I am in Mauritius this week and have been very excited to discover a new side of the continent that I had never seen before. Although it is a few hours flight, a total of 6 hours from Addis, going there from Addis Ababa costs just as much as going to the US. Having come here for work, I did not get much time to visit and so had to learn about this place from friends who live here.
It’s interesting what the consequences of being an island are on the identity of the people who live on it. Especially for a small island like Mauritius that has 1.3 million population and a history that combines diverse people from India, Madagascar, Senegal, Netherlands, France and the UK. Is it African, Asian or European? The island of Reunion, which is a mere 20 minutes flight from here is an overseas territory of the Republic of France. The reunion has a larger black population than Mauritius. There are strong cultural and historical ties between Mauritius and other African countries, certainly more than the Reunion.
I visited one of the major historical sites which is a sugar factory dating over 150 years. The production of sugar, the by products and hotter much it has shaped the history of the country makes this place akin to the Caribbean islands, especially and Jamaica. One of the main by products of sugar factory Is Rum. In addition to making Rum, Jamaica also has a large Asian population that was brought by colonizers and owners of plantations as indentured servants. Hence the resemblance of these two countries that could not be farther from each other but share a vet similar history.
Identity is constructed, and the government plays a very important role in constructing national identity and accentuating historical, political and economic ties. As a financial center and a jurisdiction with a relatively easy business registration laws, Mauritius attracts an international market. The country is a member of the African Union, Common Market for East and Southern Africa. It is also host to the African Leadership University, a school that focuses on teaching higher education in an innovative way that focuses on skills based learning rather than theoretical. Mauritius well also be the host of the newly created African Union Foundation.
As I dwell on the idea of what it means to be African, whether the testing barometer is color, history, culture, politics. I am reminded of the common experiences of humans, especially when it relates to cruelty. Despite the fact that they did not have a means to communicate, just as slaves did in the island of Goree in Senegal, Jamaica and the US so did slaves in Mauritius. They tried to runaway, and if they couldn’t, they would jump from mountains and hills to save their lives or rather die than live such a life.
Regardless of how we identify, humans are aware of injustice, inequality and understand the value of freedom. Although we may not all collectively agree on what is right, we do not remain silent when we are wronged. This common human experience, well documented in history, gives me hope on how the world is today. The injustices we see on television or hear of are not going to last. Humanity has an inner compass for good and bad, and there will always be those who fight against the bad, even if they have to pay with their lives.