Comparing Mauritius’ Post-Independence Inter-Ethnic Coalition Government with Trinidad’s Post-Independence One-Party Dominance

Originally produced September 2012


This essay examines the different paths that politics took in Mauritius and Trinidad in the period before and immediately after they gained independence from Great Britain; 1968 in the case of Mauritius and 1962 for Trinidad. With the introduction of universal suffrage and party-politics and increasingly in the run-up to independence, politics in both countries became based along ethnic lines. Both countries had similar histories and ethnic divisions. In Trinidad, the PNM, representing the island’s largest ethnic group, led the country to independence and remained in power, to the exclusion of the other group, for more than two decades thereafter. In Mauritius, within a year of independence, the largest party entered into a coalition government with their rival ethnic party, which was also the island’s second largest party.

We will explore a number of factors that may have contributed to these different outcomes. We will look at the demographic and political structures of the two countries, the effects of civil-society, ethnic violence, socio-economic modernisation, and electoral strategies. We will look at how these may have affected the actions of the political elites. We will also explore the role of different narratives of the nation in the events around independence and whether the factors that produced the different outcomes in the political realm had a similar, potentially interactive effect on the formation of these narratives. Finally, we will reflect on how the differing experiences at independence may have affected the formation of these two nations’ senses of nationhood. Essentially, we hope to reflect on how the experiences communities undergo impact upon and are in turn driven by these communities’ perceptions of themselves. Whilst we may not answer these questions entirely, we hope to treat the ontological space provided by these cases as a form of theoretical testing-ground and reflective space.




Trinidad and Tobago and Mauritius are both island states with ethnically mixed populations. Both gained independence from Britain in the 1960s. Ethnically-based politics shortly followed the introduction of multi-party politics in the years leading up to independence. The major political parties in both colonies, despite the claims of some of their leaders, effectively represented different ethnic groups within society (Yelvington 1993: 11). In Trinidad, Dr Eric Williams’ Peoples’ National Movement (PNM), drawing its support almost exclusively from the Creole community, won the 1962 general election and lead the colony to independence. The PNM stayed in power, with Williams at the head until his death in 1981. In Mauritius, Sir Seewoosagur Ramgoolam’s Labour Party, largely representing the island’s Hindu community, won the 1967 general election, as the largest partner in an Indo-Mauritian independence coalition, and led the country to independence. However, despite having a majority in parliament, within a year of gaining independence the Labour Party entered into a coalition with their main rival the Parti Mauricien Social-Démocrate (PMSD), led by Gaëtan Duval, who represented the ‘General Population’, another ethnic group (see below). The run-up to the independence elections in both countries were marked by considerably heightened ethnic tensions and ethnically-charged rhetoric and electioneering and, in the case of Mauritius, inter-ethnic violence. Yet, whilst Williams’ PNM, in the years to come, systematically excluded East-Indians from the government and the civil service, Ramgoolam brought his rival Duval into the fold. Mauritian politics was then marked by a constant shifting of allegiances and coalitions (Bowman 1991: 68), whereas Trinidad experienced one-party domination. In William H. Riker’s (1962: 32-33) size-principle game theory of coalition building, if the participants are rational and see themselves in a zero-sum game, they will ‘create coalitions just as large as they believe will ensure winning and no larger’. By the time politicians in Mauritius had begun to talk publicly of a coalition, Ramgoolam had an almost two-thirds majority – a ten seat majority in a parliament of seventy (de l’Estrac 2009: 35) (Mannick 1979: 138).


Our question is what was different in the Mauritian situation that made Ramgoolam choose to concede some power to the ethnic opposition? And what, if anything, does this say about Mauritian nationhood?

Mauritius and Trinidad are settler societies in origin. Trinidad was originally inhabited by Caribs, who were ‘brutally exterminated’ (Eriksen 1992: 1) to the point where there is no longer a self-identifying Carib group. Both islands were settled by Europeans who brought with them African slaves. The abolition of slavery led to a massive labour shortage, which both colonies resolved by encouraging immigration from the Indian subcontinent, resulting in indentured servitude for those who came, with circumstances little better than those under slavery.  One notable difference was the Indian indentured servants were ‘allowed’, to some extent, to practise their native cultures and religions and to keep their original communal structures relatively intact (Yelvington 1993: 7). In the 1960s in Mauritius, Hindu Indo-Mauritians were the largest ethnic group, among which Tamils and lower caste Hindus formed significant sub-groups. Muslim Indo-Mauritians formed a separate minority group with their own interests. The next largest ethnic group after Hindu Indo-Mauritians was, what is referred to as the ‘General Population’, made up of the descendants of African slaves and European settlers, which in the 1960s was further divided, fairly evenly, into ‘Mulattos’ (lighter-skinned), and ‘Creoles’ (darker-skinned). In the constitution it is defined as those who do not fall into the Muslim, Hindu or Chinese sections of the population. The term has its origins in the colonial era and ignores divisions within the group. There was, and is, some conflation between ‘general population’ and Creole – neither having particularly hard and fast meanings (Chan Low & Reddi 2000: 228). Lighter-skinned, Franco-Mauritians, formed another sub-group within the ‘General Population, and were generally seen to be the wealthiest, most privileged group on the island. Another significant minority group was the Sino-Mauritians. In Trinidad, the Indo-Trinidadians formed one, relatively homogenous group – politically undivided across religious lines. Hinduism was the largest religion but Muslims and Christians were also part of the group. ‘Creoles’ were the largest ethnic group in Trinidad in the 1960s. Although, there was discrimination based on ‘skin-shade’ – with lighter skinned Creoles experiencing greater privilege, the group was politically undivided in the 1960s. Syrians, Chinese and Portuguese formed minority groups, although none to the same proportion of any of Mauritius’ minorities. (Clarke 1993: 117-121) As in Mauritius, white Trinidadians had a disproportionate stake in business affairs (Eriksen 1992: 76) (Henry 1993: 63-7).

For the study of nationalism, the process of nation-building on these two islands is particularly interesting. No group on either island can claim indigenous status. Other than through an accident of geography and history, there seems to be little that binds the different groups together. In both islands, one of the two largest ethnic groups has a relatively intact cultural tradition brought from the Indian subcontinent, whilst the others, the descendants of black slaves, through the uprooting effects of the slave trade, were effectively robbed of their cultures as they were forcibly taken from their regions of origin and have formed new cultural traditions in their Creole societies. Out of this can a nation be constructed? Given the size of the islands, and by their nature, the communities have little choice but to cooperate. Thus, some sort of political community seems almost inevitable. The territorial boundaries of island states, Shawkat M Toorawa (2000: 12) notes, ‘appear predetermined’ – making the community of the island the nation. With no other option, few cohesive elements, these nations are ‘tenable only difficultly’. This is why this particular comparison is of interest, as opposed to other possibilities: between Trinidad and (then) British Guyana, the latter experiencing levels of ethnic violence that Trinidad managed to avoid. Although in Guyana, secession would have been difficult, and so a common political community does have a certain inevitability, it is the nature of the island-state, whilst not always at the forefront of the analysis that is of interest here.

