afrol News, 31 March - One year ago, 95 percent of inhabitants of the Comoran island of Mayotte voted "yes" to become a French department by 2011, despite protests from Comoros and the African Union (AU). At the anniversary, Comorans again call for "defending the territorial integrity of Comoros" against "French colonialism".
The Collective of Associations of the Comoran Diaspora used the anniversary to protest the "illegal departmentalisation of the island," which is recognised as belonging to Comoros by the AU. But Mayotte islanders - or Mahorans - already in referendums in 1974 and 1976 rejected to join other Comoran islands into independence, staying a French colony.
In yet another referendum last year, 95.22 percent of Mahorans voted in favour of an even stronger attachment to France, becoming an overseas department of France by 2011. The stronger integration into France would assure large flows of public funds to the island, which already enjoys far higher living standards than other Comoran islands.
To the Comoros, the loss of Mayotte is seen as a major setback and humiliation. Mayotte already at independence was the most economically developed Comoran island and had the biggest potentials for a tourism industry that has made other Indian Ocean island states wealthy.
But the worst effect of the French attachment of Mayotte is the closure of migration streams between the archipelago's four islands. An estimated third of Mayotte's population origins from other Comoran islands, but as Mayotte is part of France and the European Union, these are registered as "illegal immigrants".
Comorans seeking a brighter future on Mayotte thus have to enter the island illegally. Hundreds are dying in night attempts to reach Mayotte in fragile "kwassa-kwassa" ships. Many are caught by French immigration and sent back to Comoros. French President Nicolas Sarkozy during a recent visit on Mayotte announced he would "strengthen the fight against illegal immigration."
The government of Comoros does not accept this situation. In a recent interview, President Ahmed Abdallah Sambi said the French were "using force, occupying Mayotte, but that does not mean Mayotte does not form part of Comoros." This had also been confirmed by the AU, the UN and the Arab League, President Sambi added, calling this "a great victory for the Comoran diplomacy."
While President Sambi counts on further diplomatic efforts to counter French claims on Mayotte, nationalist organisations demand a more offensive strategy. But calling on "Mahoran brothers" to "rise up against French imperialism" has so far produced no effect. The "struggle of the Comoran people to safeguard territorial integrity" is only fought in a few protest marches and diplomatically in UN and AU forums.
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