Mauritius is situated in the Indian Ocean approximately 800 km off the East Coast of Madagascar. The island, which is of volcanic origin, covers an area of 1,800 sq. km.
The population of the Island is approximately 1,200,000 made up principally by people of European, African, Indian and Chinese origin. This has resulted in a unique blend of races, cultures and religions. Mauritius takes pride in the fact that these different cultures coexist in peace and succeed in creating a cultural entity that is distinctly Mauritian.
The British ruled Mauritius for 158 years until 12 March 1968 when it became an independent country within the Commonwealth. The Republic of Mauritius is a Westminster style democracy. The President is the Head of State and Commander in Chief. Full executive power rests with the Prime Minister who is head of Government. The Members of Parliament are elected every five years by popular vote and a number of political parties contest the elections every five years, reflecting the country's firm commitment to a multiparty political system.
Since independence in 1968, Mauritius has developed from a low income, agricultural based economy to a middle-income diversified economy with growing industrial, financial, and tourist sectors. For most of the period, annual growth has been of the order of 5% to 6%. This remarkable achievement has been reflected in increased life expectancy, lowered infant mortality, and a much-improved infrastructure. Sugarcane is grown on about 90% of the cultivated land area and accounts for 25% of export earnings. A record-setting drought severely damaged the sugar crop in 1999, however. The government's development strategy centres on foreign investment. Mauritius has attracted more than 9,000 offshore entities, many aimed at commerce in India and South Africa, and investment in the banking sector alone has reached over $1 billion. During 2000 the economy grew by 8.9% and the Gross National Income per capita at market prices reached 101,948 rupees. The unemployment rate for 2000 is estimated at about 8.0% while inflation stood at 4.2%.
English is the official language. However, the Mauritian population is largely bilingual, being equally fluent in English and French. Creole is also spoken and understood by everyone.