The Comoros at the presidency of the African Union, a boon for France
A small one among the big ones. The Comoros and its less than one million inhabitants find themselves in control of the continent. Azali Assoumani became the new current president of the African Union (AU) on Saturday February 18. It is the first time that an island country with limited diplomatic weight obtains such a level of responsibility.
“We demonstrate through this position that African islands have their full place and legitimacy in the affairs of the continent”, declares Youssouf Assoumani, the Comorian ambassador to the AU. Until then, the rotating presidency was traditionally the preserve of “big” African nations. Although the Comoros embassy in Addis Ababa has received reinforcements in personnel, several diplomats are questioning the archipelago’s ability to carry out this mission.
Moroni even almost saw this opportunity evaporate at the last moment. Kenya – also a member of the East African bloc, vying for the 2023 presidency – has long presented a competing candidacy. Nairobi ended up withdrawing it after a series of negotiations and a discreet request from France. Paris has been active behind the scenes to curb the ambitions of William Ruto, just elected president of Kenya, and leave the field open to the archipelago.
“There is the possibility for us, the Comoros, to play a role of mediator, to pass on messages, in particular in the Sahel where Mali has problems with France”, a Comorian official
If the prospect of a Comorian presidency interests France, it is because the two capitals are close. Evidenced by the many visits of the Head of State Azali Assoumani to the Elysée – five times over the past three years.
“First France wanted to avoid dissension within the AU, confides a Comorian official. Then there is the possibility for us, the Comoros, to play a role of mediator. We can send messages, especially in the Sahel where Mali has problems with France. » In addition to this offer of mediation, Moroni also has the advantage, in the eyes of Paris, of being one of the rare African countries to have openly opposed the war waged by Russia in Ukraine. Most states on the continent have opted for non-alignment.
The two capitals are both partners and entangled in an untangleable crisis, bearing on the French island of Mayotte, which Moroni claims as the fourth component of the Comoros archipelago. “My government wishes to recall the Comorian character of the island of Mayotte, removed from the sovereignty of the Comoros more than forty years ago”said President Assoumani during his speech to the United Nations General Assembly last September.
An “incestuous relationship” with Paris
Unlike the other three islands of the archipelago, Mayotte voted to remain in the French bosom in 1976. But the United Nations, which considered this vote as invalid, have, in twenty non-binding resolutions, demanded the restitution of the island in the Comoros. In vain. Instead of honoring the UN request, France offers financial and political support to the archipelago.
The ambivalence of the Franco-Comorian relationship annoys Mahoran circles. “The relationship between France and the Comoros is incestuous and unhealthy, and it is at the expense of Mayotte”, protests Estelle Youssouffa, MP for Freedoms, Independents, Overseas and Territories of the first constituency of Mayotte. “The adjustment variable of the Comorian policy is Mayotte. It is a territorial claim project that uses a migratory lever to achieve its ends. »
” The island of perfumes » happens to be both the poorest French department and the one facing the most acute migration crisis. According to an INSEE study in 2019, almost half of the population of Mayotte is of foreign nationality, mainly Comorian. The Comoros do not hesitate to use this map to maintain a balance of power with Paris. In recent years, Moroni has sometimes refused to accept people deported to its borders, on the pretext that the Comorians are ” at their home ” in Mayotte.
In 2022, 25,380 Comorian migrants were deported to the border, with Moroni’s agreement. The Minister of Foreign Affairs, Catherine Colonna, assured the National Assembly in 2022 that “good relations with the Comoros (…) are necessary to fight against the migratory pressure on Mayotte ». “We must deepen diplomatic cooperation with the Union of the Comoros to limit irregular migration to Mayotte”also recommends a Senate report in 2021.
Also listen In Mayotte, the spiral of violence
Monday, January 23, many representatives of the island (deputies, members of the departmental council, association of mayors, unions and employers’ movement), published in THE World a text where, criticizing “the strategy of accommodation” of the Quai d’Orsay with the Comoros, they accused the French government of ” subsidize the Comoros and forget about Mayotte “.
Support from Sergei Lavrov
France is investing massively in the archipelago. The French Development Agency has planned to inject 150 million euros over three years. France also finances 40% of the budget (1.4 million euros) of the Indian Ocean Commission (IOC), a regional cooperation platform. To spare the Comoros, Paris is only involved in the COI for Reunion Island, excluding Mayotte.
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“The Quai d’Orsay could bite its fingers if Azali Assoumani used the AU platform against Mayotte”, warns Estelle Youssouffa. As such, the Comorian demands have recently obtained unexpected support. Sergei Lavrov, head of Russian diplomacy, has been engulfed in controversy. “France still retains control and sovereignty over the Comorian island of Mayotte, despite numerous UN General Assembly resolutions asking Paris to return it to the Comoros”, said the Russian Foreign Minister on February 3. By taking the helm of the AU, the island in the Indian Ocean finds itself thrown into the heart of the struggles for influence taking place on the continent.