Official country name: Republic of Mauritius
Capital: Port Louis
Geographic description: Island off southern Africa in the Indian Ocean south of Madagascar. Includes the islands of Mauritius, Rodrigues, Agalega Islands, and the Cargados Carajos Shoals (Saint Brandon)
Population: 1,230,602 (est. 2005)
The modern incarnation of the Mauritius Police Force (MPF) has its origins in the colonial experience. Initially settled by French sugar planters dependent on African slave labor, the island was coveted by British imperialists during the Napoleonic Wars as a strategic outpost in the Indian Ocean. On November 29, 1810, the French garrison in Port Louis surrendered to a British amphibious force thus relinquishing effective control, and Mauritius became part of the British colonial empire. Although the Franco-Mauritian planters were permitted to retain their estates, when the British government abolished the slave trade in 1835, it became necessary to find an alternative source of labor. Subsequently, the planter class turned to a system of indentured servitude recruiting extensively from the Indian subcontinent. Within a few decades, the demographic composition of the island shifted to reflect the substantial number of Indian migrants, mostly Hindus and, to a lesser extent Muslims, who responded to the island's labor needs.
A national police force was created in 1859 with a separate unit for Port Louis and modified by the Police Ordinance of 1893 as the MPF under an inspector general and from 1934 a police commissioner. The role of the MPF during the colonial era, in keeping with the objectives of British imperial policy, was to support the British administrative structure, maintain public order, and preserve what was essentially a feudal social structure. Organized like other colonial forces, the higher echelons of the command structure consisted entirely of British officers responsible for directing resources and maintaining discipline. Indigenous patrol officers executed routine law enforcement, but no native Mauritian could aspire to any rank higher than sergeant. Wary of giving the Indo-Mauritian majority any authority, the police service drew its officers primarily from the Creole sector of the population. Consequently, on the eve of independence, despite the multiethnic character of the nation, the MPF represented a Creole occupational enclave. When the British withdrew in 1968 giving Mauritius its independence, communal tensions erupted in several months of sectarian violence that, in the face of police ineffectiveness, required the intervention
of British paramilitary forces. The violence motivated by the fear of exclusion from an Indo-Mauritian-dominated government produced a substantial outward migration of minority communities, including many long-serving Creole officers. As Indo-Mauritians rushed to fill the vacancies, the cumulative effect was to create a police service that reflected a more accurate representation of the nation's diverse ethnic composition. In an island society where communal sensitivities assume great importance, the multiethnic character of the police force facilitated the legitimacy of the MPF, but it also made it subject to political manipulation, as evidenced by frequent administrative changes.
At independence, with the exception of the capital, Port Louis, Mauritius was a nation of tranquil coastal and scattered interior towns, and the establishment of the MPF reflected this social reality. Excluding the Special Mobile Force (SMF), the entire police establishment totaled 1,758 officers. Since most citizens relied on bicycles or horse-drawn transportation, only sixty-four officers were assigned to the Traffic Branch. The two police districts that encompassed the Port Louis metropolitan area were patrolled by a mere 316 officers. Furthermore, only eleven individuals occupied ranks higher than superintendent, suggesting a relatively simple command structure (Annual Report of the Mauritius Police Force 1968). By 1980, in the aftermath of the turmoil that had accompanied the immediate postindependence period, the police establishment had more than doubled, totaling 3,805 members. Most of this growth was among the lower ranks. Of the total, almost 3,000 were constables, nearly 450 were sergeants, and 68 were part of a newly created women's police service (Annual Report of the Mauritius Police Force 1980). A decade later, the MPF establishment had increased to 6,117 supervised by the commissioner of police assisted by 4 deputy commissioners, 12 assistant commissioners, and 36 superintendents. By this time, a parallel women's service with its own administrative structure headed by an assistant superintendent was beginning to emerge (Annual Report of the Mauritius Police Force 1990).
Mauritius is an extensively policed society, and the modern MPF invites controversy by having to navigate between its legal mandate to enforce the rule of law and its political role as the most visible agency of state authority. Overall supervisory responsibility for the MPF is exercised by the commissioner of police, who acts under the authority of the prime minister. The commissioner is assisted by 5...