French African Dependencies
Mayotte, the southernmost of four main islands in the Comoros Archipelago, with an area of 374 sq km (144 sq mi), lies in the Mozambique Channel about 480 km (300 mi) nw of Madagascar, at 12°49′ s and 45°17′ e. Mayotte is surrounded by a coral reef, which encloses the islets of M'Zambourou (Grand Terre) and Pamanzi. Beyond the island's coastal plain, a plateau reaches heights of 660 m (2,165 ft). The average daily high is 32°c (90°f); the average low is 17°c (63°f). Average annual precipitation is about 124 cm (49 in). The population was estimated at 193,633 in mid2005; about 97% of the population was Muslim. Vanilla, ylangylang (perfume essence), coffee, and copra are among the leading agricultural products. Mayotte has a newly-created lobster and shrimp industry.
The island of Mayotte was originally ceded to France by its Malagasy ruler in 1843. Together with the other Comoro Islands, which became French colonies in 1912, it was attached to the French overseas territory of Madagascar until 1946, when the islands were given separate status within the French Republic. Mayotte is the only island in the Comoro chain that, by popular vote, chose to retain its link with France instead of joining an independent Comoro Islands state. This choice, indicated in the referendum of 22 December 1974, was confirmed in a separate referendum for Mayotte, conducted on 8 February 1976, when 99.4% favored remaining within France. The French vetoed a UN Security Council resolution of 7 February 1976 declaring the referendum "aggression" against the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the Comoros, which continues to claim the island. On 11 April, in a further referendum, 97.5% of those casting valid ballots (80% of the ballots were blank or declared invalid) voted for abandonment of the status of overseas territory; the vote was interpreted as indicating that Mayotte wished to become a French overseas department. The UN General Assembly called for incorporation of Mayotte within the Comoros on 21 October. Special status as a French "territorial collectivity," allowing for Mayotte eventually to become either an overseas department or independent, was conferred by the French government on 1 December 1976 and, as of 2006, was still in effect. France maintains a naval base at Dzaoudzi. Elections were held in March 2004, with the next scheduled for 2007. The Mahoran Popular Movement (Mouvement Populaire Mahorais—MPM) favors French departmental status. Mayotte is represented by one deputy in the French national assembly; in the elections held 16 June 2002, the deputy represented the UMPRPR party. Mayotte also elects one member to the French senate; the elections are held every six years, with the next scheduled for September 2007.
Réunion, about 675 km (420 mi) e of Madagascar in the Indian Ocean, is the largest island in the Mascarene Archipelago. Réunion lies between 20°52′ and 21°22′ s and between 55°13′ and 55°50′ e, is 55 km (34 mi) long and 53 km (33 mi) wide, and has a coastline of 207 km (129 mi). It has an area of 2,510 sq km (969 sq mi).
Volcanic in origin, Réunion is mountainous, with 10 peaks—one of them, Piton de la Fournaise, still an active volcano—rising above 2,600 km (8,500 ft). The highest, Piton des Neiges, has an altitude of 3,069 m (10,066 ft). Rosewood, ebony, ironwood, and other tropical hardwoods are represented in the forests near the coast. Torrential rivers are numerous. The mean annual temperature is 23°c (73°f) at sea level, but the climate, generally tropical, varies with orientation and altitude. The east coast receives almost daily precipitation, totaling some 350 cm (140 in) annually, but on the north coast, annual rainfall is only about half that. Cyclones, which threaten from December to April, have devastated Réunion several times. The tropical cyclone monitoring center at Saint-Denis serves the entire Indian Ocean area. Sea fauna is rich and varied.
The population was estimated to be 776,948 in mid-2005. One-fourth of the islanders are of French origin, including those in the military; Réunion is the headquarters for French military forces in the Indian Ocean area. The vast majority of the population is Roman Catholic, with the remainder practicing Hinduism, Islam, or Buddhism.
There are about 2,724 km (1,703 mi) of roads, about 1,300 km (810 mi) of which were paved as of 2002. Only the sugar plantations have functioning rail service. Pointe des Galets is the chief port, Saint-Pierre the main fishing port. Air France maintains a service from Gillot-Sud Airfield, near Saint-Denis, to Madagascar, and there are regular steamer services.
Réunion had 300,000 main telephone lines and 489,800 mobile cellular telephones in service in 2002. As of 2001, there were 35 television stations, 2 AM, and 55 FM radio stations. There were 150,000 Internet users as of 2002. The newspapers Journal de l'Île de la Réunion, Quotidien de la Réunion, and Témoignages are published daily.
At the time of its discovery on 9 February 1513 by the Portuguese explorer Pedro de Mascarenhas, Réunion was uninhabited. A few French colonists came in the 16th century to Bourbon Island, as it was then known. It was settled by the French as a penal colony in the early 17th century, and in 1665, it became an outpost of the French East India Company. Coffee and, after 1800, sugarcane, helped make the colony relatively prosperous. French immigration continued from the 17th to the 19th century, supplemented by influxes of Negroes, Malays, Indochinese, Chinese, and Malabar Indians. The island received its present name in 1793. With the mid-19th century came a decline in Réunion's prosperity: slavery was abolished in 1848, and the opening of the Suez Canal in 1869 cost the island its importance as a stopover on the East Indies route.
An overseas department of France since 1946, and elevated to regional status in 1973, Réunion is represented in the French parliament by five deputies and three senators. Local administration is patterned on that of metropolitan France. There are a regional council of 45 elected members and a general council of 49. Elections were held in 2004; the next elections were scheduled for 2010.
The GDP was estimated at us$4.802 billion in 2005, or us$6,200 per capita. Sugarcane, vanilla, tobacco, tropical fruit, vegetables, and corn are the primary agricultural products. Sugarcane is an important crop, accounting for up to 85% of exports. In addition to sugar, rum and molasses, perfume essences, and lobster are among the exports. Manufactured goods, food, beverages, tobacco, machinery and transportation equipment, raw materials, and petroleum products are the main imports.
The monetary unit is the euro. Approximately three-quarters of exports and two-thirds of imports are traded with France. Exports totaled $214 million in 1997; imports totaled $2.5 billion (the last figures available).
The infant mortality rate was 7.78 deaths per 1,000 live births in 2005, up from 6.9 per 1,000 live births in 1999, but still an improvement over the rate 13 per 1,000 live births in the mid-1980s. The Université de la Réunion is in Saint-Denis.
In 1968, certain islands that had previously been administered from Madagascar, and later by the French Southern and Antarctic Territories, were placed under the direct administration of the commissioner residing in Saint-Denis. Europa Island (22°21′ s and 40°21′ e), in the Mozambique Channel about 340 km (210 mi) west of Madagascar, is heavily wooded and has a meteorological station and airstrip. Bassas da India (21°27′ s and 39°45′ e), in the Mozambique Channel, is a volcanic rock 2.4 m (8 ft) high, surrounded by reefs, which disappears under the waves at high tide. Juan de Nova (also known as Saint-Christophe, at 17°3′ s and 42°43′ e), also in the Mozambique Channel, about 145 km (90 mi) west of Madagascar, is exploited for its guano and other fertilizers. The Glorioso Islands (Îles Glorieuses), in the Indian Ocean 213 km (132 mi) northwest of Madagascar, at about 11°34′ s and 47°17′ e, consist of Grande Glorieuse, the Île du Lyse, and three tiny islets—the Roches Vertes; principal products are coconuts, corn, turtles, and guano. Tromelin Island (15°53′ s and 54°31′ e) has an important meteorological station.