Comoros Country Profile 2012-2013

The island state of Comoros consists of three main islands, Grand Comore (Ngazidja), Anjouan (Nzwani) and Mohéli (Mwali). The fourth major island of the archipelago, Mayotte (Maore), chose to remain part of France when the other islands became independent in 1975. The small country struggles for its sovereignty over Mayotte to be recognized outward, while being challenged by separatist forces within.

The Comoros were detached from France in 1975 after an overwhelming majority voted for independence. The country has subsequently been characterized by political instability. The number of coups and coup attempts since 1975 exceeds 20. In 1997, Anjouan and Mohéli declared themselves independent from the rest of the Comoros. Negotiations to resolve the crisis resulted in a new constitution. The goal of the national unification process was to secure the unity of the state by granting more autonomy to the various islands. A federal governing body was introduced, with a joint president of the union and a local governing body on each island. Three presidential elections have taken place in retrospect, in 2002, 2006 and 2010. Following the 2006 presidential election, the first peaceful transfer of power in the history of the Comoros took place.

Towards political stability?

The Constitution provides for the presidency to rotate between the islands. The current president, Ikililou Dhoinine, is from Mohéli. The 2010 election was recognized by international observers, despite the fact that irregularities were reported during the election, especially from Anjouan. The opposition accused the then Comoros, Ahmed Abdallah Mohamed Zambi of Anjouan, of preventing free elections on Anjouan. Ikililou Dhoinine, former vice president of Zambia, won the election with around 60 percent of the vote. Although Dhoinine was considered by the former president, through his reign, he has partially broken with the previous president by replacing the entire government and announcing corruption as the main battle, unlike Zambi who highlighted challenges related to improving housing standards,

Anjouan remains a challenge

Even after Anjouan agreed to remain part of the Comorian state in 2001, the island has remained a challenge to the country’s stability. One of the reasons is that problems related to poverty and overpopulation, which the whole country faces, are more prominent in Anjouan. In 2007, the island was again on collision course with central authorities. The incumbent governor, Mohamed Bacar, refused to step down and made an election that was not recognized by the country’s authorities. When it appeared that a political solution was out of reach, forces from the African Union and the Comorian army were landed on the island in March 2008 to remove Bacar by military force. The island remains a challenge for the country’s stability. In November 2011, five people were arrested on Anjouan, accused of planning a coup.

Mayotte – French or Comorian?

Whoever has sovereignty over Mayotte has been a longstanding conflict between France and the Comoros. The Comoros have largely received international recognition for their claim to Mayotte. When the country joined the UN in 1975, Mayotte was defined as part of its territory. The conflict has led to a problematic relationship between the two countries. Only 30 years after the Comoros became independent, in January 2005, a Comorian head of state was for the first time visiting France.

The conflict was amplified when Mayotte became a French overseas ministry in March 2011, that is, an administrative unit in France corresponding to the county of Norway after an overwhelming majority in a Mayotte referendum. The island is more developed than the rest of the Comoros, and the population hopes that belonging to France will bring further development and growth. The difference in prosperity on Mayotte and the rest of the Comoros has led to more Comoros, especially from Anjouan, seeking happiness on Mayotte. But not everyone is allowed to stay and the number of expulsions is high, which corresponds to the total number of expulsions from continental France and Corsica.

A poor agricultural country

It is not only Anjouan who is poor, the whole of the Comoros is one of the world’s poorest countries. As many as 45 percent of the population live below the poverty line and poverty is particularly prominent in rural areas. The economy is dominated by agriculture. 40 percent of the country’s gross domestic product (GDP) comes from this sector, and it employs 80 percent of the labor force. All the main export goods are agricultural products: vanilla, ylang-ylang and cloves. In total, these three products represent 95 percent of the country’s exports. Due to the limited national market and an export industry based on few products, in addition to weak national institutions, the economy is vulnerable to changes in the international market.

Although the country’s economy is dominated by agriculture, the Comoros are not self-sufficient in food. Key basic products such as cooking oil and rice are imported. This means that the country has challenges related to food shortages. All cultivable land is already in use. An increase in food production must come from a streamlining of the use of this land, because one cannot increase agricultural land without further cutting down what is left of the rainforest. However, cutting down rainforests along with climate change in the form of increased average temperature and fewer, but more powerful rainfall causes erosion of the cultivable soil.

The quality of the school supply is unsatisfactory due to lack of resources. The school system often lacks premises and school supplies, and teachers have at times strived due to lack of salaries. Most children are sent to Koran school. A majority of the children are now also sent to regular school afterwards, the percentage is around 90. One of the country’s challenges is that there are few jobs to offer those who complete schooling. Unemployment is high among both skilled and unskilled.

Relations with external players

The country is largely dependent on external support. The Comorian diaspora plays a key role in the country’s economy. The transfer from this group equals 20 percent of the country’s GDP. Bilateral support and assistance from international organizations is also an important contribution to the country’s budget. The most important trading partner is still France, but the country also cooperates with a number of countries in the Arabian Peninsula and China. The Comoros take part in the Heavily Indebted Poor Country Initiative (HIPC) initiative and in 2010 fulfilled the first part of the debt relief requirements.

Hope for better times?

One of the causes of the country’s poverty is political instability. It is hoped that the relative stability of recent years, compared with earlier in the country’s history, will lead to increased economic growth. The economic growth figures for recent years provide room for cautious optimism. Growth has gone from 1.8 percent in 2009 to 2.1 percent in 2010, and the projection for 2011 is 2.5 percent. In the wake of political stability, foreign investment and tourists are expected to find their way to the small island state to a greater extent.

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