According to a new paper, we don't really know for sure, but what we do know is that although there's no single reason the strength of its "institutions" has been critical and certainly more important than what is usually mentioned (trade openness). This accords with my previous position and certainly not what National Indaba delegates were told :
The Mauritian development ‘strategy’ was one of heterodox policy interventions, especially on exports, but one that was implemented in the context of a favourable trading environment externally and very strong economic and political institutions domestically. One clear message is that attempting to replicate the Mauritian experiment might be hazardous for other countries, in part because the trading environment is now less favourable. Preferential margins for African countries will slowly but inevitably decline as global liberalization proceeds apace and as China proves to be a major competitor for African manufacturing exports. Perhaps, more importantly, it may be difficult for other countries to replicate the key elements of the Mauritian globalization strategy—heavy intervention, extensive subsidization, and targeting, including through the creation of EPZs—because the preconditions for ensuring that an interventionist strategy succeeds, notably, the quality of domestic institutions and political processes, may not be in place.
But the impact of strong institutions has been much broader and deeper. If Mauritius has demonstrated one thing, it is the invaluable benefit conferred by a domestic political system that is inclusive and provides a basis for keeping social conflict manageable — which indeed was Meade’s biggest worry.
In Africa, social stability is still elusive because of persistent internal conflicts, despite the progress made on democratization in recent years. In the ten years between 1995 and 2005, nearly half the countries in Sub-Saharan Africa have seen some form of internal conflict. Against this background, Mauritius stands out as a beacon of possibilities. But creating an inclusive political system that has kept internal conflict at bay (despite the latent possibilities that were not very different in Mauritius than in the rest of Africa) is hard work, and was done, in Mauritius, in the early days and by the early political leadership. It is no coincidence that the only two African countries that have posted consistently high rates of economic growth are Botswana and Mauritius, which are also the only two uninterrupted democracies since independence.