MAURITIANS ON THE MOVE, AMERICAN STYLE: Mauritius IT sector a "success story"

Mauritius has dropped a few slots in the international rankings for information technology, but the island continues to make strides in improving the telecommunications sector and remains the information and communication technology (ICT) leader in the Africa region.
That's the conclusion of Living in a Hyper-connected World, a new report on worldwide information technology by the Geneva-based World Economic Forum. It was released on April 5 at WEF's meeting in New York. The Minister of Information and Communication Technology, Tassarajen Pillay Chedumbrum, was present.
Mauritius ranked 53 out of 142 countries in the new assessment, having placed 47th  last year. Sweden secured the top spot, followed by Singapore. The United States ranked 8th and the U.K., 10th.
The report analyzed various aspects of telecommunication development in each country, such as political and regulatory environment, affordability, infrastructure, skills, individual, business and government usage, the economic and social impacts.
The successful development of the island as a hub for information technology in the Indian Ocean region caught the eye of the WEF and led the organization to use Mauritius - as well as Aberjajan - as case studies for the report.
The Making of the Digital Nation: Toward I-Mauritius was written by Krishna Oolun of the Information & Communication Technologies Authority, Suraj Ramgolam, of the National Computer Board, and Vasenden Dorasami of the Ministry of Information and Communication Technology. It outlined the various steps taken in Mauritius to develop the ICT sector and make it globally competitive.
These include liberalization of the telecommunications sector in 2003, the partnership with India in the development of the first Cyber City project in Ebene and legislative reforms to encourage technology advancement. It also mentions the island's connection to the submarine optical fiber route linking Europe to Asia via South Africa, and development of a National ICT Strategic Plan in 1998.
The ICT sector, the study notes, is well on its way to being an important engine of economic development, along with the tourism and financial sectors. ICT contributed 6.5 percent to the GDP in 2011 and employs some 15,000 people - nearly 5 percent of the total workforce. Employment in this sector is projected to reach 30,000 by 2014.
There is still room for improvement to assure continued growth of the ICT/business processing outsourcing (BPO) sectors, however.
The WEF's report noted weaknesses in individual and government connectivity (Mauritius ranked 73 out of 142 for individual usage and 52/142 for government) and in IT skill development (63/142). Internet access, however, had a very good rating for affordability (23/142).
Developing skilled "knowledge" workers continues to be a challenge. "Mauritius still suffers from a long response time in building up the human capital required, including the major transformation needed to re-skill workers in the traditional agricultural industry for the emerging sector," the case study said. Most notably is the resistance of Mauritian workers to accept the demands of round-the-clock schedules required of the international telecommunications field. "These challenges have invariably had a spillover effect on government policies, private-sector strategies and existing institutional arrangements.
The success of this sector will depend on "committed and visionary political leadership that truly believes in the adoption of emerging technologies," the case study said.
Despite these challenges, Mauritius has the most advanced sector in Africa.
Most countries in sub-Saharan Africa showed significant lags in connectivity due to insufficient development of ICT infrastructure, which remains too costly, and displaying poor skill levels that do not allow for an efficient use of the available technology, the WEF said.
Even in those countries where ICT infrastructure has been improved, ICT-driven impacts on competitiveness and well-being trail behind, resulting in a new digital divide.
The WEF's report is the most comprehensive and authoritative assessment of the impact of telecommunications on world economies.


Social media helps Chagos islands petition reach its goal

Last week, supporters of the Chagossian people and their effort to return to their homeland scored a victory when they gathered more than 28,000 signatures on petition to the White House to draw U.S. attention to the plight of the Chagossian people.
It's amazing what the power of the Internet and social media can do. A few days before the April 4th deadline, the threshold of 25,000 signatures had fallen 2,000 short. A blast of messages lit up the Internet, rallying Mauritians and their friends around the world to call up the petition on the White House's website and sign their support. And it happened. The 25,000 goal - which is the required number of signatures needed for a petition to receive a White House response - was not just reached but surpassed.
This is a positive development, as it will now force officials in the Obama administration to look at the issue and evaluate it. They will come to understand that although the displacement of some1,800 people from Diego Garcia happened some 44 years ago to make way for a U.S. naval base, it remains an important issue for Chagossian families who continue to live in poverty in Mauritius and the Seychelles. What the White House can actually do about it is uncertain, however.
The petition states that the United States should "provide relief to the Chagossians in the form of resettlement to the outer Chagos islands, employment and compensation."
But supporters shouldn't be overly optimistic that they will get what they want. The U.S. is not likely to offer compensation, as this would have to be taken up in the British courts. In addition, U.S. military presence in that part of the Indian Ocean is still considered crucial by the U.S. and its allies.
In a March 30 blog on the issue, former U.S. Ambassador to Mauritius John Price (2002-2005) summarized the strategic importance of the naval base: "There is no question as to the importance of Diego Garcia for our national security interests, especially in today's struggle with Iran which threatens its neighbors and beyond. If Iran were to develop a nuclear weapons-grade capability, any proposed U.S. air strikes will need to take place without prior conditions. If Iran attempts to close the Strait of Hormuz, our sea and air power will be called upon to react quickly to prevent this from happening. Diego Garcia serves that purpose. So for the foreseeable future, the United States cannot consider giving up this strategic military base in the Indian Ocean. However the Chagossians' plight will need to be addressed at some point in the near future; to find a permanent solution for the destitute Chagossian Diaspora."
As ambassador, Price said that on "several occasions on my way to or from the US Embassy in Port Louis, I had taken a circuitous route through the Cassis district at the foot of Signal Mountain, about a mile from the embassy where a Chagossian community was located. They live in crowded shacks made of rusted corrugated metal, with skinny chickens picking through the garbage. With high unemployment, poor health conditions, and limited education opportunities, little will change in the lives of these Chagossians. I could see why many believe their only option was to ultimately return to the Chagos Archipelago. At least it would feel like home, and eking out a living there would be better than struggling to exist in the rat-infested environment of Cassis."
In a subsequent email exchange, the ambassador told me: "I believe the aspect of sustainability is still at the heart of the resettlement issue. If the Chagossians can sustain themselves on the outer islands of Peros Banhos and Salomon, then this should be openly discussed as an alternative. However the United States has a valid lease regarding the Diego Garcia military base, until 2036, with unimpeded access by non-military personnel. This agreement must be honored, and is necessary to maintain peace in the region, and of foremost importance to our national security."
The petition drive began March 5 by SPEAK, a human rights group based in Port Louis. Support came slowly and then took off after Le Mauricien published articles about the appeal. Then word got out on the internet. We started to hear about it in the United States through a chat group called Cozer Lamerick, which sent out an email appeal to members asking for their support, then email and Facebook campaigns followed.

