The island is located North of Madagascar, and is a French Overseas Territory. The French far-flung possessions are divided into two (general) categories: the Collectivités d’Outre Mer (COM) and the Départements d’Outre Mer. The main difference between those two categories are in terms of political representation each territory has in the metropole.
France possesses 5 COMs: Saint-Pierre et Miquelon off the Canadian coast, Saint Martin and Saint Barthelemy in the Caribbean, and Wallis and Futuna and French Polynesia in the Pacific. To that must be added New Caledonia which has its own status of Collectivité sui generis. The most prominent feature of these territories is that France is mainly responsible for ensuring basic responsibilities such as defense, police, justice and finances for those territories. The local governments manage the rest of the political prerogatives.
In opposition, the Départements d’Outre Mer enjoy the same political prerogatives as mainland départements (France counts 101 départements). Paris is one example, same as Rhône (Lyon), Bouche-du-Rhône (Marseille) and Gard (Montpellier). Guadeloupe, Martinique, Corsica and Guyana are also part of the list. The latest addition to the list is Mayotte which switched from being a Collectivité to a Département after a referendum in 2011.
Mayotte moves backward on the decolonization evolution
When looking at decolonization, it is expected that the normal route for territories who have been colonized by a foreign power would be to gain more independence rather than less. By demanding to become a Département d’Outre Mer, Mayotte thus demanded to be more integrated into the French political sphere and thus to abide to French (and Europeans) laws.
Mayotte was colonised and administered as part of the Comoros under the status of French overseas territory until 1976 when 3 of the 4 islands making the Comoros seized their independence. The island of Mayotte voted to remain a French dependency, and to increase their integration, which was finally consecrated by the referendum on March 31, 2011.
Mayotte’s many obstacles
The island is crippled with many disabilities which make its integration into the French system difficult. The local authorities had, until the change of status, little influence in terms of taxation, land ownership and regulations of all sorts. But becoming fully part of France means abiding to the rules in place on the continent. In order to support the development and the necessary changes in Mayotte, the French government has signed a pact with the local authorities. Called “Mayotte 2025″, this pact aims to boost the local economy. 17,6% of the Mahorais, the inhabitants of Mayotte, are unemployed, and the local GDP is more than 5 times lower than on the mainland. Insecurity is also one of the biggest concerns on the island.
Another key issue is linked to the partition from the Comoros. The latter still rejects the 1976 referendum which consecrated the Comoros’s independence without Mayotte as part of it. Historically, the Comoros is a 4-island archipelago. The fact that Mayotte decided to remain French during the decolonization process felt like an amputation for Moroni, which still contest the 1976 referendum. The Comorian President, Ikililou Dhoinine, has spoken four times since his election about the dispute between France and his country in front of the United Nations General Assembly. The representation of Mayotte athletes under the French flag during the Indian Ocean Island Games also caused a diplomatic crisis between Paris and Moroni.
It would, however, be wrong to assume that the situation is all positive for France. Accepting Mayotte as the 101th Département also came with a price, which is to adapt the island to the necessary standards. It also meant that the dispute with Comoros would only go stronger, especially as Mahorais are now benefitting from France’s welfare redistribution system, therefore increasing the attractiveness of Mayotte. This in turn has pushed many Comorians to cross the agitated waters that separate them from Mayotte to pursue a better life in France.
Stay tuned for next week’s article: “Indian Ocean: the other migrant crisis”