Tension rising in Mayotte

French-administered Mayotte in the Indian Ocean is in turmoil, reports NAI researcher Tor Sellström who recently visited the island. He is leading a long-term venture to strengthen NAI’s research about the African island states in the Indian Ocean. Questions of sovereignty and the influence of world powers in the region will be high on the research agenda.

The island of Mayotte, with around 200.000 inhabitants, became a French department in April 2011, the result of a “yes” vote in a referendum two years ago. In October strikes and demonstrations against rising prices on food and other commodities turned into a protest against the island’s new status. One demonstrator was killed and several injured when gendarmes and riot police hit back at the protestors.

The status of Mayotte is highly controversial. Critics consider it a French attempt to re-colonize the island. The French government recently went ahead with an application for the island to become an “outermost region” of the European Union.

The Chagos Archipelago is another example of tensions between local and foreign interests in the Indian Ocean.   Before Mauritius became independent from Britain the Chagos Archipelago was dismembered from the country. In a secret deal Chagos was leased to the United States by the United Kingdom. The US government built a naval base on Diego Garcia that has since been used in military operations starting with the Gulf War in 1990 – 1991. As a result of the secret deal the Chagos population was expelled and deported to Mauritius in the early 1970s. After becoming independent Mauritius has claimed sovereignty over the Chagos islands.   

Tor Sellström spent the month of October travelling across the African islands of the Indian Ocean making contacts with local universities and organizations. This was the first step in an effort to establish a high quality research program in collaboration between NAI and local actors.

– The African region of the Indian Ocean unfortunately is an illustration of the inequalities in world that we live in. In its research NAI would like to look deeper into the questions of sovereignty of the island states vis-ā-vis the powerful actors in the area. My observations on the latest trip further testify to the need for such research, says Tor Sellström.

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