Comoros

Introduction Comoros has endured 19 coups or attempted coups since gaining independence from France in 1975. In 1997, the islands of Anjouan and Moheli declared independence from Comoros. In 1999, military chief Col. AZALI seized power in a bloodless coup, and helped negotiate the 2000 Fomboni Accords power-sharing agreement in which the federal presidency rotates among the three islands, and each island maintains its own local government. AZALI won the 2002 Presidential election, and each island in the archipelago elected its own president. AZALI stepped down in 2006 and President SAMBI took office. Since 2006, Anjouan's President Mohamed BACAR has refused to work effectively with the Union presidency. This year BACAR effected Anjouan's de-facto secession from the Union, refusing to step down in favor of fresh Anjouanais elections when Comoros' other islands held legitimate elections in July. The African Union (AU) has stepped in to assist in resolving the political crisis, including applying sanctions and a naval blockade on Anjouan, but the situation remains at an impasse.
History

Pre-colonial inhabitation

The first human inhabitants of the Comoro Islands are thought to have been Polynesian and Melanesian settlers, Malays and Indonesians, travelling by boat. They settled there no later than the sixth century AD, the date of the earliest known archaeological site, found on Nzwani, though some sources speculate that settlement began as early as the first century.[7] The islands of Comoros became populated by a succession of diverse groups from the coast of Africa, the Persian Gulf, Indonesia, and Madagascar. Swahili settlers first reached the islands as a part of the greater Bantu expansion that took place in Africa throughout the first millennium.

Development of the Comoros is periodized into phases, beginning with Swahili influence and settlement in the Dembini phase (ninth to tenth centuries), during which each island maintained a single, central village.[8] From the eleventh to the fifteenth centuries, trade with the island of Madagascar and merchants from the Middle East flourished, smaller villages emerged, and existing towns expanded. Unconfirmed legends tell of early Arab or Persian settlements dated even before their known arrival to the archipelago, and Swahili oral historians frequently trace genealogies back to Persian or Arab ancestors. Middle Eastern merchants first introduced Islam to the islands. As the religion gained in popularity, large mosques were constructed. The Comoro Islands, like other coastal areas in the region, were important stops in early Islamic trade routes frequented by Persians and Arabs. Despite its distance from the coast, Comoros is situated along the major sea route between Kilwa and Mozambique, an outlet for Zimbabwean gold.[9]

By the nineteenth century, the influence of Sunni Persians from Shiraz, Iran, dominated the islands. The Shirazi traded along the coasts of East Africa, the Middle East, and India, and established colonies in the archipelago. Arab influence increased with the ascendancy of Zanzibar under Arab Omani rule, and Comorian culture, especially architecture and religion, increasingly reflected Arab contact. Many rival sultanates were established in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.[10]

By the time Europeans showed interest in the Comoros, the dominant Arab cultural veneer of the islands led to many to emphasize the society's Arab foundations at the expense of its Swahili and African heritage. More recent scholarship by Thomas Spear and Randall Pouwells emphasizes African historical predominance over the diffusionist perspective.[11]

European contact and French colonization

Portuguese explorers visited the archipelago in 1505.

In 1793, Malagasy warriors from Madagascar first started raiding the islands for slaves, and later settled and seized control in many locations. France first established colonial rule in the Comoros in 1841. The first French colonists landed in Mayotte, and Andrian Tsouli, the Malagasy King of Mayotte, signed the Treaty of April 1841, which ceded the island to the French authorities.[12] In 1886, Mohéli was placed under French protection by its Queen Salimba Mochimba. That same year, after consolidating his authority over all of Grand Comore, Sultan Said Ali agreed to French protection of his island, though he retained sovereignty until 1909. Also in 1909, Sultan Said Muhamed of Anjouan abdicated in favor of French rule. The Comoros (or Les Comores) was officially made a French colony in 1912, and the islands were placed under the administration of the French colonial governor general of Madagascar in 1914.[13]

