Speech by H.E. Mrs Ameenah Gurib-Fakim, President of the Republic of Mauritius

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H.E. Ameenah Gurib-Fakim

Excellencies,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Good Evening.

It’s such a pleasure to be present before this eminent assembly. Mauritius

I would like to thank the African Leadership magazine for their kind invitation and for honouring me tonight.

I also wish to extend my deep and sincere thanks and appreciation to Dr Ken Giami, publisher and CEO of the African leadership magazine as well as the board members and the executive team, for their greetings and warm welcome.

I feel so happy and privileged to be presented with the distinguished “Inspirational Leadership Award”.

This is certainly not a distinction for me only, but for my country and the people of Mauritius.

On this special occasion, I have a special thought for my parents who have contributed so much to my academic life, and for my family, for being, as always, a constant source of inspiration.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

It’s with profound humility and an immense sense of gratitude that I accept the “Inspirational Leadership Award”

I am even more grateful as the African Leadership magazine endeavours to promote good governance and impactful leadership in Africa and aims at bringing the best of Africa to a global audience and to tell African story from an African perspective.

I also see this Award as a sign of recognition of the considerable contribution of hundreds of African women. It is a fact that African women are at the centre of the continental developmental agenda. Their contribution is unfortunately rarely valued and recognized.

I feel also deeply proud to give you some insights on the chosen theme for this international summit 2017: “Africa today and the need for homegrown solutions: The Mauritius Example”.

My island country Mauritius, ladies and gentlemen have proved many experts and pundits wrong.

Prior to its independence in 1968, after almost 150 years of British rule – and a little less than 100 years of French rule, James Meade, Nobel Prize winner, predicted a future full of gloom and doom for Mauritius.

The country had in fact, all the characteristics of a typical colonial economy: monocrop, geography, rapid population growth, adverse terms of trade, and its vulnerability to ethnic tensions.

V.S Naipaul, Nobel Prize in literature, even went further in his book the “Overcrowded Barracoon”, as to describe Mauritius, I quote: “an abandoned imperial barracoon, incapable of economic or cultural autonomy with a population showing “the symptoms of depression; dizziness, a heaviness in the head, an inability to concentrate.” Unquote.

I wonder if you have observed these traits when you have come across a Mauritian citizen.

Yet, in a few decades, Mauritius has progressed from having an economy almost entirely based on sugar to a diversified economy that includes textiles, financial services, tourism, and ICT.

GDP has grown at about 5% annually for almost 3 decades while GDP per capita increased from approximately $ 200 in 1968 to about $9000 in 2013.

How did this happen? Surely, there must be some “trick.” Mauritius must be rich in diamonds, oil, or some other valuable commodity. But Mauritius has strictly no exploitable natural resources.

Therefore, I cannot hide my pride and a profound sense of satisfaction when I happily quote Joseph E. Stiglitz, Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences, who wrote in 2011, an article on “The Mauritius Miracle”, I quote:

“Suppose someone were to describe a small country that provided free education through university for all of its citizens, transportation for school children, and free healthcare – including heart surgery – for all. You might suspect that such a country is either phenomenally rich or on the fast track to the fiscal crisis.

But Mauritius is neither particularly rich nor on its way to budgetary ruin. Nonetheless, it has spent the last decades successfully building a diverse economy, a democratic political system, and a strong social safety net. Many countries, not least the US, could learn from its experience. – Unquote

I would, however, tend to prefer Mauritius: An African Success Story, which is the title of an article by Jeffrey A. Frankel from the National Bureau of Economic Research, as it is, I believe, more appropriate than the term “Mauritius Miracle”.

“Miracle” would rather imply some sort of “deus ex machina” that has been at work, whereas the economic development of my country is first and foremost, the result of strategic thinking and planning, elaboration of effective policies, human and institutional capacity building to implement the policies, a governance structure that inspires all segments of the population to strive together towards a shared objective. So, how did this small island that has no exploitable natural resources move from low income to upper-middle income status?

Its human capital remains her main asset. The provision of free education since 1976 and healthcare for all are among some of the ingredients.

Cooperation between the government, employers, and employees and above all no military spending has also helped fuel growth.

It was clear from the outset that it would not be possible to sustain a welfare state with the proceeds from sugar alone even though we were guaranteed a market at a negotiated price under the Sugar Protocol. The economy was too exposed to the vagaries of the weather.

Manufacturing was encouraged, initially through an import substitution strategy aimed at building local expertise; as the local market was limited. Mauritius turned to export-oriented industrialisation: The Exports Processing Zones Act was passed in 1970 and provided incentives to attract investment (both local and foreign) in terms of tax holidays, industrial estates, free repatriation of profits.

Thus, within two decades the manufacturing sector overtook “Sugar” as the main foreign exchange earner, employer, and contributor to GDP.

The economy was further diversified with the development of a flourishing tourism sector, a vibrant financial services industry as well as an emerging Information and Communications Technology (ICT) sector.

Mauritius has, however, like many other countries, been impacted by the effects of the financial crisis that has gripped the global economy and the objective of the government to achieve high-income status is going to be a real challenge.

