While Arab and Malay sailors knew of Mauritius as early as the 10th century AD and Portuguese sailors first visited in the 16th century, the island was not colonized until 1638 by the Dutch. Mauritius was populated over the next few centuries by waves of traders, planters and their slaves, indentured laborers, merchants, and artisans. The island was named in honor of Prince Maurice of Nassau by the Dutch, who abandoned the colony in 1710.
The French claimed Mauritius in 1715 and renamed it Ile de France. It became a prosperous colony under the French East India Company. The French Government took control in 1767, and the island served as a naval and privateer base during the Napoleonic wars. In 1810, Mauritius was captured by the British, whose possession of the island was confirmed 4 years later by the Treaty of Paris (1814). French institutions, including the Napoleonic code of law, were maintained. The French language is still used more widely than English.
Mauritian Creoles trace their origins to the plantation owners and slaves who were brought to work the sugar fields. Indo-Mauritians are descended from Indian immigrants who arrived in the 19th century to work as indentured laborers after slavery was abolished in 1835. Included in the Indo-Mauritian community are Muslims (about 15% of the population) from the Indian subcontinent. The Franco-Mauritian elite controls nearly all of the large sugar estates and is active in business and banking. As the Indian population became numerically dominant and the voting franchise was extended, political power shifted from the Franco-Mauritians and their Creole allies to the Hindus.
Elections in 1947 for the newly created Legislative Assembly marked Mauritius' first steps toward self-rule. An independence campaign gained momentum after 1961, when the British agreed to permit additional self-government and eventual independence. A coalition composed of the Mauritian Labour Party (MLP), the Muslim Committee of Action (CAM), and the Independent Forward Bloc (IFB)--a traditionalist Hindu party--won a majority in the 1967 Legislative Assembly election, despite opposition from Franco-Mauritian and Creole supporters of Gaetan Duval's Mauritian Social Democratic Party (PMSD). The contest was interpreted locally as a referendum on independence. Sir Seewoosagur Ramgoolam, MLP leader and chief minister in the colonial government, became the first prime minister at independence, on March 12, 1968. This event was preceded by a period of communal strife, brought under control with assistance from British troops.
The 1970s saw the emergence of the Mouvement Militant Mauricien/Parti Socialiste Mauricien (MMM/PSM) led by Paul Bérenger. Until 1982, Sir Seewoosagur was Prime Minister, his Labour Party in coalition with Duval's PMSD, but in that year the came to power, although the party split, with Anerood Jugnauth forming the Mouvement Socialiste Mauricien (MSM), which became the governing party, with Jugnauth as Prime Minister. Sir Seewoosagur subsequently became Governor-General, although the MSM planned to make the country a republic within the Commonwealth , with him as President. An attempt to make the country a republic in 1990, with Bérenger as President, also failed, owing to political opposition.
Following Sir Seewoosagur's death, his son, Navin Ramgoolam succeeded him as leader of the MLP. However, the MLP and PMSD were defeated at the 1991 election., which saw Jugnauth re-elected. On March 12, 1992 Mauritius finally became a republic within the Commonwealth.
Ramgoolam formed a coalition with the MMM at the parliamentary elections in 1995, leaving the MSM in opposition, but at the next elections in 2001, Jugnauth was returned to power. He subsequently retired as Prime Minister, which was filled by Bérenger, and assumed the office of President.
- See also : Mauritius