Newsletter Editorial, Nov 2010: Rising tides in the Indian Ocean

By Tor Sellström

As even a cursory review of major works on contemporary Africa will reveal, the four independent island states in the Indian Ocean – Comoros, Madagascar, Mauritius and Seychelles – feature only marginally, if at all. With regard to the Nordic countries - except Norway; on account of its long-standing relations with Madagascar - there are few relations with the Indian Ocean states. Not surprisingly, the Indian Ocean region is largely absent in the contemporary Nordic literature or debate.

From the perspective of conflict and security, however, the African island nations in the Indian Ocean present new challenges and feature prominently on the African Union (AU) agenda. In the short term, some of the AU member states in the region have to address major issues. Madagascar, for instance, experienced a coup d’état in 2009 and has subsequently defied the AU in its calls for urgent resolution. In late 2010, critical elections will be held in the endemically unstable Union of the Comoros (November/December). And in early 2011, the Comoran island of Mayotte will join Reunion as a French overseas department, with potentially complicated consequences.

In addition, on account of growing Somali-based piracy, the region is attracting increased attention from naval forces from the United States, the European Union, Russia, China and India. Denmark, Norway and Sweden also participate in the anti-piracy operations. At the same time, growing Middle and Far Eastern commercial interests are challenging the economic dominance in the region of the United States and the former colonial powers, Great Britain and France.

Against this background, the Nordic Africa Institute has recently launched a project on peace and conflict in the Indian Ocean, which fall under its research cluster on Conflict, Security and Democratic Transformation. As indicated by the fact that the 2008 AU peace-making intervention ‘Operation Democracy’ in Comoros was the first by the African organization and that the ongoing EU counter-piracy campaign ‘Operation Atalanta’ is the first naval exercise by its European counterpart, the project should be of relevance to both African and Nordic/European audiences.

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