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March 20, 2010


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1) Perceived neglect by France. I have no idea how well founded this was. However, given the way they blundered into 20+ years of hassle on the Mayotte issue -- through the 1970s and '80s, the UN General Assembly and the OAU issued condemnations of the French "occupation" of Mayotte with monotonous regularity -- it seems plausible that they had a political tin ear and/or weren't being as generous as the Comorans would have liked.

2) "Winds of change"; by the early 1970s everyone in the neighborhood was either independent or fighting for it (Mozambique). The negative aspects of independence were not yet obvious, or at least not in that region; if France had cared to hold on for another 10 or 12 years, a lot of Comoran leaders might have had second thoughts. But 1970-75 was pretty much the high water mark for decolonization.

3) Outflanked on the left: there was a small but ferocious pro-independence movement that was willing to resort to violence. The moderate parties reluctantly took a moderate pro-independence stance, hoping to be able to freeze out the crazies and negotiate a favorable deal with France. This did not work out, mostly because of the whole Mayotte thing, which seems to have poisoned pretty much everything -- relations with France, internal politics, you name it -- for a generation. But the original plan seems to have been something like the "Compact of Free Association" deal that the independent bits of the TTPI would negotiate with the US just a few years later.

4) Tanzania. It's just a few miles away, it's a major trade partner, and there's a lot of coming and going. Even today, Tanzania views the Comoros with a slightly possessive air; insofar as Tanzania can claim a sphere of influence, they're firmly in it.

I say "even today" because in the 1960s it was much much more so. Nyerere was very strongly pro-independence -- he sheltered and supported the independence activists for over a decade. In fact, the formal movement for independence started, not in the Comoros proper, but among Comoran expats in Tanzania.

It's not clear what Nyerere was thinking beyond reflex anti-colonialism, but he was pretty serious about it. And it put moderate Comoran politicians in a bind -- they couldn't simply stomp on the independence activists, because they'd just regroup on the mainland. France showed no interest in a confrontation with a popular Anglophone African leader who was not otherwise hostile to French interests.

Note that the OAU force that invaded Anjouan in 2008 had a large Tanzanian contingent, and used Dar es Salaam as its logistical base. And the invasion happened while Tanzania's President Kikwete just happened to be head of the OAU. So, Tanzania is still very much part of this story.

Doug M.

Two other points.

One, Mayotte has prospered under French rule. Its GDP is currently about double that of the rest of the Comoros. I have the impression that the French have tried to govern Mayotte well, and have put money and attention into development, in part because of the long controversy and international criticism. Also, being an overseas department of a First World nation is just usually a better deal; see, e.g. American Samoa vs. Samoa.

Two, you ask why Comorans chose independence when it's "a decision a good chunk of the nation's people seem to regret". I'm not so sure of that. I really have no idea how much real sentiment exists for reunification on Anjouan, and how much was bullshitting by Mohamed Bacar in the hope of getting French support. Keep in mind that France has intervened repeatedly in the Comoros. A very rough analogy might be a secessionist movement in 1980s Central America announcing that it was fiercely anti-Communist; it would get, at a minimum, a sympathetic hearing in certain circles.

Tanzanians claim that Bacar was an thug and a gangster, and that their forces were greeted as liberators. But then, they would say that, wouldn't they.

My very tentative guess is that the Samoa analogy is useful here. Samoans across the border know that American Samoans live better... but that doesn't translate into wanting union with America. (Or, more plausibly, New Zealand.) I suspect the Comoros may stand in a similar relationship to Mayotte, though I really don't know.

BTW, France not only rejected Bacar's petition for reunion -- it openly supported the OAU invasion. I see two possibilities there (not mutually exclusive): (a) France knew Bacar was a rotter and his offer of recolonization pure opportunism; and/or (b) having gone through umpty years of minor but chronic international _tsuris_ with Mayotte, France was in no hurry to take on another headache.

Doug M.

