Mauritius, rather than just a single island, is actually formerly known as the Republic of Mauritius and includes the island of Mauritius itself along with Rodrigues, Agalega and St. Brandon. The islands are located east of Madagascar, some 1,200 miles off the African coast. Part of the Mascarene Islands, they have been known since at least the tenth century, however formal recordings of their exploration were first made by Portuguese explorers in the sixteenth century. The main island of Mauritius was settled by the Dutch in the following century and named in honour of Prince Maurtis. It came under British rule during the Napoleonic Wars and its strategic location made it an important naval and later air base.
In 1968, as part of the process of granting independence to former African colonies, Mauritius became independent from the UK and in 1992 became the Republic of Mauritius. However three years before that independence, the then British Government split off the Chagos Archipelago from Mauritian territory along with the islands of Aldabra, Farquhar, and Desroches from the Seychelles and formed the British Indian Ocean Territory, establishing it as an overseas territory of the United Kingdom and forcibly expelling the population of the largest island, Diego Garcia. They then leased the territory to the United States who, in return, made a significant discount on the purchase of Britain's Polaris nuclear missile system in order to use the islands as a military base to counter any Soviet threat in the region.
Since then, the only inhabitants have been British and U.S. military personnel and the UK has agreed to cede the territory back to Mauritius when it is no longer required for defence purpose. However this has been the subject of a long running international dispute. Even as recently as 2019 the International Court of Justice concluded the islands should be returned to full Mauritian sovereignty however the UK government ignored the ruling. Again, in 2021, the United Nation's International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea ruled that the United Kingdom has no sovereignty over the Chagos Archipelago and it is part of the Republic of Mauritius however the UK has disputed that ruling and has refused to recognise the tribunal's decision. Since 1992, Mauritius has maintained a stable democracy and, according to the 2017 Democracy Index compiled by the Economist Intelligence Unit that measures the state of democracy in 167 countries, ranks 16th worldwide and is the only African-related country awarded 'full democracy' status.
Today Mauritius, with its population of 1.266 million (2019), is seen as an ideal tourist attraction as well as having growing financial and industrial sectors. However this rise in economic growth has seen many turn to industrialisation for employment creating family strains, addictions and increases in crime. UNICEF report, "child abuse and violence against women, sexual exploitation, increasing drug and alcohol dependency among young people and the exclusion of children with disabilities all are cause of concern." Despite the overall wealth, for many living in Mauritius life is one of poverty, often going to bed hungry without having basic needs met particularly in the neglected rural regions of Mauritius and on the island of Rodrigues in particular where 40% of the population lives below the poverty level. However, extreme poverty across the islands is rare, running at around 1% with an economy that mainly depends on tourism and exports of textiles to Europe and the United States. Mauritius is in 66th place out of 189 countries and territories in 2019 when ranked in terms of life expectancy, literacy, access to knowledge and the living standards of a country in 2019.
Although best known for its tropical locale, tourists can take time to travel to the mountainous interior of the main island that includes the Black River Gorges National Park, the largest protected forest of Mauritius, where you can see many endangered species of plants and animals and get a breathtaking view of Alexandra waterfalls (above) as you amble through the hiking trails. Other lesser known facts about the island include the fact that Mauritius was the only home to the now extinct Dodo and, in typical European style, within eighty years of Europeans discovering the island and the Dodo, it had become extinct being unable to fly or walk away from the colonisers with the required haste to maintain its safety.
Mauritius Profile: Volunteer in Mauritius
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Mauritius Profile: Child Sponsor Mauritius
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Mauritius Profile: Mauritius News
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