Quick quiz question. Which part of France has the highest birth rate? Paris? Bordeaux? Marseille? The answer lies further south. Some 5,000 miles further south.
The Indian Ocean island of Mayotte, off the east coast of Africa, remained a part of France when the other three Comoros islands, Moheli, Anjouan and Grande Comore, voted for independence in 1975. Free education, high-quality healthcare and a minimum wage have all helped keep Mayotte’s standard of living far higher than its neighbours.
But it is the desire for French citizenship that has made this tiny island a magnet for migrants from other Comoros islands and Madagascar. One third of Mayotte’s population of 186,452 are illegal immigrants, migrants who desperately hope that one day they and their children will be granted citizenship.
Many do not make it to shore. The waters are shark-infested and often stormy. At least 25 people from Anjouan died two years ago when a boat capsized on its way to Mayotte.
Of those who pay people-smugglers hundreds of dollars to bring them to the island, thousands are pregnant women. The main health clinic, staffed by doctors and nurses from mainland France, provides a far superior service than those in the Comoros islands. More importantly though, women hope their child will become a French citizen if he or she is born in Mayotte.
Up to 10,000 women from the Comoros Islands and Madagascar are giving birth in Mayotte’s clinic every year, making Mayotte home to the highest birth rate in France. Many women pay a local French citizen to claim the child is his, thus ensuring the mother is allowed to remain in France and the child is granted citizenship.
In the United Arab Emirates, an Abu Dhabi businessman set a world record in 2007 when he paid Dh25m (€4.6m) for a vehicle registration plate.
While the new owner of plate “5” modestly declared that he was “not at all interested in the prestige carried by the number”, the growing crowds of bidders at local registration plate auctions suggest that this is a market caught up in digit desire. Last year alone, Emirates Auctions held five plate-bidding events and raised more than Dh200m (€37.2m).
The number frenzy highlights an emerging pecking order on Dubai’s fashionable Jumeirah Road, wherethe newest Range Rover no longer automatically propels its owner to the top of the food chain. Low plate numbers, especially those from the richer emirates, hold increasing clout in the competitive game of Friday-night car-cruising.
But Sheikh Mohammed, the ruler of Dubai, trumps even the most serious of collectors. Known for turning up unannounced at various local building projects, he can always be spotted in his Mercedes G55 with one of the few plates money will never buy: “Dubai 1”.
How low can you go?
Recent top-selling registration plates
5 Dh25.2m (€4.6m)
7 Dh11.4m (€2.1m)
12 Dh8.95m (€1.6m)
11 Dh8m (€1.4m)
55 Dh6.5m (€1.2m)
When will it happen?
By June 2008 “at the latest”.
Who are the frontrunners?
President Laurent Gbagbo will be seeking re-election in a poll that has been repeatedly postponed. Five years of civil war ended in March 2007 when Gbagbo signed a peace deal with the leader of the New Forces rebel group, Guillaume Soro. Gbagbo’s main opponent is likely to be former president, Henri Konan Bédié, who was deposed in a coup in 1999.
What are the key issues?
Peace and citizenship. Many in the north are originally refugees from neighbouring countries. Gbagbo has previously insisted that only “pure Ivorians” can be citizens.
Will anything change?
That depends on whether peace holds. Côte d’Ivoire has one of the largest economies in West Africa. If peace holds, it will be easier for whoever wins to encourage foreign investment.