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Is Mauritius Africa's champion of economic freedom?

When taking a glance at the Heritage Foundation’s Index of Economic Freedom, among the many Western nations whose economies are deemed “free” and “mostly free” sits a notable outlier: the East African nation of Mauritius. Assessed on the four categories of rule of law, government spending, regulatory efficiency, and open markets, Mauritius’s 26th place ranking is just one behind the United States’, is ahead of other Western economies like the United Kingdom and Japan, and is a whopping 21 places ahead of the next freest African economy: Cabo Verde. Although the Index’s rankings are far from indisputable, other metrics serve to cement Mauritius as the talisman of African economic freedom. The Fraser Institute’s Economic Freedom of the World assessment ranks Mauritius the 9th freest economy in the world, while the World Bank’s Ease of Doing Business Index places the island nation at 13th out of 190 economies. Clearly, Mauritius stands out as a continental leader in economic freedom, but has such freedom generated prosperity within the country? When looking at historical data, one can easily answer in the affirmative.

Mauritius GDP per Capita from 1950 to 2018

Source: Our World in Data

Firstly, compare the rise in Mauritius’s standard of living relative to not only the rest of Sub-Saharan Africa, but the world since 1950. Whereas Mauritius’s GDP per capita was largely on par with the world average up to the early 1980’s, since 1983 Mauritius’s GDP per capita has grown by 168 percent, compared a nonetheless very respectable 110 percent increase for the world and 74 percent increase for the Sub-Saharan Africa average.

Meanwhile, since its 1968 independence the child mortality rate in Mauritius has declined by 87 percent while life expectancy has increased by 26 percent. Nonetheless, improvements in the standard of living seem to have especially rocketed since the early 1980’s, which is by all means no coincidence. In 1983, Mauritius saw the collapse of its ruling left-wing coalition between the Mouvement Militant Mauricien (MMM) and the Mauritius Socialist Party (PSM), with the latter’s leader, Harish Boodhoo, dissolving the party amidst growing rifts with the MMM. Instead, Boodhoo opted for a more pragmatic, centrist coalition that included the center-right Pari Mauricien Social Democrate, Mauritius’s Labour Party, and the misleadingly center-left Militant Socialist Movement. As Mauritian politics shifted to the right, the island country saw massive inroads in its Export Processing Zone (EPZ) sector, or its ability to promote commercial and industrial exports, through the new coalition’s willingness to lower taxes and subsidize economic activity for foreign companies. As the success of the EPZ rapidly took off, industrialization was quickly introduced to Mauritius, with the increasing prominence of exports in the country’s industrial makeup leading to a Efledgling tourism industry and large retail chains cropping up across the African nation.

For comparison, the aforementioned Economic Freedom of the World report, which currently ranks Mauritius as having the 9th freest economy in the world, had the country as possessing the 64th freest economy in 1980. Clearly, the development of pro-business and pro-export policies through the development of the EPZ and the allowance of the effects of globalization through tourism and commercialism has brought tremendous rewards for the nation of Mauritius, rewards that place the burden of proof on other African countries that may be relenting to do the same.


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