Island For Sale
Mauritius is one of the most overcrowded countries in the world with a population of more than one million people on a small territory. In the ultra-capitalist system the country has embraced, what are the chances of the average Mauritian to acquire a bit of land today? To what extent can we admit that there is no other alternative than the law of supply and demand?
— Nita Chicooree
Why not sell Flat Island, Round Island, Ilot Gabriel, Ile D’Ambre, Ile aux Bénitiers, the islets to the local business barons and moneyed foreigners? Why not let them lay their hands on the beaches of Mont Choisy, Cap Malheureux, Roches Noires, Blue Bay and build hotels, restaurants and set up extensive high-class leisure and recreative facilities for the well-off and wealthy foreigners?
Forty-two years ago, the Chagos islands were traded off to the ‘nation of shopkeepers’ in a deal with the Americans to set up a military base there. The British, true to themselves, saw to it that they pocketed the financial gains in the process and they still do. The infamous deal which was part of the negotiations for the independence of Mauritius, has been taken for granted by political analysts most probably because independent and objective criticism is a rare commodity in Mauritius. How far could the then Prime Minister have undertaken tough negotiations to keep the Chagos within the Mauritian territory and avoided the inhuman displacement of the Chagossians to the outskirts of the Capital where they are still packed in as second-class citizens is still a question that we can ponder on today.
Roughly four decades after independence, one may ask if the government has a policy of land ownership for Mauritians or is the issue left to the appetites of the local businessmen in quest of juicy investments. In 2002, the Opposition, which is in office today, bristled at the Integrated Resort Scheme set up by the then Prime Minister and vowed that the project would be stopped if they came to power. Judging from the bulldozers clearing lands in different spots of the island, the much decried IRS is gaining more ground today. Flashing billboards at SSR airport greet visitors with luxury villas bearing exotic names of Valriche, Tamarina or Anahita. Further projects such as the one at Pointe aux Canonniers offering around 80 villas are on the way. Where and when will it stop?
The profile of the counsellors of the former PM leaves no doubt about their motivation in getting the project endorsed. In grabbing the best spots in Mauritius, the property developers could not ignore the social and economic impact of the IRS. Mauritians who fled independence and settled in South Africa flocked back to the island along with their South African cronies. A new breed of real estate agencies mushroomed in the North, some of them employing only foreigners. Mauritius has always been a highly cleavaged society with different communities walking along separate corridors. No wonder, the real estate sharks keep on with the unofficial segregationist policy. The locals are kept away from the new residents with fences and a high surveillance system with security guards just like the hotels are and the bungalows along the coast, for that matter.
Rivière Noire is looking more and more like South Africa. Not to mention the mindset that goes along with it. The rich from the Arab world behave like feudal landlords and have no regard for the common people. High-paying jobs such as housemaids, gardeners and drivers are surely what the locals can look forward to in the new residential areas! In January, this is what the Prime Minister probably had in mind when he blithely answered to a journalist on television that he aimed to make every Mauritian rich. God knows how he will do it! That’s why the salary of the rulers had to be trebled in 2005 to rival that of a private sector CEO! By the way, who says that everybody needs to be rich? If anything, this is a most irresponsible statement coming from a statesman when you consider that multiple- jobs is still the rule for the average Mauritian who wants to make ends meet.
You would think the PM has imbibed the ambition of the average white Anglo-Saxon male Protestant of America. Make a big buck, this is what life is about!
The other point is that the IRS is a short-sighted vision of what foreigners want. Some of them finding themselves living in rich ghettoes realize this is not what they came to Mauritius for, and they go back to places where they can have some sort of interaction with the locals. Part of the marketing strategy of luxury villas in an exotic island is also to flatter the snobbishness of those who need to be above the fray. In the long run, the new residents may question their motivation for buying a place far from the grand lifestyle and glitterati they are used to in their own country given that the island does not have that much to offer. The least expensive apartment in the IRS residential complex in Grand Bay, located at the junction of two roads amid a non-stop traffic costs about 220 000 euros. No wonder quite a number of them are empty. Who gain most from the IRS? The 500 000 euros deposit as a condition to settle in Mauritius is dodged by a number of foreigners. What is the viability of the whole project, anyway?
The issue is that Mauritius is one of the most overcrowded countries in the world with a population of more than one million people on a small territory. In the ultra-capitalist system the country has embraced, what are the chances of the average Mauritian to acquire a bit of land today? To what extent can we admit that there is no other alternative than the law of supply and demand? Speculation is the cause of the economic quagmire the world is wallowing in today. There is a difference between free enterprise, market economy and wildcat capitalism based on greed rather than economic progress.
Two islands off the coast are already managed by the hotel groups, one can hardly set foot on île aux Cocotiers. It is meant for the very rich. There is no reason why Mauritans should put up with such random decisions taken without their consent. The fact is that the economic and political powers do not give much thought to the aspirations of the rising middle-class as far as leisure is concerned. Beaches which are public in theory are still kept as private property in front of the bungalows around the island in total disregard for the law.
After more than forty years of independence, the mantra of economic liberalism will make it almost impossible for people to acquire land and houses. Are they condemned to live in the backyard of their parents or in-laws as in the good old days? The country is not the private property of the government or of any corporation. Land ownership should be given due attention before a burgeoning resentment leads to violence.
In the Canary island of Teneriffe which is an autonomia ruled by Spain, the local inhabitants harbour strong animosity against the English, German and French residents who have set up residential ghettoes. The Welsh started burning down the homes of the English who settled in Wales a few years ago. No one wishes for this sort of situation in Mauritius. Scarcity of land is bound to lead to conflict sooner or later. The authorities cannot sacrifice the interests of the people to corporate interests. Let all take heed.