Africa’s only woman head of state under pressure to resign over shopping scandal

Ameenah Gurib-Fakim was appointed to the largely ceremonial post in 2015, as the island nation’s first female president, but was accused of using a credit card issued by an international non-governmental organisation to buy clothes and jewellery

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 11 March, 2018, 3:15pm
UPDATED : Sunday, 11 March, 2018, 7:53pm

The president of Mauritius is being forced out of office over allegations that she used a charity’s credit card to make excessive purchases for herself.

Ameenah Gurib-Fakim is currently the only female head of state among 55 nations that comprise the African Union.

Mauritius, an island nation off the continent’s east coast, is set to celebrate its 50th anniversary of independence Monday.

A domestic Mauritian newspaper published the allegations last week against the president, but Gurib-Fakim continues to maintain her innocence.

“I do not owe anything to anybody. Why is this issue coming up now almost a year later on the eve of our independence day celebrations,” she said in a speech the same day reports first appeared in the local media.

“It is being reported that I am resigning. I am still in post,” she tweeted Friday.

Other officials say it is fait accompli and that she would resign after independence ceremonies.

“The President of the Republic told me that she would resign from office, and we agreed on the date of her departure,” Prime Minister Pravind Jugnauth said in Port Louis, capital of Mauritius.

“The interests of the country come first, and I am proud of Mauritius’ image as a model of living democracy in the world.”

If she does indeed step down, Gurib-Fakim would become the latest in a series of African leaders being forced out of office by their political rivals in months.

The most well known among those are Robert Mugabe, who kept Zimbabwe under his grip for 37 years, and Jacob Zuma, the former South African president whose nearly nine years in office were marked by a series of corruption scandals.

Gurib-Fakim, 58, studied in Britain, earning a doctoral degree in organic chemistry from Exeter University.

The claims of financial misconduct are related to charges she allegedly made with a credit card provided to her by the London-based Planet Earth Institute.

The local L’express newspaper reported that the president had shopped in Italy and Dubai, using the credit card.

As a renowned scientist educated in the West who made frequent international trips, Gurib-Fakim was beginning to be seen by some in Mauritius as being out of touch with the concerns of the diverse island nation, according to analysts.

“How does it benefit the country for her to be on the Forbes list?” Rabin Bhujun, managing editor of the local site ION News, told CNN.

“This is an important factor which encouraged the government to get rid of her. They felt she wasn’t a heavyweight in politics and had no problem sacking her.”

The Washington Post, Reuters