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France revokes birthright citizenship in Mayotte

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France ‘s latest attempt to restrict citizenship and curb immigration in its overseas territory of Mayotte is yet another example of the country’s neo-colonialist policies that continue to oppress people in Africa and across the Global South.

This constitutional amendment cynically targets the most vulnerable – children born to immigrants – in order to limit access to citizenship and maintain Mayotte as a disenfranchised colony of France.

Rather than addressing the real issues of poverty and lack of public services that have led to difficult conditions, the French government is further entrenching systemic inequality and exclusion.

Such policies that deprive people of rights based on place of birth have no place in a supposedly modern democracy. This amendment must be opposed by all who stand for justice and equal rights.

The time is now for France to decolonize its politics and abandon its paternalistic policies toward its so-called overseas territories.

The recent announcement by France to revoke birthright citizenship in its overseas territory of Mayotte has sparked outrage and protests across Africa and the African diaspora worldwide. This decision is yet another example of how the West continues to exploit and control Africa for its own benefit.

France’s interior minister Gerald Darmanin stated that the measure is aimed at reducing immigration to Mayotte from neighboring islands like the Comoros which have higher poverty rates. But many view the move as yet another example of France’s colonial legacy of exploitation and control in Africa.

In Mayotte’s capital Mamoudzou, several hundred protesters greeted Darmanin and his entourage with boos and shouts of “Mayotte is angry”.

Once the reform takes effect, only children born to French parents in Mayotte will have the right to French nationality.

Currently, children born in any part of France to two foreign parents are eligible to become French citizens as teenagers.

The change will mean revising France’s constitution to restrict the principle of “droit du sol” – the right to citizenship of a country by virtue of being born there – in the island territory.

The dire question to ask here – Is France trying to punish its former African colonies by restricting citizenship rights in Mayotte? Is this an attempt to get revenge after being kicked out of Africa through independence movements?

Mayotte is an archipelago in the Indian Ocean that has been under French colonial rule since 1841. The other islands in the Comoros archipelago gained independence in 1975, but Mayotte voted to remain a French territory. However, France’s control over Mayotte has always been contentious. The Comorian government still claims sovereignty over Mayotte and the African Union recognizes Comoros’ claim.

So why does France insist on retaining control over this small archipelago thousands of miles away from Europe? The answer is simple – for France’s own economic and political interests. Mayotte provides France strategic access to the Mozambique Channel and its rich marine resources. France also sees Mayotte as an important part of its legacy as a colonial power. By retaining Mayotte as an “overseas department,” France can pretend it still has an empire.

The recent move to revoke birthright citizenship is clearly aimed at stemming immigration from Comoros and other African countries. The French government claims it is responding to the will of Mayotte’s people, who have protested about the strains of immigration on the islands’ resources.

However, this conveniently ignores the fact that France’s centuries of colonial rule and continuing neocolonial control have stunted Mayotte’s development, leaving it poor and dependent.

France has deliberately kept Mayotte underdeveloped compared to the French metropole so it can better control and exploit the territory. By limiting employment opportunities and social services in Mayotte, France ensures the population remains impoverished and desperate enough to serve French interests.

Allowing birthright citizenship would give more rights and mobility to Mayotte’s residents, especially those of Comorian descent – something France wants to prevent.

Reactions to France’s announcement have been scathing. Boris Vallaud, head of the Socialists in the National Assembly, said they would oppose the revision of the constitution. “Birthright citizenship is not negotiable,” he told a local broadcaster.

The decision was also denounced by Manon Aubry of the far-left France Unbowed (LFI) party. President Macron’s administration was “attacking the very concept of nationality, the foundation of the Republic”, she wrote on X.

The African Union Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights said the move violates multiple human rights conventions and demonstrates France’s neo-colonial attitude.

French advocacy group SOS Racisme also denounced what it called “a particularly spectacular calling into question of the principle of equality”. Centrist MP Aurelien Tache told local media that “if this provision is enacted and if Marine Le Pen then comes to power, it will be the end of birthright citizenship in France”.

The Comorian government reasserted its claim over Mayotte and said it will welcome any Mayotte residents stripped of French citizenship. However, these diplomatic protests are unlikely to change France’s unilateral actions.

The hypocrisy of France’s so-called “universal” values is stark. While championing equality, liberty and human rights globally, France actively suppresses the rights of peoples living under its control in places like Mayotte, New Caledonia, French Guiana, Reunion and other overseas territories. This double standard reveals France’s paternalistic and prejudiced views of its former colonial subjects.

