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Federal Islamic Republic of the Comoros

République Fédérale Islamique des Comores;
Jumhuriyat al-Qumur al-Ittihadiyah al-Islamiyah


FLAG: 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.

ANTHEM: No information available.

MONETARY UNIT: The Comorian franc (Co Fr) is the equivalent of the Communauté Financière Africaine franc (CFA Fr), which has been pegged to the euro since January 1999 at a rate of 655.957 CFA francs to 1 euro. The Comorian franc is issued in notes of 500, 1,000, and 5,000 Co Fr. Co Fr1 = $0.00252 (or $1 = Co Fr396.21) as of 2004.

WEIGHTS AND MEASURES: The metric system is used.

HOLIDAYS: New Year's Day, 1 January; Second Coup d'État, 13 May; Independence Day, 6 July; Admission to UN, 12 November; Christmas Day, 25 December. The principal Muslim holidays are observed.

TIME: 3 pm = noon GMT.


The Comoros are located at the northern entrance of the Mozambique Channel, between the eastern shore of the African continent and the island of Madagascar, which lies about 480 km (300 mi) to the se. Comparatively, the area occupied by the Comoros Islands is slightly more than 12 times the size of Washington, DC. The islands have a combined area of 2,170 sq km (838 sq mi), of which Grande Comore (Njazídja), the largest and northernmost island, comprises 1,148 sq km (443 sq mi); Mohéli (Mwali), lying to the s of Grande Comore, 290 sq km (112 sq mi); and Anjouan (Nzwani) to the e of Mohéli, 424 sq km (164 sq mi). There are also several small islands. The Comoros extend about 180 km (110 mi) esewnw and 100 km (62 mi) nnessw, with a total coastline of 340 km (211 mi). Mayotte, the fourth major island in the Comoros Archipelago, covering an area of 374 sq km (144 sq mi), is claimed by the Comoros but remains under French territorial administration. The capital city Moroni, is located at the western edge of the island of Grande Comore.


The islands are volcanic in origin and their highest peak, Mt. Kartala at 2,360 meters (7,743 feet), is an active volcano located near the southern tip of the island of Grande Comore. In the center of Grande Comore lies a desert lava field. To the north, a number of volcanic peaks rise from a plateau nearly 600 meters (2,000 feet) in altitude. The island of Anjouan, to the southeast, has steep hills reaching heights of nearly 1,500 meters (5,000 feet) in a central volcanic massif. Mohéli, to the west of Anjouan, has wide and fertile valleys, with a ridge in the center that reaches about 580 meters (1,900 feet) above sea level, and a thick forest cover. The lowest point is at sea level (Indian Ocean).


The climate in the Comoros is humid and tropical, with coastal temperatures averaging about 28°c (82°f) in March and 23°c (73°f) in August. The monsoon season lasts from December to April. Rainfall in January averages 42 cm (16.5 in), and in October, the driest month, 8.5 cm (3.3 in). Cyclones and tidal waves are frequent in the summer.


The rich volcanic soils on the islands foster the growth of a profuse vegetation. Beyond the coastal zones, where mangroves predominate, there are coconut palms, mangoes, and bananas, and above them is a forest zone, with many varieties of tropical hardwoods. Broom, lichens, and heather grow on the highest peaks. The animal life is similar to that found on Madagascar. Comorian waters harbor the coelacanth, a rare primitive fish once thought to have been extinct for 70 million years. Fossil remains of the coelacanth dating back 400 million years have been found.


Although Mohéli has large tracts of fertile land not yet cultivated, parts of Anjouan are so densely populated that farmers have been forced to extend cultivation to the higher slopes, leading to deforestation and soil erosion, especially when crops are cultivated on slopes without adequate terracing. Population growth has also increased the demand for firewood, threatening the remaining forest areas. Soil erosion is aggravated by lack of terracing. Comoros has about 0.2 cu mi of water, of which 47% is used for agricultural purposes, 48% is used in urban centers and for domestic purposes, and 5% is used in industry.

According to a 2006 report issued by the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN), the number of threatened species included 2 types of mammals, 10 species of birds, 2 types of reptiles, 4 species of fish, 4 species of other invertebrates, and 5 species of plants. Endangered species in the Comoros include the Anjouan sparrow hawk and Anjouan scops owl.


The population of Comoros in 2005 was estimated by the United Nations (UN) at 671,000, which placed it at number 159 in population among the 193 nations of the world. In 2005, approximately 3% of the population was over 65 years of age, with another 43% of the population under 15 years of age. There were 101 males for every 100 females in the country. According to the UN, the annual population rate of change for 20052010 was expected to be 3.0%, a rate the government viewed as too high. Government programs to address population growth succeeded in increasing the use of contraception from 11.4% in 1996 to 19.3% in 2001. The projected population for the year 2025 was 1,127,000. The population density was 301 per sq km (779 per sq mi). Grande Comore, the largest island, has the largest populace, followed by Anjouan and then Mohéli.

The UN estimated that 33% of the population lived in urban areas in 2005, and that urban areas were growing at an annual rate of 4.36%. The capital city, Moroni, had a population of 53,000 in that year.


About 40,000 Comorians live in France and 25,000 in Madagascar. About 16,000 were expelled from Madagascar in 197778, following a massacre there of Comorians in December 1976. In 2000, there were 18,000 migrants living in Comoros. For 2003 it was estimated that 2530% of the population lived outside the country. In 2003, an estimated $36.4 million in remittances, approximately 12% of GDP, flowed to Comoros. These remittances amounted to about $50 per Comorian. The net migration rate in 2005 was estimated as zero per 1,000 population. The government views the migration levels as satisfactory.


The islands' indigenous population consists almost entirely of persons of mixed African, Malagasy, Malay, and Arab descent. Ethnic groups include the Antalote, Cafre, Makoa, Oimatsaha, and Sakalava. Small numbers of Indians, Malagasy, and Europeans play an important part in the economy.


French and Arabic are the official languages. The main spoken language, ShaafiIslam (Shikomoro or Comoran), is akin to Swahili but has elements borrowed from Arabic. Other languages spoken include French, Malagasy, Swahili, Arabic, and Makua (an African language).


Islam is followed by about 99% of Comorians, almost all of whom are Sunni Muslims. Fewer than 400 citizensapproximately 1% of the populationare Christian, all of whom reportedly converted to Christianity within the last half of the 1990s. Small groups of foreigners are Hindus or Christians.

Following a 1999 military coup, the May 2000 constitution did not allow for freedom of religion. The December 2001 constitution does provide for this freedom, however, it also makes Islam the state religion and the government tends to discourage the practice of other faiths. The practice of Christianity is particularly restricted. There are two Roman Catholic churches and one Protestant church. Since before the 1999 coup, the government has restricted the use of these churches to noncitizens only. Harassment and social discrimination of Christians is widespread. Proselytizing of Christianity is prohibited. The Grand Mufti, who is nominated by the president to serve in the Ministry of Islamic Affairs, serves as the government counsel on Islamic faith and law.


Each island has a ringed road, and there were some 880 km (547 mi) of roads in 2002, with 673 km (418 mi) paved. There is an international airport at Hahaia, on Grande Comore; other islands have smaller airfields. There were a total of four airports, all with paved runways, in 2004. Air Comores (51% owned by Air France) provides regular interisland flights. Air France and Air Madagascar provide service to Madagascar; Air Mauritius provides service to Mauritius; and South African Airways makes a weekly stop. In 1997 (the latest year for which data was available), 83,000 passengers traveled on international and domestic flights. As of 2005, Comoros' merchant marine totaled 79 ships of 1,000 GRT or over, totaling 452,801 GRT. There is a year-round port at Dzaoudzi, off the island of Mayotte. Until recently, the other ports, at Moroni and Mutsamudu, could accommodate only small ships. Larger vessels had to anchor offshore and be loaded and unloaded by dhows. Expansion of the port of Mutsamudu to allow direct access to Anjouan was completed in 1985.


The Comoros are an archipelago of four small Indian Ocean islands that lie between East Africa and the northwestern coast of Madagascar. The four islands are called Ngazidja (formerly Grande-Comore), Nzwani (formerly Anjouan), Mwali (formerly Moheli), and Mayotte. In all likelihood they were visited in antiquity by Phoenician sailors. The first settlers were probably Melanesian and Polynesian peoples, who came to the Comoros by the 6th century ad; later immigrants arrived from East Africa, Arab lands, Indonesia, Persia, and Madagascar. The Portuguese discovered the islands in about 1503, and Frenchmen first landed in 1517. The Englishman James Lancaster visited the islands toward the end of the 16th century; at that time, and for many years afterward, Arab influence predominated over that of Europeans. Malagasy invasions also took place in the 16th century. In 1843, a Malagasy who ruled over Mayotte ceded the island to France, and in 1865, a Malagasy ruler of Mohéli signed a friendship treaty with France. A French protectorate was placed over Anjouan, Grande Comore, and Mohéli in 1886, and in 1908 the islands were joined administratively with French-ruled Madagascar. In World War II, the islands were occupied by a British force and turned over to the Free French. The Comoros were granted administrative autonomy within the Republic of France on 9 May 1946, acquiring overseas territorial status, and on 22 December 1961 achieved internal autonomy under special statute. This status was amended on 3 January 1968 to give the territory greater internal autonomy.

On 11 December 1958, the Territorial Assembly voted to remain in the Republic, but the cause of independence, championed by the Comoro National Liberation Movement, based in Tanzania, was eventually embraced by the ruling coalition on the islands. An agreement for independence within five years was signed in Paris on 15 June 1973, and in a referendum held on 22 December 1974, a large majority on all islands except Mayotte voted in favor of independence. The vote was ratified by the French parliament, which decided that each island should vote separately on a new constitution. On 6 July 1975, nevertheless, the Comoros legislature unilaterally declared independence for all the islands, including Mayotte. The French government, rejecting the Comorian claim to Mayotte, ordered a separate referendum for the island. As preparations were made for the 1976 referendum, relations between France and the Comoros deteriorated. The Comorian government nationalized all French administrative property and expelled French officials. With strained French-Comorian relations as the backdrop, Mayotte voted on 7 February 1976 to remain part of France. The UN General Assembly, however, backed the Comorian claim to Mayotte in 1976 and 1979 resolutions.

Considerable domestic turmoil accompanied the birth of the new nation. The first Comorian government took power on 6 July 1975 and was led by Ahmed 'Abdallah. It unilaterally declared independence from France and was overthrown within a month on 3 August 1975 with the aid of foreign white mercenaries. A National Executive Council led by Prince Said Mohammed Jaffar was created. Jaffar was the leader of a group that favored a more conciliatory policy toward Mayotte and France. In January 1976 he was replaced by 'Ali Soilih who led a military coup that toppled Jaffar a year earlier. In 1977 Soilih's government changed the French names of the four islands (Grande-Comore, Mohéli, Mayotte, and Anjouan) to Ngazidja, Mwali, Mahore, and Nzwani. Four unsuccessful coup attempts were launched during Soilih's rule. However, on 13 May 1978, Soilih was overthrown and killed by mercenaries led by Bob Denard, whose previous exploits in Zaire and elsewhere made him infamous throughout Africa. Denard reinstalled the nation's first president, Ahmad 'Abdallah, who had been living in exile in Paris. Denard remained the true power behind 'Abdallah. Their government was close to right-wing elements in France and to South Africa, where the Comoros served as a conduit for supplies to the Renamo rebels in Mozambique. Soon after the coup, France agreed to restore economic and military aid, which had been suspended during the Soilih regime. Most African countries were, however, unhappy with the role of mercenaries in toppling the Soilih government and the Comoros were expelled from the OAU (Organization of African Unity).

In September 1978, Denard and his mercenaries were asked to leave the Comoros due to the international stigma their presence caused the osland nation. This was a façade, as Denard remained the true power on the islands; however, the ruse did succeed in getting the Comoros back into the OAU. A new constitution was approved on 1 October 1978 by 99.31% of the voters. The new constitution created a Federal Islamic Republic in which each island was granted increased autonomy. On 22 October, 'Abdallah, the only candidate, was elected president with a reported 99.94% of the valid votes.

Chronic economic problems were worsened in January 1983 by tropical cyclone Elena, the worst in 30 years. The damage was estimated at Co Fr200 million; up to 80% of the crop was damaged.

'Abdallah was reelected unopposed with 99.4% of the vote in September 1984. There were coup attempts in 1985 and 1987. Elections to the Federal Assembly were held in March 1987. By 1989, however, resentment for the overbearing influence of Denard and his men grew. Even 'Abdallah grew disenchanted and, with the backing of France and South Africa, he moved to displace Denard's mercenaries. Before this could be implemented, however, on 26 November 1989 a member of the Presidential Guard (many suspect Denard) assassinated 'Abdallah. This unit included European mercenaries and was under the command of Denard.

Said Mohamed Djohar, head of the Supreme Court, was appointed interim president pending a presidential election. With the help of Paris and Pretoria, on 15 December 1989, he forced Denard to relinquish power in exchange for safe passage to South Africa.

In January 1990, demonstrators protested the postponement of the presidential election that was scheduled for February. A French peacekeeping force enabled the government to lift political restrictions and conduct the presidential election as originally scheduled. The election was held on 18 February, but it was abandoned following allegations of fraud. On 4 March, fresh elections were held in which no single candidate for the president received a majority of the votes. In a run-off election held one week later, Djohar won with 55% of the vote to the UNDC's (Union Nationale pour la Democratie aux Comores) Mohammed Taki Abdulkarim's 44%. In March, Djohar appointed a government that included two of his opponents in the previous presidential election. Prince Said Ali Kemal, a lawyer and grandson of the last Sultan of Comoros was one of the former presidential hopefuls who was made part of the coalition government. Djohar's coalition government survived three coup attempts and several ministerial defections. One coup attempt was launched on August 1990, by army rebels with help from European mercenaries. Another coup was attempted a year later and involved the president of the Supreme Court Ibrahim Ahmed Halidi, who announced that he was dismissing President Djohar and assuming the role of president. The bloodless coup received support from opposition parties who saw Djohar as corrupt and viewed the presidency itself as being vested with too much power. The coup was thwarted, however, and Djohar responded by ordering the arrest of several supreme court members, including Halidi, and imposing a month-long state of emergency. Djohar pledged to seek constitutional reforms and reshuffled his cabinet, bringing in disgruntled opposition members.

