The Role of Human Development in Economic Transformation: Lessons from Mauritus

New expert comment on Shared Societies!

Speech at the Delivering Inclusive and Sustainable Development Conference by Cassam Uteem, Member of the Club de Madrid and President of the Republic of Mauritius (1992-1997, 1997- 2002).

The Role of Human Development in Economic Transformation: Lessons from Mauritus

Guest Author: Cassam Uteem

The general theme of this conference is Delivering Inclusive and Sustainable Development. Let me tell you what I understand by sustainable development. Too often we tend to conceive development entirely in terms of economic growth. And yet development should in no way be confused with economic growth although they are inextricably connected .Development transcends the narrow concept of a rise in GDP or , per capita income. Just enjoying high per capita income is no substitute for development. The wealth created in a country must trickle down to the people and this implies an equitable and fair distribution. This implies a right to a job: a job is the most effective vehicle of ensuring social inclusion for a job firmly anchors somebody in life bestowing dignity to him or to her.

Sustainable development incorporates 3 core principles, 3 bottom lines: The People, the Planet and Profit. While an economy thrives on profit it cannot ignore its people, it cannot ignore the environment. The 3 P’s: People, Planet, Profit are intertwined and mutually dependent. Preservation of the environment is essential for survival of mankind especially in the light of global warming. All development therefore has to ensure that it triggers neither the pollution of poverty nor the pollution of affluence.

Social Inclusion is a pre-requisite for sustainable development. This is the reason for which, at the club of Madrid we have always laid strong emphasis on the need for all societies to be inclusive. And important resources, human, intellectual and financial have been allocated to our ongoing Shared Societies Project, as you heard earlier this morning. We are of the firm belief that shared societies in which diverse groups and individuals are economically integrated and are able to utilise their talents and skills tend to be more stable societies that enjoy higher economic growth than divided societies. If groups and individuals are economically marginalised, they have no reason to feel a sense of belonging to the state and are less likely to support the state or society, and contribute to the economic well being of all. I am of those who believe that there can no sustainable development, no stability and no security except in a socially cohesive society.

The subject I have been asked to talk on is the role of human development in economic transformation – lessons from Mauritius. I would like to point out that Mauritius is in Africa but I am pleased to be here to discuss issues directly or more directly related to South Asia. Don’t go by the look, I am African! And although my ancestors come from this part of the world, from India to be more precise, it is with pride that I always say that I am an Afro-Asian

Human development in Mauritius has two broad meanings; the first one is of the average Mauritian being biologically more mature while the second relates to economic development and standard of living. During the last fifty years or so, the average Mauritian may have undergone a slight transformation physically in terms of size, height and weight. This is partly explained by access to better food, to the introduction of high tech medicine, to better education. For instance the children during the 50’s were found to be shorter, than children of the same age during the 1960’s and 1970’s. Studies have shown that this amelioration stems from the introduction of welfare programmes of free milk to school children. The average Mauritian is today exposed to deceases more reminiscent of a western society while contagious and infectious diseases have virtually disappeared. Life expectancy has as a result increased from around 59 during the 1950’s to 74.5 with females attaining a life expectancy of 78.1 last year. Life expectancy is also a measure of the quality of life which contributes to the competitiveness of a nation through higher productivity.

Mauritius has a per capita income exceeding US $ 8000/ and is firmly anchored in the upper income bracket of the World Bank. In 1980 per capita income was only US $ 1080.Mauritius in one of the most competitive economies with a purchasing power parity of over US $ 14,000/. In 2011 Mauritius was classified in the High Development Index category with a rank of 78 out of 188 countries. Now several factors are responsible for this sharp economic progress. Mauritius has over time judiciously invested in capacity building. It equally formulated appropriate policies to meet the growing challenges. Since independence, 44 years ago this year, successive governments have stepped up efforts to take Mauritius away from the labyrinth of poverty and I must say, with a certain measure of success. As a result within less than a decade the economic face of the country was diversified from a mono-crop economy to a broad based structure with sugar, tourism, sea-food, information and communication technology, textile and financial services as the main export sectors while construction and retailing constitutes strong growth stabilisation. To further enhance the competitiveness of the nation, efforts are continuously laboured to improve the quality of education. Actually education has been a key factor in the socio-economic transformation of the country. In 1976, the then government introduced free education more as a form of disguised political lure than anything else. However, in retrospection we see that free education has brought untold benefits. In 2005, government allocated substantial funds and in less than 5 years the number of state secondary schools was doubled, creating new opportunities for quality education. Even transport is now freely provided to the students by the state. The total annual government expenditure on education has increased ten-fold over the last twenty years from 1.3 billion rupees to 11.7 billion rupees. I should hasten to add that you should not compare Mauritius to India, as Mauritius has only a population on 1.3 million while India has a population of over a billion. So no comparison! Although we have done much in attaining a high standard of living, there is still much to be done.

