African Islands Say 'Oui' to France: The Population of the Tiny Archipelago of Mayotte Has Chosen to Bid a Political 'Adieu' to the Comoros and a Rousing 'Bonjour' to France in a Referendum That Will Wed Them Forever to la Republique. Report by Tom Nevin
Nevin, Tom, African Business
Voters on Mayotte, a tiny island group in the Indian Ocean, have opted to become a fully fledged part of France. Nearly 96% of the poll wants to turn Mayotte into a departement of France even though that means the end of local traditions such as polygamy and Islamic courts. The change of status will require the island to align itself with French law.
Mayotte, 400km east of Mozambique and 300km west of Madagascar, is in the Comoros archipelago, but voted against independence in referendums in 1974 and 1976.
Instead it maintained a 'collectivity' association with Paris, with a status allowing legal differences from the mainland. This will now be upgraded to a departement.
The islands have a population of around 186,000 people, of whom 95% are Sunni Muslims. Many do not speak French. At least a third of the population are illegal migrants who abandoned their homes on the islands of the independent Comoran state to find a better life on Mayotte.
"We may be black, poor and Muslim, but we have been French longer than Nice," says Abdou-latifou Aly, a Mayotte legislator.
The French government expressed satisfaction with the referendum's result.
"This will reinforce the place of Mayotte in the republic, reaffirming our founding values, particularly equality between men and women, the same justice for all, and the place of the French language," said Interior Minister Michele Alliot-Marie.
President Nicolas Sarkozy had promised a referendum during his 2007 election campaign and now, after the sweeping "oui" vote, the island will become France's 101st departement in 2011. …