Anthony Smith (1996) believes such states’ paths to nationhood will be difficult and conflict prone. Perhaps the rhetoric of a Trinidadian or Mauritian nation was only adopted because the nation is the prevailing political unit of our time. Or perhaps what we see in these struggles is the birthing pains, the beginnings of the ethnogenesis of these nations (Eriksen 1992). Dr Jagdish S Gundara (2002: 81) suggests the emergence of a Mauritian nation may not be so different from the 19th century European experience, as many writers ‘may have excluded fundamental questions of diversity in their own ‘nation building’ in the 19th century’; France, arguably had a nationalism before a nation and the state was by no means ethnically or linguistically homogenous. While this essay does not hope to answer these questions, hopefully it can provide some insight into the processes concerned. By asking what brought about the political mixed-ness of the coalition between the Labour Party and PMSD in Mauritius, we will reflect on whether this is the result of a stronger sense of nationhood or simply pragmatism, and if so what brought it about?

Donald L. Horowitz, in his Ethnic Groups in Conflict, uses the independence elections in Trinidad to demonstrate his model of ethnic conflict resulting from a bi-partite system. We will use this model and attempt to apply it in reverse to Mauritius and question whether this outcome was in fact the reverse of that in Trinidad. There is a large body of literature on ethnic conflict, peace and consociational government. We will attempt to apply some of these theories to the cases. Whilst communal politics and inter-ethnic conflict in Trinidad has received considerable attention, Mauritius has received less, despite the fact that in the many political histories of Mauritius, the existence of communal politics is taken as a given. Thomas Hylland Eriksen has written a number of broad, in-depth anthropological studies of ethnicity and nationalism in Mauritius, as well as a study comparing Trinidad and Mauritius. This essay aims to question whether political manoeuvring and inter-ethnic cooperation were influenced by or influenced the nationalisms identified by Eriksen. As for methodology, Stanley Lieberson’s (1991) warnings of the dangers of drawing sweeping conclusions from small-N studies are to be borne in mind. However, in this essay, we will attempt to follow Peter Hall’s (2003) suggestions that small-N studies, in combination with a version of process-tracing which he calls ‘systematic process analysis’, can be used as a form of testing-ground for various theories, from which, through thoughtful analysis, larger conclusions may potentially be drawn.



Electoral systems and structure, elite initiative, and relative group size and security


“[In Trinidad] the institutionalisation of ethnic politics came with the institutionalisation of party politics” (Yelvington 1993: 12)

Andreas Wimmer (2008: 991) writes that the legitimising rhetoric of the nation-state, that like should rule over like, provides the institutional incentives for elites and non-elite ethnic entrepreneurs to organise along ethnic lines and therewith gain support (Cederman 2009: 94). Horowitz’s explanation for the actions of politicians in Trinidad in the years prior to independence is effectively one of structure. Horowitz demonstrates how the structure of the electoral system and the polity in Trinidad forced the hands of politicians on both sides of the political divide. The presence of two potentially mobilise-able groups of roughly equal size, according to Horowitz’s explanation, meant that, once appeals on ethnic grounds had begun, communal, bipartite politics was near unstoppable. What sets the process in motion is the identification, by one of the largest parties, in this case the largest, with an ethnic group. The parties, recognising that they will be unable to attract support from defectors from across the ethnic-divide, have no reason to hold back from ethnic politics and so it gains in intensity (Horowitz 1985: 318-322). When the size of the two groups is so close, as it was in Trinidad, there is unlikely to be any splits within the groups so-mobilised, as this is likely to lead to accusations of betrayal (Horowitz 1985: 352). Also, parties will put themselves in positions almost guaranteeing defeat, by mobilising along minority ethnic lines, as in the case of the Indo-Trinidadian party, the PDP, in order to guarantee some representation, as this is what the structure forces them to do – the possibility of conflict shapes their demands and means the only political incentives stem from ethnically framed politics (Horowitz 1985: 312, 346) (Hintzen 1989: 39).

Horowitz (1985: 353-4) makes one notable comparison with the Mauritian situation in this account of events in Trinidad, noting that the majority Hindu bloc in Mauritius experienced sub-group fissures. Horowitz claims that such sub-ethnic fissures will occur if ‘modest divisions’ exist and if this will ‘not necessarily weaken the political position of the group’, because doing so will bring with it politically-damaging accusations of betrayal. According to Horowitz, that the Hindus in Mauritius experienced sub-ethnic political fissures suggests that, as an ethnic group, the Hindus must have been confident enough of political domination for these ethnic entrepreneurs to have considered it politically worthwhile to attempt to internally divide the group in order to gain support. Lijphart (1978:66) agrees, writing, in the context of external threats, that ‘feelings of vulnerability and insecurity provide strong incentives to maintain internal solidarity’. The Muslim Action Committee, the Indo-Mauritian Muslim party, swapped sides, depending on perceived gain. A R Mannick (1979: 137) considers that the nationalist Hindu party, the Independent Forward Bloc (IFB), which had been highly critical of Ramgoolam, (Simmons 1982: 175) entered the independence coalition from fear of gains in Creole and Franco-Mauritian power but, nonetheless, only briefly. In light of Horowitz’s explanation of communal politics in Trinidad and how this structure led to the intensification of ethnic conflict, we may posit that the differences in the structure of Mauritius’ mobilised polity, with its secure majority group, explain the formation of the inter-ethnic coalition.

This would confirm Daniel Posner’s (2004) theory of inter-group tensions that he posits from his comparative study of ethnic tensions between groups either side of the border between Zambia and Malawi. He focuses on differences between two ethnic groups on one side of the border and between the same two groups on the other side. The conclusion he reaches from his study of the two groups is that the relative size of the two groups within the country as a whole effects their relationship. In Malawi, a considerably smaller country, there is political advantage to be had in mobilising the two groups along different ethnic lines because each group alone represents a proportionally sizeable voting bloc. In Zambia, the larger country, only together do the two groups constitute a group of a size worth mobilising for electoral advantage. It is because of this, Posner claims, that two groups consider each other almost kin in Zambia, and more like potential enemies in Malawi. The relevance of this study for us is that the comparative size of groups to the polity as a whole can have a significant effect on how they are mobilised. In Trinidad, for example, unlike in Mauritius, the Hindu-Muslim split has not been capitalised upon. This would confirm Horowitz’s theory of the relation between group-size and sub-group fissures.

