Territorial disputes: Africa (Part 18) [Post 153]

France in Africa

So far, the latest posts have introduced TERRITORIAL DISPUTES in Africa. We started yesterday with individual disputes between African and non-African parties and the case of Banc du Geyser. Today we continue with the French presence in African territory and another case.


Glorioso Islands

Brief historical account of the French presence in the area and ulterior territorial dispute:

2 Mar 1880: Settled and named by Frenchman Hippolyte Caltaux.

23 Aug 1892: Claimed for France, part of French Madagascar.

31 Oct 1897: Formally annexed to France, subject to Mayotte.

1907: French government ends the concession of Caltaux.

1907 – 1939: Islands entrusted to the Compagnie des Iles Malgaches.

1912 – 1960: Subject to Madagascar.

May 1945 – 1958: Returned to the Compagnie des Iles Malgaches.

1959: Permanent meteorological station established.

14 Jun 1960: French possession administered by the High Commissioner.

1975: Declared a wildlife reservation.

18 Jan 2005: Transferred to the administrators of French Southern and Antarctic Lands.

15 Mar 2007: Incorporated into the French Southern and Antarctic Lands.


The dispute

Madagascar and France are in dispute over the Glorioso Islands. Although Madagascar gained independence from France in 1960, and the Comoros

achieved independence in 1975, France retained control over a number of small island territories in the Mozambique Channel, namely Bassas da India, Europa Island, the Glorioso Islands and Juan de Nova Islands.

Small French garrisons maintain meteorological and radio stations on Europa Island, Glorioso and Juan de Nova Islands.


Madagascar claims sovereignty over the islands on the grounds of historic title and geographic proximity, and has sought support from the UN and the former Organization of Africa Unity (OAU).

France bases its claim on first discovery and its history of occupation and administration.

This conflict is motivated by economic interests rather then “sovereignty matter”, each State believing that having these islands will enable them to claim maritime spaces (as France did) such as the Territorial Sea (TS), ( Exclusive Economic Zone) EEZ and Continental Shelf (CS).

Note that the question of sovereignty disputes is not directly resolved by the Law of the Sea Convention (LOSC), but rather by international law.


The problems of drawing a maritime boundary in the Mozambique Channel are complicated by a number of factors:

  • First, the Channel is used by larger tankers sailing from the Persian Gulf to Europe and North America
  • Secondly, Madagascar has claimed the French islands of Glorioso, Europa Island, Bassas da India and Juan de Nova;
  • Thirdly, the decision of Mayotte to secede from the Comoros, because the citizens wished to preserve a special relationship with France, was unpopular with many African leaders;
  • Finally, some of the best fishing grounds are located between Madagascar and Mayotte.


French spread

The French Southern and Antarctic Territories (Terres australes et antarctiques françaises; TAAF) are a French overseas collectivity administered from Réunion Island.

The TAAF are made up of the following territories:

  • The southern islands, in the Indian Ocean:

  1. Two archipelagos in the southern Indian Ocean (Crozet and Kerguelen);
  2. Two volcanic islands (Amsterdam and Saint-Paul) in the southern Indian Ocean;

  • The Scattered Islands spread throughout the Indian Ocean: the Glorioso Islands, Juan de Nova, Bassas da India and Europa in the Mozambique Channel, and the Tromelin Island, north of Réunion.

  • And Adélie Land, the French claim on the Antarctic continent.


Apart from Adélie Land, all of these territories have a territorial sea and an exclusive economic zone.

TAAF is also a restricted area: a large nature reserve was established on the southern territories in 2006 and a marine park in the Glorioso archipelago in 2012 (43,614 km2).



Minor French Dependencies


Maritime Boundaries Delimitation, Management and Dispute Resolution (United Nations)


Overseas Countries and Territories: Environmental Profile



Jorge Emilio Núñez

Twitter: @London1701

24th October 2018

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