In January 1992, amid continued unrest, a new transitional government of national union was installed, as constitutional reforms were debated and prepared for referendum. A new constitution was voted on in June and was passed overwhelmingly. However, allegations of corruption against Djohar's son-in-law, Mohamed M'Changama, Minister of Finance, plagued the regime. Amid heightened political unrest and a deteriorating economic situation, elections for the Federal Assembly produced a badly divided polity (the largest party had 7 of the 42 seats) and no consensus with the president on his choice of ministers could be reached. On 18 June 1992, Djohar dissolved the National Assembly, and legislative elections were held in December 1993 after long delays.

Supporters of Djohar won 24 of the 42 seats in the Assembly, but members of the opposition rejected Djohar's appointment of Mohamed Abdou Madi as prime minister and the choice of Djohar's son-in-law as president of the Assembly. Demonstrations against Djohar's authoritarian posture became frequent. A public sector strike began in April 1994 and grew quite acrimonious, and lasted until January 1995. Civil order continued to deteriorate as 1995 provincial elections were repeatedly postponed and as government after government collapsed. Djohar, however, remained in power, and his son and son-in-law held various ministerial posts.

By September 1995 conditions had deteriorated badly, and Bob Denard, from exile, staged a coup that resulted in the arrest of President Djohar. Denard appointed a close associate, Capt. Ayouba Combo, as the leader of a provisional government called the Transitional Military Committee. The Transitional Military Committee released political prisoners and in October transferred authority to two civilians, Mohammed Taki and Said Ali Kemal. Although France was no friend of Djohar, it was less enthusiastic about Denard's action and landed 1,000 troops to oust the coup leaders. In presidential elections held on 6 March 1996 and a runoff on 16 March, Mohammed Taki Abdulkarim won with 64% of the vote. Legislative elections on 1 and 8 December of that year resulted in an Assembly situated as follows: National Rally for Democracy, 36; National Front for Justice, 3; independents, 4.

In July 1997, security forces killed two people after separatists on Nzwani raised the French flag, blocked roads, and engaged in demonstrations demanding a return of French rule. Unrest quickly spread throughout Nzwani and Mwali. On 3 August 1997, separatists on the island of Anjouan (Nzwani) declared independence from the central government and were soon joined by the island of Mwali. In early September 1997, President Taki dispatched the army in an unsuccessful attempt to reunify the islands. Hoping to find a peaceful solution to the situation, the OAU intervened in favor of a negotiated settlement. In October, despite the objections of the Taki's government, a referendum was held on Nzwani in which 99% of those voting supported independence. France, for its part, rejected demands by the islands to reestablish its sovereignty.

In November 1998, President Mohammed Taki died shortly after returning from a trip to Turkey and Spain. Interim president Ben Said Massounde took power in Ngazidja (Grande Comore). A month later, a reported assassination attempt on Nzwani (Anjouan) island leader Foundi Abdullah Ibrahim led to heavy fighting in the island. At least 60 people were reported killed. The assassination attempt and fighting was thought to have been instigated by Chamasse Said Omar, a political opponent of Ibrahim who was upset that the Nzwani leader wanted to negotiate a new relationship with the government of Ngazidja.

On 30 April 1999, interim president Massounde was toppled in a bloodless coup, and was replaced by Col. Azali Assoumani on 6 May 1999. The coup was triggered by unresolved issues in the negotiations with the separatist islands that would have given them greater autonomy within a political union of the three islands. The autonomy proposal, which caused widespread resentment on Ngazidja, erupted in rioting in which residents from the other islands were targeted and blamed for the harsh economic conditions on the main island. As the secession stalemate continued, the government announced on 21 March 2000 that it had foiled the country's 19th coup attempt since independence while Assoumani was in Saudi Arabia. Among the suspected plotters were two sons of the assassinated first President Ahmed 'Abdallah.

Assoumani pledged to resolve the secessionist crisis through a confederal arrangement named the 2000 Fomboni Accord. In December 2001, voters approved a new constitution, and Assoumani resigned his post on 16 January 2002 to run for president in the 14 April 2002 elections. In a poll boycotted by the other two candidates, he was elected with 75% of the vote and was sworn in 26 May 2002. In the interregnum, his prime minister, Jamada Madi Bolero, was appointed interim president and Djaffar Salim the interim deputy prime minister.

Following the election, the confederal arrangement went into effect, and the three islands of Moheli, Anjouan, and Grande Comore assumed authority over most of their own affairs. However, power struggles continued over the authority of certain ministries, and in February 2003 the central government arrested a dozen soldiers and two local ministers in connection with an alleged coup attempt. The accused were said to be linked closely to the island government of Grande Comore. In April, traders organized a strike on Grande Comore to protest double taxation by the island and union governments.

President Assoumani's woes continued to mount in 2004 as the three island presidents and their supporters joined forces against the president's Convention pour le renouveau des Comores (CRC) party in the legislative elections. The results of this poll showed that the CRC had only a weak following, winning just 11 of 55 seats in the island parliaments, and 6 of the 18 seats up for reelection in the federal assembly. Col. Assoumani attempted to regain his posture by naming all members of his cabinet from the loyal ranks of his CRC party. In 2005, the country was wracked by demonstrations over a 40% increase in gasoline prices. At least one person was killed and 15 injured in the protests.

As 2006 unfolded, Comoros was scheduled to hold fresh elections for the Union presidency in April, which was due to move to Anjouan according to the rules in the 2000 Fomboni Accord. Nevertheless, widespread doubts that Assoumani actually would hand over power as required raised the specter of civil unrest and violence throughout the islands. Indeed, there was speculation that Assoumani might provoke incidents so as to destabilize Anjouan giving him a pretext to delay handing over power. One additional complication was that some Assoumani supporters claimed that the president's term began not in 2002 when he became Union president, but rather in 2004 after the transition to the federal system had been completed.

The National Assembly passed electoral legislation in September 2005 placing administration of the elections under the control of the Constitutional Court, which had been quite independent in other matters. Further, some 200,000 Comorians living abroad were given the right to vote in diplomatic missions abroad. Finally, South Africa, which has a stake in Comoros' stability, sent a delegation to the islands to assess elections preparedness for the AU's Peace and Security Committee.

On another front, a French court was planning to try Bob Denard and 26 others for their coup attempt in the islands in 1995. If convicted, they face up to ten years in prison.


Immediately prior to independence, the Comoros had partial autonomy and were governed by a 31-member Council of Ministers responsible to a Chamber of Deputies. The territory was represented in the French parliament by one senator and by two delegates to the National Assembly. A high commissioner represented the French president. After independence was declared, the Chamber of Deputies was reconstituted as a National Assembly. After the August 1975 coup, the National Assembly was abolished; supreme power was subsequently vested in the National Council of the Institutions, headed by President 'Ali Soilih.

The constitution of 1978, the first for the Comoros, established a Federal Islamic republic. Under this document, as amended in 1982, the president was elected to a six-year term, and there was an elected federal assembly of 42 members. Following the secession and subsequent breakup of the republic in 1997, the islands created a union consisting of semiautonomous islands led by their own presidents in addition to the president of the federal government, who retains control over defense, economic policy, and foreign affairs. The three island presidents are also vice presidents of the union. A new constitution was adopted in June 1992, and again in December 2001. It came into full operation following the election of the Union parliament in 2004.

Under the new constitution, the federal presidency rotates every four years among the elected presidents from the three main islands in the Union. Of the 33-member unicameral Assembly, 15 Assembly deputies are selected by the individual islands' local assemblies and the 18 by universal suffrage. Deputies serve for five years. The next presidential elections were scheduled for April 2006, and legislative elections for 2009.


In February 1982, the Comorian Union for Progress (Union Comorienne pour le ProgrèsUCP) was established as the only legal party; in March; UCP members won 37 of 38 seats in the National Assembly in contested elections that also involved independents. In March 1987, UCP candidates won all 42 seats. Despite earlier assurances of a free ballot, few opposition candidates were allowed to run, and dissidents were subject to intimidation and imprisonment.

The UCP (known as Udzima) had been President Djohar's party until November 1991. But it had no seats in the Assembly. On 10 September 1993, it merged with the Union for Democracy and Decentralization (UNDC), the largest party in the Assembly with just seven seats. Before the dissolution of the Assembly in June 1993, the Islands' Fraternity and Unity Party (CHUMA) had three seats, and the MDP/NGDC had five seats. No other party had more than two seats. Djohar hastily created his own party, the RDR, to contest the December 1993 elections. After 1993, the party distribution in the Assembly was RDR and its coalition partners, 24 seats, and the UNDC and its allies, 18 seats.

A coup in September 1995 overthrew the Djohar government. A transitional government was set up after French military intervention removed the coup-plotters, and new elections were held in December 1996, resulting in a National Assembly situated as follows: National Rally for Development, 36; National Front for Justice, 3; independents, 4. In the April 2004 elections, the president's CRC party suffered a major defeat, winning only 6 of 18 seats up for election in the Union Assembly, and just 11 of 55 seats in the island parliaments. There were some 20 parties on the scene including Forces pour l'Action Républicaine (FAR) led by Col. Abdourazak Abdulhamid, and the Forum pour la Redressement National (FRN), an alliance of 12 parties.


Under the federal system, each of the main islands has its own president and elected legislature. The governors, formerly elected, were appointed by the president after the constitution was amended in 1982. There are also four municipalities: Domoni, Fomboni, Moroni, and Mutsamudu.


The legal system incorporates French and Islamic law in a new consolidated code. Most disputes are settled by village elders or by a court of first instance. The High Council as the High Court of Justice (Cour Suprème) resolves constitutional questions, supervises presidential elections, and arbitrates any case in which the government is accused of malpractice. The High Council also reviews decisions of the lower courts, including the superior court of appeals at Moroni. The High Council consists of two members appointed by the president, two members elected by the Federal Assembly, and one elected by the Council of each island; others are former presidents of the republic. Lower courts of the first instance are located in major towns. Religious courts on the islands apply Muslim law in matters relating to social and personal relationships.

The judiciary is largely independent of the executive and legislative branches. The 1996 constitution provides a number of safeguards including equality of all citizens before the law. However, it does not mention right to counsel.

The island of Mayotte (Mohere) has been administered by France ever since the Comoros unilaterally declared independence in July 1975. The Comoros claims Mayotte and officially represents it in international organizations, including the United Nations. The constitution of Mayotte states that the island is to be ruled by a prefect assisted by a secretary-heneral and a General Council of 19 members.


The armed forces consist of a police force numbering 500 and a defense force of 500 members. France provides a small military presence, military training, and naval protection. Defense spending in 2001 was $6 million, or 3% of GDP.


On 12 November 1975, the Comoros became a member of the United Nations. The nation participates in the ECA, FAO, World Bank, IDA, IFAD, ILO, IMF, ITU, UNESCO, UNIDO, UPU, WHO, and WMO. It is also part of the African Development Bank, the ACP Group, G-77, the Arab League, the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC), and the Arab Monetary Fund. Comoros is a member of the Indian Ocean Commission, the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS), and COMESA. The nation is part of the Franc Zone. Comoros is part of the Nonaligned Movement. In environmental cooperation, Comoros is part of the Basel Convention, the Convention on Biological Diversity, Ramsar, CITES, the Montréal Protocol, MARPOL, and the UN Conventions on the Law of the Sea, Climate Change and Desertification.


The economy of the Comoros is agriculture-based, and dependent on trade and foreign assistance. Foreign aid accounts for about half of GDP. Mineral resources are few; there is little industry. Tourism increased considerably in the 1990s as a result of promotion by South African interests, but subsequent political upheaval offended potential visitors. Agriculture accounts for 40% of GDP, and employs 80% of the population. Cassava, sweet potatoes, rice, and bananas are the staple crops along with yams, coconuts, and maize. Meat, rice, and vegetables are leading imports. Comoros is the world's second-largest producer of vanilla, with one-third of exports going to France, and the world's leading producer of ylang-ylang, a perfume oil. Cloves and copra are also exported. Land access is a problem, as is overpopulation. The fishing industry has potential but is still largely undeveloped.


The US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) reports that in 2005 Comoros's gross domestic product (GDP) was estimated at $441.0 million. The CIA defines GDP as the value of all final goods and services produced within a nation in a given year and computed on the basis of purchasing power parity (PPP) rather than value as measured on the basis of the rate of exchange based on current dollars. The per capita GDP was estimated at $600. The annual growth rate of GDP was estimated at 3%. The average inflation rate in 2005 was 3%. It was estimated that agriculture accounted for 40% of GDP, industry 4%, and services 56%.

It was estimated that in 2002 about 60% of the population had incomes below the poverty line.


The majority (about 80%) of the economically active population was engaged in subsistence agriculture, fishing, or local commerce, in 2002 (the latest year for which data was available). The labor force was estimated at 144,500 in 1996 (the latest year for which data was available), with the unemployment rate that year amounting to an estimated 20%.

The constitution provides the right for workers to create and join unions and the right to strike. However, this affected only a small percentage of the population. The wage-earning labor force consists of less than 7,000 individuals, of which about 5,000 were government employees. The minimum age for employment is 15 years, but children generally work with their families in the large subsistence farming and fishing sectors, or as domestic servants. The government has few resources to enforce this minimum age restriction. There is no minimum wage, and payment to workers is irregular. There are no occupational health and safety standards for the country's tiny manufacturing base. A 37.5 hour workweek is specified by law, with one day off every week and and one month paid vacation annually.


The economy of the Comoros is primarily agricultural, with arable land comprising 45% of the total land area. Among the chief crops in 2004, in tons, were manioc, 58,000; coconuts, 77,000; bananas, 65,000; sweet potatoes, 5,500; rice, 17,000; corn, 4,000; and cloves, 3,000. Other crops include sugarcane, sisal, peppers, spices, coffee, and various perfume plants such as ylang-ylang, abelmosk, lemon grass, jasmine, and citronella. The chief export crops are vanilla, cloves, ylang-ylang, and copra. The Comoros, including Mayotte, account for about 80% of world production of ylang-ylang essence, which is used in some perfumes. Marketed exports in 2004 included 44 tons of dried vanilla, valued at nearly $18.8 million, or 47% of agricultural exports.