Giovanni Sartori (1966: 153-5), writing on multipartyism, notes a tendency for a party system to become immoderate after the number of political parties crosses a certain threshold, which is, depending on the individual context, around 5 or more. With 4 main parties at independence in Mauritius, the situation was, therefore, favourable for cooperation. Steven Wilkinson (2004: 237) writes that high levels of fractionalisation can lead to greater peace as politicians must court minorities. We see this to some degree in Mauritius, where the Hindus courted the Muslims into the independence coalition and where the PMSD united disparate groups, including the sizeable Chinese population, into, effectively, an anti-Hindu coalition (Simmons 1982: 174-6). Larry Bowman (1991: 101) writes that ‘Mauritian political culture is marked by an incessant fragmentation’. Horowitz (1985: 342-9), like Sartori, suggests that this sort of fragmentation can make an ethnic system more moderate, with Trinidad being his counter example.

The Black community in Mauritius is probably, among the communities examined, the one that has suffered the most cultural disenfranchisement. Whilst the Indian community in Trinidad was persecuted on grounds of religion and minority status, the fact that their religions and community-structures were ‘allowed’ to some degree meant that they were able to maintain some sense of cultural continuity. Brereton writes that practising Hindu and Muslim traditions provided sources of self-worth with which to face society’s contempt (Brereton 1993: 52) (Houk 1993: 161). The Black community in Mauritius faced the combined assault of a near-complete loss of their community and concomitant traditions through the uprooting effects of slavery, persecution as a minority group and no communities in nearby neighbouring countries to provide a model of how a community such as theirs could advance itself, as the Trinidadian Black community had. Writing on the ‘malaise créole’, the disadvantages afflicting lower socio-economic class Creoles, Jocelyn Chan Low & Sadasivan Reddi (2000: 229) consider the effects of slavery to still be important. Furthermore, they consider that the denigration of people of black ancestry in Mauritius may have been even greater than in the Caribbean. The example they give is that while in the Caribbean ‘the Blacks appropriated Christianity and created a Black Church’, in Mauritius they were ‘were subject to the racial practices which pervaded the Catholic Church. The use of two crucifixes, one in bronze for the Blacks, one of silver for the Whites…’ (2000: 231).

The Black community in Mauritius would have been aware of Black movements across the world, such as negritude, but would have experienced nothing like the galvanising effect that the proximity of India had on the Indo-Mauritian community’s sense of self-worth. This perceived lack was countered by the promotion of Black Creole traditions such as Sega (Eriksen 1998: 88) (a slavery-era style of music developed in Mauritius) and the evolution of the politically-inflected Seggae – a style of Sega-Reggae fusion inspired by Black power movements in the Caribbean and North America (Jeffery 2010: 428). The role of music in nationalism, and particularly the spread of Black Nationalism, is reflected in the importance of Calypso and steel band to Trinidadian nationalism, something we will touch upon later. These developments in the Mauritian Black community, however, came sometime after independence. This lack of a sense of strong Black community-identity in Mauritius has been posited as one explanation as to why the black community lacked effective political leadership equivalent to that found in other communities (Eriksen 1998: 75). Although the Creole community in Mauritius was able to mobilise in opposition to the Hindus, Horowitz (1985: 350) suggests ‘the apparent cohesion of ethnic groups in times of tension should not be mistaken for social homogeneity’. The relative lack of cultural stability in the Mauritian Black community, compared with the cultural homogeneity of the Indo-Trinidadians (the corresponding minority), supports the hypothesis that the Hindu Indo-Mauritian community’s relative security in their cultural and political dominance made them more willing to concede power.

Although the Hindu’s relative security explains why they, as a group, may have been willing to accept concessions by their leaders towards other groups, this does not fully account for the inter-ethnic coalition. Adele Smith Simmons (1982: 191) wrote that those who followed ‘the bitter debates and arguments between Ramgoolam and the Franco-Mauritians’ considered the coalition ‘a curious sequel to independence’. The independence election was closely fought, with violent, anti-Hindu diatribes emanating from the anti-independence side. Furthermore, in the independence elections the electoral system in Mauritius was effectively bipartite and closely fought: 44% voted against independence and with it against Hindu majority power (Bunwaree-Ramharai 2000: 240) (Eriksen 1998: 69). In Trinidad, 42% voted against the PNM, and therewith against the Creoles (Brereton 1981: 234) – placing the majority Hindus in Mauritius in not much more of a stable position as the Creoles in Trinidad. Thus, bipartite ethnic politics, and the resulting intensification of tension, may have affected Mauritius.

In fact, Horowitz (1985: 314) writes: ‘so secure was the PNM majority – and hence Creole power [in Trinidad] – that, in the years after 1966, intra-Creole divisions began to emerge with much greater force than at any time in the preceding decades’. Horowitz’s (2002: 23) theory explaining inter-ethnic coalitions is based on the understanding that structural incentives drive cooperation. Lijphart (1978: 165), on the other hand, considers that an understanding of consociational democracy ‘…entails a rejection of social determinism’ – elites are rational and recognise ‘the centrifugal tendencies inherent in plural societies’ and make ‘deliberate effort[s] to counteract these dangers.’ Horowitz (2002: 20) counters Lijphart, asking:

“why should majority-group leaders, with 60 per cent support , and the ability to gain all of political power in a majoritarian democracy, be so self-abnegating as to give some of it away to minority-group leaders? … the motive of avoiding ultimate mutual destruction is based on a time horizon longer than that employed by most political leaders.”

If Horowitz is correct, then there would have to be some incentive for Ramgoolam in entering into the post-independence coalition. If Lijphart is correct his actions can be explained through, what Horowitz calls, ‘statesmanship’ and Lijphart describes in the manner seen above.


Civil-society, inter-ethnic contact and socio-economic modernisation


Ashutosh Varshney (2001) explores the role of civil-society in moderating ethnic conflict. In his model, the inter-ethnic contact brought about by a vibrant civil-society creates a network, which facilitates inter-ethnic communication, checking the spreading of rumours and peace organisations can be quickly established. Kanchan Chandra (2001) criticised Varshney’s study, noting that in all his examples, the moderating mechanism resulting from inter-ethnic contact, may in fact be economic interdependence. Nonetheless, this does suggest that inter-ethnic contact bears some relation to the likelihood of inter-ethnic conflict.

