04 JUN 2015 16:44 SAMANTHA SPOONER
On June 1 the government of Mauritius named Ameenah Gurib-Fakim as the Indian Ocean island nation’s new president. Her appointment was approved by Parliament on Thursday and her inauguration is expected to take place on Friday.
Gurib-Fakim becomes Mauritius’s first female president, the third on the African continent.
Mail & Guardian Africa made contact with the incoming president via LinkedIn.
Asked about her priorities, she said that she aims to create a high-income economy and create opportunities for her people.
“I strongly believe that science, technology, innovation and entrepreneurship are the ingredients that will help advance this vision. Through the presidency, we can engage with the people, the public and private sector and realise this vision.”
Gurib-Fakim will become the only current African president who did not dabble in politics beforehand. She is an internationally renowned scientist and biologist, describing herself on Twitter as a “Professor, Managing Director at Cephyr, Chemist, Gardener, Photographer and Writer of books on the flora of the tropics, medicinal plants”.
Gurib-Fakim was the chair in organic chemistry at the University of Mauritius and served successively as dean of the faculty of science and pro vice-chancellor with the university.
Gurib-Fakim has co-authored more than 20 books and contributed to nearly 80 publications on the use of African medicinal plants.
She has led a number of projects supported by international agencies such as the United Nations, the European Union and the Canadian Development Agency. She is an adviser to the International Science Foundation of Sweden and a member of the scientific committee of the international programme in chemical sciences at the University of Uppsala. She is an expert consultant on infectious diseases for Unicef, the United Nations Development Programme, World Bank and the World Health Organisation.
Asked how she became involved in politics, she said: “I did not choose politics but politics chose me.” She went on to explain that “the party [Lepep] wanted someone who had never dealt in the political arena, who had credibility locally and internationally to occupy a post which is meant to be apolitical. So I presume I fit the profile.
“Mauritius operates in an increasingly globalised world and faces the same challenges that many other countries face. However, we have some good experiences and practices of living together that we can ‘export’ to the world. We have also shown that even without natural resources, we can still make it.”