'Just like colonial times': life under French rule on the isles of Mayotte

By Olivia Müller

Mayotte, which lies in the Indian Ocean between Madagascar and the East African coast, only became a full-fledged French département (or county) in 2011. The new status means it is now governed by the rules and practices of metropolitan France, including the compulsory and exclusive use of French in schools in a two-island nation where all local people speak regional languages as their mother tongue. Mayotte is also having to endure the uneasy transition from custom and tradition-based law to French common law. Meanwhile the high pay of civil servants posted from France is blamed for the rising cost of living in a society that is blighted by poverty, and where “condescending” expatriates and the middle classes live in protected areas removed from the grim reality of life for most ordinary people. “Some Whites rule here like in colonial times,” says one state employee. Olivia Müller reports on Mayotte's struggle to reconcile its very real needs with its new status as an integral part of France.

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Situated in the Mozambique Channel in the Indian Ocean, and lodged between the east coast of Africa and the north-west of Madagascar, Mayotte shares the same culture, language, religion and colonial past as the rest of the Comoros archipelago. Yet following a referendum the people of Mayotte chose to become France's newest overseas département or county in 2011, meaning that politically speaking it is in effect part of France and, by extension, the European Union. As such it has its own unique destiny.