In this essay we are examining an instance of seeming, inter-ethnic, elite-level, political cooperation. The moderating effects of civil-society could work either to hamper or facilitate our dependant variable. It is quite feasible that greater inter-ethnic cooperation on a day-to-day level would make the political gains from stirring antagonisms less and make coalition-building more of an option. Alternatively, a more established civil-society, by making the likelihood of ethnic violence less, would encourage politicians to stir inter-ethnic tensions more, having less reason to fear that their actions could lead to violence for which they might be blamed. Varshney (2001: 382) recounts an extremist Hindu nationalist politician in India’s BJP who considered ‘it would not be wise for his party to systematically initiate the polarizing process, because it might then be blamed for undermining the local peace.’ Varshney (2001: 382) notes that ‘If a party can be clearly linked to activities destroying the decades-long Hindu-Muslim peace, there is a good chance it will be punished by the electorate. The reverse is true in Aligarh, where the utter weakness of crosscutting links opens up space for communal politicians to play havoc.’

Both Mauritius and Trinidad were divided societies in the 1960s, culturally and spatially. In both, the Hindu community was largely confined to rural areas. Anecdotal evidence suggests that in both, people stuck to their groups. However, we lack quantifiable evidence with which to measure levels of civil-society with certainty. Eriksen (1992: 122), writing in 1992, comparing Mauritius and Trinidad, bases his comparison on the differing, yet similar, divisions between the black and Indian communities in both societies. He writes ‘in Trinidad, as in Mauritius, it is impossible to forget that one is in a cultural environment where one always has to take the ethnic others into account’. The labour force is seen to be clearly divided along ethnic lines in both (Eriksen 1992: 37) (Simmons 1982: 10) (Hanoomanjee 2002: 219) (Kheung 2000: 214). Thus, we could expect to find similar inter-group attitudes in this regard and consequently similar interactions. One indication is the low levels of ethnic inter-marriage identified – however, the information is not broad enough to be generalizable (Clarke 1993: 134) (Eriksen 1992: 85) (Eriksen 1998: 122). Adrian Guelke (2012: 93) argues that, in divided societies, trade unions will promote integration to ‘prevent the development of a split labour market’ but in deeply divided societies there will be limits to this integration. Ascribing to this argument would give us some indication of the levels of division. Before WWII the trade union movement in Trinidad was the ‘most democratising force’ and involved an alliance between Blacks and East Indians. Post-war communal politics resulted in ethnically separated unions (Yelvington 1993: 12) (Brereton 1981: 228-231). Eriksen (1998: 99-104) writes that pre-war, politics in Mauritius were class-based and throughout Mauritian political history there have been occasional attempts by trade unions to bridge the ethnic divide but these have been against the prevailing trend.

Although seemingly similar, we cannot say with certainty which society had greater levels of interaction. When positing a conclusion we will have to consider what effects this variable may have had. Nevertheless, given the clear propensity in Mauritius, in the period being studied, for politicians to stir up racial tensions for political ends, with violent results (see below), Varshney’s predictions would indicate a weaker civil-society in Mauritius. Alternatively, greater levels of interaction might increase the likelihood of violence; given Mauritius’ smaller size but similar population, this may explain why Mauritius experienced more violence around independence. Val R. Lorwin (1966: 187), writing about consociational politics in Belgium, points out that ‘if meaningful personal contacts with people of other subcultures are few, so are the occasions for personal hostility’. Thus, low levels of contact, simply through geographical circumstance, rather than a lack of civil-society networks, might moderate the intensity of cleavages. In relatively homogenous societies, like the US, Walker Connor believes (1967: 49-59) regular contact reduces differences but, he argues, ‘with two quite distinct and self-differentiating cultures, are not increased contacts between the two apt to increase antagonisms?’

One possible result of greater civil-society networks and goodwill contact between communities is bottom-up pressure on elites from their support base to reflect their feelings of goodwill towards the other group. If this were the cause of elite-level cooperation in Mauritius, we might expect less of what Horowitz (1985: 354) predicts in the case of cross-ethnic cooperation by an ethnic party, which is that the ethnic party will be accused of selling out and ethnic entrepreneurs will judge the gains worthwhile to form break away parties. This happened in Mauritius: the lower-caste Hindu and Tamil party, the IFB, left the independence coalition soon after independence. Nevertheless, civil-society networks may have played a role –there may have been greater fissures resulting from Ramgoolam’s cooperation had the public will not been behind him to some degree. Lijphart acknowledges that a challenge for cooperating elites is the need to mobilise their support base behind them. A number of writers have sought to demonstrate that subordinates, consenting to elites, do so in an ‘informed, partial and strategic’ manner, whilst, at the same time, elites are bound by this ‘hegemonic accord’ even when it may ‘go against their immediate self-interest’ (Wimmer 2008: 998) (Roseberry 1994: 355-66). Simmons (1982 :13) writes ‘the small size of the island has had a profound effect on its politics… the respect accorded political institutions in Western countries comes in part from distance, and distance is impossible in Mauritius’.

Lijphart (1978: 175) suggests that socioeconomic modernisation can weaken deferential attitudes towards political elites, making inter-elite negotiations more difficult. However, this can be offset by the ‘persistence of patron-client relations in the Third World, which can serve as a substitute for elite predominance and mass deference’. Morton Klass’ (1961: 222-3) anthropological study of an Indo-Trinidadian village confirms the importance of patronage relations in determining voting patterns within that community. In Mauritius, the ability to reward subordinates was an important factor influencing elite’s evaluations of their gains (Meighoo 2003: 40) (although this may generally be true in mass-party politics). Eric Nordlinger (1972: 112) believes socioeconomic modernisation makes tempering conflict harder in divided societies because it intensifies hostility towards the opposing segment and increases the number of people at the non-elite level who manifest this hostility and places them in positions where they are encouraged to act on this hostility. Furthermore, previously isolated segments can be brought into greater contact through increased communications and trade. Lijphart (1978: 175) believes, in the long run, socioeconomic modernisation reduces inequalities between segments but its initial effects are disruptive. J Maraj (2000: 29) believes it can lead to more class-based stratification. In neither Mauritius nor Trinidad were the main groups neatly ranked economically. Both had an elite group and a lower class group. However, Trinidad experienced a much higher average annual increase in GDP, at 9.5% from 1953-9 (Rampersad 1963: 4) – the years preceding independence, than Mauritius with 3%  average annual growth in the years 1959-64 – an average which stays the same if examined over a longer period – the average was 3.02% growth per year 1956-64 (See Table 1). GNP in Mauritius even decreased slightly during the 1950s (Meade 1961: 57). Trinidad’s higher levels of economic growth may explain its elite-level non-cooperation. If Lijphart is correct, this would have increased hostility in Trinidad towards the opposing segments and reduced subordinates’ deference towards elites. Elites would have to work harder to maintain support and respond more to subordinates’ wishes. In Lijphart’s view, even if elites wanted to cooperate they might not be able to. Furthermore, Trinidad had long had reserves of oil and by the 1950s had more refinery capacity than local crude supply; in 1952 two new oilfields were discovered (Higgins 1996: 123). Michael Lewin Ross (2001) has explored whether oil has a negative effect on democracy. One explanation is that elites will guard power more jealously in an oil-rich country. However, whilst this could explain elite non-cooperation in Trinidad, does the lack of oil and weaker economic situation explain cooperation in Mauritius?

