Mayotte, currently an overseas collectivity of France, should become an official overseas département of France, after a vote in April 2009. Geographically, Mayotte is part of the Comoro Islands (north of Madagascar in the Indian Ocean), but it voted to remain a French territory in the 1970’s instead of joining the Union of Comoros which gained its independence from French rule at the same time.
Metropolitan France has 96 départements, including Corsica. There are 4 overseas départements, La Réunion, French Guiana, Guadeloupe and Martinique; as well as other overseas collectivities, such as French Polynesia, Saint-Barthélemy, Saint-Martin, Saint-Pierre et Miquelon and Wallis et Futuna. New Caledonia also technically belongs to France, though it will vote on independence in 2014.
Mayotte is also known as Mahoré, especially by those who do not agree with the French status of the island. Most inhabitants speak Shimaore, Shindzwani, and Kibushi as a first language, while French is the only official language. The island has no railroads, but 58 miles of highways and one airport. The currency is the euro and the population is 186,000.
The controversy surrounding the French control of Mayotte is still a problem today. Many Comorians believe Mayotte should belong to the Union of Comoros. Even one week ago, the president of the Comorian assemblée , Saïd Dhoifir Bounou, refused to be subjected to the contrôles of the French border police because he claimed that Mayotte belonged to the Comoros and that France had no legal right to question him in his own country.
Another problem that will need to be addressed is illegal immigration of Comorians to Mayotte. A third of the population of Mayotte is said to be Comorian, most of whom are illegal. Many come from the island of Anjouan to have children in Mayotte, hoping that they will gain French citizenship someday. Mahorans are 10 times richer than Comorians, and this gap will only get wider when Mahorans are able to benefit from French prestations sociales, such as the RMI. Even though France plans to introduce short-stay visas for Comorians to go to Mayotte in the hopes of discouraging illegal immigration, the département status of Mayotte may actually attract more immigrants.
Until recently, Mahorans did not have last names. They were forced to choose one in order to have an état civil and receive birth and marriage certificates. Yet half the population today still does not have an état civil, which is required for Mahorans to become French citizens.
Obviously, there are many obstacles to overcome in the coming years, but normalement, Mayotte will become the 101st département of France – the first to be added since 1946.