The Comoros served as a way station for merchants sailing to the Far East and India until the opening of the Suez Canal significantly reduced traffic passing through the Mozambique Channel. The only native commodities exported by the Comoros were coconuts. French settlers, French-owned companies, and wealthy Arab merchants established a plantation-based economy that now uses about one-third of the land for export crops. After its annexation, France converted Mayotte into a sugar plantation colony. The other islands were soon transformed as well, and the major crops of ylang-ylang, vanilla, coffee, cocoa, and sisal were introduced.[14]

Agreement was reached with France in 1973 for Comoros to become independent in 1978. On July 6, 1975, however, the Comorian parliament passed a unilateral resolution declaring independence. The deputies of Mayotte, which remained under French control, abstained. Referendums on all four of the islands excluding Mayotte showed strong support for independence. Ahmed Abdallah proclaimed the Comoros' independence on September 5, 1975 and became its first president.

Independent Comoros

The next thirty years were a period of political turmoil. On August 3, 1975, mercenary Bob Denard, with clandestine support from Jacques Foccart and the French government, removed president Ahmed Abdallah from office in an armed coup and replaced him with United National Front of the Comoros (UNF) member Prince Said Mohammed Jaffar. Just a few months later, in January 1976, Jaffar was ousted in favor of his Minister of Defense Ali Soilih.[15] At this time, the population of Mayotte voted against independence from France in two separate referendums. The first, held in December 1974, won 63.8% support for maintaining ties with France, while the second, held in February 1976, confirmed that vote with an overwhelming 99.4%. The three remaining islands, ruled by President Soilih, instituted a number of socialist and isolationist policies that soon strained relations with France. On May 13, 1978, Bob Denard returned to overthrow President Soilih and re-instate Abdallah with the support of the French and South African governments. During Soilih's brief rule, he faced seven additional coup attempts until he was finally forced from office and killed.[16]

In contrast to Soilih, Abdallah's presidency was marked by authoritarian rule and increased adherence to traditional Islam.[17] He continued as president until 1989 when, fearing a probable coup d'état, he signed a decree ordering the Presidential Guard, led by Bob Denard, to disarm the armed forces. Shortly after the signing of the decree, Abdallah was allegedly shot dead in his office by a disgruntled military officer, though later sources claim an anti-tank missile launched into his bedroom was the cause of Abdallah's death.[18] Although Denard was also injured, it is suspected that Abdallah's killer was a soldier under his command.[19] A few days later, Bob Denard was evacuated to South Africa by French paratroopers. Said Mohamed Djohar, Soilih's older half-brother, then became president and served until September 1995 when Bob Denard returned and attempted another coup. This time France intervened with paratroopers and forced Denard to surrender.[20][21] The French removed Djohar to Reunion, and the Paris-backed Mohamed Taki Abdulkarim became president by election. He led the country from 1996, during a time of labor crises, government suppression, and secessionist conflicts, until his death November 1998. He was succeeded by Interim President Tadjidine Ben Said Massounde.[22]

The islands of Anjouan and Mohéli declared their independence from the Comoros in 1997, in an attempt to restore French rule. France, however, rejected the islands' request, leading to bloody confrontations between federal troops and rebels.[23] Colonel Azali Assoumani, Army Chief of Staff, seized power in a bloodless coup in April 1999, overthrowing the Interim President Tadjiddine Ben Said Massounde citing weak leadership in the face of the crisis. The BBC reported that Azali's takeover was the Comoros' eighteenth coup d'etat since independence in 1975.[24] A subsequent failed attempt by Azali to consolidate power and reestablish control over the islands was the subject of international criticism, and the African Union, under the auspices of President Mbeki of South Africa, intervened, imposing sanctions on Anjouan to help broker negotiations and effect reconciliation.[25][26] This involved introducing a new system of governmental autonomy for each island, plus a Union government for the three islands.

Azali stepped down in 2002 to run in the democratic election of the President of the Comoro Union, which he won. Under ongoing international pressure, as a military ruler who had originally come to power by force and was not always democratic while in office, Azali led the Union through constitutional changes that enabled new elections.[27] A "Loi des compétences" (a law that defines the responsibilities of each governmental body) was passed in early 2005 and is in the process of implementation. The elections in 2006 were won by Ahmed Abdallah Mohamed Sambi, a Sunni Muslim Cleric nick-named the "Ayatollah" for his time spent studying Islam in Iran. Azali honored the election results, thus allowing the first-ever peaceful and democratic exchange of power in the archipelagos' turbulent history.