Food demand is not met by domestic production, so Comoros is highly dependent on imported foods, especially rice. Over half of all foodstuffs are imported, and about 50% of the government's annual budget is spent on importing food. Agricultural productivity is extremely low, and cultivation methods are rudimentary. Fertilizer is seldom used by smallholders. About 20% of the cultivated land belongs to company estates; 20% to indigenous land-owners who live in towns and pay laborers to cultivate their holdings; and 60% to village reserves allotted according to customary law. Agriculture contributed about 51% to GDP in 2002.


Small amounts of livestock are raised. In 2004 there were an estimated 115,000 goats, 45,000 head of cattle, 21,000 sheep, and 5,000 asses. An estimated 1,100 tons of beef and 1,000 tons of other meat were produced in 2004, along with 4,550 tons of milk and 776 tons of eggs.


The fish catch in the Comoros amounted to about 14,115 tons in 2003, 60% of which was tuna. A Japanese-funded fisheries training center was opened on Anjouan in 1985.


Forested areas amounted to about 8,000 hectares (20,000 acres) in 2000. Numerous fruit trees and tropical hardwoods are found. Some timber is produced, notably on the island of Grande Comore, which has about half the remaining forest. Roundwood production in 2003 amounted to 9,000 cu m (300,000 cu ft).


There were no commercially exploitable mineral resources in the Comoros. Small quantities of clay, sand, gravel, and crushed stone were produced for domestic consumption, and the former French colony was dependent on imports to meet all its energy and cement needs. Promotion of a new construction technique using lava and volcanic ash was expected to reduce cement imports and coral mining. In 2002, imports of cement totaled 29,985 tons, down from 40,000 tons in 2001. Political instability in recent years has continued to hurt the economy, and the outlook on minerals output was not expected to change significantly.


In 2004, Comoros had no known reserves or production of petroleum, having had to import whatever it consumed. Petroleum imports and consumption for that year each stood at 1,000 barrels per day. As of 1 January 2005, Comoros had no proven reserves of

Country Exports Imports Balance
World 6.9 71.9 -65.0
France-Monaco 3.0 14.0 -11.0
United States 1.1 1.1
Singapore 1.1 0.2 0.9
United Kingdom 0.6 0.4 0.2
Germany 0.5 0.6 -0.1
Canada 0.3 0.3
Israel 0.2 0.2
Free Zones 0.1 0.7 -0.6
() data not available or not significant.

natural gas, and for 2003 it had no natural gas output or consumption. With no proven coal reserves, there was no consumption or output of coal in 2003. Electricity is the main source of power As of 1 January 2003, Comoros had an installed electrical generation capacity of 0.005 GW. In 2003, the consumption and generation of electricity each totaled 0.02 billion kWh. Of the power produced in 2002, 0.004 million kW was from thermal sources and 20% came from hydroelectric sources.


There are various small-scale industries, mostly for processing the islands' agricultural products. Aside from perfume distilleries (perfume is one of the country's main exports), the Comoros has sawmills, a soap factory, a printing plant, a small plastics factory, a soft-drink plant, and metalworking shops. Industry accounted for a mere 4% of GDP in 2001.


There are no research institutes or institutions of higher learning in the Comoros.


As of 2006, nearly 80% of the population was employed in agriculture, primarily subsistence farming. However, most of the farmland is owned by foreign investors and the majority of the nation's food products are imported. An underdeveloped transportation system limits domestic trade. A small industrial sector is focused on processing ylang-ylang and vanilla, which are produced primarily for export. The government is attempting to privatize commercial and industrial enterprises. Business hours are 7:30 am to 2:30 pm MondayThursday, 7:30 to 11:30 am Friday, and 7:30 am to noon on Saturday.


Ylang-ylang essence, vanilla, cloves, copra, and other agricultural commodities make up the bulk of Comorian exports; of these, vanilla is by far the most important export earner. Imports include rice and other foodstuffs, petroleum products, and motor vehicles. Exports brought in $34 million in 2004, while Comoros imported $115 million worth of goods. France is the country's most important trade partner. In percentage terms, in 2004 Comoros's primary export partners were: the United States (43.8%), France (18.6%), Singapore (16.5%), Turkey (4.8%), and Germany (4.5%). The primary import partners that year were: France (23.5%), South Africa (11%), Kenya (7.5%), the UAE (7.2%), Italy (4.9%), Pakistan (4.7%), Mauritius (4.2%), and Singapore (4.1%).


In general, the chronic deficit on current accounts is counterbalanced by foreign aid, especially from France. By 2002, Comoros was in debt by $225 million. In 2004, the value of Comoros's exports was $34 million, and imports were valued at $115 million.


The Central Bank of the Comoros was established in 1981. The Banque Pour l' Industrie et le Commerce, is the main commercial bank; the French Commercial Bank is also represented. The

Current Account -19.0
     Balance on goods -42.2
         Imports -53.5
         Exports 11.3
     Balance on services -15.3
     Balance on income 1.0
     Current transfers 37.6
Capital Account
Financial Account 10.9
     Direct investment abroad
     Direct investment in Comoros 0.9
     Portfolio investment assets
     Portfolio investment liabilities
     Financial derivatives
     Other investment assets -1.8
     Other investment liabilities 11.8
Net Errors and Omissions -1.8
Reserves and Related Items 9.9
() data not available or not significant.

Banque de Développement des Comores is half state owned. The Banque Nationale de Paris Intercontinentale is the only international financial institution.

The International Monetary Fund reports that in 2001, currency and demand depositsan aggregate commonly known as M1were equal to $41.7 million. In that same year, M2an aggregate equal to M1 plus savings deposits, small time deposits, and money market mutual fundswas $57.2 million.

There are no securities exchanges.


Société Comorienne d'Assurances is based in Moroni. The Paris-based Préservatrice Foncière d'Assurances has an agent in Moroni.


The Comoros government and the IMF agreed in 1990 to a structural adjustment program covering 1991 to 1993. The program provided $135 million and proposed a plan whereby the government diversified its exports, reduced public expenditures, and privatized its parastatal sector. Furthermore, the plan called for the abolishment of levies on export crops, privatization of the state-owned hotels, liquidation of the state-owned meat marketing company, initiation of a number of environmental projects, and the reduction of the number of civil servants. This last measure prompted civil disorder and economic disruptions. Concerned over the progress of reforms in 1993, the IMF and the government reassessed the program. Measures were adopted which persuaded the IMF to continue its support of the program. A military coup in 1999 halted most restructuring programs.

The US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) estimated that in 2001 Comoros's central government took in revenues of approximately $27.6 million; information on expenditures was not available. Total external debt was $232 million.


Tax collection, formerly the role of the island governors, became a federal responsibility under the 1982 constitutional revision.


Import and export licenses are required but often limited to a few firms. Since 1992, the government has reorganized the customs office, computerized customs, and introduced taxes on petroleum products and rice.


Private foreign investment in the Comoros has been minimal since independence. The Comoros economy is supported by foreign aid and assistance, primarily from France but to a lesser extent from Japan, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and the United Arab Emirates. A French company took over Comoros' electrical utility company in 1997. A Swiss concern owns and operates the country's two main hotels. Officially, the Comoros welcomes foreign investment and is prepared to offer a package of incentives.

In 1998, FDI inflow was $3.2 million. Inflows of only $300,000 and $900,000 were reported for 1999 and 2000, respectively, but there was an increase to $1.5 million in 2001. By 2003, the total stock of inward FDI amounted to $23 million. In 2003, inward flow of FDI totaled approximately $1 million.


Development projects in the late 1980s and early 1990s focused on the agricultural sector, hydroelectric development, fishing, and start-up investment funds for small and intermediate enterprises. In addition, the European Development Funds provided resources for the redevelopment of the port at Moroni. International Monetary Fund (IMF) plans during the 1990s focused on agriculture diversification. The country has an unemployment level estimated at 20% and one of the highest illiteracy rates in the world. The government has many aims: to develop education and technical training, to improve health services, to reduce the high population growth rate, to privatize state-owned enterprises, to promote tourism, and to diversify exports. Political instability has led to disruptions in government services, as has the general lack of revenue. As of 2006, increased foreign assistance was needed if the goal of 4% annual GDP growth was to be met. Remittances from 150,000 Comorans abroad help supplement the GDP.


Women occupy a subservient position in this extremely traditional society but retain some strength from the matrilineal social structure. Although women do not have the same legal protection as men, traditional custom grants women favorable inheritance and property rights. There are few women in management positions in the private sector or in government. Violence against women occurs, but is not a widespread problem. As of 2004, the government did not take any action to protect women against domestic violence. Some poor families are forced to send children to live in other households, where they work as domestic servants, often at ages as young as seven years old. Priority in education is given to boys.

Prisons are overcrowded and lack proper sanitation but have been visited by international monitors. Societal discrimination against Christians persists. Human right abuses and political violence have been reported.


In 2004, there were 7 physicians, 34 nurses, 14 midwives, and 14 dentists per 100,000 people. The average life expectancy was 61.96 years in 2005. The infant mortality rate for that year was estimated at 74.93 deaths per 1,000 live births. The maternal mortality rate was 950 per 100,000 live births.

Lack of animal protein is a serious problem. In addition, a large percentage of the adult population suffers from malaria and there is a high incidence of tuberculosis and leprosy. The immunization rates were the following in the mid-1990s: tuberculosis, 95%; diphtheria, pertussis, and tetanus, 60%; polio, 60%; and measles, 60%.

The HIV/AIDS prevalence was 0.12 per 100 adults in 2003.


At last estimate, approximately 65% of all housing units were straw huts with roofs of cocoa leaves, and about 25% were made of durable materials including stone, brick, or concrete. Of all housing units, nearly 90% were owned, 3% rented, and 3% occupied rent free. In 2000, about 98% of the population had access to improved sanitation systems and safe water.


Education is compulsory for children between the ages of 7 and 16 years. Primary education lasts for six years followed by seven years of secondary education, four years in the first stage followed by three years in the second stage.

Primary school enrollment in 2001 was estimated at about 89.6% of age-eligible students. The same year, secondary school enrollment was about 28% of age-eligible students. In 2003, was estimated that about 58% of all students complete their primary education. The student-to-teacher ratio for primary school was at about 37:1 in 2003; the ratio for secondary school was about 11:1.

There are two technical schools and a teacher-training college near Moroni. In 2001, there were about 700 students enrolled in some type of higher education programs. The adult literacy rate for 2004 was estimated at about 56.2%, with 63.5% for men and 49.1% for women.

As of 2003, public expenditure on education was estimated at 3.9% of GDP, or 24% of total government expenditures.


At the time of independence there were two public libraries and three school libraries, with a total of 13,400 volumes. There is a National Center of Documentation and Scientific Research in Moroni as well as a National Museum of Comoros.


In 2003, there were 13,200 mainline telephones in use throughout the country, along with an additional 2,000 mobile phones.

Radio-Comoros, a government agency, provides services on shortwave and FM in Comorian, French, English, Arabic, Malagasy, and Swahili. In 2001, radio stations included one AM and four FM. A national television station was started in 2001 with assistance from China. RFO Mayotte, run by French public radio and TV, is received by some. There are also a number of local radio and television stations.

The primary weekly newspaper Al Watwany is published by the government; the weekly L'Archipel is published independently. There are several smaller privately held papers that are published fairly regularly, including L'Archipel (a monthly). A new constitution provides for freedom of speech and of the press and it is believed that the government generally respects these rights.


There is a Chamber of Commerce, Industry, and Agriculture at Moroni. Youth organizations are developed in part through the national Union of Youth and Students of the Comoros (Union Jeunesse et des Etudiants des Comores: UJEC), founded in 1975. Scouting organizations are also active for youth. There are some sports organizations. There are national chapters of the Red Crescent Society, Caritas, and UNICEF.


The tourism industry was undeveloped at independence and has stagnated since 1983. There were 188 hotel rooms in 2002 with a total of 376 beds, and an occupancy rate of 19%. Tourist arrivals numbered 18,936 and tourist receipts totaled $11 million. Vaccination for yellow fever is recommended as well as antimalarial precautions. A passport, visa, and return/onward ticket are required. Water sports are the primary recreational activities.


Heads of state since independence include 'Ali Soilih (193778), who came to power as a result of the 1975 coup and who died after the 1978 takeover; and Ahmad 'Abdallah (191989), president briefly in 1975 and restored to power in 1978. Mercenary Bob Denard (b.France, 1929) virtually ruled the country through figurehead presidents between 1978 and 1989, when France negotiated his departure after the assassination of 'Abdallah. Col. Assoumani Azali (b.1959?) took power in a coup in 1999, assuming the titles of president, prime minister, and defense minister.


The Comoros has no territories or dependencies.


Durbin, Joanna. Madagascar and Comoros. London, Eng.: Lonely Planet, 2004.

Ottenheimer, Martin and Harriet Ottenheimer. Historical Dictionary of the Comoro Islands. Metuchen, N.J.: Scarecrow Press, 1994.

. Historical Dictionary of the Comoro Islands. [computer file] Boulder, Colo.: netLibrary, Inc., 2000.

Zeilig, Leo and David Seddon. A Political and Economic Dictionary of Africa. Philadelphia: Routledge/Taylor and Francis, 2005.

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The Comoros


Federal Islamic Republic of the Comoros

Major City:

Other City:


The Federal Islamic Republic of the COMOROS is one of the world's poorest nations. Comprised of four islands, the country is burdened with a poor transportation network, a young and rapidly increasing population, and few natural resources. The Comoran labor force is poorly educated, resulting in a low level of economic activity, high unemployment, and a heavy dependence on foreign grants and technical assistance.

In November 1975, the Comoros became the 143d member of the United Nations. The country is a member of the Organization of African Unity, the European Development Fund, the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, and the African Development Bank.



Moroni, the capital of the Federal Islamic Republic of the Comoros, is on the western side of Grande Comore island. In 2000, Moroni's estimated population was 36,000. The central part of Moroni consists of the old town, in which construction was started about 500 years ago. The buildings are of volcanic rock, and the old town, still vibrant, reminds one of the "casbahs" of northern Africa.

