Mayotte: A Modern-day Colonial Border

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TRANSLATION FROM FRENCH BY CHANELLE ADAMS

The Mozambique Channel is the site of one of the deadliest borders. Separating French-occupied Mayotte from the rest of the Comoros archipelago, it militarized this part of the sea making it a dangerous area to cross for Comorians, and turning those who reach Mayotte into undocumented people in their own country. We asked Maëva Amir to describe the ways through which these colonial structures transform locals into foreigners and settlers into locals.

Mayotte Funambulist 2
Bringing back water home, Kaweni neighborhood (2015). / Photo by Daniel Gros.

The four islands of Maore (Mayotte), Ndzouani (Anjouan), Ngazidja (Grand Comoros), and Moili (Mohéli) make up the archipelago in southern Africa between Mozambique and Madagascar collectively called the Comoros. An official border divides the archipelago between Mayotte and the three others. In Mayotte, you are technically in France, but in Anjouan, only seventy kilometers away, you are on Islamic Federal Republic of the Comoros soil. Mayotte is part of France’s five so-called “overseas departments” over which France continues to exercise rule. These “confetti of the French empire” are still treated as modern-day colonies.

Historically, the Comoros archipelago has been a space of open exchange and circulation, characterized by its inhabitants’ many comings and goings, many of whom share similar cultures, languages and the same religion of Islam. France fractured this existing balance: first, by making the Comoros a French colony in the 19th century, and then by tearing the island of Mayotte away from the rest of the archipelago during Comorian independence in 1975, when a referendum skilfully orchestrated by the metropolis and local elites brought about the dislocation of the archipelago and the creation of a “Mahoran identity” distinct from Comorian identity.