Extend AGOA provision, ambassadors say

African ambassadors in Washington are continuing to pressure the U.S. Congress to extend the Third Country Fabric provision of the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA), saying extension of the benefit is crucial to save the sub-Saharan textile industry.
Time is running short to make this happen. The provision expires Sept. 30, and little legislative business gets done in Washington close to the November elections. Meanwhile, as orders must be made far in advance for apparel products, many U.S. clothing buyers are canceling and looking beyond Africa to source their goods.
In a letter sent March 16 to Sen. Harry Reid, the Senate Majority Leader, the ambassadors said the need for action is urgent. "Any further delay would result in the loss of thousands of jobs, increase in poverty and hunger and would also be detrimental to business, industry and trade in sub-Saharan Africa."
The letter was initiated by the ambassadors of Mauritius and Zambia, co-chairs of the Economic Development Committee of the African Ambassadors Group, on behalf of 32 African countries that participate in U.S.-Africa trade.
The issue is important to the Mauritian textile industry, which also benefits from the 3rd country fabric. That provision allows textiles companies to use fabric from countries outside the Africa region in garments made for the U.S. market.
"It has allowed the sub-Saharan countries apparel and textile industry exports to remain competitive in the untied States in the face of fierce competition form other regions which have decades of comparative advantages," the letter said. "Many exports have already started feeling the pinch of  traditional orders being cancelled due to the uncertainty created by the non-renewal of the provision so far."
Signs are favorable that Congress will act, but nothing is certain, especially during a politically-charged election period, said Paul Ryberg, a Washington attorney who represents the government of Mauritius.
"I am cautiously optimistic that third-country fabric will be renewed sometime during April-May," he said. "Time is running out. Congress will move into election mode by the end of May. If it doesn't renew third-country fabric by then, it will not do so until after the election, which would be devastating."

Mauritius National Day celebrated in Washington

Ambassador Somduth Soborun and his wife Omila hosted a reception at their residence on March 30 to recognize this special day. Attending were members of the Mauritian community working in Washington, as well as State Department officials and African ambassadors. It was a convivial evening of conversation, delicious food and camaraderie.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton also issued a statement on March 12, sending the best wishes of the Obama administration to the people of Mauritius on the 44th anniversary of independence.
"Mauritian leaders have succeeded - in the space of a single generation - in creating one of Africa's strongest and most developed economies," Secretary Clinton said. "Your democratic traditions are matched only by economic successes, as you remain committed to those founding principles of democracy."
She noted that the United States and Mauritius are working together to fight maritime piracy in the Indian Ocean and promoting ideals of democracy, human rights and the rule of law. "Together, businesses in the Untied Sates and Mauritius continue to forge increasing trade and investment links, a trend we expect will only grow in the future."


Mauritius-based solar company joins U.N-back initiative

ToughStuff,  Mauritius-based solar power company, plans to expand access to low-cost solar energy to low-income communities in 10 African countries over the next four years as part of a United Nations-backed initiative to fight poverty.
The company, located in Ebene, says this could help 33 million people in Burundi, Cote d'Ivoire, Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia, Malawi, Mali, Mozambique, South Sudan, Zambia and Zimbabwe - and 4 Southeast Asian countries.
ToughStuff offers solar-powered products directly to low-income communities through commercial and alternative trade channels including its "Business in a Box" model, which relies on a network of village-level entrepreneurs that are provided with training on how to sell, rent or provide access to affordable solar energy services and products.
ToughStuff is partnering with the New York-based Business Call to Action (BCtA), a global initiative that encourages private sector efforts to fight poverty, supported by several international organizations including the UN Development Program (UNDP).
"This ambitious goal underlines ToughStuff's commitment to produce quality and affordable products that will change the lives of millions of people living off-grid globally," Andrew Tanswell, CEO of ToughStuff, said in a press release. "To make this happen, and at the scale we intend, we are actively building commercial partnerships with large distributors, telecommunications companies, retailers and others with an interest in bringing energy, along with all of its benefits, to those who don't yet have it."
"This commitment will help boost development and improve social equity in a sustainable way that is good for the environment and good for business," said Susan Chaffin, Program Manager for the BCtA.