Moroni was declared the capital of the Comoros in 1975. Despite extensive residential construction in recent years, Moroni remains a small, slow-paced capital beautifully situated between Mt. Kartala and the ocean. The city has several small industries, most of which manufacture soft drinks, processed and distilled oils, metal and wood products, or cement. Moroni also serves as the Comoros' main port from which vanilla, coffee, and cacao are exported. An airport, Iconi International Airport, is located in southern Moroni.

Schools for Foreigners

American children can either attend the Franco-Comorien school in Moroni, go away to boarding school, or follow a home-study course. The Franco-Comorien school operates under the auspices of the French Government. All classes are in French and a French-style curriculum is followed. The school accepts children between the ages of five and 17.


Water sports and tennis predominate. The Comoros offer wonderful opportunities for snorkeling and scuba diving. Lessons in scuba diving and international certification are available. Swimming is safe for children at most accessible sandy beaches. Tennis is available at the French tennis club, which has five courts that are well-maintained. Because of the rocky terrain, facilities for badminton and croquet are not readily available. Organized sports opportunities such as soccer and basketball are limited. Deep-sea fishing is available.

Photographers, hikers, fishermen, and those interested in water sports will enjoy the Comoros' topography. The lushness and variety of tropical vegetation, the undeveloped nature of the interior of Grand Comore, and the steep slopes of Mt. Kartala combine to please hikers, campers, and photographers. Since many Comorans are uncomfortable being photographed, be sure to ask permission before proceeding. Photography at government installations, including port and airport facilities, is forbidden.

Travel to the other islands is possible by charter boat or charter aircraft and commercial flights. Each of the islands has a different ambiance, and each has a comfortable small hotel for pleasant weekend stays. Air travel, however, is expensive, and boats must be chartered well in advance of the planned holiday.

The geographic location of the Comoros makes possible trips to Kenya, South Africa, Madagascar, and Mauritius, all of which are easily reached by air. Although such trips are costly, the variety of activities and shopping facilities available provide a pleasant break from routine.


Entertainment opportunities in Moroni are very limited. The local cinema shows mostly Indian films, with French films shown on occasion. A program of cultural offerings, including films, is available at the Alliance Franco-Comoriane. The Belgian Consulate has a library whose extensive collection of comic books is appreciated by children.

Each of the three small hotels in Moroni has a restaurant serving French food. In addition, some good Comoran restaurants and one Indian restaurant are available. Most entertaining is done in private homes, usually in the form of dinners, bridge, or cocktails. Because the American expatriate community is small, all entertaining involves frequent association with expatriate and Comoran nationals. In order to communicate effectively, knowledge of French is essential. Because of religious customs, it is unwise to serve any pork products to Comorans.


MUTSAMUDU is the capital and port of Anjouan island (also called Ndzunai). The island features beautiful forests, rivers and waterfalls, coral reefs and white sandy beaches, and fields of plants such as ylangylang, jasmine, cassis, basilic, palmarosa and orange flower, all used for exotic essential oils. The island is also home to the rare king size bat and the Living Stone's flying fox, as well as occasional whales in the bay.

Mutsamudu is built in 17th century Swahili-Shirazi style, The houses have carved doors, and the twisting, mazelike alleyways and lanes lead around shops, mosques and a citadel. Worthy of note is the Mosquée du Vendredi, the Sultan's palace. Within walking distance of the city is the Dziancoundré Waterfall.

While you're on the island, you will want to visit Domoni as well. This ancient capital contains the Hari ya Moudji, or old town, which includes the old palaces built by the sultans of the 16th to 18th centuries. Some of the palaces are still occupied by descendents of the sultans.

Mutsamudu is about 102 miles from Moroni and can be reached by plane or by boat.


Geography and Climate

The Comoros are a group of four separate islands. They are located in the Indian Ocean, roughly 416 miles southeast of Tanzania and 200 miles northwest of Madagascar. Three of the islands, Njazidja, Nzwani and Mwali, form the Federal Islamic Republic of the Comoros. The fourth island, Mayotte, is governed separately by the French. Together, the four islands comprise an area of approximately 982 square miles.

All of the Comoro islands are volcanic in origin. Njazidja, the largest island, has an area of 443 square miles and has an active volcano at Mt. Kartala. Approximately 37 miles south of Njazidja lies the smallest island, Mwali. It is only 83 square miles wide and is covered with low hills and fertile valleys. The island of Nzwani is located 40 miles east of Mwali. It has an area of 164 square miles. Mt. Nyingui is its highest point. The island of Mayotte is situated 124 miles southwest of Njazidja. It is surrounded by a large coral reef which forms a well-protected lagoon around the island. Mayotte has an area of approximately 144 square miles and is covered with deep ravines and volcanic peaks.

The Comoros exhibit a tropical climate. Coastal areas are extremely hot and humid, although interior regions of the islands are somewhat cooler. The rainy season occurs from November to April. Severe cyclones are possible during this period. May through October is generally dry and pleasant. Average annual rainfall in the Comoros is 113 inches.


In 2000 the four Comoro islands had a combined population of 580,000. Roughly 286,000 people reside on Njazidja. Nzwani, the second largest island, had approximately 220,000 people. Mayotte has a population of about 100,000, while Mwali has roughly 28,000 inhabitants. Comorans are a mixture of Malagasy, Arab, Malay and African peoples. They speak Shaafi Islam, which is a dialect of Swahili. French, Arabic and Malagasy are also spoken. Very few residents speak English.

Islam is the predominant religion. Approximately 98 percent of the population are Sunni Muslims. A very small number of Comorans (2%) practice Roman Catholicism. The majority of Catholics live on Mayotte.

Estimated life expectancy at birth in 2001 was 58 years for males, and 63 years for females.


Over the centuries, the Comoros have been inhabited by various racial groups. Peoples of Malayo-Polynesian origin settled in the islands during the 6th century A.D. Between the 10th and 15th centuries, the Comoros became home to the Shirazis. The Shirazis were Arabs who fled religious persecution in the Red Sea and Persian Gulf regions. They divided the islands into twelve regions, each governed by a sultan, and introduced their Islamic faith.

In 1841, Sultan Sakalva Andriantsouly sold the island of Mayotte to the French. Having established a foothold in Mayotte, the French sought to gain control of the other three islands. Between 1886 and 1909, the other three islands were captured and became French protectorates. In 1912, the Comoros were officially declared French colonies.

The French ruled the islands with an iron fist. Opposition political parties and a free press were not allowed. The Comoran people voiced their displeasure by refusing to pay taxes, staging peasant revolts and occupying French-controlled farmland. All of these actions were crushed by French troops. The French granted the Comorans limited self-government in 1961. An elected chamber of deputies and a council of government was established. In 1968, secondary school students organized a strike. It was brutally crushed by French troops and police. Many students were killed or wounded. The Comoran people were enraged and staged massive demonstrations and revolts calling for an end to French rule. Seeking to quell the unrest, the French decided to allow the formation of political opposition parties. Six opposition parties were created. Prince Said Muhammad Jaffar led the Reassemblement Democratique du Peuple Comorien (RDPC) while a group of intellectuals and peasants formed the Parti Socialiste Comorien (PASOCO). Other groups included the Union Democratique des Comores (UDC) led by Ahmed Abdallah, the Umma Mranda Party (UMMA) led by Ali Solih and Prince Said Ibrahim and the Parti pour l'Evolution des Comores (PEC). All five of these groups supported independence from France. The sixth party, the Mouvement Populaire Mahorais (MPM), advocated retaining strong ties with France and was led by Marcel Henry. Despite France's decision to allow the existence of opposition parties, the political situation in the Comoros remained volatile.

In 1972, the RDPC, PEC and the UDC formed a pro-independence alliance and pressured the French to grant Comoran independence. Residents on Njazidja, Nzwani and Mwali staunchly supported the alliance. General elections for a new council of government were held in December 1972. Candidates of the RDPC, PEC and the UDC alliance captured 34 seats, while the pro-French MPM group claimed only five seats. On Mayotte, however, the election results were quite different. 80 percent of the vote was cast in favor of MPM candidates. Ahmed Abdallah, leader of the UDC, was elected President of the new council of government.

Shortly after the election, the council of government and French representatives met to discuss the possibilities for Comoran independence. After lengthy negotiations, an agreement was signed in Paris on July 15, 1973. This document stated that France would provide Comoran independence after a period of five years. Also, a referendum favoring independence would have to be passed on an island-by-island basis. This referendum was held in December 1974. The referendum passed by an overwhelming majority (94.6%) on Njazidja, Nzwani and Mwali. However, nearly 64 percent of the populace on Mayotte voted against the referendum. In June 1975, the French Parliament agreed to grant Comoran independence with the provision that a new constitution be drawn up that would be agreeable to all parties, including the citizens on Mayotte. Also, the French insisted that the constitution must be approved separately by each island before independence would be granted. Before this process could take place, the Comoran chamber of deputies approved a unilateral declaration of independence on July 6, 1975 and elected Ahmed Abdallah as president. Residents of Mayotte, fearful that they would be forcibly incorporated into this new state, petitioned the French for assistance. The French agreed to protect Mayotte and administer it as a French territory.

On August 3, 1976, nearly one month after becoming president of the Comoros, Abdallah was toppled from power by Ali Solih. Abdallah fled to Nzwani, but was arrested and eventually allowed to go into exile. Solih pursued a conciliatory approach toward Mayotte in the hope that they would agree to become part of the new Comoran state. In November 1975, he sent a delegation to Mayotte to meet with MPM officials. The people of Mayotte greeted the delegation with hostile demonstrations and forced it to return home. On February 8, 1976, a referendum was held on Mayotte. Nearly 82 percent of the populace voted. 99 percent of the votes cast favored French administration of the island. In December 1976, Mayotte was officially declared a "territorial community" of France.

Throughout 1976, Ali Solih consolidated his control of the other three islands. The freely-elected Council of Deputies was abolished and replaced by a Revolutionary Council of State that was filled with loyal Solih supporters. All political opposition parties were banned. Anti-government politicians were terrorized or arrested by the army and youth factions known as the Revolutionary Youth. Solih also sought to radically alter Comoran traditions by encouraging the liberation of women and young people. His decree that women did not need to cover their faces with veils offended the sensibilities of many conservative Muslims. Also, the voting age was lowered to 14 so that young people could take part in the political process. Solih criticized Islam as a "false religion" and severely curtailed religious practice. Many foreign nations were displeased with Solih's regime and cut off economic aid, severely weakening the shaky Comoran economy. By 1978, Solih ruled the Comoros with an iron hand. However, his political repression and controversial social reforms made him extremely unpopular both at home and abroad.

On May 13, 1978, Ali Solih was overthrown in a coup led by a mercenary, Bob Denard. Solih was placed under house arrest and was gunned down after an alleged escape attempt. Ahmed Abdallah returned triumphantly from exile and was named President. The country's official name was changed to the Federal Islamic Republic of the Comoros. Also, a new constitution was drawn up and ratified which stated that if one island decided to secede from the Federal Republic, it was free to do so without government interference. Abdallah also reinstated traditional Islamic principles in the islands and sought to end the Comoros international isolation. France resumed diplomatic relations and increased its level of economic aid. Presidential elections, with Ahmed Abdallah as the sole candidate, were held on October 22, 1978. Fifty of the mercenaries who helped topple Ali Solih were formed into an elite Presidential Guard. This Guard, led by Bob Denard, served to protect Abdallah and to intimidate his political rivals.

Abdallah actively pursued the integration of Mayotte with the Comoros. French President Francois Mitterand and President Abdallah met in October 1981 to discuss this issue. Abdallah was confident that Mitterand would be sympathetic to the integration of Mayotte, since Mitterand vigorously opposed the detachment of the island with the rest of the archipelago in 1975. However, the meeting ended without any formal agreement on the issue. Mitterand only promised that he would review Mayotte's status every five years.

In December 1983, a plot by British mercenaries to overthrow the Comoran government was discovered. The plan called for the removal of President Abdallah in favor of a former Comoran diplomat, Said Ali Kemal. Kemal wanted to establish a government that would be on friendly terms with the West in order to gain more economic assistance for the Comoros. The plan was foiled, however, when the mercenary leaders were arrested in Australia.

A presidential election was held in September 1984 with Abdallah serving as the only candidate. According to the government, 99.4 percent of the voters were in favor of Abdallah and he was granted another six-year term. In January 1985, he further consolidated his power by amending the constitution and abolishing the office of prime minister. As a result, all important governmental powers were in Abdallah's control.

In March 1985, a group of Presidential Guardsmen tried to overthrow Abdallah while he was on a state visit to France. The coup attempt failed. Abdallah unleashed a wave of political repression and arrests. Eventually, 17 people were sentenced to life in prison at hard labor while 50 others received shorter prison sentences for their part in the coup attempt. However, by late 1985, some of the prisoners were granted presidential pardons and released.

Another coup attempt by disgruntled members of the Presidential Guard was made in November 1987 while Abdallah was out of the country. This coup was smashed by Bob Denard and other mercenaries. On November 27, 1989, President Abdallah was assassinated by his Presidential Guard on the orders of Bob Denard. Although Denard denied any involvement in Abdallah's assassination, he voluntarily left the islands for exile in South Africa. Said Mohamed Djohar, the president of the Comoran supreme court, took the post of interim president until the holding of free elections.

Free elections were held on March 11, 1990 between Djohar and Mohamed Taki Abdulkarim. Djohar won a majority of the votes and began serving a six-year term as the Comoros' first democratically elected president. In June 1990, the Comoros and the United States established formal diplomatic relations.

Djohar was ousted by French mercenaries in a brief coup in 1995, and an interim government ruled until the March 1996 elections, in which Mohamed Taki Abdoulkarim was chosen as president. An interim government of President Tajiddine Ben Said Massounde which had assumed power in November 1998 upon the death of President Mohamed Taki Abdulkarim, was overthrown in a bloodless coup on April 30, 1999 headed by military chief Colonel Azali Assoumani.

Colonel Azali claimed a one-year presidential term at the time of the coup. In May 1999, Azali decreed a constitution that gave him both executive and legislative powers. In December 2000, Azali named a new civilian prime minister, and formed a new civilian cabinet. When Azali first took power he also pledged to step down in April 2000 and relinquish control to a democratically elected president, a pledge which he has yet to fulfill.

In 1997, the islands of Nzwani and Mwali declared their independence from Comoros. Colonel Azali pledged to resolve the secessionist crisis. In August 2000, an accord was signed that would reunite the islands. A subsequent agreement, signed in February 2001, provided for a commission composed of representatives from all three islands to develop a new constitution.


