by Assad Bhuglah
A small country can literally level up with a big country by expansion of its hinterland. This has been the case with small city-states like Singapore, Hong Kong and Dubai which are adjacent to continental land, thus giving them the possibility to extend their economic activities on a larger scale. Unfortunately, Mauritius does not have such hinterland to fall back upon.
In common parlance, hinterland refers to the inland region or "backcountry" surrounding the urban catchment of large agglomerations or city-states. It is not necessary that a hinterland is incorporated with or under direct control of an urban authority or city-state, but it is sufficient that there is substantial economic interaction between the two.
In the new concept of economic development, the hinterland has become an appropriate term to describe land areas that do not have a city or urbanised function but are not necessarily rural lands. It is often considered as "empty space" not in use due to its natural features. The hinterland, endowed with vast reserve of resources, plays a critical role in supporting the economic development of small economies. On the other side of the coin, this linkage creates spill-over effects and helps in the upliftment and economic transformation of the hinterland.
Singapore is a classical example of an economic development based on hinterland. Its natural hinterland lies in the Malaysian peninsula. Its historical hinterland is the whole of South-East Asia. And its cultural hinterland includes the Middle-East, China and India. By using all these links, Singapore has transformed itself into a commercial hub for the whole world.
Although Mauritius is strategically located in the Indian Ocean, it is disadvantaged by its geographical remoteness from mainland Africa. Its nearest neighbours are the Mascareign islands hardly capable of fulfilling the role of hinterland. Reunion and Seychelles are themselves handicapped by their exiguity of territorial space. Madagascar, on which much hope has been banked, is a difficult terrain to harness, not only because of inexistence or poor level of infrastructure but mostly because of the perpetual uncertainty and political instability.
To sustain its economic development, the small Mauritius will require more territorial space to meet the aspirations and demands of its growing population. More and more agricultural lands and forests will have to be cleared to make space for urbanisation, roads, parking, industrial states, commercial complexes, tourism-related amenities and leisure parks. Even the marginal lands will be exhausted by putting additional spaces to cater for cemeteries and dumping grounds for wastes.
The challenge for Mauritius is to look for more territorial spaces abroad, but in a secure environment, in order to carry some of its economic activities offshore. There is still possibility for a country that does not have a hinterland to create its own, more or less on the same patterns of the South Korean model. The South Koreans do not have a major territorial hinterland apart from their hostile neighbours in the north. South Korea invested massively in an offshore hinterland in Vietnam since early 1990s, and it is today reaping the reaping the rewards of a rising Vietnam.
Mauritius must make intelligent and smart use of its cultural hinterland in order to reap economic dividends there from. The historical and cultural links of Mauritius with France, China, India and Pakistan must serve as important conduit to evolve offshore. It is true that Mauritius geographically belongs to the African continent, but we cannot go alone to harness the resources of the mainland. We need strong and reliable partners to accompany us in our African adventure. For this, we need to turn towards our partners of cultural affinities and synergize our relations into triangular cooperation so as to achieve our objective of extended hinterland.