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” 


society, The political use of...

The political use of public shaming

I decided that I would listen to a Ted Talk every morning while having breakfast. The point is to keep my brain going from the beginning of the day, but not necessarily on political or topical subjects. Every week, I will pick the one that made me reflect the most. I will post it here, and share my views with you.

We all know who Monica Lewinsky is. She was “the other woman”, the young lady Bill Clinton had an affair with in 1997 while being President of the United States. After years of hiding, Monica Lewinsky finally broke her silence and shared her vision of the scandal, how she regretted what happened, and how it had been a mistake. She rightly points to the fact that everybody makes mistakes in their early twenties; but her mistakes had far greater consequences than the average person’s. Lewinsky dwells on the changes that internet brought. The news of her affair with Clinton was everywhere, every time and for everybody who looked for the information. It triggered a scandal with unprecedented dimensions. The scandal had life-threatening consequences for her. The scandal was not just ethical – it was political. Lewinsky’s humiliation was just the byproduct of a political confrontation between Clinton an his opponents.

Clinton must be taken down 

Clinton was elected President of the United States in 1992, preventing George Bush from a second mandate at the White House (Clinton’s campaign focused on economy while Bush’s hinged on foreign affairs). The new democrat president is not accepted by a large portion of the most conservative politicians, who criticized Clinton for being too lax, for lacking of leadership and experience, and for including his wife in the government’s affairs. Refusing to accept Clinton, his detractors monitors his every move hoping to dig out some dirt which could ruin the president’s integrity and standing. Several stories were brought to the news, such as the Whitewater affair, Troopergate, Filegate or Travelgate, all started by the American Spectator, the same newspaper which launched the anti-Clinton campaign during the elections. The American people did not pay much attention to those affairs, too preoccupied by the stagnation of the national economy.

Monica Lewinsky’s affair with the president, while not being related to the affair that was being investigated at the time, was brought up and added to the list of accusations against Bill Clinton. The conversations the young woman had on the phone with Linda Tripp, Lewinsky’s confident at the Pentagon, were tipped off to the prosecutor in charge of investigating Clinton’s past. Clinton was summoned to the Court where he deliberatly lied about his affair with Monica Lewinsky. This triggered a political spiral against the president, which went as far as an impeachment procedure against Clinton.

This case shows how adultery was used and distorted by Clinton’s political opponents, for political reasons. This also shows how Clinton’s political decisions as President of the United Nations did not matter in this story. His detractors tried to get him humiliated for his character because they did not support his political agenda. This is not democracy, and this is not justice. Lewinsky got caught in between conflicting political interests disguised as moralism. Clinton’s opponent did not play fair or by the rules.

Judging a president by his personal life

There are many examples of presidents, prime ministers or politicians whose personal lives were used to temper with their careers. Take France: we are probably the champions when it comes to being apologetic with our politicians’ personal faux pas. François Mitterand had a double life which was revealed after his death. Although morally wrong from a marital point of view but also because both wives and children were supported by public finances, did it make Mitterand less of a president? I am not saying that his politics were right. I am saying that what he did in his private life and what he did as the French President were two separate things that did not affect me the same way.

A more recent example: François Hollande was witnessed sneaking out of l’Elysée to go visit his mistress at the time. Same for Mitterand, this shows that he is someone I would not be willing to be friends with, no more no less.

Collage of cover pages of newspapers about scandal of Dominique Strauss Kahn

Innocent until proven guilty? Will ‘DSK’ survive the sex scandal? AFP PHOTO / THOMAS COEX

The most extreme example of distorting a politician’s personal life is that of Dominique Strauss-Kahn. Former president of the IMF, Strauss-Kahn is – or was – also a French politician who was rumored to have been preparing his candidacy for the French presidential elections  of 2013. He was accused of “aggravated-pimping”, sexual harassment and other terms of the sort, and finally acquitted. I am one of those who believe that this was a conspiracy, just like in Clinton’s case(You can read more about the scandals here). Because of the scandals, Strauss-Kahn was fired from the IMF and put to the sideline in France, thus annihilated (or at least greatly postponing) his possible candidacy for the presidential elections.

Find me cynical 

Now, find me cynical, but I believe every single politician has something to hide. We would like for them to resemble the general public, to be just like us, or at least reflect what we would like ourselves to be like. But we are not perfect, we also have things that we do not want to be made public. Because they have a public life, politicians’ private lives are more likely to get exposed. But think that we hope to be judged on our skills and capacities when we are at work. Let’s judge politicians on the same ground, in their case for their abilities to govern.

Do not get me wrong: adultery, sexual harassment, and so forth, are terrible things and they should be addressed. They should not, however, be used as political daggers to get rid of an opponent. Those defects should be exposed before they become liabilities for a nation. Everybody knew Clinton had had several affairs before going to the White House, but nobody did anything about it and it did not prevent him from becoming the president of the US.

The French (and others) political scene is sexist, which is only a reflection of our society. Change this approach and you will change the politicians. As long as this has not changed, I will continue judging my political leaders based on their capacities to govern, and not on what they do with their personal lives.

In the name of transparency, I would ideally like my politicians to be angels. But none of them are. Someone still has to run our countries. Does that make me cynical?


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