Mayotte — a tiny, overpopulated island (376 square kilometers, 186,452 inhabitants) in the Indian Ocean — is rioting.
The youth are fighting a street war against the gendarmes. Most employees are striking, many shops have been looted. Some Caucasian residents have been molested. Violence started only one month ago, on September 21, but conditions have been steadily deteriorating since April 1, when the island — hitherto a French overseas dependency — became the 101st French county (département).
A classic case of a small nation resisting incorporation into a larger one? Actually, just the opposite: county status was approved by 95.2% of Mayotte inhabitants (Mahorais) in a 2009 referendum. And they had been begging for it for over thirty-five years.
Formerly part of the French Comoros archipelago, Mayotte seceded upon Comoros’ ascension to independence in 1974 in order to stay French. Ever since then, Mayotte has demanded full-fledged citizenship. The French were lukewarm, to say the least — the Mahorais may love France, but they can hardly be described as a lost Gallic tribe. Most don’t speak French, but Shimaore (a dialect of Swahili) and Shibushi (a dialect of Malagasy). They are devout Muslims, and practice polygamy.
The driving force beyond Mayotte’s insistance on being given county status was welfare.