My Agenda is to promote harmony – Ameenah Gurin-Fakim

She embodies strong women in leadership role that has steered the country towards progress and prosperity. Her being a woman became a factor when opposition was struggling to resist changes in the constitution and she proved worthy of the role entrusted in her. She is now holder of a constitutional post and acts as the guardian of the constitution. She is commander in chief of the paramilitary forces and looks after the role of the caretaker. Ameenah Gurib-Fakim was sworn in as president of Mauritius on Friday, June 5, 2015.

Her love of science started early in life, influenced by dynamic teachers who mentored her in high school. Having chosen chemistry as her field of study, Ameenah Gurib-Fakim went into exile in England and received her bachelor’s at the University of Surrey in 1983 and a PhD in Organic Chemistry from the University of Exeter in 1987. She returned to Mauritius as a lecturer in Organic Chemistry at the University and she still holds the Chair of Organic Chemistry at the University of Mauritius.

In 1994, Ameenah Gurib-Fakim completed the first inventory of aromatic and medicinal plants native to the Mauritius and Rodrigues Islands. It was a huge contribution in the backdrop that Mauritius is an important biodiversity resource. In this study, Ameenah Gurib-Fakim also examined the properties of these plants, which had never been done. Since that time, she has been particularly committed to promoting the use of African medicinal plants that can be used to replace conventional and expensive medications sold in pharmacies. Her research led to her co-authoring more than twenty books and nearly 80 publications in the field. She wants to drive think-tanks on science and technology.  Her desire is to focus is on the environment. She considers sustainable development can become identity of being Mauritian and of being a biodiversity hotspot. She as a biologist has broken the glass ceiling and sent a message across the country that a woman can do anything.

But this could not happen without the help of her family and father. In Mauritius, women live in a very patriarchal society. She was lucky because her father had no objection to his daughter getting an education. When she was young, education wasn’t free, so this was not the case for many girls. Girls got more and more access to schools after 1976, and women professionals still suffered from what she was called call the leaky-pipe syndrome. She hopes that her career and story will inspire the new generations and change the situation for girl education in Mauritius.

During her career, she has led numerous projects supported by international agencies such as the United Nations, the European Union and the Canadian Development Agency. She also won the Women in Science of the African Union in 2009. These numerous international awards confirm Professor Gurib- Fakim as a successful example for young researchers in developing countries. She was appointed Commander of the Order Star and Key of the Indian Ocean, the highest distinction of Mauritius in 2008 and became a Knight of the Order of Academic Palms in 2009.

President of Mauritius Dr Ameenah Firdaus Gurib-Fakim recently visited Pakistan on the invitation of President Mamnoon Hussain. She herself visited the University of Karachi and considered this institution as an outstanding institution. During her visit President Mamnoon Hussain hosted a lunch in honour of Ameenah Firdaus Gurib-Fakim and her delegation.

Having visited Karachi four times since 2003, Mauritius President Ameenah Gurib-Fakim knows her favourite Pakistani food (nihari), clothing brand (Khaadi), musicians (Nusrat Fateh Ali and Atif Aslam) and has even enjoyed a stroll at Clifton beach. But what was most surprising about the graceful, articulate head of state is that she effortlessly switched to Urdu in the middle of the interview. “Hum bhi thori Urdu bol lete hain,” she smiled. Asked as to how she felt about Karachi’s transformation over the past decade, she said the city was moving in the right direction.

As the first female president of the country — and that too from the minority Muslim community in her country — Ms Gurib is a big proponent of inter-faith and community dialogue. “In this world, people have made a business out of fear; when you don’t know your neighbor, these fears can be exploited. As President my agenda is to take action to promote harmony.” The Mauritian identity is constantly being built and rebuilt, because we come from so many parts of the world. We are a people of Indian, African, Chinese and European origin. People think along ethnic lines, and tend to only remember they’re Mauritian on Independence Day, on March 12, when people rally round the flag and national anthem. It is this message of peace and harmony that her leadership has offered to her country and the rest of the countries can surely take inspiration from her story.

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