World renowned scientist and biologist Ameenah Gurib-Fakim was inaugurated as the new president of Mauritius earlier this month, becoming the first woman to hold the ceremonial position in our Indian Ocean nation.
Gurib-Fakim studied at Exeter and Surrey universities in the United Kingdom, was the chair in organic chemistry at the University of Mauritius, and is currently director of CEPHYR, the Mauritius-based Centre for Phytotherapy Research, which studies plants for use in therapy, cosmetics and nutrition. She has also co-written more than 20 books, led projects supported by the United Nations and European Union, and is an expert consultant on infectious diseases for various agencies including Unicef, the World Bank and the World Health Organisation.
A former TEDGlobal speaker, she was recently interviewed by the conference organisation about her new role and her ambitions for the future of Mauritius, and explained how her focus would be on technology, the environment and education.
“I want to drive think-tanks on science and technology. Since TEDGlobal we opened BioPark Mauritius, the first technology park in this part of the world. We have quite a few clusters and institutions in operation now – but there is potential for a lot more.
“Climate change is a big concern for us – it can be felt in terms of the seasons, and we’re seeing very strong, violent storms. A strong voice needs to be heard. Sustainable development has everything to do with our identity of being Mauritius and of being a biodiversity hotspot.
“Of course, we have to pay good attention to education. And my party is focused on getting the economy right – because they know that with the economy comes employment, and with that comes social welfare. We have free healthcare and free education.”
The role at hand
The presidential role in Mauritius is a constitutional post, where the president acts as guardian of the constitution and is commander-in-chief. As a highly respected professional, Gurib-Fakim’s career until now has not been political. “I did not choose politics, but politics chose me,” she has said, explaining how her party [Lepep] were keen to attract someone who had no prior involvement in the political arena and who had the credibility and respect to occupy an apolitical post.
But despite the limitations of the position, her appointment as the country’s first female president – and only the third in Africa – is a significant moment in Mauritian history. Her appointment was unanimously approved, and her election looks set to advance women’s empowerment on the island and prove inspirational for would-be scientists, environmentalists and indeed presidents of the future.
This post is also available in: French