In Mauritius and Trinidad, by the time the independence campaigns had begun, politics was exclusively ethnically based. The very fact that communal politics existed at the level that it did, where no party was outside the ethnic spectrum, (Dewnarain 2000: 1) suggests that the answer to the difference between the two outcomes lies not in the levels of civil-society or inter-ethnic contact, since, whatever the respective levels in both societies, both situations led to exclusively communal politics. The effects of socio-economic modernisation present an interesting angle but do not provide the whole picture. Horowitz suggests a group will become more cohesive if it feels threatened. There is evidence to suggest that once politics in both societies had taken on an ethnic element the nature of the situation, thus created, served to funnel interests through the lens of ethnic affiliation. Wimmer (2008: 1003) claims that ‘‘thick’ identities reduce the range of strategic options which actors can dispose of … Under these circumstances, ‘identity’ may indeed assume primacy over ‘interests’’. Can we determine whether groups had a greater sense of unity in Trinidad than in Mauritius, thus making ‘identity’ more important than the ‘greater good’? As mentioned previously, Horowitz warns that social cohesion in times of tension should not be mistaken for social homogeneity. Similarly, we might say that in times of tension, if group cohesiveness is strong, whether as a consequence of the tension or not, it matters little whether, in calmer periods, group identity is less keenly felt. It appears that some identities may be easier to mobilize than others but once mobilization has been achieved its consequences remain.



Ethnic violence


Politicians in Mauritius claimed that reducing ethnic violence was their motive in creating an inter-ethnic coalition. Lijphart (1978: 27) considers this a likely scenario – that when the ‘stakes are high’, often the case in plural societies, politicians will be less likely to treat politics as a zero-sum game, overriding Riker’s principle that participants will seek to form only the minimum sized coalitions they need in order to win. Gabriel A. Almond (1956: 398-99) writes: ‘A game is a good game when the stakes are not too high … When the stakes are too high; the tone changes from excitement to anxiety’. This reflects the rhetoric of Duval and Ramgoolam. The implication is thus: that the greater the presence of ethnic violence, the higher the stakes in the game and thus the more likely the participants are to move towards compromise. Horowitz (1985: 363), as seen above, is doubtful as to whether such outcomes will be purely driven by the good intentions of elites. He writes however, that: ‘if leaders of the ruling party genuinely aim to reduce tension … they are likely to move toward a one-party system’. For Horowitz, the more likely outcome of higher levels of tension is the effective abolition of democracy. This is what Trinidad experienced to a greater degree than Mauritius – the dominance of Williams’ PNM of Trinidadian politics was seen by Kirk Peter Meighoo (2003: 40) as detrimental to democratic politics as it excluded a large segment of the population through its policies and hold on the electoral system.

The situation in Trinidad around independence, whilst not producing the violence seen in Mauritius, may have been similarly, if not more, tense. Bridget Brereton (1981:248) writes that in the run up to independence, it appeared as if Trinidad was ‘sitting on the very brink of racial war’ and ‘there is evidence that Indian extremists were arming themselves in secret’. The opposition party in Trinidad, the DLP, had been attempting to gain leverage over the PNM and draw some concessions from them by opposing independence. It was the resulting stand-off that led to these tensions. That said, the DLP was pro-independence in theory, whereas in Mauritius, Duval’s PMSD claimed to be anti-independence – nonetheless, both parties’ politicking increased tensions in their respective countries. Under pressure from the Colonial Secretary and probably recognising the gravity of the situation, Williams consulted with Capildeo on how to reduce tensions. Capildeo accepted Williams’ compromise; in Capildeo’s words:

“the decision confronting the leaders of the DLP was whether they should plunge the country into chaos with civil commotions and strife, or try to explore whatever reasonable avenue may be presented” – Capildeo (Brereton 1981: 248)

As Brereton (1981: 248) points out however, Capildeo knew that the Indo-Trinidadians would come off a lot worse in any physical confrontation since the army and police were black-dominated and presumably pro-PNM[1]. Furthermore, as noted, Williams was under pressure from Britain and anxious himself to gain independence for Trinidad. Therefore, he would be more likely to agree to compromise to not risk stalling the independence process or, risk repeating the experience of British Guyana, where Britain cited its ethnic conflict to justify revoking its independence shortly after independence. If, as Henry E. Hale (2008: 33) suggests, ‘ethnic politics is mainly about interests’, it is logical that there was no mass-violence in Trinidad as neither side would have gained from a physical confrontation; the Indo-Trinidadians would surely have suffered greatly had they instigated violence, whilst the Creoles had no need to, as they already constituted a powerful, homogenous majority.

Continuing with the idea of interests, this would explain the presence of ethnic violence in Mauritius. Steven Wilkinson (2004: 1), using the same data set as Varshney, comes to the conclusion that riots are ‘best thought of as a solution to the problem of how to change the salience of ethnic issues … in order to build a winning political coalition’. The accusations that Duval and Mohammed incited the violence bear some likelihood (de l’Estrac 2009: 17). They both profited from the violence in ways they could, and appear to, have anticipated:

“The Parti Mauricien motive would have been to stop independence … [whilst] Razack Mohammed [head of the Muslim Action Committee] was desperate to restore himself as the leader of the Muslim community. If the Muslims had reason to fear the Creoles, they would leave the Parti Mauricien and Duval and rally behind Mohammed. This, indeed, is what happened.” (Simmons 1982: 188)

Duval was accused of provoking the ethnic gang-violence which triggered the violent unrest with his violent rhetoric. The Istanbul/Hizbollah gang, one of the two gangs involved in the initial dispute, was believed to be at the command of Razack Abdul Mohamed (Simmons 1982: 187-8). The difference between Mauritius and Trinidad, in this instance, is that the violence which occurred was between a minority group, Muslims, and the second largest group, Creoles. As neither group was in a position to capture the state by destroying the other, the conflict did not risk escalating into an ethnic civil war to the same extent that violence, had it occurred in Trinidad, would have. This agrees with a theory of James D. Fearon and David D. Laitin’s (1996: 715-730) – violence being tempered by the existence of what they call ‘spiral equilibria’. This is where the expectation that ethnic violence will spiral out of control means groups will police themselves. This makes cooperation the more likely outcome because of ‘the costs of persistent violence and the various benefits of peaceful inter-ethnic relations’. Carl De Souza (2002: 163) suggests it is indeed the ‘fear of social explosion’ which has set certain ‘thresholds’ in Mauritian society.

