Decolonization, society

Mayotte, the colonial paradox

Building on two posts that I have published here, namely “Madagascar: aborted development” and “Upside Down Decolonization and Remnants of Empire“, I bring to you today an article about Mayotte.

Map of Mayotte in the Indian Ocean

Mayotte in the Indian Ocean

The island is located North of Madagascar, and is a French Overseas Territory. The French far-flung possessions are divided into two (general) categories: the Collectivités d’Outre Mer (COM) and the Départements d’Outre Mer. The main difference between those two categories are in terms of political representation each territory has in the metropole.

France possesses 5 COMs: Saint-Pierre et Miquelon off the Canadian coast, Saint Martin and Saint Barthelemy in the Caribbean, and Wallis and Futuna and French Polynesia in the Pacific. To that must be added New Caledonia which has its own status of Collectivité sui generis. The most prominent feature of these territories is that France is mainly responsible for ensuring basic responsibilities such as defense, police, justice and finances for those territories. The local governments manage the rest of the political prerogatives.

In opposition, the Départements d’Outre Mer enjoy the same political prerogatives as mainland départements (France counts 101 départements). Paris is one example, same as Rhône (Lyon), Bouche-du-Rhône (Marseille) and Gard (Montpellier). Guadeloupe, Martinique, Corsica and Guyana are also part of the list. The latest addition to the list is Mayotte which switched from being a Collectivité to a Département after a referendum in 2011.

Mayotte moves backward on the decolonization evolution 

When looking at decolonization, it is expected that the normal route for territories who have been colonized by a foreign power would be to gain more independence rather than less. By demanding to become a Département d’Outre Mer, Mayotte thus demanded to be more integrated into the French political sphere and thus to abide to French (and Europeans) laws.

Watch this video about Mayotte - France 24

Click on the picture to watch this video about Mayotte – France 24

Mayotte was colonised and administered as part of the Comoros under the status of French overseas territory until 1976 when 3 of the 4 islands making the Comoros seized their independence. The island of Mayotte voted to remain a French dependency, and to increase their integration, which was finally consecrated by the referendum on March 31, 2011.

Mayotte’s many obstacles 

The island is crippled with many disabilities which make its integration into the French system difficult. The local authorities had, until the change of status, little influence in terms of taxation, land ownership and regulations of all sorts. But becoming fully part of France means abiding to the rules in place on the continent. In order to support the development and the necessary changes in Mayotte, the French government has signed a pact with the local authorities. Called “Mayotte 2025″, this pact aims to boost the local economy. 17,6% of the Mahorais, the inhabitants of Mayotte, are unemployed, and the local GDP is more than 5 times lower than on the mainland. Insecurity is also one of the biggest concerns on the island.

Another key issue is linked to the partition from the Comoros. The latter still rejects the 1976 referendum which consecrated the Comoros’s independence without Mayotte as part of it. Historically, the Comoros is a 4-island archipelago. The fact that Mayotte decided to remain French during the decolonization process felt like an amputation for Moroni, which still contest the 1976 referendum. The Comorian President, Ikililou Dhoinine, has spoken four times since his election about the dispute between France and his country in front of the United Nations General Assembly. The representation of Mayotte athletes under the French flag during the Indian Ocean Island Games also caused a diplomatic crisis between Paris and Moroni.

Flag of Mayotte

Flag of Mayotte

It would, however, be wrong to assume that the situation is all positive for France. Accepting Mayotte as the 101th Département also came with a price, which is to adapt the island to the necessary standards. It also meant that the dispute with Comoros would only go stronger, especially as Mahorais are now benefitting from France’s welfare redistribution system, therefore increasing the attractiveness of Mayotte. This in turn has pushed many Comorians to cross the agitated waters that separate them from Mayotte to pursue a better life in France.

Stay tuned for next week’s article: “Indian Ocean: the other migrant crisis” 



Pay the Interns

Not so un-topical, this topic is dear to me because it affects me directly. It was impossible for me not to talk about it.

The debate on unpaid internships was brought back to the daylight by an intern at the UN who slept in a tent. Orchestrated or not, his stunt brought this problem back to the headlines.

As I recently graduated from university, and as internships are often the first step before getting a ‘real’ job, unpaid internships affect me. As a 24-year-old graduate, I choose to believe that I am worth something. That my time, energy and knowledge are worth paying my bills. That the five years I have spent on university benches or behind a desk at internships should now be paying off. I am not asking for much, just a minimum to sustain myself.

You will find many articles about why the UN does not pay its interns. They will tell you that the organization and specialized organs generally lack of funding, that the US owes them money, that it is the result of a resolution created when the number of interns exponentially grew and the finances available did not follow this trend. Those are excuses, and they are sending the wrong message. As an organization which promotes human rights and equal opportunities for all, their internship system is going the opposite direction.

By negating salary to their interns, companies and institutions create a culture of exploitation, making it acceptable to exploit others and their knowledge to meet their own goals. Beyond being ethically wrong, it also creates a vicious circle where former interns will hire unpaid interns themselves for the sole reason that they had to do it and survived. This bad habit is thus bound to linger.

Unpaid internships maintain social disparities. Those who are able to sustain themselves during a multiple month internship in some of the most expensive cities in the world (read NYC and Geneva) represent a small margin of the population. Those who either do not have the necessary resources or do not wish to take a loan must thus pass up this opportunity. Remember that the candidates who have the most money are not necessarily those with the most competencies.

Let’s move past this binary vision of the world, between the rich and the poor, those who have families who can afford to support them while they intern at the UN or any other institution, and those whose family cannot. Some young people simply do not want to rely on anybody but themselves. Consider that entering the job market is also an opportunity for young people to finally seize their autonomy, and rely on themselves to make a living. This is my case. My parents supported me financially throughout my studies. Studying was comfortable, I knew I had a safety net which would catch me no matter what. I was doing my job – studying- and, as long as I was performing, I had money. Now that I have left university and that my parents and I agreed that I should be independent financially (which I was very much looking forward to so I would have to justify my expenses to anyone), and that I am working and performing, I do not understand why I have to dig into my savings for it. I have a degree, I have various experiences, skills, knowledge and motivation and yet little money on my bank account.

What strikes me the most is some of the justifications that are invoked to justify why interns are not paid – No funds available – There are, however, resources to offer promotions to employees, to add another zero at the end of the big boss’s paycheck. But there is nothing for those at the end of the food chain, even though interns have a role to play in the results of the firm/institution they work for. Even if an intern is (sadly) only responsible for bringing coffee to his/her manager (which is not acceptable unless the intern in question is a barista), he/she is still contributes as, without that coffee, the manager would probably not have been able to attain the same results. Interns are worth investing in. They have brains ready to absorb new knowledge, the eagerness to learn, and the motivation to improve themselves. Use those elements and reward them.

Invest in the youth, they (we) are the future.

Tout travail mérite salaire.

Interns are human.

Pay the interns.


P.s. Sign the petition for interns to be paid here