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Background: Unstable Comoros has endured 19 coups or attempted coups since gaining independence from France in 1975. In 1997, the islands of Anjouan and Moheli declared their independence from Comoros. In 1999, military chief Col. AZALI seized power. He has pledged to resolve the secessionist crisis through the 2000 Fomboni Accord, a confederal arrangement that the Organization of African Unity has yet to recognize.
Government type: independent republic
Capital: Moroni
Currency: 1 Comoran franc (CF) = 100 centimes

Geography of Comoros

Location: Southern Africa, group of islands in the Mozambique Channel, about two-thirds of the way between northern Madagascar and northern Mozambique
Geographic coordinates: 12 10 S, 44 15 E
total: 2,170 sq. km
land: 2,170 sq. km
water: 0 sq. km
Land boundaries: 0 km
Coastline: 340 km
Maritime claims:
exclusive economic zone: 200 nm
territorial sea: 12 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%
permanent crops: 10%
permanent pastures: 7%
forests and woodland: 18%
other: 30% (1993 est.)
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

People of Comoros

The Comorians inhabiting Grande Comore, Anjouan, and Moheli (86% of the population) share African-Arab origins. Islam is the dominant religion, and Koranic schools for children reinforce its influence. Although Arab culture is firmly established throughout the archipelago, a substantial minority of the citizens of Mayotte (the Mahorais) are Catholic and have been strongly influenced by French culture.

The most common language is Shikomoro, a Swahili dialect. French and Arabic also are spoken. About 57% of the population is literate.

Population: 671,247 (July 2005 est.)
Age structure:
0-14 years:  42.81%
15-64 years:  54.26%
65 years and over:  2.93% 
Population growth rate: 3.02% 
Birth rate: 39.52 births/1,000 population 
Death rate: 9.35 deaths/1,000 population 
Net migration rate: NEGL migrant(s)/1,000 population 
Infant mortality rate: 84.07 deaths/1,000 live births 
Life expectancy at birth:
total population:  60.41 years
male:  58.2 years
female:  62.68 years 
Total fertility rate: 5.32 children born/woman 
noun: Comoran(s)
adjective: Comoran
Ethnic groups: Antalote, Cafre, Makoa, Oimatsaha, Sakalava
Religions: Sunni Muslim 98%, Roman Catholic 2%
Languages: Arabic (official), French (official), Comoran (a blend of Swahili and Arabic)
definition: age 15 and over can read and write
total population: 57.3%
male: 64.2%
female: 50.4% (1995 est.)

History of Comoros

THE FEDERAL ISLAMIC REPUBLIC of the Comoros is an archipelago situated in the western Indian Ocean, about midway between the island of Madagascar and the coast of East Africa at the northern end of the Mozambique Channel. The archipelago has served in past centuries as a stepping stone between the African continent and Madagascar, as a southern outpost for Arab traders operating along the East African coast, and as a center of Islamic culture. The name “Comoros” is derived from the Arabic kamar or kumr, meaning “moon,” although this name was first applied by Arab geographers to Madagascar. In the nineteenth century, Comoros was absorbed into the French overseas empire, but it unilaterally proclaimed independence from France on July 6, 1975.

Comoros has had a troubled and uncertain course as an independent state. Mahoré, or Mayotte, the easternmost of the archipelago’s four main islands, including Njazidja (formerly Grande Comore), Mwali (formerly Mohéli), and Nzwani (formerly Anjouan), remains under French administration, a majority of its voters having chosen to remain tied to France in referendums held in 1974 and 1976. By the mid-1990s, the integration of Mahoré into Comoros remained an official objective of the Comoran government, but it had taken a back seat to more pressing concerns, such as developing a viable national economy. Meanwhile, the Mahorais were making the most of their close relationship with France. They accepted large amounts of developmental aid and took an intense interest in French political events. Although South Africa played a major role in the Comoran economy in the 1980s, by the early 1990s France was the island republic’s foremost patron, providing economic aid, political guidance, and national security.

Comoros is densely populated and dedicates only limited amounts of land to food production. Thus, it depends heavily on imports of rice, vegetables, and meat. Its economy is based on the production of cash crops, principally ylang-ylang (perfume essence), vanilla, and cloves, all of which have experienced wild price swings in recent years, thus complicating economic planning and contributing to a burgeoning trade deficit. A growing dependence on foreign aid, often provided to meet day-to-day needs for food, funds, and government operations, further clouds economic prospects. Comoros suffers the ills of a developing nation in particularly severe form: food shortages and inadequate diets, poor health standards, a high rate of population growth, widespread illiteracy, and international indebtedness.

The country has endured political and natural catastrophes. Less than a month after independence, the government of the first Comoran president, Ahmed Abdallah, was overthrown; in 1978 foreign mercenaries carried out a second coup, overthrowing the radical regime of Ali Soilih and returning Abdallah to power. Indigenous riots in Madagascar in 1976 led to the repatriation of an estimated 17,000 Comorans. The eruption of the volcano, Kartala, on Njazidja in 1977 displaced some 2,000 people and possibly hastened the downfall of the Soilih regime. Cyclones in the 1980s, along with a violent coup that included the assassination of President Abdallah in 1989 and two weeks of rule by European mercenaries, rounded out the first fifteen years of Comoran independence.

In the early 1990s, the omnipresent mercenaries of the late 1970s and 1980s were gone, and the winding down of civil conflict in southern Africa, in combination with the end of the Cold War, had reduced the republic’s value as a strategic chess piece. However, as in the 1970s and 1980s, the challenge to Comorans was to find a way off the treadmills of economic dependency and domestic political dysfunction.

Comoros 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, is the leading sector of the economy. It 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 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. Continued foreign support is essential if the goal of 4% annual GDP growth is to be met. Remittances from 150,000 Comorans abroad help supplement GDP.

GDP: purchasing power parity – $419 million (2000 est.)
GDP – real growth rate: 0% (1998 est.), 0.5% (2000 est.)
GDP – per capita: purchasing power parity – $720 (2000 est.)
GDP – composition by sector:
agriculture:  40%
industry:  4%
services:  56% (2000 est.)
Inflation rate (consumer prices): 3.5% (1999)
Labor force: 144,500 (1996 est.)
Labor force – by occupation: agriculture 80%, government 3%
Unemployment rate: 20% (1996 est.)
revenues: $48 million
expenditures: $53 million (1997)
Industries: tourism, perfume distillation, textiles, furniture, jewelry, construction materials, soft drinks
Industrial production growth rate: -2% (1999 est.)
Electricity – production: 17 million kWh (1999)
Electricity – production by source:
fossil fuel:  88.24%
hydro:  11.76%
nuclear:  0%
other:  0% (1999)
Agriculture – products: vanilla, cloves, perfume essences, copra, coconuts, bananas, cassava (tapioca)
Exports: $7.9 million (f.o.b., 1999 est.)
Exports – commodities: vanilla, ylang-ylang, cloves, perfume oil, copra
Exports – partners: France 50%, Germany 25% (1998)
Imports: $55.1 million (f.o.b., 1999 est.)
Imports – commodities: rice and other foodstuffs, consumer goods; petroleum products, cement, transport equipment
Imports – partners: France 38%, Pakistan 13%, South Africa 8%, Kenya 8% (1998)
Debt – external: $197 million (1997 est.)
Economic aid – recipient: $28.1 million (1997)
Currency: Comoran franc (KMF)

Map of Comoros