, the dodo became extinct less than eighty years later. Mauritius has an upper-middle income economy.
The 1970s saw the emergence of the Mouvement Militant Mauricien/Parti Socialiste Mauricien (MMM/PSM) led by Paul Bérenger. The MMM was founded in 1970 and had three initial leaders, Paul Bérenger, Dev Virahsawmy and Juneid Jeeroobarkhan. The MMM won its first election in a by election of constituency No.5 by electing Dev Virasawmy. Until 1982, Sir Seewoosagur was Prime Minister, his Labour Party in coalition with Duval's PMSD. In 1982, the coalition of Mouvement Militant Mauricien/Parti Socialiste Mauricien came to power in a landslide electoral victory, with Sir Anerood Jugnauth as Prime Minister and Harish Boodhoo as the deputy Prime Minister. The coalition split in 1983, with Anerood Jugnauth forming the Mouvement Socialiste Mauricien (MSM), which became the governing party, with Jugnauth as Prime Minister.
Mauritius does not have a standing army. All military, police, and security functions are carried out by 10,000 active-duty personnel under the command of the Commissioner of Police. This consists of an 8000 member National Police which is responsible for domestic law enforcement, a 1,500 member Special Mobile Force (SMF), and a 500-member National Coast Guard.
Sugarcane is grown on about 90% of the cultivated land area and accounts for 25% of export earnings. However, a record-setting drought severely damaged the sugar crop in 1999. The government's development strategy centres on foreign investment. Mauritius has attracted more than 9000 offshore entities; many aimed at commerce in India and South Africa while investment in the banking sector alone has reached over $1 billion. Economic performance during the period from 2000 through 2004 combined strong economic growth with unemployment at 7.6% in December 2004. France is the country's biggest trading partner, has close ties with the country, and provides technical assistance in various forms.
The Mauritians have close relations with nearby nations of Zanzibar, Seychelles and Madagascar. They have established relations with the breakaway state of Rodrigues. There have been disputes with Reunion over the years, but they have been settled long ago. The Mauritians are full members of the League of Nations. Mauritius has re-joined the Commonwealth of Nations and has begun to participate in the Oceanic Organisation as an observer, signalling closer relations with Australia and New Zealand.