The French clearly got the better deal with independence. If you can't govern a place as an outright colony, then it's usually cheaper to set up an easily-chastised satrapy instead of fully integrating it into the polity.

That said ... my mind is still somewhat boggled that independence could get 95% of the vote in 1974 outside of Mayotte. Are you sure about Samoa? If the U.S. offered the same deal as American Samoa, or the CMNI, do you think it would lose? Honest question.

BTW, is it Comoran or Comorian?

Not to get away from the main point of the thread, but it's somewhat surprising that Cape Verde had wanted to join the EU, given its close ties to the United States.

Has the U.S. done anything for Cape Verde compared to what E.U. membership would bring? We don't have an FTA, and although there are a lot of Cape Verdeans in Massachusetts, but there are even more in Portugal.

I'd imagine that any small poor country with a democratic government that isn't actually an unincorporated territory of the United States would jump at E.U. membership. I'm missing as to what's not to like. Can you explain?

I haven't been involved with matters Samoan for over a decade now, but unless things have changed a lot the answer would be "no".

Couple of reasons. There's Samoan nationalism, of course. That's obvious and no different from anyone else's nationalism.

There's also an aspect that's unusual, maybe unique to Samoa: the role of fa'a Samoa (Samoan traditional law) and the matai, the hereditary chiefs who formed the traditional ruling caste. I'm going to simplify a lot and say, in American Samoa the matai are still running things, just as they have been since forever. Though nominally a democratic republic, AmSam is in reality semi-feudal; social, economic and above all political life are quite firmly dominated by a handful of matai families. This is because when the US took over Samoa, way back when, we agreed by treaty not to interfere with fa'a Samoa and, above all, not to mess with the special role of the matai. And we've held to that agreement. In fact, we've held to it too well.

In Samoa-Samoa, OTOH, the matai system has largel broken down -- destroyed by a combination of unsentimental colonial regimes and the _mau_ rebellion. (Long story.) There are still matai, but nobody takes them seriously. So, despite its relative poverty, Samoa is much more socially egalitarian than American Samoa.

One odd consequence of this is that, although Samoa is poorer, less developed, and in many respects more backwards, they consider themselves more modern -- more democratic, liberal, and socially just -- than American Samoa. So, "we wouldn't want to be like AmSam" would be an irrational but nonetheless powerful element in any discussion about recolonization.

Doug M.

That indeed makes a great deal of sense. I knew about the matai in American Samoa, of course, but my ignorance of Independent Samoa appears to know few bounds, other than that they just switched to driving on the other side of the road.

The situation seems a bit sui generis, and would offer few direct parallels with the Comoros. There is a "creole" group on Mayotte, but I've got no idea what that means, since the number of native French-speakers on the islands is a risible 2,600 out of almost 190,000.

I suppose we'll never know. I'm fairly sure that Paris would never take back a secessionist bit of the Comoros, given the diplomatic repercussions and lack of political gain. I strongly doubt that they'd take back the whole archipelago, even if asked. It might make some people in France feel good, but it would open a can of worms elsewhere. Why bother?

Of course, the Russian Federation seems interested in that sort of thing, so I suppose France could be. Am I suffering a failure of imagination?

The Russians are interested in bits that either contain large numbers of ethnic Russians (Transnistria) or of ethnic groups that are fiercely pro-Russian (Abkhazia, Ossetia). There's also an irrational but deep fear of further territorial loss after the fall of the USSR.

The French wouldn't take the Comoros back -- as you say, too much hassle for no real gain. Mayotte and Reunion give them whatever strategic footprint they feel they need, so why bother taking on nearly a million poor Arab-African Muslims as distant, expensive citizens?

But they like the idea that they might be asked! Hence Bacar's attempt to play to French vanity.

Takeaway lesson: vanity may be overrated as a driver of modern French policy.

Doug M.

