For the most current version of this Note, see Background Notes A-Z.
Area: 2,171 sq. km. (838 sq. mi.); slightly less than half the size of Delaware. Major islands--Grande Comore (1,025 sq. km.), Anjouan (424 sq. km.), Mayotte (374 sq. km.), and Moheli (211 sq. km.).
Cities: Capital--Moroni (pop. 30,000); Mutsamudu (pop. 20,000).
Climate: Tropical marine.
Nationality: Noun and adjective--Comoran(s).
Population (July 2009 est.): 752,438. Mayotte (1990 est.)--70,000.
Annual population growth rate (2009 est.): 2.766%.
Ethnic groups: Antalote, Cafre, Makoa, Oimatsaha, Sakalava.
Religions: Sunni Muslim 98%, Roman Catholic 2%.
Languages: Shikomoro (a Swahili-Arabic blend), Arabic (official), French (official).
Education: Attendance--60% primary, 34% secondary. Literacy--56.5%.
Health: Life expectancy--63.47 yrs. Infant mortality rate--66.57/1,000.
Work force (1996): 144,500. Agriculture--80%.
Independence: July 6, 1975 (Mayotte remains under French administration).
Constitution: Adopted by referendum on December 23, 2001.
Branches: Executive--national president; regional island presidents. Legislative--National Assembly. Judicial--traditional Muslim and codified law from French sources.
Political parties: 17 political parties.
Suffrage: Universal adult.
GDP (purchasing power parity, 2008 est.): $741.4 million.
Annual growth rate: 0.5%.
GDP per capita (2008 est.): $1,000.
Agriculture (40% of GDP): Products--vanilla, cloves, perfume essences, copra, banana, cassava, coconuts.
Services (56% of GDP): Commerce, tourism.
Industry (4% of GDP): Types--perfume distillation.
Trade: Exports (2006 est.)--$32 million f.o.b.: vanilla, cloves, perfume essences, copra. Major markets--Turkey, France, Singapore, Saudi Arabia. Imports (2006 est.)--$143 million: rice and other foodstuffs, consumer goods, petroleum, cement, transport equipment. Major suppliers--France 18.2%, U.A.E. 10.8%, South Africa 8.5%, Pakistan 7.2%, Kenya 5.7%, China 5.4%, India 5%.
The Comorans, inhabiting the islands of Grande Comore (also known as Ngazidja), Anjouan, and Moheli, share African-Arab origins. Islam is the dominant religion, and Koranic schools for children reinforce its influence. The most common language is Shikomoro, a Swahili dialect. French and Arabic also are spoken. About 57% of the population is literate.
Over the centuries, the islands were chanced upon or invaded by a succession of diverse groups from the coast of Africa, the Persian Gulf, Indonesia, and Madagascar. Portuguese explorers visited the archipelago in 1505. "Shirazi" Arab migrants introduced Islam at about the same time. Between 1841 and 1912, France established colonial rule over Grande Comore, Anjouan, Mayotte, and Moheli and placed the islands under the administration of the governor general of Madagascar. Later, French settlers, French-owned companies, and wealthy Arab merchants established a plantation-based economy that used about one-third of the land for export crops. After World War II, the islands became a French overseas territory and were represented in France's National Assembly. Internal political autonomy was granted in 1961. Agreement was reached with France in 1973 for Comoros to become independent in 1978. On July 6, 1975, however, the Comoran parliament passed a resolution declaring unilateral independence. The deputies of Mayotte abstained, preferring to maintain strong ties to France. As a result, the Comoran Government has control only over Grande Comore, Anjouan, and Moheli. Mayotte remains under French administration.
Until recently, Comoran politics were plagued by political instability and civil strife, with numerous coups and secession attempts since independence from France in 1975. The most recent secession attempt was on the island of Anjouan in 1997-1999, wherein rival factions on the island of Anjouan both wanted to secede but could not agree on whether to declare independence or to join France. This disagreement erupted into violence, which eventually spread to the other islands as well. It was partially in response to this that then-Colonel Assoumani Azali took over the national government in 1999 in a bloodless coup d’etat. In May 1999, Azali decreed a constitution that gave him both executive and legislative powers. When Azali took power, he had pledged to step down in 2000 and relinquish control to a democratically elected president. Instead, in 2001, Azali resigned from the military and ran as a civilian candidate for the national presidency. He was elected in 2002 in flawed but fair elections.
In June 2007, individual island elections on Grande Comore and Moheli were held on schedule, but on Anjouan, island governor Mohamed Bacar refused to step down, held a sham election, and declared himself Island Governor for another term. In March 2008, Comoran and African Union (AU) forces restored constitutional rule on Anjouan. A new election for island governor was held peacefully in June 2008.
