ON June 1st the government of Mauritius designated Ameenah Gurib-Fakim as the Indian Ocean Island nation’s new president.
Her appointment was approved by parliament on Thursday and her inauguration is expected to take place on Friday.
Mail & Guardian Africa decided to catch up with the incoming president where she seemed easiest to find - via the business-oriented social networking service, Linkedin. Gurib-Fakim’s designation sees her become Mauritius’ first female president, the third on the African continent, and it’s not the only barrier that she looks set to break.
When asked what her priorities for the country are, she said that “My country ambitions [are] to become a high income economy and create opportunities for [my] people.”
“I strongly believe that Science, Technology, Innovation and Entrepreneurship are the ingredients that will help advance this vision. Through the presidency, we can engage with the people, the public and private sector and realise this vision.”
She already looks set to realise some of these.
Social media front
The ability to connect with African presidents via social media has been greatly limited to Facebook and Twitter, and those conversations tend to be confined and refined. Not only was it a revelation to not have to wrestle through press teams, security and other political barriers to connect with an incoming president, but she was very open, frank and fast – probably the result of her non-political background.
Gurib-Fakim will become the only current African president who did not dabble in politics beforehand. She is an internationally-renowned scientist and biologist, though on her Twitter handle @aguribfakim, she modestly describes herself as a “Professor, Managing Director at Cephyr, Chemist, Gardener, Photographer and Writer of books on the flora of the tropics, medicinal plants”.
Ameenah isn’t simply a “professor”, she was a the Chair in Organic Chemistry at the University of Mauritius and also served successively as Dean of the Faculty of Science and Pro Vice Chancellor with the University.
She doesn’t simply write books, she has in fact co-authored more than twenty books and nearly 80 publications on the use of African medicinal plants that can be used to replace conventional - and expensive - medications sold in pharmacies.
She has also led numerous projects supported by international agencies such as the United Nations, the European Union and the Canadian Development Agency. She is an advisor to the International Science Foundation of Sweden and member of the Scientific Committee of the International Programme in Chemical Sciences, at the University of Uppsala. She is an expert consultant for Infectious Diseases, a special program of the UNICEF/UNDP/World Bank/WHO.
She was appointed Commander of the Order Star and Key of the Indian Ocean, the highest distinction of Mauritius, in 2008 and became a Knight of the Order of Academic Palms in 2009. She is also the recipient of various international awards including the L’Oreal-UNESCO Prize for Women in Science (2007), Laureate for the National Economic and Social Council (2007), the CTA / NEPAD / AGRA / RUFORUM for ‘African Women in Science’ and the African Union Award for Women in Science.
Mauritius in the world
In December 2014, she was brought to the public’s attention where she was chosen to be the presidential candidate of the alliance “Lepep”.
Unlike many African political aspirants who will wrangle and divide nations in a bid to attain or retain the coveted presidential title, when asked how she progressed into politics, she said that “I did not choose politics but politics chose me.” She went on to explain that, “the party (LEPEP) wanted someone who had never dealt into the political arena, who had credibility locally and internationally to occupy a post which is meant to be apolitical. So I presume, I fit the profile.”
An unusual response for an incoming African president, but just as refreshingly surprising was her response to what the challenges that Mauritius faces.
She said that “Mauritius operates in an increasingly globalised world and faces the same challenges that many other countries face. However, we have some good experiences and practices of living-together that we can “export” to the world. We have also shown that even without natural resources, we can still make it!”
A reply that demonstrates the level of advancement and stability that the small island nation enjoys and one that shows an African country ready to break further barriers on the global level, with something that all countries can learn from.
Two weeks, in a first, Mail & Guardian Africa held a one-hour Twitter interview with Bob Collymore, CEO of telco giant Safaricom, East Africa’s richest company with a market value that is twice bigger than Burundi’s economy.