Geography Location: Southern Africa, group of islands at the northern mouth of the Mozambique Channel, about two-thirds of the way between northern Madagascar and northern Mozambique
Geographic coordinates: 12 10 S, 44 15 E
Map references: Africa
Area: total: 2,170 sq km
land: 2,170 sq km
water: 0 sq km
Area - comparative: slightly more than 12 times the size of Washington, DC
Land boundaries: 0 km
Coastline: 340 km
Maritime claims: territorial sea: 12 nm
exclusive economic zone: 200 nm
Climate: tropical marine; rainy season (November to May)
Terrain: volcanic islands, interiors vary from steep mountains to low hills
Elevation extremes: lowest point: Indian Ocean 0 m
highest point: Le Kartala 2,360 m
Natural resources: NEGL
Land use: arable land: 35.87%
permanent crops: 23.32%
other: 40.81% (2005)
Irrigated land: NA
Total renewable water resources: 1.2 cu km (2003)
Freshwater withdrawal (domestic/industrial/agricultural): total: 0.01 cu km/yr (48%/5%/47%)
per capita: 13 cu m/yr (1999)
Natural hazards: cyclones possible during rainy season (December to April); Le Kartala on Grand Comore is an active volcano
Environment - current issues: soil degradation and erosion results from crop cultivation on slopes without proper terracing; deforestation
Environment - international agreements: party to: Biodiversity, Climate Change, Desertification, Endangered Species, Hazardous Wastes, Law of the Sea, Ozone Layer Protection, Ship Pollution, Wetlands
signed, but not ratified: none of the selected agreements
Geography - note: important location at northern end of Mozambique Channel
Politics

Politics of the Union of the Comoros takes place in a framework of a federal presidential republic, whereby the President of the Comoros is both head of state and head of government, and of a pluriform multi-party system. The Constitution of the Union of the Comoros was ratified by referendum on December 23, 2001, and the islands' constitutions and executives were elected in the following months. It had previously been considered a military dictatorship, and the transfer of power from Azali Assoumani to Ahmed Abdallah Mohamed Sambi in May 2006 was the first peaceful transfer in Comorian history. Executive power is exercised by the government. Federal legislative power is vested in both the government and parliament. The preamble of the constitution guarantees an Islamic inspiration in governance, a commitment to human rights, and several specific enumerated rights, democracy, "a common destiny" for all Comorians. Each of the islands (according to Title II of the Constitution) has a great amount of autonomy in the Union, including having their own constitutions (or Fundamental Law), president, and Parliament. The presidency and Assembly of the Union are distinct from each of the Islands' governments. The presidency of the Union rotates between the islands.[30] Anjouan holds the current presidency rotation, and so Ahmed Abdallah Mohamed Sambi is President of the Union; Mohéli and Ngazidja follow in four year terms.[31]

The Comorian legal system rests on Islamic law and an inherited French (Napoleonic code) legal code. Village elders or civilian courts settle most disputes. The judiciary is independent of the legislative and the executive. The Supreme Court acts as a Constitutional Council in resolving constitutional questions and supervising presidential elections. As High Court of Justice, the Supreme Court also arbitrates in cases where the government is accused of malpractice. The Supreme Court consists of two members selected by the president, two elected by the Federal Assembly, and one by the council of each island.

