For many people who have never visited Mauritius all they know of this African Island, strategically well positioned in the Indian Ocean, are the beautiful beaches and five star hotels portrayed in tourist industry advertising. Yet, for its 1.3M inhabitants Mauritius has a rapidly changing economy that is seeking to turn the island into a hub known for developing new technology and producing scientific innovation.
The recently elected president, Ameenah Gurib-Fakim, represents the hopes that many have for the future, being a female scientist with the aims to make Mauritius known for both its scientific diplomacy and ‘good practices’ in research techniques. As Head of State Gurib-Fakim’s role is that of a figure head rather than a political leader and she comes with experience in research into medicinal plants rather than politics, which she admits is a new arena for her.
The president says that she would like to see an increase in the number of bioparks and centers of technology that would ‘create wealth and jobs for young people.’ Already, the Planet Earth Institute, of which she has been appointed vice-chairman, has stated its intentions to increase the number of programmes focusing on science, technology and innovation in Mauritius as part of its goal towards the ‘scientific independence of Africa.’
Mauritius is ranked first in the World Economic Forum’s Global Competitiveness Report of sub-Saharan countries, primarily due to the benefits of a sound infrastructure, well developed markets and an up and coming young workforce. However, to build on this success there is a need for increased investment in developing home grown scientific expertise. Other countries, such as Taiwan and South Korea, have shown how concentrated investment in the development of new technologies can turn a relatively small economy into an international player.
What is required now is input from private industry, investing in the talents of future generations and providing them with the new skills necessary to compete in an increasingly technology reliant marketplace. A prime example is IBM’s Africa University Programme, which works with eighty institutions across the continent and applies the principals of the IBM Technical Academy to final year studies. Students benefit from enhanced training in cloud and mobile technologies, business analysis and data manipulation, key areas in modern commerce.
One possible future for the Mauritian economy is that it will be built on entrepreneurship, with universities providing the raw talent required for competitive start-ups in the science and technology sectors. However, this will require a new focus and strategy for these institutions, in partnership with existing businesses, to provide graduates with relevant skills in an ever changing environment.
One thing is sure, that Mauritius needs a critical mass of home grown talent in order to realise its goals to become an African hub for technological innovation and scientific research. There is now the political will to make it happen and with the help of investment from the business sector this could soon become a reality.