Few countries in the developing world have solved the puzzle of governing for broad-based prosperity.
The Indian Ocean island nation of Mauritius is an exception. At the end of the colonial period, it was an isolated plantation economy dependent on the export of sugar, with a deeply divided, multi-ethnic population that had experienced violent urban riots. Between 1968 and 1988 it was transformed and has earned its status as a development “superstar” on a number of measures: growth, stable democracy, social welfare, equity.
But why did Mauritians have the desire and ability to unify? The paper identifies four key factors:
- Education: The leaders who negotiated these new relationships were exceptionally well-educated. Many were graduates of the main island’s competitive, elite government secondary school, Royal College. At least half of the national unity cabinet of 21 people had earned university degrees in London.
- Societal support: A free media, new civic associations, and even the Catholic Church gave repeated and vocal societal support.
- Transnational networks: These provided the ideas (Fabian socialism, export processing zones) and resources that created a concrete hope for the future.
- Systemic vulnerability (that is, absence of resources or geopolitical patrons; a price-volatile monocrop; hurricanes and droughts): This fostered a sober realization that the country needed to unify, or sink.