GATEWAY TO AFRICA

Ghana 2018 | DIPLOMACY | GUEST SPEAKER

TBY talks to Ameenah Gurib-Fakim, President of Republic of Mauritius, on targeting the African continent, reversing the continent's brain drain, and the importance of educating the youth.

 Ameenah Gurib-Fakim
BIOGRAPHY
Ameenah Gurib-Fakim is a Mauritian biodiversity scientist and the current President of Mauritius. She obtained her PhD in organic chemistry from Exeter University and began her professional career at the University of Mauritius. She is the Managing Director of CIDP Research & Innovation, and became President in 2015.

What measures is your government taking to further improve its investment climate?

Mauritius has been diversifying its economy since the 1990s, and one of the areas we have identified is the financial sector. We positioned Mauritius squarely as a gateway for Africa into Asia investment. There is a great deal of potential in the African continent and we aim to seamlessly move into the African market. We have signed several FTAs and both the government and the private sector are investing massively in West, East, and Southern Africa. Our strategy is to look more into Africa, also bearing in mind that Mauritius can also become the gateway for Asia to come into Africa.

Will tourism play a strong part in diversifying Mauritius' economy?

Tourism is one of the pillars on which our economy is firing, though surprisingly tourism does not exceed 10% of Mauritius' economy. In fact, other services play a much more important role. Tourism is a product that we have to diversify and make as interesting as possible because the average tourist wants more than the sun and sea. We are going for aqua, green, and cultural tourism; we are diversifying the product. Through this, we hope to increase the number of tourists we currently receive.

What are some possible ways to stop the brain drain from Africa?

Mobility and migration have been ongoing since time immemorial. We have to see how we can promote brain circulation and, better still, brain gain. To do this, we must provide an ecosystem where bright Africans can come and work, and this ecosystem has to be better than the one they are used to. The challenge is on us to ensure we create ecosystems so we can retain them. However, as long as there is brain circulation we will be satisfied.

How can the youth bulge that Africa faces be a threat to countries in the region?

The youth bulge can be a boon; however, it can also be a bane if we do not channel this energy into the appropriate sectors where we create jobs. We have 11 million graduates joining the job market every year and Africa will need to produce enough jobs for them. This threat can be turned around provided we start thinking about it now. Our education system can prepare our youths for jobs necessary for the future. We need to be prepared so that the potential of our younger generations can be realized and used to transform the continent.

What can other African countries learn from Mauritius to help them open up to business and the world?

We should not be prescriptive, but lead by example. For any economy, there is no Mauritian miracle. We provide a social security net and free healthcare for people. However, more importantly, we guarantee full education. This has been a key ingredient. Around 30% of Mauritius' GDP goes to these three categories. This is not an expense, but an investment because if we do not safeguard the interests of the people by educating them and providing them with healthcare, then we will not get a performing population. We also have elections every five years and the population demands ever-greater accountability. Governance issues come to the fore and corruption has to be tackled. The business community, investors, and tourists who come here have to feel safe.

What is your top priority for Mauritius in 2018?

One initiative we have taken over the course of 2017 is to build up the country's education ecosystem. We are working to improve the indicators so that we become an intelligent island that is innovative and agile in the way we take decisions. If we get bogged down in a great deal of bureaucracy, things will not work. It is about changing mindsets and continuing to ensure that girls receive the best education. We have to keep on building on the things we have started.