On October 1, 1978, a new constitution was approved that united the islands of Njazidja, Nzwani and Mwali into one Federal Islamic Republic. Mayotte is currently governed by France, although it has the option of joining the Federal Islamic Republic at a later date.

The Comoran government is headed by the President of the Republic. The president is elected by the citizens to a six-year term and cannot serve more than three consecutive terms. In 1984, the constitution was amended so that President Abdallah could serve an unlimited number of terms. However, since his assassination, this amendment was repealed.

Since Colonel Azali seized power and declared a constitution that granted him executive and legislative powers, democratic institutions have ben suspended in the Comoros.

Prior to the coup, however, legislative authority was held by the 43-member Federal Assembly. The Federal Assembly was dissolved following the coup of April 30, 1999. Representatives to the Federal Assembly were elected for five-year terms. The Assembly met for no more than 45 days at a time, but was allowed to convene more often during national emergencies.

A new constitution was adopted in June 1992, providing for a 15-member Senate to be selected by an electoral college for terms of six years.

The flag of the Comoros consists of a white crescent moon encircling inwardly four white stars on a green field. The four stars represent the islands of Njazidja, Nzwani, Mwali and Mayotte. Green is the traditional color of Islam.

On Mayotte, the flag of France is used.

Arts, Science, Education

Education is officially compulsory for Comoran children ages seven-15 years of age. Primary education begins at age six and lasts for six years. At 12 years of age, a student begins secondary school for an additional seven years. Comorans must travel abroad to receive a college education.

Most teachers in the Comoros are from foreign countries, particularly Tunisia, Senegal and Belgium. Despite improvements, the literacy rate of the Comoros in 1995 was only about 57 percent. Fewer than half of all school-age children are enrolled in primary school.

The educational system on Mayotte receives teachers and financial assistance from France.

Commerce and Industry

The Comoros is one of the world's poorest and least-developed countries. Agriculture is the main occupation of 80 percent of the population. Sweet potatoes, cassava, coconuts and bananas are the main food crops.

Much of the choice farmland is in the hands of foreign-owned companies, with only about 40 percent of the land cultivated by Comoran farmers. Most of the soil is of poor quality, and many Comorans must resort to subsistence farming. The majority of the country's food requirements must be imported. Rice, one of the main staples, accounts for 90 percent of Comoran imports. In addition to rice, the Comoros import large amounts of petroleum products, cement and vehicles.

The Comoros are the world's largest producer of ylang-ylang, which is used to make perfumes. Also, the Comoros is the second largest producer of vanilla in the world. Ylangylang and vanilla are the Comoros primary cash exports. Small amounts of cloves, coffee and copra are also important exports.

The islands have a wealth of fishing resources, particularly tuna. However, most of these resources remain unexploited because the Comoros lack a viable fishing fleet.

The Comoran industrial sector is extremely small. Much of the industrial activity is limited to vanilla processing and the production of woodworks, plastics and soft drinks.

The unit of currency is the Comoran franc (KMF).

Like its Comoran counterparts, Mayotte must import large quantities of food. The territory's survival is heavily dependent on financial assistance from France. Ylangylang and vanilla are Mayotte's primary exports. The great majority of Mayotte's exports go to France. Building materials, rice, clothing, flour and transportation equipment are imported, with France serving as the major supplier.

The French franc is Mayotte's unit of currency.


The roadway system in the Comoros is extremely underdeveloped. Although the islands of Njazidja and Nzwani have some paved roads, most of the roads are extremely rugged. During the rainy season, many of the islands' roads are virtually impassable. Also, many villages in the Comoros are not linked to the main cities by suitable roads. Travel between villages and cities can be extremely hazardous. A four-wheel-drive vehicle is highly recommended, especially on Mwali. Most of the roads on this island are unpaved and treacherous.

The national airline of the Comoros is Air Comores. Air Comores offers international service twice-weekly to Madagascar, Tanzania and Kenya. Domestic flights between Moroni and the island of Nzwani are offered on a daily basis. Flights between Moroni and Mwali offered 5 times per week. The international airport for the Comoros is located near Moroni. Each of the other islands has a small airfield.

Most ports in the Comoros are unable to accommodate large ocean-going vessels. Therefore, most large vessels are forced to anchor off the coast of Moroni, Mutsamudu, and Fomboni and be unloaded by smaller cargo ships. During the rainy season, heavy seas make this unloading process extremely hazardous. Consequently, most ships do not dock near the Comoros from November to April.

Mayotte has very few paved roads. Most are composed of rugged tracks that become washed out during the rainy season. There is a small airport near the city of Dzaoudzi. Commercial flights to the Comoros are offered twice-weekly while service to the island of Reunion is offered four-times weekly.


The islands' main radio station is the government-owned Radio-Comoros. Domestic broadcasts are available in Comoran and French. Foreign broadcasts are available on shortwave frequencies in French, Swahili and Arabic. The country's first independent radio station, Radio Tropiques FM, was closed down in April 1991 after one week of broadcasting. There is no television station in the Comoros.

Two weekly newspapers are available. The first is a government owned publication, Al Watwany. The other, L'Archipel, is an independent newspaper. The government news agency, Agence Comoros Presse (ACP) is located in Moroni.

Long-distance telephone and telegraph services are available in Moroni, although the quality of transmissions are often poor.

The main radio station on Mayotte is the Societe Nationale de Radio-Television Francaise d'Outre-mer (RFO)-Mayotte. It is located in Dzaoudzi and offers daily broadcasts in Mahorian and French. A television service was begun in 1986.

Le Journal de Mayotte is the island's main newspaper. It is a weekly publication and has a circulation of 12,000.

Clothing and Services

Clothing styles in Moroni are very casual. For men, office and casual wear consists of sports shirts and slacks. Casual cotton dresses and skirts with sandals are worn during the day by women. Sundresses and pants are acceptable for women, although short skirts are not appropriate. Slacks and shorts are acceptable for wear around the house, to the beach, and for other outdoor activities. Stockings are rarely worn. Shoes wear out quickly, and high heels are dangerous because of rocky terrain. Children's clothing should be casual and made of cotton. Short pants and colored short-sleeved shirts for boys and sleeveless shifts, shorts, and slacks for girls are the most common apparel. Children wear leather or composition sandals or tennis shoes to school.

Swimsuits and beachwear are essential for all members of the family, since recreation focuses on water sports. Bikinis are acceptable. Sunbathers should bring beach hats and clothing for protection from the sun. Umbrellas are essential during the rainy season. For trips into mountainous regions, slacks and dungarees, heavy sweaters, sturdy shoes, and a rain hat are necessary.

Dressmakers and tailors are available in Moroni. However, clothes are often poorly made and very expensive. Locally available fabrics are limited and most clothing is made from synthetic fibers, which are too hot for the Comoran climate. Cobblers make only simple repairs using recycled materials. The results are often unsatisfactory. A beauty shop is available, but patrons should supply their own beauty and hair care needs.

Availability of fresh foods depends upon the season and the amounts brought in from South Africa by local merchants. Few vegetables are available, although tropical fruits are plentiful in season. Most foods, except fish, are imported and shortages of essential commodities (rice, flour, sugar, salt, cooking oil) are common. No fresh meat is available. Meats available are frozen, or have been frozen and then thawed. No pork is available for purchase, but sheep, lamb, chicken, and beef are found. All meat is expensive. Fresh fish and lobster are available and are less expensive.


A passport and onward/return ticket are required. A three-week entry visa, which may be extended, may be obtained upon arrival at the airport. Travelers should obtain the latest details from the Mission of the Federal Islamic Republic of the Comoros, 420 East 50th Street, New York, NY 10022; telephone (212) 972-8010, fax (212) 983-4712.

The United States has no embassy in Comoros, but has a liaison representative in Moroni, who can be contacted at Quartier Oasis, POB 720, Moroni, telephone (269) 73-00-11, fax (269) 73-00-12. U.S. citizens in Comoros are encouraged to register with the U.S. Embassy in Port Louis, Mauritius. Registration information and forms are collected at the liaison office in Moroni and forwarded to the U.S. Embassy, Consular Section, Rogers house, fourth floor, John F. Kennedy Street, Port Louis, Mauritius; telephone numbers (230) 202-4400 and 208-2347; fax (230) 202-4401 and 208-9534. The U.S. Embassy home page is located at; e-mail:

There are limited first-class hotel accommodations on Njazidja, Nzwani and Mayotte. It is recommended that reservations be made in advance.

Roman Catholic, Protestant, Evangelical, and Moslem denominations maintain places of worship. All services are in French. Catholic religion classes in French are available for children.

Diligent water purification and food preparation methods must be exercised when visiting the Comoros. Immunizations for polio and typhoid are recommended. Visitors are advised to take anti-malaria pills because the risk of infection exists throughout the country.

The tourism industry in the Comoros is vastly underdeveloped. Fewer than 2,000 tourists visit the islands every year. The primary tourist attractions include mountain climbing, scuba diving and fishing. It is recommended that tourists seek advice and exercise caution when using beaches.


Jan 1 New Year's Day

Mar. 827th Djoumadi II

Mar. 18Anniversary of Death of Said (Mohammed Cheikh)

May 1Labor Day

May 13Comoran Liberation Day

July 6National Day


Id al-Fitr*

Mawlid an Nabi*



The following titles are provided as a general indication of the material published on this country:

Gould, Dennis. Comores (Comoro Islands). Let's Visit Places and Peoples of the World Series. New York: Chelsea House, 1988.

Willox, Robert. Madagascar & the Comoros: A Travel Survival Kit. Oakland, CA: Lonely Planet, 1989.

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Federal Islamic Republic of the Comoros
République Fédérale Islamique des Comores
Jumhuriyat al-Qumur al-Ittihadiyah



Comoros is comprised of 3 islands that are part of a 4-island archipelago in the Mozambique Channel. The fourth island, Mayotte, is still a dependency of France. The islands lie between the northern tip of Madagascar and the African mainland. The archipelago, formed by the tips of a volcanic mountain range rising from the Mozambique Channel, stretches over 300 kilometers (186 miles) from north to south. Comoros has a land area of 2,170 square kilometers (838 square miles), making it slightly larger than 12 times the size of Washington, D.C. The main island, Grande Comore (locally known as Ngazidja but also called Njazidja), is geologically the youngest. It measures 60 kilometers (37 miles) from north to south and 20 kilometers (12 miles) from east to west. Its most prominent geographical feature is Mount Kartala (2,361 meters/7,746 feet), an active volcano which smokes and bubbles continuously on Grande. The capital, Moroni, is located on Grande Comore. The other 2 smaller islands are Anjouan (Nzwani) and Mohéli (Mwali). Anjouan is the most topographically varied, with steep coastlines and deep valleys. Its highest peak, Mount Ntingui, rises 1,595 meters (5,233 feet). Mohéli, on the other hand, is the smallest, least populated, and least developed island. The total coastline of the islands is 340 kilometers (211 miles).


The population of Comoros was estimated at 596,000 in July 2001, up from 479,600 in 1994. The nation has a young population; the proportion of older people (65 years of age and above) was estimated at 2.9 percent in 2001, while the 0-14 age group was 43 percent in the same year. Comoros is steadily becoming more urbanized, with the proportion of the population living in towns having increased from 29.9 percent in 1994 to 32.1 percent in 1998. The population consists almost entirely of persons of mixed-race, mostly of African, Malagasy, and Arab descent.

French, Comoran, and Arabic are the official languages. Comoran, the main spoken language, is akin to Swahili but has elements borrowed from Arabic. Other languages spoken include Malagasy and Swahili.

Islam, the state religion, is followed by 98 percent of Comorans. Almost all Comorans are Sunni Muslims. There are small numbers of Christians, mostly Roman Catholics of French Malagasy descent.


The economy of Comoros is limited by low incomes, high unemployment, an inadequate transport system, the nation's isolated location, the absence of any mineral resources, and a heavy dependence on foreign aid. Most of the population relies on small-scale family agriculture for their livelihoods. The industrial sector is very small and relies mostly on construction and electricity and water distribution. The industrial sector also is supplemented by some processing of ylang ylang (a flower used to make perfume) and vanilla. The services sector comprises mostly government employees, with some employment in the tourism sector.

Comoros has suffered continuous political instability since independence in 1975, which has impeded economic progress. Local and foreign businesses are unwilling to invest in the current volatile (unstable) political and business climate. Falling world prices and increased competition in the international market for the principal export commodities of Comoros have contributed to economic decline. Emphasis is currently on containing public sector wage costs to reduce domestic inflation and speeding-up privatization of state-owned enterprises.

The per capita gross national product (GNP) of Comoros was estimated at $370 in 1998 by the exchange rate conversion. Per capita GNP declined in real terms from 1990 to 1997 at an average annual rate of-3.1 percent. Output grew at an almost negligible rate of 0.1 percent per year in the last half of the 1990s, much less than the population growth rate, which was estimated at 3 percent in 2001.


The 3 islands that form the present state of Comoros were French protectorates at the end of the 19th century and were proclaimed colonies in 1912. Following a referendum in December 1974, the Comoran Chamber of Deputies unilaterally declared the islands' independence on 6 July 1975. Mayotte, the fourth island in the group, opted to remain a French dependency.

Since 1975 there has been continuous political instability characterized by coups and undemocratic regimes. Recent years have been marked by internal political disruptions, and the islands of Anjouan and Mohéli have attempted to secede.

The constitution of 1 October 1978 was amended in 1983, approved in a referendum, and Comoros became a Federal Islamic Republic. Mayotte was permitted the right to join when it so chose. A new constitution was adopted on 20 October 1996. The constitution stipulates that each of the islands has a council and a governor who is appointed by the president. The president is elected by direct universal suffrage for an unlimited number of 5-year terms.

The president appoints the prime minister, who heads the Council of Ministers. There is a bicameral legislative branch, consisting of a 43-member Federal Assembly, the members of which are directly elected for 5-year terms, and a 15-member Senate, made up of 5 members from each island who are selected by regional councils.

Colonel Azali Assoumani staged a bloodless coup on 30 April 1999. He introduced a new constitutional charter giving himself full legislative and executive powers. The Federal Assembly has not met since the coup. Azali promised that he would serve for 1 year at the time he came to power, but the elections promised for spring 2000 were not held. Assoumani has pledged that elections will take place before the end of 2001, and it is expected that this will herald a reopening of the Federal Assembly.