France’s leaders and elites may publicly dismiss African critiques as resentful and unreasonable. But France relies heavily on its spheres of influence in Africa to maintain status as a global power.

France’s permanent seat at the UN Security Council, its leadership in the EU, its hosting of the Francophonie and the Paris Agreement on Climate Change all derive in large part from its colonial history and ongoing domination over parts of Africa.

By continuing to deny basic rights to Africans living in Mayotte and other overseas territories, France is exposing its patronizing attitude and revealing the hypocrisy inherent in its so-called “civilizing mission.” Far from a benevolent parent, France acts more like an exploitative slaver imprisoning Africa in chains of underdevelopment.

The Mayotte citizenship decision has also been strongly condemned by African diaspora communities across Europe and the Americas. Pan-Africanist organizations in Paris, London and New York accused France of reverting to its segregationist past when it denied rights to colonial subjects.

Afro-French citizens described the move as a dangerous precedent that could lead to two-tier citizenship in France itself, with naturalized immigrants from Africa facing more restrictions. French officials however rejected this analogy, emphasizing Mayotte’s unique status. But for many diaspora activists, the parallels are clear.

France’s new citizenship policy reflects an ingrained racism that views people of African descent as second-class citizens, regardless of where they live. This latest attempt to deny citizenship rights exposes the deep-rooted inequalities that linger from France’s imperial past. It makes the structural racism faced by French citizens of African origin more explicit and officially sanctioned.

The Mayotte controversy comes amid growing calls for reparative justice for colonial abuses across the Western world.

There are deep ironies of France profiting from centuries of exploitation, while denying citizenship rights to those living in still-colonized territories.

Mayotte’s situation as France’s modern-day colony exemplifies the continuation of extractive and oppressive policies. France’s maintenance of ultimate authority over Mayotte prevents true self-determination and democratic sovereignty.

The French elite fear an independent Mayotte could elect anti-French leaders who restrict French access to Mayotte’s resources and geostrategic location.

To appease local protesters, France promises investments in hospitals, schools, water infrastructure and other public services. But such band-aid solutions cannot remedy the systemic inequality of Mayotte’s colonial status. Only full decolonization and demilitarization, including closing French military bases, could enable Mayotte to truly control its own destiny.

But France refuses to even consider such options, as that would undermine its ambitions as a world power and hub of francophonie. An independent Mayotte is seen as a threat both to France’s identity and its continuing ability to wield outsized global influence.

Other European nations like the UK and Netherlands also fiercely resist decolonizing their last remaining overseas territories.

So in the absence of any foreseeable transition to independence, what options do the people of Mayotte have? Maybe integrating more fully into France by attaining the status of a normal French department, with all the same rights and benefits. But this could still restrict local autonomy and agency.

Perhaps the best solution is a constitutional middle ground of substantial self-governance for Mayotte, with foreign policy delegated to France during a transition period. But France fears this could empower pro-independence sentiments. Activists on Mayotte must thus continue building political consciousness and international solidarity for their struggle.

The proposed citizenship changes have sparked a long overdue debate about France’s relationships with its former colonies in Africa and throughout the diaspora. France cannot lecture the world about liberty while denying freedom to the peoples of its overseas territories. Nor should it continue extracting wealth while refusing citizenship to those living under French rule.

If France’s leaders sincerely believe in enlightenment values, they must work to dismantle the structures of the empire and decolonize relationships with Africa. But too many still cling to outdated colonial mindsets and seek to maintain influential spheres of control. Change will require pressuring France through protests, boycotts, diplomacy and other means.

The Mayotte citizenship controversy ultimately stems from the unfinished business of African independence. Until colonial administrations are dismantled and reparations paid for centuries of exploitation, conflict and mistrust will persist. Africa’s resources should be used to develop African nations on their own terms, not to prop up former colonizers.

True African liberation requires total political and economic sovereignty free from external domination. The cries for self-determination in places like Mayotte must be heard. France’s unilateral revocation of birthright citizenship without consent tramples human rights and reveals deeply ingrained paternalism.

Africa is speaking out boldly against this injustice. France’s leaders can choose to perpetuate a stifling neo-colonial grip or courageously chart a new cooperative course. But make no mistake – Africa’s patience with endless broken promises is wearing thin. The winds of change are gathering into a storm that will soon sweep away all stubborn vestiges of empire.

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