People Population: 711,417 (July 2007 est.)
Age structure: 0-14 years: 42.6% (male 151,920/female 150,851)
15-64 years: 54.4% (male 191,096/female 196,120)
65 years and over: 3% (male 9,933/female 11,497) (2007 est.)
Median age: total: 18.7 years
male: 18.4 years
female: 18.9 years (2007 est.)
Population growth rate: 2.84% (2007 est.)
Birth rate: 36.35 births/1,000 population (2007 est.)
Death rate: 7.95 deaths/1,000 population (2007 est.)
Net migration rate: 0 migrant(s)/1,000 population (2007 est.)
Sex ratio: at birth: 1.03 male(s)/female
under 15 years: 1.007 male(s)/female
15-64 years: 0.974 male(s)/female
65 years and over: 0.864 male(s)/female
total population: 0.985 male(s)/female (2007 est.)
Infant mortality rate: total: 70.66 deaths/1,000 live births
male: 78.86 deaths/1,000 live births
female: 62.21 deaths/1,000 live births (2007 est.)
Life expectancy at birth: total population: 62.73 years
male: 60.37 years
female: 65.15 years (2007 est.)
Total fertility rate: 4.97 children born/woman (2007 est.)
HIV/AIDS - adult prevalence rate: 0.12% (2001 est.)
HIV/AIDS - people living with HIV/AIDS: NA
HIV/AIDS - deaths: NA
Nationality: noun: Comoran(s)
adjective: Comoran
Ethnic groups: Antalote, Cafre, Makoa, Oimatsaha, Sakalava
Religions: Sunni Muslim 98%, Roman Catholic 2%
Languages: Arabic (official), French (official), Shikomoro (a blend of Swahili and Arabic)
Literacy: definition: age 15 and over can read and write
total population: 56.5%
male: 63.6%
female: 49.3% (2003 est.)
Government Country name: conventional long form: Union of the Comoros
conventional short form: Comoros
local long form: Union des Comores
local short form: Comores
Government type: republic
Capital: name: Moroni
geographic coordinates: 11 42 S, 43 14 E
time difference: UTC+3 (8 hours ahead of Washington, DC during Standard Time)
Administrative divisions: 3 islands and 4 municipalities*; Grande Comore, Anjouan, Domoni*, Fomboni*, Moheli, Moroni*, Mutsamudu*
Independence: 6 July 1975 (from France)
National holiday: Independence Day, 6 July (1975)
Constitution: 23 December 2001
Legal system: French and Islamic law in a new consolidated code
Suffrage: 18 years of age; universal
Executive branch: chief of state: President Ahmed Abdallah SAMBI (since 26 May 2006)
head of government: President Ahmed Abdallah SAMBI (since 26 May 2006)
cabinet: Council of Ministers appointed by the president
elections: as defined by the 2001 constitution, the presidency rotates every four years among the elected presidents from the three main islands in the Union; election last held 14 May 2006 (next to be held by May 2010); prime minister appointed by the president; note - the post of prime minister has been vacant since May 2002
election results: Ahmed Abdallah SAMBI elected president; percent of vote - Ahmed Abdallah SAMBI 58.0%, Ibrahim HALIDI 28.3%, Mohamed DJAANFAMI 13.7%
Legislative branch: unicameral Assembly of the Union (33 seats; 15 deputies are selected by the individual islands' local assemblies and 18 by universal suffrage; to serve for five years);
elections: last held 18 and 25 April 2004 (next to be held in 2009)
election results: percent of vote by party - NA; seats by party - CdIA 12, CRC 6; note - 15 additional seats are filled by deputies from local island assemblies
Judicial branch: Supreme Court or Cour Supremes (two members appointed by the president, two members elected by the Federal Assembly, one elected by the Council of each island, and others are former presidents of the republic)
Political parties and leaders: Convention for the Renewal of the Comoros or CRC [AZALI Assowmani]; Camp of the Autonomous Islands or CdIA (a coalition of parties organized by the islands' presidents in opposition to the Union President); Front National pour la Justice or FNJ [Ahmed RACHID] (Islamic party in opposition); Mouvement pour la Democratie et le Progress or MDP-NGDC [Abbas DJOUSSOUF]; Parti Comorien pour la Democratie et le Progress or PCDP [Ali MROUDJAE]; Rassemblement National pour le Development or RND [Omar TAMOU, Abdoulhamid AFFRAITANE]
Political pressure groups and leaders: NA
International organization participation: ACCT, ACP, AfDB, AMF, AU, COMESA, FAO, FZ, G-77, IBRD, ICAO, ICCt, ICRM, IDA, IDB, IFAD, IFC, IFRCS, ILO, IMF, IMO, InOC, Interpol, IOC, ITSO, ITU, ITUC, LAS, NAM, OIC, OIF, OPCW (signatory), UN, UNCTAD, UNESCO, UNIDO, UPU, WCO, WHO, WIPO, WMO, WTO (observer)
Diplomatic representation in the US: chief of mission: Representative to the US and Ambassador to the UN Mohamed TOIHIRI
chancery: Mission to the US, 336 East 45th Street (2nd floor), New York, NY 10017
telephone: [1] (212) 750-1637
Diplomatic representation from the US: the US does not have an embassy in Comoros; the ambassador to Madagascar is accredited to Comoros
Flag description: four equal horizontal bands of yellow (top), white, red, and blue with a green isosceles triangle based on the hoist; centered within the triangle is a white crescent with the convex side facing the hoist and four white, five-pointed stars placed vertically in a line between the points of the crescent; the horizontal bands and the four stars represent the four main islands of the archipelago - Mwali, Njazidja, Nzwani, and Mahore (Mayotte - territorial collectivity of France, but claimed by Comoros)
note: the crescent, stars, and color green are traditional symbols of Islam
Culture