Comoros had a 1,500-man national army in 1997, the Force Comorienne de Defense (FCD), which was supported by a French military contingent. The size of the armed forces has not changed since the coup. The role of the French has been to exert pressure for a return to democratic rule.

The main political forces are continually fragmenting and reforming, and alliances are based mainly on opportunism. The party of government prior to the 1999 coup was the National Union for Democracy in Comoros (NUDC). Other parties are the Republican Party of Comoros (PRC), the Democratic Front (DF), and the Movement for Socialism and Democracy (MSD). These parties are now dormant. They are expected to come to life only when the military government sanctions campaigning for the elections expected in late 2001.

Previously the island governors undertook tax collection, but it became a federal responsibility under a 1983 constitutional revision. Wage and salary earners were taxed at a maximum rate of 15 percent in 1987; however, only government employees appear to pay tax, and there has been no attempt at income tax reform in subsequent years. Tax rates have ranged from 17 percent on consumer goods to 60 percent on building materials and cars to 200 percent on luxury goods. Import and export licenses are required but are usually limited to a few favored firms. Tax revenue as a share of expenditure increased from 33 percent in 1994 to 54 percent in 1998, implying an improved ability to meet public sector expenses without relying on aid from overseas. The total tax revenue share of the gross domestic product (GDP) also increased from 13 percent in 1994 to 15 percent in 1998.

The overall budget deficit in 1998 was estimated at US$8.4 million, equivalent to 4 percent of the GDP. The nation's external debt at the end of 1997 totaled US$197.4 million, and the cost of debt servicing was about 10 percent of the value of exports in 1998, or slightly below the 15 percent average for African nations. The relatively low debt-servicing ratio means that Comoros has a greater availability of foreign exchange with which to purchase imports.

Comoros is a member of several international organizations. These include the Indian Ocean Commission (IOC), which is dedicated to regional cooperation; the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA), which aims at reducing barriers to trade and the movements of labor and capital; and the Franc Zone, which pegs the currency to the French franc.


Comoros has poorly developed infrastructure . The transport system is particularly limited. In 1996, it was estimated that there was a total of 880 kilometers (547 miles) of highways, 673 kilometers (418 miles) of which were paved. There are no railways. Prince Said Ibrahim Airport is the international air terminus near Moroni. In 1996, it handled 92,000 passengers.

There were 75,000 telephone main lines in 1997 and 100 fax machines in 1995. There were 36 post offices in 1993. Comoros does not have any local newspapers; the few that are read are circulated from Madagascar. The U.S. State Department noted that there were about 5 independent local television stations in 1998. The CIA World Factbook estimated that the country only had 1,000 televisions in 1997. There were 90,000 radios in the country by 1997, with 1 government-run station, Radio Comoros; an opposition station, Tropique; and about 20 other regional stations. The government introduced Internet service in 1998 and there were 800 Internet users by 2000.

In 1981, Comoros had 236 primary schools, 1 teacher training college, and 2 technical schools. In 1998, there were no universities, and the public schools on Grand Comore were closed for most of the year because of civil unrest.

Work began in 1985 on a 4,500-kilowatt hydroelectric dam on Anjouan. In 1998, 15 million kilowatt hours (kWh) were generated. Fossil fuels currently generate 87 percent of electricity, with the remaining 13 percent provided by hydroelectricity.

Country Telephones a Telephones, Mobile/Cellular a Radio Stations b Radios a TV Stations a Televisions a Internet Service Providers c Internet Users c
Comoros 6,000 N/A AM 1; FM 2; shortwave 1 90,000 0 (1998) 1,000 1 800
United States 194 M 69.209 M (1998) AM 4,762; FM 5,542; shortwave 18 575 M 1,500 219 M 7,800 148 M
South Africa 5.075 M (1999) 2 M (1999) AM 14; FM 347; shortwave 1 13.75 M 556 5.2 M 44 1.82 M
Mauritius 223,000 37,000 AM 5; FM 9; shortwave 2 420,000 2 258,000 2 55,000
a Data is for 1997 unless otherwise noted.
b Data is for 1998 unless otherwise noted.
c Data is for 2000 unless otherwise noted.
SOURCE : CIA World Factbook 2001 [Online].


Agriculture (including hunting, forestry, and fishing) contributed 40 percent of the GDP in 2000. About 74 percent of the workforce are employed in this sector. Agriculture accounts for more than 98 percent of total exports. The principal cash crops are vanilla, ylang ylang, cloves, and copra (dried coconut flesh).

Industry (including manufacturing, construction, and power) contributed 4 percent of the GDP in 2000. The industrial sector employs 6 percent of the workforce. The manufacturing sub-sector is the largest contributor to the industrial share of the GDP. Manufacturing in Comoros is primarily comprised of agro-processing industries, with vanilla and essential oils as their main products. Energy is derived from woodfuel (78 percent) and thermal installations.

The service sector contributed 56 percent of the GDP in 2000 and employs approximately 20 percent of the workforce. Despite political instability, there has been some growth in tourism leading to expansion in retailing, catering, and hotel activities.


The chief agricultural export product used to be sugar, but now vanilla, copra, maize, cloves, and essential oils (citronella, ylang-ylang, and lemon grass) have gained increasing importance. Crops that are mainly for domestic consumption include cassava, taro (a tropical root crop), rice, maize pulses, coconuts, and bananas. Almost all agricultural production takes place on small family farms, with tilling, weeding, and harvesting undertaken by hand. The success of the harvests heavily relies on rainfall, which is generally adequate and regular. From 1990 to 1996, the real GDP of the agricultural sector declined at an average annual rate of-0.7 percent, mainly as a result of political instability that discouraged investment and poor progress with economic reforms.

In 1995, 9,000 hectares (22,240 acres) of Comoros was forestland, or about 4 percent of the total land area. The shortage of cultivable land, the pressure to increase ylang-ylang production, and the demand for woodfuel are all contributing to deforestation at a rate of 6 percent a year. At present the government has no policies to combat deforestation.

Fishing is small-scale and is accomplished without modern equipment. The catch was estimated at 13,200 metric tons in 1995.


Industry comprises mostly construction and the provision of electricity but also includes the processing of spices and extraction of perfume from flowers. The construction sector consists of private sector enterprises and is very reliant on conditions elsewhere in the economy. Spurts in tourist activity, for example, lead to increased hotel and dwelling construction. International construction companies undertake most large construction projects (such as highways, ports, and modern hotels). The amount of agricultural processing has not expanded in recent years, mainly because low prices offer little incentive to growers to invest in new planting and increase output.

Owing mainly to a sharp rise in construction activity, industrial GDP increased at an average annual rate of 5.7 percent from 1990 to 1996. Industry's contribution to the GDP has subsequently contracted, providing 4 percent of GDP in 2000, down from 6.0 percent in 1994.


Service is now the largest sector of the economy in terms of output, contributing an average of 48 percent of the GDP from 1994 to 1998 and 56 percent by 2000. However, only 20 percent of the workforce is employed in services. The service sector generates the highest incomes in Comoros, and earnings are particularly high in government service and tourism.

The tourism industry was undeveloped at independence and still has made only modest progress towards its potential. The major hindrance has been the lack of political stability, which clearly has discouraged visitors. Fortunately, the regular unconstitutional changes of government have not resulted in any serious problems for tourists who have visited the islands. The bigger issue is that foreign investment in hotels and resorts has been discouraged. Nevertheless, a number of development projects have been completed, and there has been some recent rise in tourism receipts. In 1996, there were 23,775 tourist arrivals by Air Comoros and receipts totaled $9.1 million.


Comoros has had persistant trade deficits , which are covered by foreign aid, most of which comes from France. Merchandise export earnings in 1999 were $11 million. (The World Factbook estimated that exports reached US$7.9 million that same year.) The bulk of the exports were ylang-ylang essence, other essential oils, vanilla, cloves, copra, and other agricultural produce. The most important export earner is vanilla, although there is yearly variation depending on the success of the harvests. Most exports go to France (35 percent) with Germany, the United States, Singapore, and Mauritius also providing important export markets.

Trade (expressed in billions of US$): Comoros
Exports Imports
1975 .010 .023
1980 .011 .029
1985 .016 .036
1990 .018 .052
1995 .011 .063
1998 N/A N/A
SOURCE : International Monetary Fund. International Financial Statistics Yearbook 1999.
Exchange rates: Comoros
Comoran francs per US$1
Jan 2001 524.41
2000 533.98
1999 461.77
1998 442.46
1997 437.75
1996 383.66
Note: Prior to January 1999, the official rate was pegged to the French franc at 75 Comoran francs per French franc; since January 1, 1999, the Comoran franc is pegged to the euro at a rate of 491.9677 Comoran francs per euro.
SOURCE : CIA World Factbook 2001 [ONLINE].

Imports include rice and other foodstuffs, petroleum products, consumer manufactures, and motor vehicles. In 1999, imports were valued at $48 million. (The World Factbook estimated that imports reached US$55.1 million that same year.) Most imports come from France with Pakistan, South Africa, Kenya, the United Arab Emirates, and Belgium also supplying significant quantities.


Comoros is a member of the Franc Zone, which it joined in 1976. The national currency, the Comoran franc (KMF), is pegged to the French franc and is fully convertible. This arrangement has provided considerable advantages in terms of exchange rate stability and low inflation, but the Franc Zone has also placed restrictions on public sector budget deficits. Some of the stability associated with Franc Zone membership was undermined by a 50 percent currency devaluation that took place in January 1994. Now that France is a member of the European Monetary Union (EMU), the peg to the French franc also implies a peg to the euro.


With the low price of basic commodities in Comoros taken into account, per capita GDP was estimated at

GDP per Capita (US$)
Country 1975 1980 1985 1990 1998
Comoros N/A 499 544 516 403
United States 19,364 21,529 23,200 25,363 29,683
South Africa 4,574 4,620 4,229 4,113 3,918
Mauritius 1,531 1,802 2,151 2,955 4,034
SOURCE : United Nations. Human Development Report 2000; Trends in human development and per capita income.

$1,398 ( purchasing power parity (PPP), 1998 est.). By 2000, the World Factbook estimated that the GDP per capita (PPP) had sunk to US$720. Together with a life expectancy of 60 years, an adult literacy rate of 80 percent, and an enrollment ratio in all levels of education of 39 percent, Comoros was placed by the United Nations (UN) in the group of countries with medium human development. Comoros, however, is close to the bottom of the ranking of those in this group.

There are no figures for the percentage of the population below the dollar-a-day poverty line, which is defined as not having enough income to provide the barest minimum of food, shelter, and clothing. The indicator for children judged underweight at age 5 would suggest that around 30 percent of the population are below the poverty line. Most of those in poverty are members of rural families who must rely on small-scale family farms for their livelihoods. These families are unable to increase their incomes as they are unable to afford investments in mechanization, fertilizers, insecticides, and improved seeds that would boost their output. Even in the main towns, electricity and the piped water supply is erratic. In the rural areas electricity and plumbing are practically nonexistent; lighting is by small paraffin lamps with wicks, and water is obtained from wells. There is some septic tank sewage disposal in the towns, but in the rural areas people rely on pit latrines.


The workforce in 1996 numbered 286,000. About 74 percent of this labor was engaged in agriculture. The unemployment rate was 20 percent in 1996. Comoros has a national labor union, the Union des Travailleurs des Comores (Union of Comoran Workers, UTC), which negotiates to regulate the working conditions. Implementation, however, is very ineffective. There are no official welfare programs, despite the high level of unemployment. Those without employment rely on support from their families or charity, and in the urban areas many try to earn what they can from casual hawking , portering, and scavenging.


1841. France begins the process of occupation and colonization of the islands, which were formerly an autonomous sultanate.

1909. The islands are made a dependency of Madagascar (also a French colony).

1940. With France occupied by Germany, Britain assumes administration of the islands.

1946. Comoros is returned to France and granted administrative autonomy as an overseas territory.

1973. France agrees to independence within 5 years.

1974. In a special referendum, all of the islands except for Mayotte (which remains as a dependency of France) vote for independence.

1975. The Chamber of Deputies votes a unilateral declaration of independence and proclaims the Republic of Comoros, with Ahmed Abdallah as president.

1975. President Abdallah is overthrown in a coup led by French mercenary Bob Denard, who installs Ali Soilih, the leader of a 4-party coalition known as the National United Front (NUF).

1975. The National Assembly is dissolved.

1975. Island of Mayotte rejects union with Comoros in 2 referenda.

1975. French estates in Comoros are nationalized , and French officials are repatriated .

1976. Comoros joins the Franc Zone, with its currency fully convertible and pegged at a fixed rate to the French franc.

1978. Soilih is ousted in a coup led by Denard. Former president Ahmed Abdallah is installed as leader of the new government and is endorsed as president by an election. The band of 50 mercenaries, headed by Denard, forms a presidential guard and controls the administration. The mercenary presence infuriates other African nations, and Comoros is expelled from the Organization for African Unity (OAU). A new constitution is drafted and approved by 99 percent of the votes. Diplomatic relations with France are resumed. The newly elected Federal Assembly approves the formation of a one-party state. The mercenaries leave and OAU readmits Comoros.

1984. Abdallah is elected for a second 6-year term.

1989. Abdallah is assassinated. Said Muhammad Djohar is named interim president.

1990. Djohar is elected president.

1995. Djohar is ousted by a coup. An interim government rules until scheduled elections.

1996. The election is won by Taki Abdoulkarim's National Union for Democracy in Comoros (NUDC), and Taki is elected president. In May, Taki dissolves parliament and calls for new elections in October. The NUDC obtain 36 of the 43 seats at stake in the elections, which are boycotted by the opposition.

1997. In August, a secessionist movement headed by Abdallah Ibrahim calls for the independence of Anjouan Island.

1998. In March, over 99 percent of Anjouan citizens vote for independence in a referendum. Mohéli Island declares independence. Troops are sent to restore status quo (the normal order).

1998. President Taki dies amid rumors of a political assassination. An interim government is formed under Tadjidine Ben Said Massoude.

