Area: 1,862 sq km (excluding Mayotte)
Population: 800,000 (2007 IMF estimate, excluding Mayotte)
Capital City: Moroni (Ngazidja)
Languages: Comoran, French, Arabic.
Religion(s): Islam (state religion), with a very small (less than 0.5%) Roman Catholic minority.
Currency: Comoros Franc (pegged to the euro).
Major Political Parties: Convention pour la renaissance des Comores (CRC), supporting former President Assoumani. Rassemblement National pour le Developpement (RND) – loose alliance of parties formed at the 2004 elections to oppose the CRC. In general, the islands have a large number of political parties, many of them based on personal loyalties.
Head of State & Federal President: Ahmed Abdallah Sambi
Membership of International Groupings/Organisations: African Union (AU); League of Arab States; Organisation of Islamic Conference (OIC); Indian Ocean Commission (IOC); Common Market for East and Southern Africa (COMESA).
Basic Economic Facts
GDP: US$467 million (2007 est.)
Annual growth: 0.5% (2008 est)
Annual inflation: 9.6% (2008 est.)
Major industries: agriculture, fishing, forestry
Main imports: rice, petroleum products
Main exports: vanilla, cloves, ylang-ylang (perfume oil), copra.
Major trading partners: Exports – France, USA, Singapore, Germany; imports – France, South Africa, Japan, Thailand, Indonesia, Singapore, China.
Exchange rate: GBP = 584.62 Comoros Francs (KMF). [The Comoran franc is pegged at 491.9677 Francs per Euro]
The main export crops are vanilla, cloves, and ylang-ylang, used in perfume manufacture. Services account for 56% of GDP, agriculture 40% and industry 4%. The economy has been badly hit by sharp declines in world prices for its export produce. There is a small fishing industry, a minimal industrial base devoted mainly to processing vanilla, and a developing tourist industry. France is Comoros’ main trading partner, providing almost half of imports and taking two-thirds of its exports. Economic growth was hard-hit by low vanilla prices and reduced production in 2005.
IMF Country Reports – Comoros
The earliest inhabitants were probably of Malay-Polynesian origin. Later settlers came from mainland Africa, Madagascar and the Arab world. The Shirazis from Persia became dominant in the 15th-16th century, establishing sultanates in the Comoros linked to their trading settlements in Kilwa (on the coast of present day Tanzania) and Zanzibar, and dealing in spices and slaves to the Middle East. Comoros became known for Islamic learning and exported teachers to Zanzibar.
France established protectorates over Ngazidja, Nzwani and Mwali in 1886 and declared the Comoros a French Colony in 1912, administered from Madagascar. In 1947, the Comoros became a separate French Overseas Territory, gaining a degree of internal autonomy in 1961.
In a referendum held in December 1974, 96% of Comorans on Ngazidja, Nzwani and Mwali voted for independence from France, but a majority on the island of Mayotte (64%) voted against. Political tensions grew until, on 6 July 1975, the Comoros declared independence unilaterally, Ahmed Abdallah becoming its first President. France retained control of Mayotte, but recognised the independence of the other islands. Later in 1975 President Abdallah was deposed in a coup, to be replaced in 1976 by President Ali Soilih, who was in turn overthrown in 1978 by a group of French and Belgian mercenaries led by ‘Colonel’ Bob Denard. Abdallah, who had helped finance the coup, returned from exile in France to be re-elected President, but remained dependent on a mercenary-trained Presidential Guard. He was killed in unclear circumstances during a meeting with Denard on 26 November 1989. At the request of the Interim President, French warships arrived offshore. Denard handed over control of the islands and later returned to France. Political tensions and instability continued through the 1990s. On 30 April 1999 the army seized power in a bloodless coup (the 18th coup or attempted coup in Comoros since independence in 1975). Army Chief of Staff, Col Azali Assoumane, assumed power at the head of a transitional executive.
The islands’ Islamic history and culture, and membership of the League of Arab States and OIC, underpin the existing close links with the Gulf (and Libya). China has maintained a resident Embassy in the Comoros ever since independence; in November 2005 China wrote off all Comoros’ US$5 million debt.
Geographically, the Comoros comprises four islands, but politically it comprises three: Mayotte is not a member of the Union but is a quasi-overseas department of France. The archipelago itself lies nearly 500km equidistant from the northern tip of Madagascar and the Mozambican coast. The largest island is Ngazidja (Grande Comore), followed by Nzwani (Anjouan); Mwali (Mohéli) is the smallest of the group. All are mountainous. The climate is tropical, and temperatures average 25C (coastal) and 22C (highlands). The hot and rainy season is from November-April. Regular cyclones can cause extensive damage. Karthala volcano on Ngazidja erupted in August 2003, in April 2005, and again in November 2005.
TRADE AND INVESTMENT
The economy depends largely on remittances from the 70,000-strong Comoran diaspora in France to offset deficits, and on French and European Union (EU) aid. In June 2005 the EU granted 27.3 million Euros to Comoros for education and to strengthen local administrative structures. A donors’ conference held in Mauritius on 8 December 2005 resulted in aid pledges of US$140 million in cash, and US$60 million in kind (training and technical assistance etc.)
European Commission Development Directorate – Comoros
United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) – Comoros
Each of the three islands, Grande Comore, Anjouan and Mohéli, has an individual parliament, with different numbers of seats, whcih are elected directly; the Union has a legislative assembly with 33 members: 15 members of parliament are appointed by the local parliaments (five each) and 18 are elected by direct universal suffrage; elections for the national legislature and for the island and Union presidents are scheduled to be held in 2011.
Ahmed Abdallah Sambi won the May 2006 presidential election with 58% of the vote; this was the first time that the presidency had been revolved betweeen citizens of different islands, as laid out in the 2000 Fomboni Accord; the next presidential election is scheduled to take place in 2010.
Violence broke out in advance of June 2007 elections on Anjouan, where island president Mohamed Bacar refused to stand down. He subsequently claimed 89% of the vote in locally-organised elections on 10 June 2007, the results of which were not recognised by the Union (nor by the AU). Following clashes between local policemen loyal to Bacar and Union soldiers the AU deployed over 100 peace-keepers to the island in June 2007. Bacar evaded capture following the AU intervention and is thought to be currently living in exile in Benin.
On 17 May 2009, President Sambi held a national referendum in a bid to amend the constitution, to try and reduce the number of elections and harmonise the terms of office of the Union and island presidents amongst other things. However, the outcome of the referendum remains in dispute (94% of voters were in favour on a 50% turnout) and political tensions remain.