Mayotte to decide on overseas department status
SUNDAY 29 MARCH 2009
The citizens of Mayotte are voting Sunday in a referendum on whether to become a French overseas department. Currently, the French dependency holds the hazy status of "collectivité d’outre-mer" (overseas collectivity). If the "Yes" vote obtains a majority, as expected, Mayotte would be on its way to becoming France's fifth overseas department (out of 101 French departments in total) and the first with a 95% Muslim population.
Becoming an integral part of France will mean a few changes for the average Mahorais as the island brings its judicial, economic and social practices into line with French law. Traditional local court systems – which blend principles from the Koran with African and Malagasy customs – would give way to a justice system based on the French model. The island today has a traditional Islamic justice system with "qadis" or religious scholars who act as judges. The practice of polygamy would be banned, equal rights for women would be guaranteed and the legal age for women to marry raised from 15 to 18 years. (Blasphemy! So does this mean the island will vote no?)
France’s social services system would not, however, be extended to Mayotte anytime soon. The French government foresees only a gradual extension of benefits over 20 years before Mayotte would be brought into line with metropolitan France. Even if Mayotte votes to change its status, it would not become a veritable overseas department until 2011.
The islanders do stand to gain economically from the change of status, as they would eventually become eligible for social benefits as well as EU funds. Paris has also promised an economic development fund to boost the island's infrastructure.
However, islanders would see their tax bills increase on an island where unemployment runs at more than 25 percent.