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Tuesday, 4 February, 2003, 08:15 GMT
Cyber city in Mauritius
Paradise found: cyber city in Mauritius

Mauritius, the paradise island of golden sand and five-star hotels in the middle of the Indian Ocean, is plunging head first into the high-tech world of information technology.

The volcanic rock, famous for the extinct dodo that once naively welcomed foreign visitors and paid the price, is now using its foreign contacts to build on two decades of development and wants to become a "cyber island".

Construction site for the cyber city
Indian workers are building Mauritius' future
And it's going the right way about it.

A few kilometres outside the capital, Port Louis, the sugar cane plantations, which were the foundations of the island's success, are being built upon and a "cyber city" is emerging amid the mountains.

"Technologically speaking the cyber city is a state-of-the-art facility," said Devendra Chaudhry, chief executive of Business Parks of Mauritius.

"It will provide a world-class telecommunications network, through both satellite and the fibre-optic cable that links Portugal and Malaysia via South Africa and Mauritius.

"It will provide computing on demand, an internet data centre to back up data and servers for web-hosting, e-commerce and financial transactions."


The centrepiece of the city is a 12-storey tower, which is being built in just over a year.

A computer-generated image of the cyber tower
The tower will dominate the cyber city
Then more than 30 other projects will follow - a hypermarket, conference centre, a cyber village for accommodation, and more high-tech office space.

Devendra Chaudhry is an Indian civil servant brought to Mauritius on sabbatical, to use the experience of high-tech cities in places like Bangalore or Hyderabad to create a new industry on the island.

And the majority of the workers on the site are Indian, brought in to build the infrastructure which the government of Mauritius hopes will catapult the island forward.

Upwardly mobile

But the expansion into the high-tech sector doesn't end with just infrastructure.

Huge investment is being put into education from primary level to university level, and even for those who haven't even seen a computer before.

The Cyber Caravan has been fitted out for the job, making its daily rounds visiting villages in the more remote parts of Mauritius.

The coach converted into a high-tech school
Villagers learn about technology
The converted coach is now a computer studies class for housewives, children, unemployed people and the disabled.

"We use the caravan to conduct Information Communications Technology (ICT) awareness courses," said Vikash Heeralaul from the National Computer Board.

"We've got nine PCs in a network and we teach basic computing and word processing.

"Up to now we have been to 170 community centres to create ICT awareness among the people of Mauritius.

"Some people don't know how to use a computer, but we teach them the basics and then word processing."

Sweet dreams

It's quite a transformation for an island which based its development on money raised by sugar.

The sugar protocol still ensures high prices for European exports and remains important to the economy.

Putting it crudely the whole of Africa could be on fire and Mauritius would be protected

Lindsay Pointu
Hewlett Packard
Then the textile industry came along and is still growing with the help of the special trade relationship with America under the African Growth and Opportunities Act (AGOA).

But the Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Paul Berenger is looking much further into the future.

"On the horizon the sugar protocol is threatened and textile exports to the European Union and the States are also under question by the World Trade Organisation's new rules, and by developing free trade agreements, so we are threatened from all sides," he said.

"This is where our idea is to make Mauritius a cyber island to rush ahead as a services economy."

Corporate interest

It's a promise that's being jumped upon by some big names - Microsoft has expressed an interest and Hewlett Packard is a partner in the cyber city.

One of the big advantages of the city is a "Disaster Recovery Service" for businesses around the world to transfer and store data, and even run their call centres from Mauritius if their computers are hit by a terrorist attack.

Lindsay Pointu, representative of Hewlett Packard in Mauritius, argues that it's a good place for big companies to have back-up systems in place because of its relative security and stability.

"I think the biggest benefit is that being a rock in the middle of the ocean you are isolated and in a way that is what you want.

"Putting it crudely the whole of Africa could be on fire and Mauritius would be protected.

"We can see that the cyber city will represent a land of opportunity for ICT business."

So as construction work continues, Mauritius is building a future for itself, accelerating ahead of the rest of the African continent.

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