More to Mauritius than cocktails and turquoise waters

I promised myself that I was going to do as little work as possible during my first real break since we started How we made it in Africa almost three years ago. However, Mauritius has been described as one of Africa’s most competitive economies (2nd on the continent according to the World Economic Forum) and I couldn’t help but notice a few things regarding the island state’s business environment. Below are some brief thoughts on Mauritius.

More Asia than Africa? Mauritius is technically part of Africa, but I’ve heard people say that Mauritians identify more closely with Asia. I’m not sure if this is correct, but I can definitely confirm that cycling through the countryside felt more like I was in India, rather than any of the African countries I have visited. Many years ago thousands of Indian migrants came to Mauritius to work on the sugar cane plantations. Hinduism is the largest religion in Mauritius and Hindu temples can be seen throughout the island. It is often said that investors shouldn’t view Africa as one homogeneous market, but as 54 diverse countries – this is certainly very relevant when comparing Mauritius with the rest of the continent.

A major road in the Mauritian capital Port Louis

Competitive economy, but challenges remain: Mauritius’s economy was traditionally based on sugar cane – a visit to the sugar museum at the old Beau Plan sugar mill highlights the industry’s historical importance. These days sugar is no longer the mainstay of the Mauritian economy as the country managed to diversify into other industries such as clothing and textiles, tourism and financial services. Various international financial and professional services firms – such as KPMG, PwC, Investec and Standard Chartered, to name a few – have a presence on the island. The country’s GDP per capita, estimated at slightly over US$15,000 in 2012, is among the highest in Africa. However, I didn’t get the impression that everyone is living a life of luxury. In the countryside one sees many people living in shacks and run-down houses. In the capital Port Louis informal traders hustle in the shadows of high-rise office buildings. Some of the young people also told us that the rising cost of living on the island is becoming a problem. All in all, judging from the quality of the roads we travelled on, the hospitals we passed by, and the public buses transporting passengers across the island, Mauritius does seem like a relatively well-run country.

Strong South African presence: Many South African companies have expanded into the rest of the continent in search of growth opportunities. Mauritius is certainly not missing out on this trend. Various South African companies have operations in Mauritius, including restaurant chains, supermarkets, and banks. Some of these brands include: Standard Bank, Pick n Pay, Steers, Spur, Debonairs Pizza, Mr Price and Truworths, to name a few. Even former South African rugby star Cabous van der Westhuizen has started a restaurant in the town of Grand Baie, called The Beach House.

A trader selling his goods in Port Louis

Shopping malls: The increasing number of modern shopping malls being built across Africa is a trend that has been covered extensively by How we made it in Africa, and Mauritius is no exception. We have seen numerous malls – many of them home to the South African retailers mentioned above. The Bagatelle – Mall of Mauritius was developed by South African property firm Atterbury. A local property player, however, suggested to us that the market is becoming saturated and that the opportunities for new malls are limited.

Many tourists visiting Mauritius only experience the country from within the confines of their all-inclusive resorts. While this was largely my plan as well, Mauritius definitely has more going for it than just cocktails and turquoise waters.

Jaco Maritz is the publisher and editor-in-chief of How we made it in Africa.