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Africa Celebrates Renowned Scientist Ameenah Gurib-Fakim as Mauritius’ First Female President

Prof. Ameena Gurib-Fakim, nouvelle Présidente de l'ile Maurice. Source: zilmoris.mondoblog.org

Ameena Gurib-Fakim, scientist and the new president of Mauritius. Photo via TED Conference Flickr page CC-BY-NC

Mauritius has marked a momentous milestone by inaugurating its first female president.

The nomination of eminent scientist Ameenah Gurib-Fakim was unanimously confirmed by the Mauritian National Assembly on 5 June. Her nomination came after former President Kailash Purryag resigned on 29 May.

Gurib-Fakim has authored over 28 scientific books sold worldwide and used as reference books by students and researchers alike. She holds an honorary doctorate from Pierre and Marie Curie University, formerly known as the Sorbonne. She is also an honorary professor of Pretoria’s University of South Africa (UNISA).

She is a laureate of the L'Oreal-UNESCO prize and holds numerous other honours, including the Chevalier de l'Ordre des Palmes Académiques (Knight of the Order of Academic Palms, a prestigious honour conferred by the French government on distinguished cultural and academic figures).

The elevation of a woman to such a high government position brought on a wave of enthusiasm among African bloggers.

Carole, a young Mauritian who blogs about media, music and socio-linguistics, was thrilled about the scientist's appointment to the presidency. She writes:

Chers amis de Mondoblog et d’ailleurs, ce vendredi 5 juin 2015 marque un jour historique dans le parcours de mon pays… En effet, la première femme à assumer les fonctions de président de la République de l’Ile Maurice sera intronisée cet après-midi. Elle se nomme Ameenah Gurib-Fakim.

Contrairement aux présidentes Dilma Roussef, Park Geun-hye, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf ou encore Cristina Kirchner, Ameena Gurib-Fakim n’a pas de carrière en politique. La présidente mauricienne est une brillante scientifique auréolée de nombreux prix et distinctions internationaux…

Ahhh, les subtilités ethniques, on y revient. Cette nomination, car les présidents de la République de Maurice ne sont pas élus au suffrage universel, revêt plusieurs aspects. Je laisserai le soin aux journalistes d’analyser les stratégies ethnopolitiques derrière cette nomination. Ne soyons pas dupes, en cette période de campagne électorale, il y a de bonnes raisons.

Dear friends, 5 June, 2015, marks a momentous day in my country’s history. The first female president of the Republic of Mauritius will be sworn into office at noon. Her name is Ameenah Gurib-Fakim.

Unlike other female presidents such as Dilma Roussef, Park Geun-hye, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and Cristina Kirchner, Ameena Gurib-Fakim is not a career politician. The Mauritian president is a brilliant scientist whose work has been honored through numerous prizes and international awards.

However, as it always is there, the ethnic subtleties are always ever present in the background. There’s more to this appointment (the president of the Republic of Mauritius is not elected directly by the people) than meets the eye. I will leave it to the journalists to analyze the ethno-political maneuvering behind this nomination. But let’s not be naive – we are in an election campaign period and those who work hard behind the scenes to obtain this nomination know what they’re doing.

Ameenah Gurib-Fakim dans son laboratoire  Centre technique de coopération agricole et rurale - Domaine public

Ameenah Gurib-Fakim in her laboratory at
Centre technique de coopération agricole et rurale. Public domain

Following her blog post, many readers echoed Carole’s satisfaction. Seydou Koné from Mali congratulated Mauritius:

beaucoup de chance à elle et à votre pays. un autre pas vers l’égalité du genre.bravo au peuple mauricien

All the best to her and to your country. Another step towards gender equality. Well done to the Mauritian people

Eli of Togo added his congratulations to Koné's and asked a question about the political system of Mauritius:

Bon à savoir. Il s’agit d’une embellie qui devrait inspirer d’autres en Afrique et dans le monde. Par qui est nommé le président? Bon vent à elle.

Good to know. This development should inspire others like it throughout Africa and the world. Who nominates the president? Good luck to her.

Carole explained the procedure as follows:

Merci Eli! Elle a été nommée par le Premier ministre, et élue par les membres du Parlement mauricien. Et oui, c’est une bonne chose qui rejaillit sur le continent africain et autre. Ceci devrait certainement inspirer d’autres pays

Thank you Eli! She was appointed by the prime minister and confirmed by the members of the Mauritian Parliament. And yes, the development is a good one which reflects positively on the African continent and the world. This should certainly inspire other countries

The Ivorian-German community on Monsaphir TV, fighting to promote women's rights, made the following comment:

Sa nomination n'était pas une surprise, mais Ameenah Gurib-Fakim pensait avoir un peu plus de temps devant elle avant d'entrer en fonction. En décembre 2014, le gouvernement avait promis de mener pour la première fois une femme au poste honorifique de président de la République de Maurice. Le nom d'Ameenah Gurib-Fakim, scientifique de renom, avait alors fait consensus….