Whilst the potentially catastrophic consequences of violence in Trinidad, and consequent higher costs, may have reduced its likelihood, the occurrence of violence in Mauritius could have made the costs of violence more apparent and increased public perceptions of instability, thereby making stability a more favourable electoral strategy. Conversely, the outbreak of violence in Mauritius may have been more likely because of the lower likelihood of it spiralling into all-out civil war. Lars-Erik Cederman, Andreas Wimmer and Brian Min (2009: 97) posit an alternative view:  prior conflict increases the likelihood of present conflict. This works through three mechanisms; that prior conflicts can become part of one-sided ethnonationalist narratives, making violent rhetoric an effective tool for elites. An oral history may develop, fuelling calls for revenge and, thirdly, ‘prior exposure to combat means that violence is no longer unthinkable’. Cederman et al’s theories do not negate entirely the hypothesis that violence occurring increases the likelihood of elite cooperation. Actors concerned with reaping the gains of ethnic peace may even feel further spurred into action. The perception of the violence effects how we evaluate the competing theories at our disposal. Determining levels of perceived threat is difficult. One indication is that large amount of Creoles left  Mauritius for Australia and other countries in the period before and after independence – believed to have been motivated by their fear of their fate in an Indo-Mauritian-dominated Mauritius (Low & Reddi 2000: 233) – something which Trinidad did not experience. Furthermore, Mauritius did experience serious upheaval: many died and British troops were brought to the island. These disturbances have stayed in Mauritian popular memory to this day, suggesting the strength of the impact they had on Mauritian society, and are cited as a reason for the importance of unity (Bowman 1991: 100-1). Gilbert Ahnee (2002: 209-211), informed perhaps by a hint of patriotic pride, writes ‘since independence, our newspapers have tried, sincerely, to serve the ideal of nation-building’, which involves practising a sort of ‘cultural Taylorism’ with regards to coverage, and not publishing stories which might be harmful to a particular community. Knowledge of recent events in Guyana would also have had an effect. British troops were sent to quell serious ethnic violence between Indo-Guyanese and Afro-Guyanese in the early 1960s. The parallels must have been apparent to Mauritians. Whilst Trinidadians would also have seen parallels with Guyana in their situation, the worst of the Guyanese inter-ethnic violence did not occur until after Trinidad gained independence.

Ethnic violence may have encouraged elite-level inter-ethnic political cooperation. In that case, we could accept utterances by politicians, in particular Duval, who claimed the post-independence coalition was in the interest of national unity. However, Duval’s rhetoric prior to that point casts doubt on this. Duval went from vicious anti-Hindu rhetoric (Napal 1994: 65), intended to unite various ethnic groups around anti-Hindu sentiment, e.g ‘if Mauritius were to become independent, then black and Franco-Mauritian women would have to wear Saris’ (Eriksen 1992: 149), to the slogan: ‘Hindoo, mon frère’ just before the elections in an attempt to encourage Hindu defections. This was a man who saw the instrumental side of ethnic sentiments. This is not to say, that Duval did not see the instrumental gains to be had from ‘playing the ethnic-harmony card’. As mentioned above, Horowitz is doubtful as to the likelihood of Lijphart’s claims that the fear of mutual destruction is much of an incentive to political elites, as the time-span in which actors evaluate their pay-offs is not that long. However, as also noted above, Varshney suggests that a politician associated with damaging ethnic peace may be punished by the electorate. Actual violence, which sows fear in the population, might reduce the gains of stirring ethnic antagonisms. This would mean incentives, more than statesmanship, motivated Duval. But this does not fully explain why Ramgoolam did not move to consolidate his position, as Horowitz’s model suggests he should have. After ethnic unrest, promoting national unity appears to be a good strategy. However, it does not appear that he needed an electoral boost on the eve of the coalition. That said, fear of ethnic unrest, appears to have pushed the less secure Williams towards undesired compromise; Ramgoolam, far more secure, may have been happier to strive for inclusivity in the face of unrest.


Side pay-offs from, and other reasons for, political (non-)cooperation


Here we shall consider other incentives and pay-offs that motivate political elites. Lijphart suggests that a smaller country is likely to have a smaller group of political elites who will know each other better. Mauritius, as noted before, had a similar population to Trinidad, in a considerably smaller amount of territory and so the potential for contact may be increased. Lijphart posits that if elites know each other on a personal level they are more likely to overcome their differences in the political arena. Jürg Steiner (1971: 65) believes that if political elites benefit from the goodwill of other elites, they are unlikely to risk forfeiting it, making the costs of zero-sum competition higher. This requires that the goodwill the politicians receive from their opponents amounts to some sort of pay-off, worth enough to make the winning politician willing to concede some power. Ramgoolam, famously did not like Duval and his erratic style – another reason for which their cooperation came as a surprise – but, according to Simmons, also respected his abilities (Simmons 1982: 191). John Sullivan (1993), writing with others, presents a theory along similar lines to the one above – that through the practice of politics in a divided society and the consequent negotiating and forging of alliances, political elites become accustomed to compromise with their rivals from different castes and ethnic backgrounds.

Another explanation for his behaviour, given by Dayachand Napal (1994: 42-44), is that Ramgoolam was attempting to discredit Duval. Duval had voiced such vehement opposition to independence that his new-found desire to cooperate might turn his supporters against him. In fact, talk of the coalition and its implementation brought about considerable fissures within the PMSD and Duval never regained the popularity he had as ‘King Creole’ (Boolell 1996: 43). The coalition had a similar effect on the IFB; the party, relegated to opposition status, began to fracture. Napal paints Ramgoolam as ‘a true disciple of the notorious Machiavelli’ in his political manoeuvring post-independence. Nonetheless, the coalition, despite its apparent instability, lasted until 1973. Robert Gurr (1993: 311) writes that ‘power sharing has intrinsic appeal to some communal activists because it seems to guarantee that the group has status and access to power without compromising its cultural integrity’. Duval was able to present to his supporters the idea that he had secured some influence for the party. However, he also faced criticism from some areas and also was not able to secure the more desirable posts for his supporters that he had wanted (Mannick 1979: 139). As Lijphart (1973: 53) notes, elites, even if they wish to cooperate, have to be able to provide some pay-off for their supporters (Cederman 2009: 94). Larry Bowman (1991: 101) considers that the Mauritian political system, despite its ‘incessant fragmentation’, is very stable and ‘political figures feel free to do or say almost anything because it is rare to lose so completely that he or she cannot get back into the political fray’, making the risks from cooperation are relatively lower.