GOVERNMENT AND POLITICAL CONDITIONS
Since 2002, Comoros has been ruled by democratically elected leaders. It has a unique system under the 2001 constitution, wherein the office of the presidency rotates every 4 years between the three main islands. Thus, in the most recent elections, in December 2010, only those originating from the island of Moheli were eligible to run for the presidency. In 2014 the turn will fall to those originating from Grande Comore. Ikililou Dhoinine, a vice president and the favored candidate of the incumbent president, was elected in December 2010 in a vote that was deemed generally free and fair. Though some irregularities were noted on the island of Anjouan, they were determined not to have changed the outcome of the vote. Dhoinine officially takes office in May 2011. Ruling President Ahmed Abdallah Mohamed Sambi, originating from the island of Anjouan, came to power in 2006 elections that were deemed generally free and fair, taking over from President Azali, who initially came to power in a coup but was elected in 2002 after resigning his military commission.
Principal Government Officials
President--Ahmed Abdallah Mohamed Sambi
Minister of Foreign Affairs--Fahmi Said Ibrahim El Maceli
Ambassador to the United States and to the United Nations--Mohamed Toihiri
Comoros maintains a mission to the United States at 866 United Nations Plaza, Suite 418 New York, NY 10017 (tel. 212-750-1637).
Comoros, with an estimated gross domestic product (GDP) per capita of about $820 (or, at purchasing power parity, about $1,000), is among the world's poorest and least developed nations. Although the quality of the land differs from island to island, much of the widespread lava-encrusted soil is unsuitable for agriculture. Comoros has only one deepwater port, and unreliable and sometimes nonexistent road connections, significantly limiting its ability to scale up its engagement in international trade. As a result, most of the inhabitants make their living from subsistence farming (where this is possible) and fishing.
Agriculture, involving more than 80% of the population and 40% of the gross domestic product, provides virtually all foreign exchange earnings. Services including tourism, construction, and commercial activities constitute the remainder of the GDP. Plantations engage a small proportion of the population, but produce the islands' major cash crops for export: vanilla, cloves, perfume essences, and copra (the dried meat of a coconut from which oil is extracted). Comoros is the world's leading producer of essence of ylang-ylang, used in manufacturing perfume. It also is the world's second-largest producer of vanilla, after neighboring Madagascar. Principal food crops are coconuts, bananas, and cassava. Foodstuffs constitute 32% of total imports.
The country lacks the infrastructure necessary for development. Some villages are not linked to the main road system or at best are connected by tracks usable only by four-wheel-drive vehicles. The islands' ports are rudimentary, although one deepwater facility functions in Anjouan. Only small vessels can approach the existing quays in Moroni on Grande Comore, despite improvements. Most long-distance, ocean-going ships must lie offshore and be unloaded by smaller boats; during the cyclone season, this procedure is dangerous, and ships are reluctant to call at the island. As a result, most freight is sent first to Mombasa, Kenya or the French island of Reunion and transshipped from there.
France, Comoros' largest trading partner, finances only small development projects. The United States receives a growing percentage of Comoros' exports but supplies only a negligible fraction of its imports (less than 1%).
Comoros has an international airport at Hahaya on Grande Comore. Comoros has its own currency, the Comoran Franc, which is currently valued at approximately 360 CF = U.S. $1.00.
The military resources of the Comoros consist of small standing armies from each island and a 500-member police force, as well as a 600-member national defense force. A defense treaty with France provides naval resources for protection of territorial waters, training of Comoran military personnel, and air surveillance. France maintains a small maritime base and a Foreign Legion contingent on neighboring Mayotte.
In November 1975, Comoros became the 143rd member of the United Nations. The new nation was defined at that time as consisting of the entire archipelago, despite the fact that France maintains control over Mayotte.
Comoros is also a member of the African Union, the Arab League, the European Development Fund, the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, the International Labor Organization, the World Health Organization, the Indian Ocean Commission, the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA), and the African Development Bank.
The United States recognized the Comoran Government in 1977. The two countries enjoy friendly relations. The U.S. closed its Embassy in Moroni in 1993 and is now represented by a nonresident Ambassador in neighboring Madagascar.
Principal U.S. Embassy Officials (all officers resident in Antananarivo, Madagascar)
Charge d’Affaires, a.i. and Deputy Chief of Mission--Eric Stromayer
Chief Political-Economic Officer--Glenn Fedzer
Management Officer--Alfred Braswell
Public Affairs Officer--Brett Bruen
Consular Officer--Jane Gamble
Comoros Officer--John Corrao
The address of the U.S. Embassy in Madagascar is Lot 207 A, Point Liberty, Andranoro, Antehiroka, 105 Antananarivo (tel: 261-20-23-480-00; fax: 261-20-22-648-60; E-mail: email@example.com).