Top scientist sworn in as island’s first woman president

Leading scientist Dr Ameenah Gurib-Fakim was sworn in as the first female president of Mauritius this month. Although not politically active, she was selected by the Indian Ocean island’s new Prime Minister, Sir Anerood Jugnauth, to hold the position of head of state.

Her nomination was unanimously welcomed by the public and media, locally and abroad.

Gurib-Fakim is an accomplished scientist and director of the Mauritius-headquartered Centre for Phytotherapy Research, or CEPHYR, which conducts research into plants for use in cosmetics, nutrition and therapy.

She was chair in organic chemistry at the University of Mauritius and served as dean of the faculty of science and pro vice-chancellor from 2004 to 2010. She has co-authored 26 books and contributed to nearly 80 publications on the use of African medicinal plants.

The 56-year-old president recently held a garden party at her official residence at Reduit, and hundreds of people gathered to offer congratulations.

Gurib-Fakim was moved by the warm wishes, and said it was an honour to have been appointed to such an important function.

“I look down into pockets of poverty and see how poor Mauritians are living and what their needs are. I am not going to stay cloistered in the chateau of Reduit. I say loud and clear that I will be a president of proximity and attentive to the people.”

She declared that her new position would also provide an excellent opportunity to play a role in rallying around key issues like science, technology, entrepreneurship, empowerment of women and environmental issues.

Gurib-Fakim was elevated to the Order of the Commander of the Star and Key by the Mauritius government in 2008 and was admitted to the Order of the Chevalier of the Ordre des Palmes Académiques by France in 2010.

In 2013 she received an honorary doctorate from the prestigious Université Pierre and Marie Curie of the Sorbonne in Paris, and in April 2014 she was elected to the governing council of the African Academy of Sciences as regional representative for East Africa.