Mauritius dispatch: violent fuel protests expose rising disillusionment and social faultlines
Provided to JURIST
Mauritius dispatch: violent fuel protests expose rising disillusionment and social faultlines

In the past few days, the Mauritian government has been facing what some claim to be the most violent protests in recent years, with residents from various mostly low-income neighbourhoods protesting unsustainable increases in the cost of living and the sudden and drastic increase of petrol and gas prices by more than 10% and 30%.

The protests, which were initially peaceful, emerged particularly from the region of Camp-Levieux, an area that hosts a large number of social housing projects and low-income families mostly of Kreol origin who have been hit the hardest by inflation and rising prices. While there were some small incidents at the beginning, such as the burning of tires and heated gatherings, it was not until Friday’s arrest of “Darren”, a young local activist and protestor, that the situation worsened considerably.

On Friday, Darren had issued an ultimatum to the government, demanding the lowering of fuel prices and the adoption of new measures to reduce the cost of living in general, with the threat of further protests in case of inaction. He was taken into custody by police for “participation in two illegal demonstrations” and “use of social media to post hate messages”.

He was then allegedly beaten and subsequently taken to the police headquarters at the Central Barracks, which were quickly rocked by demonstrations by hundreds of people who protested his detention and who had to be dispersed by tear gas. This in turn led to parallel protests within a couple of hours at other mostly Kreol communities at Trou-d’Eau-Douce, Barkly, Vallijee and Cassis.

With the crowds pelting stones, beer cans and, in a particularly distressing situation, a home-made Molotov cocktail, the police were forced to deploy special crowd-control units and armored vehicles to communities across the country to control the situations.

With the police accused of beating protestors and some people comparing the current protests to the 1999 race riots following the death of Kreol artist Kaya in police detention, the situation here seems especially sensitive, hitting the core of social harmony in a multi religious, multi-ethnic country widely known for its tolerance. While things seem to have calmed down following the Bail and Remand Court releasing Darren on bail today, Saturday, many people obviously remain frustrated with the worsening socio-economic conditions of the country.

It remains to be seen if the protests will worsen or if an acceptable compromise can be reached between the protestors and an increasingly debt-riddled State. What remains clear is that the existing socio-economic policies, which many consider as generous compared to other African states, have failed large sections of the population, who remain disillusioned with the Mauritian State.