Has the U.S. done anything for Cape Verde compared to what E.U. membership would bring? We don't have an FTA, and although there are a lot of Cape Verdeans in Massachusetts, but there are even more in Portugal.
I'd imagine that any small poor country with a democratic government that isn't actually an unincorporated territory of the United States would jump at E.U. membership. I'm missing as to what's not to like. Can you explain?

If Wikipedia's to be trusted, it says 500K in the United States vs. 80K in Portugal. Even without a FTA, remittances from citizens working in America must be a very big part of GDP ... I know, that's not something America officially does for the country, but it would still lead to a closer relationship.

As for EU membership in general, it would seem to me that a poorer country which had been decolonized within living memory might be reluctant to take such a step, as people might think of it as a partial relinquishment of their hard-earned sovereignity.

On this issue, Wikipedia I do not trust, but the figure could be correct.

Anyway, Peter, I still don't understand why remittances from the U.S. would make a country unlikely to join the E.U. As you said, it isn't official.

Cape Verde didn't earn its sovereignty; it got shoved out of Portugal in the post-coup regime's eagerness to be done with all its African commitments. Had Lisbon wanted, Cape Verde would be Portuguese today. And even so, joining the E.U. brings massive benefits and is something that many old and proud nations have done, along with a slew that only recently freed themselves from Moscow.

Can you imagine telling your voters that you won't do something that could rapidly double their living standards (or more) because you're prouder than ... uh ... France? Or the countries that just won their sovereignty away from the Soviet Union? I dunno, Peter, I'm having trouble imagining it.

In short, I'm still not understanding why pursuit of E.U. membership is all that surprising, given the advantages. The surprising thing would have been if the E.U. had accepted Portugal's entreaties to let in its former province. No?

Actually, the Cape Verdean nationalists had thrown in their lot with Guinea-Bissau--there was a Cape Verdean diaspora in Portuguese West Africa, and the ruling parties were federated for a bit.

Unlike the Madeirans or the Azoreans, the Cape Verdeans hadn't identified themselves as insular Portuguese, by virtue of their Creole language, their African racial heritage, and so on. The Cape Verdeans were mistreated by the Portuguese government in a way akin to the treatment of the colonies as opposed to the metropole, and ultimate their did their UDI.

You're correct, of course, when you say that the "nationalists" threw their lot in with Guinea-Bissau, but that is pretty uninteresting. It just means that people who wanted independence joined up with other people who wanted independence. It doesn't tell you anything about popular opinion in the islands.

I don't know of any opinion poll data from Cape Verde. (Unlike, say, Suriname, where there was a large majority against independence when the parliament finally shoved it through with a single vote.) In the absence of contrary evidence, what I do know leads me to strongly doubt that the Cape Verdean people had thrown in with the independence movement at all. There was no revolutionary activity on Cape Verde, although that could have been due to effective Portuguese policing.

While I am aware of discrimination against Cape Verde (probably having read the same English-language book that you did) I am not aware of strong Cape Verdean resentment or separatism. What I do know is that when the new government in Lisbon decided to abandon all their overseas commitments outside the Azores, they turned power over to said small group that had linked with Guinea-Bissau.

Was that because Portugal could not have held on, or because it was the easiest way to wash their hands of the mess in Guinea-Bissau? Dunno, but the evidence I know of points in the direction of the latter. That, plus Portuguese racism that made the folks in Lisbon consider the Cape Verdeans not-quite-real-Portuguese.

If you know of contrary evidence, I would be delighted to find out about it! As you know, I change my opinion when the facts change.

To be fair, I have lately turned against the later stages of decolonization. In part, this is because of stories like Grenada and Comoros. And in part it is because I have spent far too much time in Puerto Rico. (Doug, does your experience point you in the same direction?) I suspect that the world would be a slighly happier place with the WIAS in the U.K. (seats-in-Parliament and all), Cape Verde in Portugal, and the Comoros in France.

But again, if the majority of Cape Verdeans wanted to leave, then I will change my opinion. I'd love to read your sources!

Hmm, point. That'll be an interesting research project for me Thursday or Friday.

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