‘Goodwill’ may be conceived in other terms. Inter-ethnic cooperation may stem from the perception that a stable society encourages economic growth. The more realistic among the PMSD, according to Mannick, felt a coalition necessary because foreign investment would likely be scared off by fraught ethnic tensions. Given Duval’s attempt to incite a run on the post office bank in the run-up to independence, presumably to damage the economy and scare voters into not voting for independence, is further evidence that Duval was strongly motivated by electoral gains. The Labour Party similarly must have realised that much of the wealth of the island was still disproportionately concentrated in the Franco-Mauritian community, which felt itself culturally closer to the Creoles (Mannick 1979: 127). The same colonial-era prejudice in Trinidad made for a similar situation; business interests were still in the hands of whites or ‘lighter shades’. Thus, there was considerably less economic incentive to concede some representation to the smaller group in Trinidad. Ramgoolam’s party represented wealthier interests among the Hindu community and, considering the importance of patronage networks in Mauritian society and within the Hindu community, these wealthier interests would have expected pay-offs for their support, pushing policy towards economic expansion (Simmons 1982: 192). The Mauritian economy was seen as precarious and, unlike Trinidad with its oil reserves, overly reliant on sugar (Meade 1968 :57), making a growth-focused electoral strategy potentially successful. Furthermore, as mentioned previously, many Creoles fled Mauritius in the run-up to independence, and in its aftermath, with peaks during periods of especially heightened tension such as the ethnic riots (Pochun 1988: 267). This creole-flight also tended to be those creoles of greater means, depriving the country of a lot of its managerial expertise (Mannick 1989: 28). Ramgoolam must have known that building a stable economy would be achieved more easily in a calmer situation – wealthy Creoles would stay and foreigners would invest. Dr Jeun-Claude Lau Thi Kheung writes that in the period following independence an economic nationalism began to emerge. In the absence of other unifying factors, the idea of economic development began, little by little, to function as a ‘founding myth’ of the nation. Kheung (2002: 213) notes how development has remained one of the constants in political discourse on the island. This image that Mauritius has of itself, he writes, ‘un peu à la manière de l’American Dream’, is one which it is happy to project to the outside world.



In conclusion: nationalism and nation-building


“The study of ethnicity and nationality is in large part the study of politically induced change” (Brass 1979: 40-1)

Comparing Trinidadian and Mauritian nationalism, Thomas Hylland Eriksen considers that Mauritius provides an example of a successful multicultural nationalism whilst Trinidad is among the less successful. He argues that Trinidadian national symbolism is generally equated with black Trinidadian culture, excluding other segments of the population. In Mauritius, care has been taken to develop a set of national symbols accessible to anyone. Ivar Oxaal (1982: 23) has even claimed that the PNM was equated with the nation. Trinidadian politicians still cite Mauritian multiculturalism as a model they wish to emulate (Baboolal 2012). Could this be a reason for greater inter-ethnic cooperation on the political level evidenced in Mauritius? As mentioned, although we cannot hope to fully answer the questions as profound as the origins of the varying forms of nationhood, here, hopefully the preceding discussion may illuminate some of these questions. Given the differing resulting nationalisms in the two countries, identified by Eriksen, in the presence of similar origins – how did they emerge? What were the conditions that brought about these nationalisms? Were they a consequence of the same factors identified above in relation to political (non-)cooperation, since the two different nationalisms reflect those tendencies? Or were these differing nationalisms themselves part of the reason for the differing outcomes? Is this an example of reciprocal causation – the independent variable ‘type of nationalism’ was influenced by and in turn influenced our dependant variable ‘cooperation (or not) of elites’. The structure and situation affording the possibility of inter-ethnic political cooperation in Mauritius may have fostered a national identity more accessible to different segments of the population – i.e. both outcomes have the same factors as causes. In both, anti-colonial nationalisms were prevalent considerably before the prospect of independence elections. In both cases, we find instances of actors employing rhetoric reflecting an ideology of cutting across inter-ethnic differences (Premdas 1993: 140) (Napal 1994: 42). This tells us these differences were part of everyday life and that a concern for mitigating against them and creating a ‘culture’ accessible to all was already being discussed by some.

In Mauritius, as Kheung and Dr Sheila Bunwaree-Ramharai have argued, there was an economic nationalism after independence, fostering a sense of shared destiny. This sense of common purpose would reduce the costs, in political terms, for leaders in selling their new cooperation to the electorate. In Trinidad, the economic resources of the country were more closely aligned to the ruling party. Furthermore, Trinidad’s economy was bolstered by its oil resources – the full effects of which merit further examination, for which we do not have space here; nonetheless, Ross’ theory that oil reserves make elites less likely to cooperate and guard power more jealously ties in to the argument that in Mauritius, the weaker economic situation created a felt need to cooperate. Whilst Bunwaree-Ramharai (2000: 238-9) argues that ‘the economy stands for nationalism’, she maintains that unity is nonetheless ‘elusive’ and Mauritius’ economic success, post-independence, has provided only a ‘veneer of multiculturalism’. For her (2000: 240), Mauritius cannot be properly considered to be a nation because it had no unifying nationalism pre-independence – there was no ‘us’ versus ‘them’ sentiment with regards to the United Kingdom because 44% of the population voted against independence. The World Development Report (2006: 117-8) locates Mauritius’ economic success, as compared to British Guyana, partly in the fact that Mauritian elites resisted the colonial state a lot earlier and more effectively. Consequently, power was more equally distributed and there was more experience with self-government. Nonetheless, it was notably the planter-class, who were mostly white or ‘lighter shades’, that did the resisting and gained political power and this class maintains its economic dominance to this day. Bunwaree-Ramharai considers that Mauritius lacks national cohesion: there are no powerful national symbols and most people ‘imagine’ their communities as being extended outside of, and not rooted on, the island (Bunwaree-Ramharai 2000: 240-2). Eriksen (1998: 23) agrees, writing that it is problematic to talk of a single, Mauritian culture. Thus, the desire for economic improvement has provided and maintained the impetus for this ‘veneer’ of unity, which, in Bunwaree-Ramharai’s eyes, is only skin-deep.[2]

Conversely, for Eriksen and Yelvington (1993: 13), Trinidadian multiculturalism fails because it equates Trinidadian black culture with national culture: steel-band, calypso and Carnival. Eriksen gives ethnographic examples of East-Indians in Trinidad having to ‘creolise’ to be accepted in public society. Whilst in Mauritius, Ravindra Kumar Jain (2000: 73) considers Hindi nationalism ‘strident’ and Hindi culture has ‘survived’ creolisation. Bunwaree-Ramharai points out, in Mauritius the source of the dominant group’s identity is physically and symbolically elsewhere – ‘Mother India’, whereas in Trinidad, the prevalent discourse of mixed-ness and heterogeneity, which constitutes so much of Trinidadian nationalist discourse, is rooted in the island-experience (Khan 1993: 188) (Taylor : 256) (Segal 1993: 83), therefore, the island becomes a space to ‘possess’ symbolically. The Indo-Mauritians were disadvantaged socio-economically. With the proximity of India and Ghandi’s galvanising visit, we might expect Indo-Mauritians to look elsewhere for a sense of cultural worth and bolstering. J Maraj (2000: 28) believes the problems of pluralism are exacerbated if one community had links to a neighbouring country; however, this is written with relation to Mauritius, in the context of relative Hindu hegemony.