1999. Colonel Azali Assoumani takes power through a coup and imposes military rule.

2001. A new constitution and new national government are established.


The future of Comoros is clouded by uncertainty. There is little doubt that the 2 smaller islands, Anjouan and Mohéli, would like to enjoy the prosperity and stability of Mayotte, the fourth main island in the archipelago, which has remained a French dependency. Mayotte is administered by France, and the island sends deputies to the French National Assembly. Mayotte's population benefits from social security and general development support from France, which has substantially improved the island's income levels. Such status would significantly improve conditions on Grande Comore. However, it would be a bitter blow to the pride of the ruling elite on Grand Comore and to the Organization for African Unity (OAU). Local politicians see more to their advantage in hanging on to power and accumulating wealth through corrupt practices. It remains to be seen whether the OAU will continue to oppose the democratically expressed wishes of the 2 smaller islands for independence and a possible return to French rule.

The economy is totally dependent on agriculture and tourism for the foreign exchange that it requires to import manufactures and fuels. Agricultural output has been stagnant due to soil degradation, and producers of export crops are discouraged by declines in export prices. Tourism is the most promising sector for expansion. With political stability, perhaps secured by a return to French rule, there is little doubt that foreign investment in tourism would expand, and the islands would progress toward the levels of income enjoyed by their French-ruled neighbors in the Indian Ocean, Reunion and Mayotte. The most likely outcome, however, is that there will be some reconciliation between the other islands and Grande Comore, and Comoros will continue to stagnate.


Comoros has no territories or colonies.


"Comoros." World Yearbook. London: Europa Publications,2000.

Economist Intelligence Unit. Country Profile: Comoros. London: EIU, 2000.

Economist Intelligence Unit. Country Profile: Comoros. London: Economist Intelligence Unit, 2001.

Hodd, M. "Comoros." The Economies of Africa. Aldershot, England: Dartmouth Publications, 1991.

U.S. Central Intelligence Agency. World Factbook 2001. <>. Accessed October 2001.

U.S. Department of State. Background Notes: Comoros, April 1997. <>. Accessed October 2001.

World Bank. The Comoros: Problems and Prospects of a Small Island Economy. Washington, D.C.: World Bank Group, 1979.

World Bank. World Bank Africa Database 2000. WashingtonD.C.: World Bank Group, 2000.

Allan C.K. Mukungu




Comoran franc (KMF). One Comoran franc equals 100 centimes. There are notes with denominations of 25, 50, 100, 1,000, 5,000, and 10,000 francs. Coins come in denominations of 1, 2, 5, 10, and 20 francs and 20 centimes. French francs are also commonly used. The Comoran franc is currently pegged to the euro at KMF 492 = 1 euro.


Vanilla, ylang-ylang, cloves, perfume oil, and copra.


Rice and other foodstuffs, consumer goods, petroleum products, cement, and transport equipment.


US$419 million (purchasing power parity, 2000 est.).


Exports: US$7.9 million (f.o.b., 1999 est.). Imports: US$55.1 million (f.o.b., 1999 est.).

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Comoros, the

the Comoros (kŏm´ərōs), officially Union of the Comoros (2005 est. pop. 671,000), 838 sq mi (2,170 sq km), occupying most of the Comoro Islands, an archipelago in the Indian Ocean, at the northern end of the Mozambique Channel, between Madagascar and Mozambique. The capital and largest city is Moroni.

Land and People

The Comoros is comprised of three main islands, Njazidja (or Ngazidja; also Grande Comore or Grand Comoros)—on which Moroni is located—Nzwani (or Ndzouani; also Anjouan), and Mwali (also Mohéli), and numerous coral reefs and islets. They are volcanic in origin, with interiors that vary from high peaks to low hills and coastlines that feature many sandy beaches. Njazidja is the site of an active volcano, Karthala, which, at 7,746 ft (2,361 m), is the islands' highest peak. The Comoros have a tropical climate with the year almost evenly divided between dry and rainy seasons; cyclones (hurricanes) are quite frequent. The islands once supported extensive rain forests, but most have been severely depleted.

The inhabitants are a mix mostly of African, Arab, Indian, and Malay ethnic strains. Sunni Muslims make up 98% of the population; there is a small Roman Catholic minority. Arabic and French are the official languages, and Comorian (or Shikomoro, a blend of Swahili and Arabic) is also spoken.


With few natural resources, poor soil, and overpopulation, the islands are one of the world's poorest nations. Some 80% of the people are involved in agriculture. Vanilla, ylang-ylang (used in perfumes), cloves, and copra are the major exports; coconuts, bananas, and cassava are also grown. Fishing, tourism, and perfume distillation are the main industries, and remittances from Comorans working abroad are an important source of revenue. Rice and other foodstuffs, consumer goods, petroleum products, and transportation equipment are imported. The country is heavily dependent on France for trade and foreign aid.


The Comoros is governed under the constitution of 2001. The president, who is head of state, is chosen from among the elected heads of the three main islands; the presidency rotates every five years. The government is headed by the prime minister, who is appointed by the president. The unicameral legislature consists of the 33-seat Assembly of the Union. Fifteen members are selected by the individual islands' local assemblies, and 18 are popularly elected. All serve five-year terms. Administratively, the country is divided into the three main islands and four municipalities.


The islands were populated by successive waves of immigrants from Africa, Indonesia, Madagascar, and Arabia. They were long under Arab influence, especially Shiragi Arabs from Persia who first arrived in AD 933. Portugal, France, and England staked claims in the Comoros in the 16th cent., but the islands remained under Arab domination. All of the islands were ceded to the French between 1841 and 1909. Occupied by the British during World War II, the islands were granted administrative autonomy within the French Union in 1946 and internal self-government in 1968. In 1975 three of the islands voted to become independent, while Mayotte chose to remain a French dependency.

Ahmed Abdallah Abderrahman was Comoros's first president. He was ousted in a 1976 coup, returned to power in a second coup in 1978, survived a coup attempt in 1983, and was assassinated in 1989. The nation's first democratic elections were held in 1990, and Saïd Mohamed Djohar was elected president. In 1991, Djohar was impeached and replaced by an interim president, but he returned to power with French backing. Multiparty elections in 1992 resulted in a legislative majority for the president and the creation of the office of prime minister.

Comoros joined the Arab League in 1993. A coup attempt in 1995 was suppressed by French troops. In 1996, Mohamed Taki Abdulkarim was elected president. In 1997, following years of economic decline, rebels took control of the islands of Nzwani and Mwali, declaring their secession and desire to return to French rule. The islands were granted greater autonomy in 1999, but voters on Nzwani endorsed independence in Jan., 2000, and rebels continue to control the island. Taki died in 1998 and was succeeded by Tadjiddine Ben Said Massounde. As violence spread to the main island, the Comoran military staged a coup in Apr., 1999, and Col. Azali Assoumani became president of the Comoros. An attempted coup in Mar., 2000, was foiled by the army.

Forces favoring reuniting with the Comoros seized power in Nzwani in 2001, and in December Comoran voters approved giving the three islands additional autonomy (and their own presidents) within a Comoran federation. Under the new constitution, the presidency of the Comoros Union rotates among the islands. In Jan., 2002, Azali resigned, and Prime Minister Hamada Madi became also interim president in the transitional government preparing for new elections. After two disputed elections (March and April), a commission declared Azali national president in May, 2002.

An accord in Dec., 2003, concerning the division of powers between the federal and island governments paved the way for legislative elections in 2004, in which parties favoring autonomy for the individual islands won a majority of the seats. The 2006 presidential election was won by Ahmed Abdallah Mohamed Sambi, a Sunni cleric regarded as a moderate Islamist.

In Apr., 2007, the president of Nzwani, Mohamed Bacar, refused to resign as required by the constitutional courts and used his police forces to retain power, holding an illegal election in June, after which he was declared the winner. The moves were denounced by the central government and the African Union, but the central government lacked the forces to dislodge Bacar. In Nov., 2007, the African Union began a naval blockade of Nzwani and imposed a travel ban on its government's officials. With support from African Union forces, Comoran troops landed on Mzwani in Mar., 2008, and reestablished federal control over the island. Bacar fled the country.

A referendum in May, 2009, approved of a constitutional amendment to extend the president's term to five years and replace the islands' presidents with governors, but it was denounced by opposition groups and voter turnout was light. In May, 2010, however, the constitutional court overturned the term extension, but the president's term expired without new elections. In June, President Sambi formed an interim government. Elections were finally held in November and December; Vice President Ikililou Dhoinine, the ruling party candidate, was elected to succeed Sambi, but the opposition accused the government of massive vote rigging.


See World Bank, Comoros (1983); M. and H. Ottenheimer, Historical Dictionary of the Comoro Islands (1994).

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Official name : Federal Islamic Republic of Comoros

Area: 2,170 square kilometers (838 square miles)

Highest point on mainland: Mount Karthala (2,360 meters/7,743 feet)

Lowest point on land: Sea level

Hemispheres: Southern and Eastern

Time zone: 3 p.m. = noon GMT

Longest distances: 180 kilometers (110 miles) from east-southeast to west-northwest; 110 kilometers (60 miles) from north-northeast to south-southwest

Land boundaries: None

Coastline: 340 kilometers (211 miles)

Territorial sea limits: 22 kilometers 12 nautical miles


Comoros is a group of three islands located in the northern edge of the Mozambique Channel, between the eastern shore of Mozambique and the island of Madagascar. With an area of 2,170 square kilometers (838 square miles), the country is a little more than twelve times the size of Washington, D.C.


Comoros has no territories or dependencies.


The islands of Comoros have a tropical marine climate. The temperature averages 28°C (82°F) in March, the hottest month. From May to September, southerly winds bring cooler and drier conditions with temperatures averaging around 19°C (66°F). The rainy season is from December to April with January rainfall averaging about 42 centimeters (16.5 inches). Rainfall and temperature vary from island to island during any given month and even vary throughout an island due to the topography. The central, higher areas of an island are often cooler and moister than the coastal regions.


Comoros is composed of three islands: Grande Comore (Ngazidja), Anjouan (Nzwani) and Mohéli (Mwali). The islands were created by the volcanic action along a fissure in the underlying seabed running west-northwest to east-southeast. The center of Grande Comore is a desert lava field. Hilly, black basalt relief formations rise 1,200 to 1,600 meters (3,950 to 5,250 feet) on Anjouan and 500 to 800 meters (1,650 to 2,600 feet) on Mohéli.


Seacoast and Undersea Features

The islands of Comoros are completely surrounded by the waters of the Mozambique Channel, an arm of the Indian Ocean set apart by the island of Madagascar.

Islands and Archipelagos

The northernmost and largest island in Comoros is Grande Comore (Ngazidja), with an area of 1,148 square kilometers (443 square miles). Next in size and to the south of Grande Comore is Mohéli (Mwali) at 290 square kilometers (112 square miles). Anjouan (Nzwani), which is east of Mohéli, is 424 square kilometers (164 square miles) in area.

The island of Mayotte (Maore), southeast of Anjouan, is claimed by Comoros but remains under French administrative control.

There are also several smaller islands surrounding the main land areas.

Coastal Features

Mangrove swamps can be found along the coastal zones of the islands. The sandy beaches of the islands have the potential to become an important resource for the tourism industry in Comoros. In places, rocky cliffs rise dramatically from the sea.


There are no major lakes in Comoros.


There are no major rivers in Comoros.


A desert lava field lies in the central interior of the island of Grande Comore.


There are large tracts of fertile soil on the volcanic islands, but because of the dense population, farming has been forced upwards on the hills, leading to deforestation and erosion. The rich volcanic soils enable the growth of plentiful vegetation. Mangroves predominate in the coastal areas, with palms, bananas, and mangoes further inland.

The island of Anjouan has steep hills that rise nearly 1,500 meters (5,000 feet) from a volcanic massif in the center of the island. On Mohéli there is a ridge in the center of a plain that reaches 580 meters (1,900 feet) above sea level.


The highest peak of the Comoros is Mount Karthala (2,360 meters/7,743 feet), located on the southern tip of the island of Grande Comore. It is also an active volcano. Lush forest areas grow around the hills and volcanic peaks of the islands.


There are no notable canyons or caves on Comoros.


The plateau on Grande Comore rises nearly 600 meters (2,000 feet).


While there are no notable man-made features on the Comoros Islands, humans have been living on the volcanic islands for centuries.



Madagascar and Comoros: A Travel Survival Kit. Berkeley, CA: Lonely Planet Publications, 1989.

Ottenheimer, Martin, and Harriet Ottenheimer. Historical Dictionary Islands. Metuchen, NJ: Scarecrow Press, 1994.


ArabNet. (accessed March 5, 2003).

U.S. Department of State, Bureau of Public Affairs. "Background Notes, Comoros." (accessed March 5, 2003).

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Basic Data
Official Country Name: Islamic Federal Republic of the Comoros
Region: Africa
Population: 578,400
Language(s): Arabic, French, Comoran
Literacy Rate: 57.3%

One of the poorest countries in the world, Comoros is an archipelago, or group of islands, in the western Indian Ocean. It is located between eastern Africa and the island of Madagascar. Under French ownership from 1843 until 1975, Comoros modeled its educational system after that of France. Education, which is free, is mandatory for children between the ages of 7 and 16.

Primary education lasts for five years. Primary school enrollment rates were roughly 75 percent in 1993. Secondary enrollment rates that year were 21 percent for males and 17 percent for females. Some postsecondary training is available on the islands, but students pursuing university degrees must go elsewhere. In the mid-1990s, there were 1,508 primary school teachers, 591 secondary school teachers, and 198 higher education instructors in Comoros. The overall student-teacher ratio is 52 to 1, and the primary language of instruction is French.

The percentage of illiterate adults over the age of 15 in the nation decreased slightly from 52.1 percent in 1980 to 42.7 percent in 1995. During that time period, the percentage of illiterate adult males decreased from 44 percent to 35.8 percent, and the percentage of illiterate adult females decreased from 60 percent to 49.6 percent.

The Ministry of National Education, Culture, Youth, and Sports oversees the educational system of Comoros. The government spent 21.6 percent of its budget on education in 1994. Increased violence towards teachers throughout the late 1990s and early in the twenty-first century became a concern for Education Minister Sultan Chouzour and the Comoran teachers' union.


