HARARE – President Robert Mugabe was this week in Mauritius where he attended the African Economic Platform (AEP) inaugural conference.
We sincerely hope the nonagenarian leader and his Zanu PF government took a few minutes to reflect and learn the economic success story of the island nation.
Mauritius has been branded a success story in terms of its sustained economic growth performance, with major improvements in the living standards of its population at large over the past few decades.
Since its independence in 1968, Mauritius has developed from a low-income economy based on agriculture to a middle income economy increasingly diversified into industrial, financial and touristic sectors — services accounting for two-thirds of the economy.
The country’s rapid economic progress over the last four decades has set it as an example of an African success story in terms of economic and social development.
The institutional source of Mauritius’ success has traditionally been attributed to the provision of a stable and competitive regulatory and fiscal — including relatively low income and corporate taxes environment that favour labour-intensive activities in sectors such as sugar, textiles and tourism.
Such policies have tended to reduce unemployment and increase labour force participation, in particular that of women.
The Indian Ocean island nation, which is known for its beaches, lagoons and reefs, also employed a poverty reduction strategy that has since been expanded to include employment opportunities and modernising its economy, while maintaining an elaborate social safety net.
Mauritius has also had a policy of allocating significant public resources to education and health. Adult literacy and life expectancy are well above the sub-Saharan African average. Healthcare is free and health facilities are of reasonably good quality and accessible throughout the country.
The benefits of Mauritius’s educational system have also become more universally distributed in the last 15 years, with a move away from a strongly elitist system to one with greater accessibility to secondary and higher education.
Mauritius’s economic success has largely been built as a sugar and clothing exporter as well as an upmarket touristic destination.
The government’s development strategy has recently largely centred on attracting foreign investment.
This has created a large number of offshore entities, many of which in direct commercial links with India and South Africa.
Instead of preaching to Africa about the negative effects of colonialism, we hope Mugabe and company learnt a lesson or two from Mauritius about growing the economy.