A similar argument can be drawn from the relative positions of physical and cultural-symbolic security of the differing groups. The Indo-Mauritians have been shown to be the most secure in both respects; this relative security might make this group more open to the promotion of a common culture, accessible to all, for there would be less fear that their culture would be eroded as a consequence. Conversely, it made considerable electoral sense for Williams to appeal to a particularly black nationalism because of the relatively slight majority that a homogenous black Trinidadian group would constitute over the East-Indians. Diana Wong (2000: 34-38), writing on the experience of Singaporean multiculturalism with relation to Mauritius, considers that Singapore’s diversity management was successful when cultural symbols were kept out of the public domain; ‘minority protection was to be achieved through the denial of majority status to the numerically dominant majority in all spheres of public life’. Bunwaree-Ramharai’s argument that Mauritius lacks national cohesion may be what makes writers such as Eriksen consider Mauritian multiculturalism to be more successful than Trinidad’s. The argument is that without a dominant majority culture in the public domain, minority cultures and, concomitant contentment, flourish in private. This would be in keeping with the ideas of David Miller (1995) who wrote on multiculturalism and nationalism.  Miller’s thesis, crudely stated, is that a nation needs a common culture to function and that this common culture must be accessible to all. Furthermore, this common culture must be as ‘bare-bones’ as possible so as to be accessible to all. This minimal common culture also relies on an understanding of a distinction between public and private domains, something which, Eriksen (1998: 121) claims, the Mauritian nationalist slogan ‘unity in diversity’ promotes. The problem with this sort of approach to nation-building, as Bunwaree-Ramharai and Charles Viljoen (2000: 43) note regarding Mauritius, is that ‘the acceptance of national symbols of necessity has to be regarded against the background of cultural symbols. The two levels of symbols cannot be separated from each other’. A bare-bones common culture risks becoming what Bunwaree-Ramharai claims it is in Mauritius: only a veneer for unity.

Ernest Gellner (1983) and others see the emergence of a common language as important in the development of a nation. In Mauritius, the main institutional language is English, although French and, latterly, Kreol are also recognised. Eriksen (1992: 77) writes that ‘perhaps English is a good compromise as a national language because nobody speaks it’. The common vernacular, which serves as a lingua franca, spoken by nearly everyone on the island, is Kreol. Kreol is regarded with embarrassment by some Mauritians and championed by others as a means to valorise Creole culture (Eriksen 1992: 86) (Eriksen 1998: 87-8). Significantly, in today’s globalised economy, being a Kreol speaker is not an advantage. Whilst there are many informative theories as to the processes involved in the development of nations, such as the valorisation of ‘low-culture’ languages and traditions, most of these theories are concerned with processes that took place in a different global setting. Would Gellner’s parable of the Ruritanians make sense in the context of Mauritius or Trinidad?


‘Nations are not simply freed or awakened by democratisation; they are formed by the experiences they undergo during that process.’ (Snyder 2000: 36)

How Mauritius and Trinidad experienced independence and the introduction of full democratic politics may have shaped their national self-images. Cederman et al (2009: 93) write: ‘rather than constituting historical singularities, political violence often leaves traces that put nationalist politics on a contentious track’. We saw earlier that ethnic violence may have had an effect on the electoral strategies of politicians. Can these electoral strategies in turn have had an effect on the formation of a national narrative? As seen earlier, a number of writers have argued that Mauritian society was so shocked by the violence before independence that there existed thereafter a consensus that it should be avoided. At the same time, others have argued that the violent rhetoric of East-Indians in the run-up to independence was one of the factors that made Williams decided to systematically exclude them from government wherever possible (Brereton 1981: 228-231). Wimmer (2008: 996) argued that the differing experiences, in racial terms, between elites and the polity during the beginnings of Mexican and Brazilian nationhoods laid the grounds for what was to come.

In this essay we have seen what are, arguably, important moments in the ethno-genesis of two nations. We have used the two examples as a ‘sandbox’ for playing with and testing different theories to explain these differing, yet similar, moments in history. We could not say that a single aspect caused these differing outcomes. This essay is intended more as a reflective space than as an investigation that will produce definite answers. The picture that emerges is that these events are fluid processes with numerous variables working in different ways upon each other. Ramgoolam may have cooperated with his rival, as it was electorally advantageous for him to be seen to be promoting stability and growth, something which was driven by a growing sense of economic nationalism, which may in turn have been promoted by his actions. He may have been motivated by personal conviction. He may have wanted to be seen to be calming ethnic tensions, for electoral gain or even for personal gratification. The point is not to say which of these factors it was with absolute certainty but that they are all plausible.

We have tried to keep in mind what the significance of these moments was and how the ways events played out differently in each case reflects upon the wider cultural and historic narratives of the two nations. Another exploration could examine other variables, such as the effects of the oil-economy. What we have hopefully achieved in this essay is a fruitful speculation on the structural, economic, political and other incentives and underlying conditions that can shape the forms which cultures in these unusual settings can take and what this may mean for the processes inherent in the formation of societal cultures in general.














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Table 1                  
Colony of Mauritius  
Central Statistical Office  
Quartely Digest of Statistics vol. 3 – 4                  
  1956 1957 1958 1959 1960 1961 1962 1963 1964
Gross Domestic Product at Factor Cost 624 642 624 681 563 710 725 943 755
Percentage Increase from Prev. Year   2.88% 2.80% 9.13% -17.33% 26.11% 2.11% 30.06% -25.93%
Average Yearly Increase 1960 – 1964 3.00%                
Average Yearly Increase 1956 – 1964 3.028 %                


















[1] There was the perception that Blacks were given higher posts in the army and state sector. (Yelvington 1993: 14)

[2] Larry Bowman, on why Mauritius, despite seemingly constant political movement, has had such stability: ‘the answer seems to lie in the stabilizing aspects of Mauritian political culture and the considerable success of Mauritian economic development’ ‘On the core issues… there is a national consensus’ (Bowman 1991: 100-1)

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