Given that Mauritius until 30 years ago was still a traditional society women used to play a low profile in social and economic development; or to be more exact, women’s socio-economic contribution was not recognized for its true worth. Free education would gradually change this perception. The 1976 decision of granting free secondary education opened a bright new era for girls. At the level of household, economic and financial factors no longer constituted barriers to women’s emancipation. Girls were no longer ‘sacrificed’. Both parental and societal attitudes changed and the nation took advantage of free access to education.

Education is the vehicle to coach our mind to make correct choices, rational decisions and develop broad pro-active mind-sets on issues that affect our daily lives and development potential. The decision makers had understood the role of education in the transformation of society too well and made use of it as a vehicle of growth, development and promotion of social equality. Education enables us to receive valuable information, to access to the knowledge bank, to share it with others and achieve gains in productivity and international competitiveness.Within less than a decade the landscape of the Mauritian society altered drastically. First education endowed the country with a pool of additional resources easily adaptable and widened the Mauritian horizon. The most feasible benefit was that it shattered old taboos and changed the average male mind-set towards women. Women were no longer considered to be inferior in intellect, their place was no longer at home or in the home and it opened new vistas for growth and development. Thus in the 1980’s when Mauritius entered its second phase of industrialization and its first phase of tourism expansion the country could count on a wider pool of educated labour force. By the late 1990’s, for instance, the export processing zone which earned Mauritius the coveted recognition and praise of star performer by the Bretton-Woods Institutions was employing 93,000 workers with women accounting for over two-thirds. It has made it much easier to lead the nation towards progress and prosperity , a reality in sharp odds to the gloomy forecast of V.S. Naipaul , the Nobel Literature laureate who described Mauritius at the time of independence as the ‘overcrowded baracoon’ with no future. He is a great writer, by the way, but a false prophet! Mechanization and computerization have helped to make significant inroads in quality improvement and productivity gains. As a result Mauritius has carved a coveted place in tourism development and it textile exports with even China today importing textile products from Mauritius.

Human Development also addresses social factors that shape our behavioural development and the potential for us to compete in a hostile world with stiff market competition. New challenges have emerged and the biggest challenge to the Mauritian society now rests with its values and the way it treats its environment including the sea it is surrounded with, more particularly, its turquoise lagoons. Mauritius is also confronted with an indomitable scourge which has been creating havoc in the population, especially among the youth and in the deprived regions, adding to the problems of poverty and social exclusion that unfortunately still exists in certain scattered areas of the country. Mauritius has built notoriety as a high drug consumer society .We would need to double our efforts in strengthening law and order, providing enlightened leadership and revamping our educational system, we would need to think and perhaps go back to basics , we need to question our values, go and critically examine our family values. We would equally need to reflect weather education should simply focus on career advancement, facilitate job research or empowering the worker to negotiate higher pay. The challenge for preparing fair and wise leadership and opening our minds to new ideas especially to utilise scare resources in an efficient, responsible manner, so as to generate the least possible adverse externalities, or in promoting social harmony and peace in multi-racial, multi-cultural societies must now be our priority. But yet were I to give 3 words of advice to the current political leadership of my country, it would still be what a former British Prime Minister said: “Education, Education and Education”.

To conclude I would say that since education has been instrumental in the transformation and development of the country, the country may require a paradigm shift to maintain its survival and enhance its competitiveness. A return to values could provide that invisible hand that gives a society the harmony it needs.

I thank you for your attention.

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One comment

  1. James Morgan says:

    great experience.. this should encourage women all over the world to take control and lead others. specially women in societies where men has complete control over their lives and choices!!

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