1999 Mauritian riots

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1999 Mauritian riots
Date21 February 1999 (1999-02-21) - 25 February 1999 (1999-02-25)
20°08′49″S 57°30′40″E / 20.14694°S 57.51111°E / -20.14694; 57.51111Coordinates: 20°08′49″S 57°30′40″E / 20.14694°S 57.51111°E / -20.14694; 57.51111
Caused byDeath of Joseph Réginald Topize in police custody
Methodsrioting, clashes with the police, looting, property damage, protests, ethnic clashes
Resulted in5 dead
Hundreds injured
Extensive looting and property damage
250 escaped prisoners[1]

The 1999 Mauritian riots was a national scale riot and series of protests in Mauritius following the death of the popular "seggae" musician Joseph Réginald Topize, better known by his stage name "Kaya", in police custody.[2][3] The riot lasted for four days from 21 to 25 February 1999. Four civilians and one police officer were killed in the riots with hundreds of people suffering injuries. It was the first incidence of mass rioting in Mauritius since the 1968 Mauritian riots.[2] The riots resulted in a majority of the island's police stations being sacked by protesters with 250 prisoners escaping prison.[1] Many businesses were looted and substantial property damage was done with over 200 vehicles being set alight.[3]


Following independence and a period of ethnic riots shortly before independence Mauritius experienced a thirty year period of peace and rapid economic growth. This, along with the efforts by Mauritian political and bureaucratic leaders to be inclusive of representatives of minority communities in policy-making, had the effect of reducing ethnic tensions. During this period the Hindu majority of island gained dominance within government. The period of high economic growth also lead to significant wealth disparities despite overall increasing living standards for all Mauritians. An educational system that, although free and universal, was highly competitive and reliant on additional private tutoring that resulted in widening economic inequalities by limiting access to higher education for poorer, often Creole, Mauritians.[2]

The popular Mauritian Creole seggae musician Joseph Topize (Kaya) was arrested on 18 February 1999 for smoking marijuana at a rally for its decriminalisation. Kaya was a vocal proponent of Creole rights and was viewed as an important voice of the Creole community.[4] On 23 February, three days after Kaya's arrest, he died in police custody. The fracturing of his skull led protesters to assume his death was the result of police brutality. The government denied allegations of brutality and blamed Kaya's death on meningitis. Mauritian prime minister Navinchandra Ramgoolam promised a full inquiry to investigate the incident.[1] At the time accusations of police brutality by the predominantly Hindu Mauritian police force was common with many Creoles being registered as having died whilst in police custody.[4]


Following the announcement of Kaya's death riots erupted in the predominantly Creole Roche Bois neighbourhood of Port Louis where Kaya was from.[4] Riots and protests quickly spread across the island. Numerous shops, public buildings, police stations, and vehicles were looted and set on fire by rioters whilst 250 prisoners were released by rioters from a local prisoners. Protesters and rioters blocked roads with burning tires.[1] The death of another Roche Bois musician, Berger Agathe after he was shot 92 times by the police further enraged rioters. Agathe was shot whilst appealing to police for calm.[4] An estimated 2,000 rioters participated in the disturbances.[5]

Many Hindus saw the attacks on police and private businesses by the predominantly Creole rioters as attacks on the Hindu community. This resulted in Creole and Hindu youths engaging in sporadic ethnic clashes in the streets. A number of homes owned by Creoles living in predominantly Hindu areas were burnt down and their occupants chased out of the area in sporadic acts of ethnic cleansing.[2]


Following the riots the Mauritian government established a Rs 500 million (around US$ 20 million) Trust Fund for the Social Integration of Vulnerable Groups that amounted to 1.8% of the government's total budget for the financial year 1999-2000. The purpose of the fund was to fund micro-projects for people in poor regions of the country to facilitate national reconciliation and social integration.[2]

The riots and resulting inter-ethnic conflict increased Hindu militancy. Some members of the Hindu community argued that intellectuals and church leaders were to blame for the riots for talking too much about the 'exclusion' of Creole Mauritians from broader Mauritian society, thereby misleading them. The Mauritian Hindu religious and political leader Harish Boodhoo and 3,500 other Mauritian Hindu religious leaders founded the All Mauritius Hindu Conference (AMHC). The AMHC denounced perceived social criticism of Hindus and alleged that Roman Catholic Church was solely responsible for the problem of Creole exclusion. The AMHC rejected calls for dialog issued by the Catholic Church. The majority of Mauritian Creoles are Roman Catholics and the church is often seen as expressing grievances on behalf of that community.[2]

A monument to the riot and Kaya's death of two crossed guitars stands at the entrance to the Roche-Bois neighbourhood of Port Louis.[6]


  1. ^ a b c d "Reggae rage in Mauritius". The Economist. 25 February 1999. Retrieved 20 August 2018.
  2. ^ a b c d e f Carroll, Barbara Wake; Carroll, Terrance (25 March 2000). "Trouble in paradise: Ethnic conflict in Mauritius". Commonwealth & Comparative Politics. 38 (2): 25–50. doi:10.1080/14662040008447817.
  3. ^ a b Louis, Clifford Vellien in Port (25 February 1999). "Rioting in Mauritius set off by jail death of singer". The Guardian. Retrieved 20 August 2018.
  4. ^ a b c d Marks, Kathy (13 September 1999). "City Life - Port Louis, Mauritius: Melting pot that is starting to". The Independent. Retrieved 20 August 2018.
  5. ^ "Mauritius riots over singer's death". The Independent. 23 February 1999. Retrieved 20 August 2018.
  6. ^ "Shadow of 'reggae riots' still hangs over Mauritius". Financial Times. Retrieved 20 August 2018.