Mauritius is an island nation with a population of 1.26 million people. The country's GDP is among the highest of African nations, and Mauritius also has a well-functioning democracy. Mauritius was considered a lost case in the 1960s, so far away from everywhere else. Its land area of only 2,040 square kilometers understates the country’s importance to the Indian Ocean region as it controls a vast maritime zone, claiming an Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) of approximately 2.3 million square kilometers, one of the largest in the world.
Mauritius does not have a standing army. All military, police, and security functions are carried out by 10,100 active-duty personnel under the command of the Commissioner of Police. The 8,000-member National Police is responsible for domestic law enforcement. The 1,200-member Special Mobile Force (SMF) and the 750-member National Coast Guard are the only two paramilitary units in Mauritius. Both units are composed of police officers on lengthy rotations to those services.
The SMF is organized as a ground infantry unit and engages extensively in civic works projects. The Coast Guard, led by a detailee from the Indian Navy, has four patrol craft for search-and-rescue missions and surveillance of territorial waters, and about 40 small craft for coastal surveillance and search and rescue. The Coast Guard is also equipped with three aircraft (two Dornier and one Defender aircraft). A 90-member police helicopter squadron assists in search-and-rescue operations. There also is a special supporting unit of 387 members trained in riot control.
Military advisers from the United Kingdom and India work with the SMF, the Coast Guard, and the Police Helicopter Unit, and Mauritian police officers are trained in the United Kingdom, India, and France. The United States provides training to Mauritian security officers in such fields as counterterrorism methods, forensics, seamanship, and maritime law enforcement. In May 2010, the U.S. donated three Safeboat Harbor Patrol boats with an estimated value of $1.1 million to the Government of Mauritius.
The police force is headed by a police commissioner, who has authority over all police and other security forces, including the Coast Guard and Special Mobile Forces (a paramilitary unit that shares responsibility with police for internal security). The police commissioner reports directly to the prime minister. Police corruption and the abuse of detainees and suspects were a problem.
Mauritius has a long tradition of political and social stability. Civil unrest and political violence are uncommon. Inter-ethnic tensions, however, led to four days of rioting in February 1999, following the death in police custody of a popular singer from the "Creole" (African) Mauritian community. Governments since then have sought to calm ethnic tensions and stress national unity. Free and fair elections are held every five years with the last general elections held in December 2014, which took place without incident. In January 2017, the former Prime Minister stepped down and his son, whom he had appointed Minister of Finance, replaced him as Prime Minister in accordance with the constitution.
Mauritius' history is reflected in its ethnic mix and its languages. Although English remains the official language of government and education, French is much more widely used today, especially by the media. Creole (a French-based patois) is the lingua franca. Several Asian languages are also spoken. Mauritius is a generally harmonious multicultural society despite occasional ethnic tension.
Mauritius enjoys a stable and relatively sound economy. But with the decline of its traditional textile and sugar industries, the Government is pushing for diversification of the economy into areas such as IT, business outsourcing (call centres) and seafood. It also aims to maximise the potential in its tourism sector. The 2008 global economic downturn had a non-negligible impact on the main economic sectors (e.g. 10% decrease in tourism revenue) but the situation remained under control. Few job losses had been registered and the Government has produced a stimulus package to keep companies in need afloat.
There are occasional tensions between unlicensed street vendors and police, particularly around the end of the year. Indigenous inhabitants ("Chagossians") from the British Indian Ocean Territory (BIOT) islands that include Diego Garcia periodically conduct demonstrations against the Mauritian government and the British High Commission. Demonstrations and protests are normally peaceful and require police approval.
Most crime is non-violent, but weapons have been used in some burglaries. Although uncommon, there have been some instances of sexual assault on tourists. Prostitution and drug activities are prevalent in downtown Port Louis after dark, particularly in “Company Gardens” public park. Pirates have in the past carried out attacks in coastal waters surrounding the outer islands and farther out at sea.
The standard of driving varies and there are frequent accidents. Be particularly careful when driving after dark as pedestrians and unlit motorcyclists are serious hazards. Most roads are narrow and uneven, lack guardrails, and are bordered by deep ditches. Night driving is hazardous, particularly on country roads, due to: inadequate street lighting; vehicles without headlights; drivers using high beams; excessive speeding; streets crowded with pedestrians, stray dogs, and motorcycles weaving in and out of traffic; and cyclists riding without lights.
Stonefish stings are rare but can be fatal.
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