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"Mauritius - Logistics And More" by Per Fajerson: Monday 18 October 2021

Per Fajersond

Per Fajerson

© John Yellowlees

A Swede who left his native country in the 1980s, Dr Per Fajerson joined the African Leadership University this year after a career with Maersk. ALU has campuses in Mauritius and Rwanda, and aims to train entrepreneurial and ethical leaders for countries across the Continent.

The Mauritius campus is a branch of Glasgow Caledonian University, which supports it by providing the necessary academic structure. All but one of his current students are for mainland Africa.

Located off the East African coast, Mauritius is an island republic in the Indian Ocean with an area of 2040 square kilometres and a population of 1.4M. There is 5.4% inflation and 10.5% unemployment, and GDP slumped 22.4% as a result of the pandemic. 70% of the workforce is in services, especially tourism, and 25% in industry - mainly textiles and food - leaving 5% in fishing and agriculture especially sugar. With liberal economic and trade policies, the island has moderate tax rates especially for middle-income earners and low tariffs and duties. It exported £1.6bn mainly of fish, clothing and textiles to France, the UK, the USA and South Africa in 2009, importing £4.1M of cars and petroleum from China, India and South Africa for transport and electricity generation. Exports were down 36%, imports down 13% in 2020 on the year before.

The market in logistics is price-sensitive, and with thin profit margins even before the pandemic, major providers Kuhne & Nagel and DSV pulled out in 2020, with Hellman soon to follow and others like Schenker conspicuous by their absence. Instead there are 130 smaller freight forwarders living on a 5% mark-up on the £36 customs brokerage fee. Served by shipping lines that include CMA, MSC, Maersk and a German regional line, Mauritius is on no major trade routes and has seen no cruise liners since the start of the pandemic. There is only one port and one airport, which handles some freight including vaccines, and trucking is the only means of internal freight transport.

There tends to be a manana attitude to skills in port and distribution activities which makes light of safety and sustainability concerns. Truck regulation and insurance are possibly questionable, but there is no labour shortage. Port Louis is a freeport enabling it to act as a hub for other Indian Ocean islands, but disruption associated with the pandemic has more than quadrupled the cost of sending a container from Shanghai, and with ships currently sailing sometimes weeks late will such hub status be sustainable? The port has inefficient state-owned handling operations with low capacity-utilisation, yet £577M is being spent on expansion.

Mauritius is sometimes perceived to be economically more transparent and less corrupt than most African countries - there is undoubtedly some truth to that, though the position could be clouded by institutional corruption, and with lower handling rates in Madagascar, Reunion and Mozambique there may be pressure to compromise on quality and safety so as to keep them down.

The Dutch were the first settlers, introducing sugar cane soon after their arrival in 1639 but eating all the flightless dodos whose lack of fear led to their early extinction so they were replaced by chickens. Then came the French, and seizure by the British in 1810 making English the official language did not do away with many people's preference for speaking creole, a mix of French and Indian languages.

Until 2006 rum could be made only from molasses, but in that year, it became legal to squeeze sugar-juice for rum production. There are now nice distilleries turning out high-quality single and doubled-distilled rum which may be taken with an infusion of vanilla, pineapple or passionfruit. In 2018 only 23,000 litres were exported to the UK, compared with 1.6M in several prized brands to the Netherlands.

In the 1860s the British developed a rail system which at its height had 52 steam and three diesel-hydraulic locomotives hauling 200 carriages and 750 wagons. After the Second World War there was a growth in car and lorry transport, and the network became uneconomic, being closed by the colonial authorities in 1964 with surviving relics consigned to a museum. A separate narrow-gauge network was for transport of sugar cane, all of which must now go by lorry - but a light rail network has recently been started, the cost of whose funding from India will not it is hoped cripple the system's viability.

People drive on the left in Mauritius, and tourists now again enabled to visit without quarantining can look forward to an ever-changing delight of scenic vistas in the island's national parks, to the joys of creole cuisine and to experiences ranging from snorkelling with dolphins and diving to golf and mountaineering.

Report and photograph by John Yellowlees.

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