afrol News, 3 March - Despite strong protests from the government of Comoros, the island of Mayotte has officially become the 101st department of France; or an integral part of the French territory.
Mayotte is a part of the Comoran archipelago in the Indian Ocean, with Comoran language and culture being the dominant on the island. But as Comoros gained independence from France in 1996, the population of Mayotte voted in favour of staying a French colony.
Since then, Comoros has slipped from one political crisis to another, also plagued by a weak economic development. The ongoing stream of "illegal migrants" risking their lives crossing the seas from Comoros to Mayotte illustrates the different developments. This has convinced the population of Mayotte that the choice of staying French was right.
A referendum in 2008 in Mayotte gave citizens the choice of closer or looser ties with the French republic. A large majority, over 95 percent, in the "overseas territory" - as it then was called - voted in favour of becoming an integrated part of France.
Consequently, on 1 March, Mayotte was made the 101st department of France; in line with other departments in mainland France.
In neighbouring Comoros, the step is highly controversial. The government of Comoros since independence has claimed that Mayotte is part of the Comoran territory, and it is given right by the African Union and partially by the UN.
In a strong-worded statement, outgoing Comoran President Abdallah Sambi spoke of the "French occupation of Mayotte," announcing that Comoros would take legal steps to prove the island was part of its territory. Government would call for international arbitration or an international court decision to seek the return of its territory, he announced.
The Mahorais - inhabitants of Mayotte - however clearly do not want any interference from their Comoran neighbours. The 186,500 islanders rather focus on getting the full rights of their French citizenship, including social services and the right to reach an equal level of economic development as mainland France.
The larger island of Réunion, located close to Mauritius, still remains an "overseas department", with a somewhat higher degree of autonomy but also more responsibilities for its own economic and social policies. Réunion, with around 800,000 inhabitants, is culturally much closer to France than Mayotte, due to a large French settler population.
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