Capital City: Moroni
Largest City: Moroni
Languages: Comorian, Arabic, French
Official Currency: Comorian franc (KMF)
GDP (nominal) $532 million
Land Area: 2,235 km2
Comoros is formed by Ngazidja (Grande Comore), Mwali (Moheli), Nzwani (Anjouan), and Maore (Mayotte), the major islands in the Comoros Archipelago, as well as many minor islets. The islands are officially known by their Comorian language names, though international sources still use their French names (in parentheses). The capital and largest city, Moroni, is located on Ngazidja. The archipelago is situated in the Indian Ocean, in the Mozambique Channel, between the African coast (nearest to Mozambique and Tanzania) and Madagascar, with no land borders.
The interiors of the islands vary from steep mountains to low hills. The climate is generally tropical and mild,
and the two major seasons are distinguishable by their relative raininess. The temperature reaches an average of 29–30 °C (84–86 °F) in March, the hottest month in the rainy season (called kashkazi, December to April), and an average low of 19 °C (66 °F) in the cool, dry season (kusi, May to November). The islands are rarely subject to cyclones.
Ngazidja is the largest of the Comoros Archipelago, approximately equal in area to the other islands combined. It is also the most recent island, and therefore has rocky soil. The island's two volcanoes, Karthala (active) and La Grille (dormant), and the lack of good harbors are distinctive characteristics of its terrain. Mwali, with its capital at Fomboni, is the smallest of the four major islands. Nzwani, whose capital is Mutsamudu, has a distinctive triangular shape caused by three mountain chains, Sima, Nioumakele, and Jimilime, emanating from a central peak, Ntringi (1,575 m or 5,170 ft).
The oldest of the islands, Maore has the richest soil as well as good harbors and local fish populations, due to its ring of coral reefs. Dzaoudzi, the previous capital of all the colonial Comoros, is located on Pamanzi, (French: Petite-Terre), the largest islet of Maore. Maore's current capital is at Mamoudzou. The term Mayotte (or Maore) may also refer to the group of islands, of which the largest is known as Maore (French: Grande-Terre), and it includes Maore's surrounding islands, most notably Pamanzi (Petite-Terre).
The Comoros also lays claim to the Glorioso Islands, comprising Grande Glorieuse, Ile du Lys, Wreck Rock, South Rock, Verte Rocks (three islets), and three unnamed islets, one of France's Iles Eparses or Iles eparses de l'ocean indien (Scattered islands in the Indian Ocean) possessions. The Glorioso Islands were administered by the colonial Comoros before 1975, and are therefore sometimes considered part of the Comoros Archipelago. Banc du Geyser, a former island in the Comoros Archipelago, now submerged, is geographically located in the Iles Eparses, but was annexed by Madagascar in 1976 as an unclaimed territory. The Comoros now claims it as part of its exclusive economic zone.
The Comoros constitute an ecoregion in their own right, Comoros forests.
Comoros -- History --
The first human inhabitants of the Comoro Islands are thought to have been African and Austronesian settlers, travelling by boat. They settled there no later than the sixth century CE, the date of the earliest known archaeological site, found on Nzwani, though some sources speculate that settlement began as early as the first century. The islands of Comoros became populated by a succession of diverse groups from the coast of Africa, the Persian Gulf, The Malay Archipelago, 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 Dembeni phase (ninth to tenth centuries), during which each island maintained a single, central village. 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. The citizens and historians of the Comoros state that early Arab settlements dated even before their known arrival to the archipelago, and Swahili historians frequently trace genealogies back Arab ancestors who had set travel from Yemen and the ancient kingdom of Saba' in Eden (thought to be the biblical Eden). Even though people are unsure if this is true.
Arab merchants first brought Arab Islamic influence to the islands. One most likely fact is that Arabs traded for slaves in Africa, increasing the spread and dominance of Arab culture. As their religion gained hold, 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.
By the nineteenth century, the influence of Arabic-speaking Sunni Persians from Shiraz, Iran, dominated the islands. The Shirazi traded along the coasts of East Africa, and the Middle East, establishing settlements and colonies in the archipelago.
Arab colonization in the region increased when nearby Zanzibar fell to Arab Omani rule, and Comorian culture, especially architecture and religion, also increasingly came under Arab imperial sway. Many rival sultanates colonized the area in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.
By the time Europeans showed interest in the Comoros, the dominant Arab cultural veneer of the islands led many to remind of the society's Arab colonial history at the expense of its native Swahili and African heritage. More recent western scholarship by Thomas Spear and Randall Pouwells emphasizes black African historical predominance over the diffusionist perspective.
Portuguese explorers first 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.
In 1886, Moheli was placed under French protection by its Queen Salima Machimba. That same year, after consolidating his authority over all of Grande 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.
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 native commodities exported by the Comoros were coconuts, cattle and tortoiseshell. 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 bean, and sisal were introduced.
Agreement was reached with France in 1973 for Comoros to become independent in 1978. The deputies of Mayotte abstained. Referendums were held on all four of the islands. Three voted for independence by large margins, while Mayotte voted against and remains under French administration. On July 6, 1975, however, the Comorian parliament passed a unilateral resolution declaring independence. Ahmed Abdallah proclaimed the independence of the State of the Comoros and became its first president.
