YOU know the election season is reaching fever pitch when political parties begin to launch their manifestos. In the next few weeks, we are going to witness a flurry of those, basically stating nothing, but the same mundane things in different words and style.
By Tapiwa Gomo
It is sad that our belief in democracy has led our nation to the notion that elections are a solution to all our problems and we have made voting a singular solution. Everything else must stop for elections. We are one of the very few countries in Africa whose elections have lacked finality. This has made it difficult to bring back stability, as the post-election season is always marked by protests against the outcome of elections on allegations of rigging. Half-way through post-election period would be the beginning of another election. As a consequence, it has created a deficit of confidence for investors both local and international.
Why is it that other countries can go through several elections without so much noise, destabilisation and disruption and still manage to keep their nations and economy together? One such country that has managed to successfully conduct peaceful elections while achieving economic growth and human development against all odds is Mauritius — an island nation in the Indian Ocean southeast coast of the African continent. Its history is not different from most African countries. It is marked by various seasons of colonization — from a Dutch colony (1638-1710), French colony (1715-1810) to a British colony from 1810 until 1968 when it attained its independence.
Years before independence, most economists and political analysts had discounted the country, predicting a miserable future due to its vulnerabilities to climatic shock, vagaries of the global markets and its dependence on the monocrop sugar economy.
Unlike Zimbabwe, they did not have the luxury of inheriting a well-functioning and well-developed economy, thus from day one they knew that they had to ensure an economic plan is effectively implemented.
Before highlighting how Mauritius made it, it is important to note that the country is a democracy, whose government is elected after every five years. Yes, they also hold elections, which have tended to be a contest between two major coalitions of parties.
Despite a small population of 1,3 million, the people of Mauritius are multi-ethnic, multi-religious, multi-cultural and multilingual. In most African countries, this would be a recipe for tribal or religious conflicts and a major source of instability, but in Mauritius, it works.
While it has not been an easy journey, the country has successfully managed to transform itself from being a poor monocrop sugar economy into an African country with high per capita income among its peers on the continent. This transformation did not just happen by accident. It is an outcome of a well-thought out strong growth-oriented developmental path, which took into account both its natural vulnerabilities to climatic shocks and economic opportunities.
The development path is premised on a combination of political stability, strong institutions, rule of law and conducive regulatory framework and low corruption which together inspired confidence for both local and international investors.
Their growth-oriented developmental path entailed several factors that stimulated economic growth. The conducive environment enabled open trade, which spawned economic diversification from the monocrop sugar economy to a broader service economy giving rise to a sustainable growth path.
Since the 1980s, private sector investment exceeded private sector savings. Imports and exports have boomed. Its continued access to western markets mainly in the sugar, textile, and clothing sectors provide the important foreign exchange for the economy.
In other words, Mauritius did not kill the goose that lay the golden eggs. They maintained their links with western countries for purposes of accessing their markets as they built their own economy that is owned by its people without disrupting what was foreign owned.
Its financial sector is also well-managed and is fast becoming a conduit for trade between Asian and East African countries. Tourism continues to be one of the sources of income.
The economic growth has positively impacted the human development indicators that have reduced the income gap unlike in most African countries. This is despite that Mauritius is estimated to be at least 25% to 30% more distant from world markets than the typical African country. In 2014, Mauritius ranked second in Africa on development indicators. Its life expectancy at birth increased from 62 years in 1970 to 73 years in 2008.
While the country does not have a national poverty line, the poverty levels have declined significantly. According to their government ranking, in 1975, about 40% of the population was estimated to be living in poverty, a proportion which declined to 11% in the 1990s before it went further down to below 2% in 2000. In other words, poverty is insignificant.
What the Mauritius story reminds us is that development is not an outcome of an accident but proper planning and good policies and putting the country ahead of personal gains. It also shows that there is more to benefit when the nation develops together because their growth story is not limited to good economic numbers, it is indeed transforms the lives of the broader society.
Tapiwa Gomo is a development consultant based in Pretoria, South Africa