New areas of growth are hence being envisaged. The most ambitious of these which will redefine the economic architecture of Mauritius in the next fifty years (if successful) is the development of a “Blue economy” or “Ocean economy” which refers to the exploitation of the 2.3 million square kilometres of maritime zone of Mauritius. Other avenues, which are being explored, include the development of “smart cities”, a project aimed at consolidating the Mauritian international business and at stimulating research and technological activities, which would open up a plethora of investment opportunities by providing technology-driven facilities to the business community. Ladies and Gentlemen, The African continent is expected to have an increasingly important role in the world economy. Hence increased connectivity and investment across the continent will certainly give a new impetus to the Mauritian economy. A Mauritius-Africa fund has been set up and my country is willing to share its experience and expertise and thus contribute to the further progress of the African continent.

Mauritius has a long-standing relationship with the continent and became a member of the Organisation of African Unity in 1968. Close collaboration has prevailed since.
In the early 1980s, Mauritians were being recruited as teachers in Zimbabwe and Botswana; Ivory Coast and Tanzania were provided assistance to develop their sugar sector; the EPZ (especially the garment industry) in Madagascar benefited initially from Mauritian investment and know-how; in Mozambique there has been Mauritian investment in sugar, textile, tourism, poultry; several accounting and auditing firms have supplied their services in several francophone as well as Anglophone African states.

Ladies and Gentlemen

There are many similarities between Mauritius and countries of the African continent except that my country probably started its reforms much earlier.

In 2000, a leading magazine portrayed Africa as the «the hopeless continent » but in 2013, is titled «Africa rising, a continent of hope ».

Indicators show that Africa is on the rise. A commodities boom, improved governance, sound macroeconomic fundamentals, commitment to reform and new resource discoveries are contributing to this robust growth trend, helping to reverse 20 years of economic decline that began in the 1970’s and 1980’s. The continent is now fully open for business.

Yet, despite these positive developments and trends, the big paradox remains: why does SSA continue to be a locus of poverty? Sadly, a large number of our citizens are trapped in poverty and suffering other deprivations in health, education, nutrition and living standards. How do we reverse these negative trends?

How do we reverse these negative trends?

My view is that Africa should pursue more effective policies to accelerate and sustain high growth that is inclusive and equitable.

To alleviate poverty and reduce income inequalities, Africa needs to move to high-productive sectors through industrial upgrading and technological innovation. This will increase job creation in a context of skill deficits and where 370 million young people are expected to enter the job market within the next 15 years.

African countries must imperatively improve their competitiveness by investing in new technology and enhance their existing technological levels. The development of science, technology and innovation is a sine qua non-condition to speed up the transition to sustainable development of the continent. It is no longer acceptable that 15% of the world’s population produces only 1% of the world’s research output.

Excellencies,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

The time has come for African nations to make a concerted effort to mobilize science and technology as levers of growth and development. African governments must join the on-going international efforts to promote R&D by intensifying funding for the sector.

With investment in S&T, we will shape our research agenda; provide solutions for clean and renewable energy sources; improves health and education systems outcomes; adapt to the impacts of climate change; promote food, nutrition, water security amongst other fundamentals.

I am committed to using my pulpit to advocate for greater investment in S&T and to advance the cause of mobilizing stronger support for R&D.

In this regard, our higher education system must be inclusive and have a large focus on Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) as the latter must be placed at the front and centre of our development effort.

And with good reason. More than 50 percent of the population of sub-Saharan Africa is younger than 25 years of age, and every year for the next decade, we expect 11 million youth to enter the job market.

Ladies and gentlemen,

It is clear that investment in Science, Technology, and Innovation is no longer an option. The sustainable development of Africa’s R&D will require long-term and increased government investment so that we nurture the human capital; create a cadre of current and future scientists who are appropriately equipped to take on the multifaceted challenges confronting our continent.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Moreover, science serves as the basis for informed decision-making and effective impact assessments in all sectors. Of course, having women in leadership positions—in science, business and public office—is a powerful signal for society at large.

If women are left out of full participation in 21st-century aspirations, we will not achieve gender equality, nor realize our scientific goals. We simply cannot afford to draw from anything other than 100% of our talent pool if we are serious about transforming African and global economies into sustainable enterprises driven by innovation rather than depending on the exploitation of our natural resources. No team could even contemplate a win by leaving 52% of the team on the bench. Ladies and Gentlemen, I would be remiss if I didn’t pay tribute to late Wangari Maathai, scientist and the first African woman to win the Nobel Peace Prize, for having raised our consciousness about environmental protection.

We need to celebrate the incredible achievements of women in science, technology, and innovation, and galvanize the global community to do more to ensure that women’s participation in the formal sector is not the exception, but the rule.

I wish once again to thank you for this award that I would like it to devote to all my African sisters.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

As Africans, we must become the voice of change and become producers, not just a consumer of knowledge. We need to search for Africa-centric development solutions. Because sustainable development takes time, we cannot afford to fail yet another generation. Our actions must be guided by the ‘fierce urgency of now’. I am confident that with your support and commitment, we will be able to achieve our ideals to transform Africa into a Continent of hope and prosperity.

I thank you for your attention