The next 30 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. Months later, in January 1976, Jaffar was ousted in favor of his Minister of Defense Ali Soilih.
At this time, the population of Mayotte voted against independence from France in two 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.
In contrast to Soilih, Abdallah's presidency was marked by authoritarian rule and increased adherence to traditional Islam and the country was renamed the Federal and Islamic Republic of Comoros (Republique Federale Islamique des Comores). Abdallah continued as president until 1989 when, fearing a probable coup d'etat, 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 killed him. Although Denard was also injured, it is suspected that Abdallah's killer was a soldier under his command.
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. 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.
The islands of Anjouan and Moheli declared their independence from the Comoros in 1997, in an attempt to restore French rule. But France rejected their request, leading to bloody confrontations between federal troops and rebels. In April 1999, Colonel Azali Assoumani, Army Chief of Staff, seized power in a bloodless coup, overthrowing the Interim President Massounde, citing weak leadership in the face of the crisis. This was the Comoros' 18th coup d'etat since independence in 1975. But Azali failed to consolidate power and reestablish control over the islands, which was the subject of international criticism. The African Union, under the auspices of President Thabo Mbeki of South Africa, imposed sanctions on Anjouan to help broker negotiations and effect reconciliation. The official name of the country was changed to the Union of the Comoros and a new system of political 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 Comoros, 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 Comoros through constitutional changes that enabled new elections. A Loi des competences law was passed in early 2005 that defines the responsibilities of each governmental body, 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 peaceful and democratic exchange of power for the archipelago.
Colonel Mohammed Bacar, a French-trained former gendarme, seized power as President in Anjouan in 2001. He staged a vote in June 2007 to confirm his leadership that was rejected as illegal by the Comoros federal government and the African Union. On March 25, 2008 hundreds of soldiers from the African Union and Comoros seized rebel-held Anjouan, generally welcomed by the population: there have been reports of hundreds, if not thousands, of people tortured during Bacar’s tenure. Some rebels were killed and injured, but there are no official figures. At least 11 civilians were wounded. Some officials were imprisoned. Bacar fled in a speedboat to the French Indian Ocean territory of Mayotte to seek asylum. Anti-French protests followed in Comoros.
Since independence from France, the Comoros experienced more than 20 coups or attempted coups.
Comoros -- Economy --
Economic growth and poverty reduction are major priorities for the government. With a rate of 14.3%, unemployment is considered very high. Agriculture, including fishing, hunting, and forestry, is the leading sector of the economy, and 38.4% of the working population is employed in the primary sector. High population densities, as much as 1000 per square kilometer in the densest agricultural zones, for what is still a mostly rural, agricultural economy may lead to an environmental crisis in the near future, especially considering the high rate of population growth. The Comoros' real GDP growth was a low 1.9% in 2004 and real GDP per capita was continuing declining annually in 2004. These declines are explained by factors including declining investment, drops in consumption, rising inflation, and an increase in trade imbalance due in part to lowered cash crop prices, especially vanilla.
Comoros has an inadequate transportation system, 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 contributes 40% to GDP, employs 80% of the labor force, and provides most of the exports. Comoros is the world's largest producer of ylang-ylang, and a large producer of vanilla.
The government is struggling to upgrade education and technical training, to privatize commercial and industrial enterprises, to improve health services, to diversify exports, to promote tourism, and to reduce the high population growth rate.
The Comoros claims the Banc du Geyser and the Glorioso Islands as part of its exclusive economic zone.
Comoros is a member of the Organization for the Harmonization of Business Law in Africa (OHADA).
Comoros -- Culture --
Comorian (Shikomori) is the most widely used language on the Comoros. It is a close relative of Swahili; like Swahili, it is a Bantu language with approximately 30% of its vocabulary derived from Arabic. It 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 Shindzwani, 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 even though they are not native to the region.
There is a government owned national newspaper in Comoros, Al-Watwan, published in Moroni; Kwezi is also published on Mayotte. Radio Comoros is the national radio service and Comoros National TV is the television service.
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.In 2000, 44.2 percent of children ages 5 to 14 years were attending school. There is a general lack of facilities, equipment, qualified teachers, textbooks and other resources. Salaries for teachers are often so far in arrears
Comoros -- Political system, law and government --
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 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. Anjouan holds the current presidency rotation, and so Ahmed Abdallah Mohamed Sambi is President of the Union; Moheli and Ngazidja follow in four year terms.
The Comorian legal system rests on Islamic law, an inherited French (Napoleonic code) legal code, and customary law (mila na ntsi). Village elders, kadis 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.
Around 80 percent of the central government's annual budget is spent on the country’s complex electoral system which provides for a semi-autonomous government and president for each of the three islands and a rotating presidency for the over-arching Union government. A referendum took place on May 16, 2009 to decide whether to cut down the government's unwieldy political bureaucracy. 52.7% of those eligible voted, and 93.8% of votes were cast in approval of the referendum. The referendum would cause each island's president to become a governor and the ministers to become councilors.
As of 2008, Comoros and Mauritania are considered by US-based organization Freedom House as the only real “electoral democracies” of the Arab World.
Also in 2008, the Comoros were ranked 14th out of 48 sub-Saharan African countries in the Ibrahim Index of African Governance. The Ibrahim Index is a comprehensive measure of African governance, based on a number of different variables which reflect the success with which governments deliver essential political goods to its citizens.