On 12th March 1968, Mauritius became independent from the British Empire. This year marks 55 years of Mauritian independence, and 31 years as a Republic.
The journey to independence wasn't without its struggles, including ethnic tensions, and the ongoing debate of the Chagos Archipelago.
Today, Mauritians both on the island and the diaspora abroad proudly celebrate independence.
A TIMELINE OF INDEPENDENCE
The British take over colonial rule of Mauritius from the French.
After World War II, numerous uprisings in Britain's colonies, and Britain's self-interest in rebuilding their own country, sees the collapse of the British Empire.
The British revise the constitution to allow Mauritius a general election. This was the first step towards self-rule.
Mauritius passes a motion requesting i
ndependence from the British.
Mauritius becomes independent on 12th March. Sir Seewoosagur Ramgoolam serves as the first Prime Minister. Mauritius remains a constitutional monarchy, with Queen Elizabeth II as Head of State.
Following a referendum, Mauritius is established as a parliamentary Republic, and the Queen is removed as Head of State.
ETHNIC TENSIONS AND VIOLENCE
Not everyone was in favour of independence. Some felt the island would remain better off if it stayed aligned with Britain. Others feared some groups might become disadvantaged with a new government in power.
The uncertainty about the country's political future caused divisions amongst certain ethnic groups (namely Creoles and Muslims), leading to violent clashes.
In January 1968, following continuous riots where people were killed, hundreds injured, and homes were burnt down, Mauritius called a State of Emergency. British troops were brought in to quash the violence.
THE CHAGOS ARCHIPELAGO
Under British colonial rule, the Chagos Archipelago was governed as part of Mauritius.
Prior to independence, the British annexed Chagos, forcibly exiled 1500 Chagossians, and created a new colonial jurisdiction called the 'British Indian Ocean Territory, to make way for a United States military base. Mauritius says it was coerced into handing over Chagos in return for independence.
Several UN courts have stated that Britain's continued occupation of Chagos is illegal, and therefore "the process of decolonization of Mauritius was not lawfully completed" and "the United Kingdom is under an obligation to bring to an end its administration of the Chagos Archipelago as rapidly as possible."
HOW MAURITIANS CELEBRATE INDEPENDENCE DAY
Independence Day is a public holiday in Mauritius.
There is a flag raising ceremony, parade and performances in Champ de Mars, Port Louis, where in March 1968, the Mauritian flag was raised for the first time.
There are usually street or beach parties and schools usually host a celebration during the week of independence.
Mauritians abroad also take great pride in Independence Day, and celebrate it through Mauritian food, music and culture.
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