Ameenah Garib-Fakima, 56 ans, a la carrure d'une pionnière. Ce n'est en effet pas la première fois que la scientifique se fait une place dans un environnement très masculin. Première femme professeur d'université de Maurice, elle fût également la première doyenne de la faculté des sciences, entre 2004 et 2010.

While her nomination was not a surprising one, Ameenah Gurib-Fakim thought she would have had more time before having to take office. In December 2014, the government had promised to have the Presidency of the Republic of Mauritius – an honorary role – filled for the first time by a woman. The consensus then came to favour Professor Gurib-Fakim, a renowned scientist….

Ameenah Fakima-Garib, 56, has had a pioneering career. Indeed, this is not the first time that the scientist has asserted her place in a male-dominated environment. The first female professor at the University of Mauritius, she was also the first female dean of the Faculty of Science, serving in this role from 2004 and 2010.

The blog ‘De l'Ile Maurice’ (which translates as “From Mauritius) on the French online newspaper Medipart wondered about the impact that the appointment will have on the broader region:

Une belle avancée pour la démocratie à l’Ile Maurice. Chercheuse de renomée mondiale, (voir ses conférences TED en bas), la Présidente de l’Ile Maurice, va-t-elle insuffler un nouveau souffle sur Mauritius ? Ancienne vice chancelière de l’université de Maurice, Madame Gurib-Fakim passe de la science à la politique. Issue de la minorité musulmane, Madame Gurib-Fakim respectée et scientifique de renom va maintenant gérer le pays.

A great step forward for democracy in Mauritius. A world-renowned researcher (see her TED talks below), will the new the president of Mauritius breathe new life into the country? A former vice-chancellor of the University of Mauritius, Gurib-Fakim has moved from science to politics. Coming from the country’s Muslim minority, Gurib-Fakim, a respected and renowned scientist, will now run the country.

An interview with Gurib-Fakim, published on defimedia.info, has been read 3,649 times and has prompted several comments. A user called ‘Sam-lepep’, asked how the new president will use her power:

félicitations et bonne chance a Mme AGF…sera-t-elle un bol d'air frais et reussira-t-elle a jouer son role de garant de la Constitution?..en tout cas on ne peut que le souhaiter vivement!…dommage que sa nomination soit entachee des declarations virulentes de certains deputes et Ministres Lepep dont Yvan, exigeant le depart de son prédécesseur ..elle devrait peut-etre prendre l'engagement de soumettre illico sa démission si d'aventure un autre gouvernement arrive au pouvoir avant la fin de son mandat…quitte a ce que le nouveau gouv la reconduise a ce poste evidemment…

Congratulations and good luck to Ms. AGF … Will she bring a new approach and will she play her part as guardian of the Constitution? … we hope that she will! … shame that her appointment was marred by virulent statements of some members of parliament and ministers from the Alliance Lepep coalition, including those of [Lepep politician] Yvan, demanding the departure of her predecessor … Perhaps she should commit to resigning the presidency immediately should a new government somehow come to power before the end of her term … Things would get awkward if the new government was happy to recognise her as president …

Concerned about the fate of prisoners, especially victims of judicial errors, Ismael Nazir expressed his regret on lemauricien.com that the new president has not given this issue much attention:

En ce premier jour de Présidence à la tête de l'Etat, cette grande dame aurait du penser, non seulement à la femme et à la famille, mais aussi a ces innocents qui croupissent en prison, victimes d'erreur judiciaire, et a cette communauté qui est sous-representée à deux reprises dans un Parlement à 69, au lieu de 70 parlementaires, comme le réclame la Constitution?
Comment peut-elle jouir d'un succes issu d'un calcul politique et le savourer alors que certains de ses compatriotes, victimes d'injustice comme elle jadis, attend toujours un sauveur?
Pourquoi pas une amnistie? Est-ce parce justice et liberté ne sont pas des mots scientifiques?

On this first day of her presidency, as head of state, this great lady should have thought not just about women and family, but also about the innocent people languishing in prison, victims of judicial error, and about the community that has twice been unrepresented in our Parliament, which currently has only 69 sitting members – why not 70 as the Constitution provides?

How can she savour success when her appointment was politically motivated and while some among her countrymen, victims of injustice as she once was, still yearn for a saviour?

Why not amnesty? Is it because ‘justice’ and ‘freedom’ are not scientific words?

Gurib-Fakim’s elevation to the office of president is just the tip of iceberg when it comes to the success that Mauritius has enjoyed over the years. There is respect for the public good – Mauritius’ corruption rating saw it place 47th among 175. There is respect for individual freedom – Mauritius ranks 17th in this field, ahead of countries like France, the United States and Japan. The country has managed to turn its diversity into a source of vibrancy, yet it has not forgotten about the more painful aspects of its history. This has allowed it to better confront the legacy that these more painful aspects continue to present.

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