Almost all of the educated populace of the Comoros has attended Quranic schools at some point in their life, often before regular schooling. Here boys and girls are taught about the Quran, and memorize it. Some parents specifically choose this early schooling to offset French schools children usually attend later. Since independence and the ejection of French teachers, the education system has been plagued by poor teacher training and poor results, though recent stability may allow for substantial improvements.[43]

Comorian (Shikomori) is the most widely used language on the Comoros. It is a close relative of Swahili with a very strong Arabic influence, and is one of the three official languages of the Comoros, next to French and Arabic. Each island has a slightly different dialect; that of Anjouan is called Shindzuani, that of Moheli Shimwali, that of Mayotte Shimaore, and that of Grande Comore Shingazidja. No official alphabet existed in 1992, but Arabic and Latin scripts were both used.

There is no national newspaper in Comoros; the leading regional paper is Al-Watwan published on Grande Comore; Kwezi is also published on Mayotte. Radio Comoros is the national radio service and Comoros National TV is the television service.

Economy Economy - overview: One of the world's poorest countries, Comoros is made up of three islands that have inadequate transportation links, a young and rapidly increasing population, and few natural resources. The low educational level of the labor force contributes to a subsistence level of economic activity, high unemployment, and a heavy dependence on foreign grants and technical assistance. Agriculture, including fishing, hunting, and forestry, contributes 40% to GDP, employs 80% of the labor force, and provides most of the exports. The country is not self-sufficient in food production; rice, the main staple, accounts for the bulk of imports. The government - which is hampered by internal political disputes - is struggling to upgrade education and technical training, privatize commercial and industrial enterprises, improve health services, diversify exports, promote tourism, and reduce the high population growth rate. The political problems caused the economy to contract in 2007. Remittances from 150,000 Comorans abroad help supplement GDP.
GDP (purchasing power parity): $1.262 billion (2007 est.)
GDP (official exchange rate): $436 million (2007 est.)
GDP - real growth rate: -1% (2007 est.)
GDP - per capita (PPP): $600 (2005 est.)
GDP - composition by sector: agriculture: 40%
industry: 4%
services: 56% (2001 est.)
Labor force: 144,500 (1996 est.)
Labor force - by occupation: agriculture: 80%
industry and services: 20% (1996 est.)
Unemployment rate: 20% (1996 est.)
Population below poverty line: 60% (2002 est.)
Household income or consumption by percentage share: lowest 10%: NA%
highest 10%: NA%
Inflation rate (consumer prices): 3% (2005 est.)
Budget: revenues: $27.6 million
expenditures: $NA (2001 est.)
Agriculture - products: vanilla, cloves, ylang-ylang, perfume essences, copra, coconuts, bananas, cassava (tapioca)
Industries: fishing, tourism, perfume distillation
Industrial production growth rate: -2% (1999 est.)
Electricity - production: 20 million kWh (2005)
Electricity - production by source: fossil fuel: 90.6%
hydro: 9.4%
nuclear: 0%
other: 0% (2001)
Electricity - consumption: 18.6 million kWh (2005)
