Mauritius (République de Maurice) is a small, multicultural island nation in the Indian Ocean east of Madagascar, northeast of Reunion and southeast of Seychelles. It lies about 2,000 kilometres away from the southeast coast of the African continent. The country includes the island of Mauritius, Rodrigues, the islands of Agalega, and the archipelago of Saint Brandon. The islands of Mauritius, Rodrigues, and Réunion (170 km southwest), form part of the Mascarene Islands. The area of the country is 2,040 sq.km. The largest city is Port Louis, which also serves as the capital of Mauritius. Although known to Arab and Malay sailors as early as the 10th century, Mauritius was first explored by the Portuguese in the 16th century and subsequently settled by the Dutch – who named it in honour of Prince Maurits van Nassau – in the 17th century. The French assumed control in 1715, developing the island into an important naval base overseeing Indian Ocean trade, and establishing a plantation economy of sugar cane. The isles fell into British hands in 1810 during the Napoleonic Wars. Mauritius remained a strategically important British naval base and later an air station, playing a key role during World War II for anti-submarine and convoy operations, as well as the collection of signals intelligence. Mauritius claims sovereignty over the Chagos Archipelago (United Kingdom) and Tromelin Island (France). The United Kingdom excised the Chagos Archipelago from Mauritian territory prior to Mauritian independence in 1965, and gradually depopulated the archipelago’s indigenous population to lease its biggest island, Diego Garcia, to the United States. The US soon thereafter established a large military base on Diego Garcia. The people of Mauritius are multiethnic and multicultural. Most Mauritians are multilingual – Mauritian Creole, English, French, and Asian languages are prevalent. The island’s government is closely modelled on the Westminster parliamentary system, and is highly ranked for democracy not to mention economic and political freedom. Along with the other Mascarene Islands, Mauritius is well-known for its variegated flora and fauna, with many species endemic to the island. The island was the only home of the fabled dodo, which along with several other avian species was rendered extinct due to human activitiesshortly after the island’s settlement. When slavery was officially abolished in 1835, most African slaves chose to abandon the agricultural fields and move to small coastal villages. This saw the British bringing indentured labourers from India, predominantly from what is today Tamilnadu & Bihar, to work in the growing sugar-cane industry. On 12 Mar 1968 Mauritius became an independent nation within the Commonwealth led by Prime Minister Sir Seewoosagur Ramgoolam. Sir Ramgoolam, also revered as the “Father of the Nation,” led the island to independence and is credited with developing the country. A stable democracy with regular free & fair elections and a positive human rights record has helped Mauritius attract considerable foreign investment and achieve one of Africa’s highest per capita incomes. After independence Mauritius evolved from a low-income agro-based economy into a middle-income diversified economy with growing industrial, financial, an tourism sectors. Strong and steady growth over past decades has resulted in more equitable income distribution, increased life expectancy, lowered infant mortality, and much-improved infrastructure. The Mauritian economy today rests on sugar, tourism, textiles & apparel and financial services, and is expanding into fish processing, information and communications technology, hospitality and property development. Sugarcane is grown on about 90% of the cultivated land area and accounts for 15% of export earnings. Mauritius has attracted more than 32,000 offshore entities, many aimed at commerce in India, South Africa, and China. Investment into the banking sector alone has crossed US$ 1 billion. Mauritius’ sound economic policies and prudent banking practices has helped to mitigate negative effects of the global financial crisis in 2008-09, seeing a GDP growth of 3-4% per year range during 2010-13. The country continues to expand its trade and investment outreach across the globe. Mauritius is a democracy with a government elected every five years. The National Assembly is Mauritius’s unicameral parliament. It has 70 members, 62 elected for four-year terms in multi-member constituencies and eight additional members, known as “best losers”, appointed by the Supreme Court to ensure that ethnic and religious minorities are equitably represented. The president is elected for a fiveyear term by parliament. The island is divided into 20 constituencies that return three members each, while Rodrigues is a single constituency that returns two members. The political party or alliance which wins the majority of seats in Parliament forms the government and its leader usually becomes the Prime Minister, who in turn selects the members of his Cabinet from elected members of the Assembly, except for the Attorney General who may not be an elected member of the Assembly. The political party or alliance which has the second largest majority forms the Official Opposition and its leader is normally nominated by the President of the Republic as the Leader of the Opposition. The Assembly elects a Speaker, a Deputy Speaker and a Deputy Chairman of Committees as one of its first tasks. Mauritius has strong and friendly relations with various African, American, Asian, European and Oceania countries. It is a member of the World Trade Organization, the Commonwealth of Nations, La Francophonie, the African Union, the Southern Africa Development Community (SADC), the Indian Ocean Commission, COMESA and the Indian Ocean Rim Association. Considered part of Africa geographically, Mauritius has friendly relations with African states in the region, particularly South Africa, by far its largest continental trading partner. Mauritian investors are gradually entering African markets, notably Madagascar, Mozambique and Zimbabwe. The country’s political heritage and dependence on Western markets have led to close ties with the European Union and its member states, particularly the United Kingdom and France. Relations with China and India are strong for both historical and commercial reasons.