Electricity - exports: 0 kWh (2005)
Electricity - imports: 0 kWh (2005)
Oil - production: 0 bbl/day (2005)
Oil - consumption: 700 bbl/day (2005 est.)
Oil - exports: 0 bbl/day (2004)
Oil - imports: 709.1 bbl/day (2004)
Oil - proved reserves: 0 bbl (1 January 2006 est.)
Natural gas - production: 0 cu m (2005 est.)
Natural gas - consumption: 0 cu m (2005 est.)
Natural gas - exports: 0 cu m (2005 est.)
Natural gas - imports: 0 cu m (2005)
Natural gas - proved reserves: 0 cu m (1 January 2006 est.)
Current account balance: -$17 million (2005 est.)
Exports: $32 million f.o.b. (2006)
Exports - commodities: vanilla, ylang-ylang (perfume essence), cloves, copra
Exports - partners: Netherlands 35.8%, France 18.3%, Italy 12.8%, Singapore 7.8%, Turkey 5%, US 4.6% (2006)
Imports: $143 million f.o.b. (2006)
Imports - commodities: rice and other foodstuffs, consumer goods, petroleum products, cement, transport equipment
Imports - partners: France 24.8%, UAE 9.9%, South Africa 6.4%, Pakistan 6.3%, Kenya 5%, China 4.8%, India 4.4%, Italy 4.2% (2006)
Economic aid - recipient: $25.23 million (2005 est.)
Debt - external: $232 million (2000 est.)
Currency (code): Comoran franc (KMF)
Currency code: KMF
Exchange rates: Comoran francs (KMF) per US dollar - NA (2007), 392.03 (2006), 395.6 (2005), 396.21 (2004), 435.9 (2003)
note: the Comoran franc is pegged to the euro at a rate of 491.9677 Comoran francs per euro
Fiscal year: calendar year
Communications Telephones - main lines in use: 16,900 (2005)
Telephones - mobile cellular: 16,100 (2005)
Telephone system: general assessment: sparse system of microwave radio relay and HF radiotelephone communication stations; fixed-line connections only about 2 per 100 persons; mobile cellular usage about 2 per 100 persons
domestic: HF radiotelephone communications and microwave radio relay
international: country code - 269; HF radiotelephone communications to Madagascar and Reunion
Radio broadcast stations: AM 1, FM 4, shortwave 1 (2001)
Radios: 90,000 (1997)
Television broadcast stations: NA
Televisions: 1,000 (1997)
Internet country code: .km
Internet hosts: 6 (2007)
Internet Service Providers (ISPs): 1 (2000)
Internet users: 21,000 (2006)
Transportation Airports: 4 (2007)
Airports - with paved runways: total: 4
2,438 to 3,047 m: 1
914 to 1,523 m: 3 (2007)
Roadways: total: 880 km
paved: 673 km
unpaved: 207 km (1999)
Merchant marine: total: 144 ships (1000 GRT or over) 657,755 GRT/954,498 DWT
by type: bulk carrier 11, cargo 101, chemical tanker 3, container 1, livestock carrier 4, passenger 1, passenger/cargo 1, petroleum tanker 9, refrigerated cargo 6, roll on/roll off 6, specialized tanker 1
foreign-owned: 70 (Bangladesh 1, Bulgaria 1, Cyprus 1, Greece 8, India 2, Kenya 1, Kuwait 1, Lebanon 5, Norway 1, Pakistan 2, Philippines 1, Russia 9, Saudi Arabia 1, Syria 8, Turkey 8, Ukraine 13, UAE 5, US 2) (2007)
Ports and terminals: Mayotte, Mutsamudu
Military Military branches: National Development Army (AND): Comoran Security Force; Comoran Federal Police (2007)
Manpower available for military service: males age 18-49: 138,940
females age 18-49: 139,491 (2005 est.)
Manpower fit for military service: males age 18-49: 98,792
females age 18-49: 106,415 (2005 est.)
Military expenditures - percent of GDP: 2.8% (2006)
Transnational Issues Disputes - international: claims French-administered Mayotte