Eastern Africa Sub-Regional Resource Facility. Health and Education. 26 May 2001. Available from

NUPSA. Comoros and Congo. 26 May 2001. Available from

Panafrican News Agency. Teachers Protest Harassment. AllAfrical Global Media, 13 January 2001. Available from

United Nations Division for Social Policy and Development. Comoros. United Nations Youth Information Network, 26 May 2001. Available from

AnnaMarie L. Sheldon

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The Comoros

The Comoros

Basic Data

Official Country Name: Islamic Federal Republic of the Comoros
Region (Map name): Africa
Population: 578,400
Language(s): Arabic, French, Comoran
Literacy rate: 57.3%

The archipelago La République Fédérale Islamique des Comores (Federal Islamic Republic of the Comoros) is situated off the east African coast, between Mozambique and Madagascar. It is composed of three main islands (Grande Comore or Njazidja, Mohéli or Mwali, and Anjouan or Nzwani) and a number of islets. The capital, Moroni, is located on the west side of Grande Comore. The population in 2000 was about 670,000, and was 98 percent Sunni Muslim, the other 2 percent being Roman Catholic. The official languages are Arabic, and French, and Comoran, a mixture of Arabic and Swahili, is also spoken.

Comoros gained its political independence from France in 1975, save for Mayotte in the southeast, which is still French-dominated. Political instability reigns: 19 coups d'états have occurred since it became in independent nation. In 1999, the military chief Colonel Azali seized power, and within the Fomboni accord, he vowed to calm the severe political instability, and pursue socioeconomic development for this divided and profoundly impoverished nation. The human development index (HDI) in 2000 was at a very low ranking of 139. GNP per capita was at $400, life expectancy was 59 years, literacy at 55 percent, and deaths at 65 per 1,000.

As of the early twenty-first century, there were no daily newspapers in Comoros, and the press circulation was at a 1 in 1000 ratio. There were two weekly newspapers, the state-owned Al Watany (The National) and the independent l'Archipel (The Archipelago). There existed only one state-dominated radio system with a few independent services, and no television service was available, though France has promised to finance the islands' first TV station. There is no media liberalization or autonomy, notably in the wake of the bloody 1997 separatists attacks on Anjouan and the May 1998 police brutal seizure of an independent radio station that was critical of the State.


Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). "The Comoros," World Fact Book 2001. Available from

Samuel Sarri

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Culture Name



Identification. Comorian residents call their Country Masiwa, "the islands," or refer to the individual name of each island. Zisiwa za Komor is a translation of the French words for the country. "Comoro" comes from the Arabic qumr, "the moon" or qamar "whiteness".

Although Comorians practice Sunni Islam of the Chafeite rite, their social organization is matrilineal and residency is matrilocal. Social life is characterized by a widespread system of exchange, which, in turn, creates customary ceremonies and rituals (aida, shungu ), particularly the Great Weddings (ndoola nkuu, arusi ). Everyone participates as a member of a given lineage or age group, or as a member of a gender-specific association.

Location and Geography. The Federal Islamic Republic of the Comoros is a group of three volcanic islands totaling 719 square miles (1,862 square kilometers), lying between Africa and Madagascar. The capital, Moroni, is on Ngazidja, which has an active volcano, no rivers, rocky coasts, and beaches. The climate is tropical and humid. Wildlife is rich in rare species, including coelacanths, sea turtles, and lemurs.

Demography. The population of the three islands is estimated at 539,000 in 1999, a number that has doubled in twenty-five years. Forty-five percent of the population is under age fifteen, and only 6 percent is over age sixty. Close to 20 percent of the population, essentially from Ngazidja, has migrated, mostly to France. Many farmers from the overpopulated island of Ndzuani have migrated to Mwali.

Linguistic Affiliation. Comorian is a Bantu language that looks like, but is not related to, Swahili; each island has its own way of speaking it. The language contains many words of Arabic and French origin. All Comorians receive a Koranic education and learn to write their language in Arabic characters. Formal education is given in French.

Symbolism. The national emblem is a green flag (the color of Islam) with a crescent moon and four white stars, that symbolize the four islands (including Mayotte). In 1996, the names of Allah and the Prophet Mohammed were added to the flag. The national anthem is Udzima wa Masiwa ("Island Unity"), and the motto is "Unity, Justice, and Progress."

History and Ethnic Relations

Emergence of the Nation. The islands were colonized by Africans in the eighth century. The presence of Islam is recorded as early as the eleventh century. With the arrival of Muslim Arabs, chiefdoms evolved into sultanates in the fifteenth century. The era of "battling sultans" saw the flourishing of commerce and the slave trade as well as numerous Madagascan raids. At the end of the nineteenth century, colonial occupation imposed unity and peace in the archipelago. That unity ended in 1975 with the removal of Mahore (Mayotte), which remained French; it was threatened again in 1997 by the secession of Ndzuani.

National Identity. Comorians, whose ancient African origins can be seen in their matrilineal social organization, have been influenced culturally by Arabian Islam and the West. Islam is considered synonymous with civilization, but Comorians also have appropriated many aspects of French culture. The official languagesFrench, Arabic, and Comorianreflect that cultural diversity.

Ethnic Relations. Family ties have made the islands a single cultural and social group. The secession of Ndzuani, which the majority of the population disavows, resulted from poor political, social, and economic management rather than ethnic conflicts.

Urbanism, Architecture, and the Use of Space

Comorians live in villages and cities, some of which are fortified. Mosques, palaces, public squares, stone and coral archways called the doors of peace, and tombs decorated with domes and pillars are examples of stone-built monuments. Sculpted wood and coral decorate niches, ceilings, and doors, featuring geometric or floral patterns and Koranic calligraphy.

Houses are made of dark basalt plastered with coral lime, cob (mud mixed with straw from rice plants), and braided coconut fronds. Cement is slowly replacing stone, while sheet metal replaces braided coconut fronds. A typical house has two rooms, one private and one for to receiving visitors, and sometimes a living room. The courtyard is used for domestic activities. Boys sleep in bachelor quarters. Women dominate in houses, indoor courtyards, and alleys. Men's territory includes mosques and public squares.

Food and Economy

Food in Daily Life. Rice is the staple of the daily diet, along with manioc and other root vegetables, plantains, fresh and dried fish, and milk from grated coconuts. Food taboos provide a way to establish connections and acknowledge identity.

Food Customs at Ceremonial Occasions. Ceremonial dishes include beef and castrated goat served with white rice and curdled milk as well as enormous cakes. Another traditional dish is gruel or porridge made with the dried fruit of sago palms. French cuisine and imported beverages are becoming prevalent.

Basic Economy. Seventy percent of the active population engages in subsistence and commercial farming. Overexploited forests on Ndzuani produce kitchen wood. Cattle and goats are slaughtered during festivals. Six thousand state employees and two South African tourist hotels account for the service sector. In a small and very poor country, the informal sector is very active. The basic unit of currency is the Comorian franc.

Land Tenure and Property. Three legal land systems coexist: customary oral law, the Islamic title to property, and modern identification. Land used to be split among families in the absence of the concept of individual property: land was community property, and its use was sufficient to allow people to live on it. On Ngazidja, these undivided properties are handed down to the girls but may be used by their brothers or husbands to provide for the household.

Commercial Activities. A long tradition of small commerce has led to the multiplication of stores selling basic products, fabrics, and imported clothes. There are many informal trade links with France, Reunion Island and Mauritius, and Saudi Arabia, where gold and appliances are purchased for the great weddings.

Major Industries. Industry accounts for only 4 percent of the gross national product and is essentially represented by companies that prepare spices and fragrant plants for exportation.

Trade. Vanilla, cloves, copra, and ylang ylang, which gave the Comoros the name "Perfume Islands," account for most exports to France, Germany, and the United States. Comorians import construction materials, food, and petroleum. France provides the largest amount of aid, followed by the European Union and the World Bank. Large financial transfers come from Comorians from Ngazidja who live in France.

Division of Labor. Children help their parents collect water and wood; girls often work inside the house, while boys work outside. Men and women share agricultural work; men cut down trees and are in charge of money-making crops, while women tend to the food-producing fields. Men fish in canoes or in small imported motorboats, and women sell the fish. Women fish at low tide, using a piece of fabric as a net or a plant that releases a substance that paralyzes small fish. Traditionally, wealthy women do not work in the fields but do kitchen work or embroidery.

Comorians engage in formal and informal commerce. Construction materials and automobile parts are sold by Indian merchants. Comorians prefer civil service jobs that provide clean, satisfying, and regular work to farm labor, which they view as dirty, tiring, and unreliable.

Social Stratification

Classes and Castes. Society is made up of three classes. Princely descendants of the ancient sultans trace their lineage back to Arab immigrants who married into local leaders' matrilineal families. The title of sharif, a descendant of Muhammad, is handed down through the male line. Farming families are organized in a local hierarchy that reflects their role in the foundation or development of the village. In the cities, fishermen form a separate and socially inferior class, although they can be wealthier than other city residents. Descendants of the African slaves, who arrived in the fourteenth to the nineteenth centuries, live in distinct neighborhoods or villages. The lifestyle of the urban Arab aristocracy in Ndzuani differs greatly from that of the farming population.

Symbols of Social Stratification. The great wedding ceremony identifies accomplished men, who wear a ceremonial coat and a special scarf on Fridays and in some villages enter the mosque through a special door. At Ngazidja, only women who participate in great weddings can wear the bwibwi, a black garment. Village women often wear great wedding jewels to work. In the cities, the size of the house a family builds for its daughter reflects its wealth.

Political Life

Government. The president is assisted by the Federal Assembly made up of forty-two representatives and a supreme court. Religious opinion on legal matters is given by a mufti or a council of ulemas.

Although the constitution specifies that an elected official should rule each island with the assistance of a cabinet, a governor is appointed and works alone. In 1998, a temporary government was supposed to organize elections, which never took place. In April 1999, Colonel Azali Assoumani took power, and appointed a civil government (State Committee) and a State Council largely staffed by the military, with the goal of bringing about an agreement between the islands to establish a new form of federalism.

Leadership and Political Officials. Relations between the government and local leaders (accomplished men) depend on family and local ties. Political parties are more like personal networks than political movements, and electoral campaigns are directed toward and dominated by the accomplished men, who tell their constituents in the village how to vote.

Social Problems and Control. The fundamental social unit is the village or city neighborhood. On Ngazidja, the classification of the male population into age and traditional groups gives each person a role in the village hierarchy. Customary oral law (ada na mila ) includes sanctions against disrespect toward elders, disobedience, theft, and adultery. Until a fine is paid in money or cattle, a convicted person is banished, and he and his family are cut off from the village's social life. Men convicted of incest are dragged across the village in a shaming procession. If a crime has been committed, the criminal's village may be banished by the regional leaders. Customary law and Muslim law are carried out by the cadis (Islamic judges) in matters of personal rights and inheritance. Modern courts try penal cases.

Military Activity. The army consists of about a thousand men. It has intervened only once: at Anjouan at the beginning of the secession crisis. From 1978 to 1989, the Presidential Guard was overseen by French-speaking mercenaries.

Social Welfare and Change Programs

Development programs are financed by international public assistance, the Association of Comorians of France, and the Organization for International Solidarity. Their efforts are mostly in the area of health services.

Nongovernmental Organizations and Other Associations

Male social organization rests on age group and status. Musical associations and sports clubs exist in every village. Female social organization, which is less formal, occurs through help groups and customary associations for development. Most women's organizations are devoted to community development and the training of women and youths.

Gender Roles and Statuses

Division of Labor by Gender. Men work to provide for the household and meet the needs of the family. Fear of ridicule keeps men away from housework; an adolescent boy who sleeps in his mother's house is labeled a "girl." Women band together and use their power to influence village affairs through their associations. Modern political life includes women, and one cabinet post is usually staffed by a woman. In the Islamic religious context, women are limited to functioning as Koranic instructors.

The Relative Status of Women and Men. Despite the practice of polygamy and men's near-monopoly of religious offices, women have a comfortable social status as they are owners of the conjugal house. On Ngazidja, the eldest daughter and her brother are the head of the household and of their mother's lineage. Women have a degree of material autonomy, the role of the mother is praised, and women receive prestige in the organization of the traditional festivals.

Marriage, Family, and Kinship

Marriage. On average, men and women marry two to four times but sometimes much more often. Very few men are polygamous and even then have no more than two wives at a time. The great wedding must be held in the village and within the family so that the wealth being exchanged remains within the community. It must be the woman's first wedding even if it is celebrated years after a religious marriage took place. Only the husband may repudiate his spouse, although the wife may provoke him to make that decision.

Domestic Unit. Residency is matrilocal. The domestic unit is dominated by the mother's relatives, including children from earlier marriages and other people for whom the mother is responsible. Some family members eat in the household but sleep elsewhere. Transfers of children within the family occur frequently. If he is from the same village, the father often visits his mother's and sisters' houses.

Inheritance. When she marries, every woman is given a house and arable land. On Ngazidja, land owned jointly matrilineally and passed down through women, may be sold only to escape dishonor. Personal property is handed down by declaration or testament; Islamic law is rarely invoked.

Kin Groups. On Ngazidja, one belongs to one's mother's lineage, called the "belly" or "house," which has its own name. On the other islands, matrilineal transmission is less formalized but one still lives with one's maternal family. Patrilineal transmission, which is of Arab origin, exists on Ndzuani, and three sharif lineages live in the islands.


Infant Care. The birth of a child is considered a divine blessing. A child is always held by adults or by its brothers and sisters. Children are rarely scolded, though rowdiness is sometimes criticized. Chronic malnutrition affects a third of children below age three; this situation is worse in Ndzuani.

Child Rearing and Education. Familiarly nicknamed "Mom" and "Dad," children are trained for their future roles at an early age, especially girls, who do heavy domestic work. A boy's circumcision at around age four is celebrated by prayer and a special meal. All children attend a religious school, where they memorize the Koran. The instructor, often a local parent, is a respected educator. French secular education favors urban residents and men. Public education is disorganized, and private schools open their doors when teachers at public schools go on strike. Boys enter into the age-class system between ages fifteen and twenty. Pubescent girls are watched closely because pregnancy eliminates the possibility of a great wedding.

Higher Education. There is one school of higher education in the capital. Students must go abroad for training, often at their own expense, because scholarships are scarce. Arab countries pay for Arabiclanguage education and theology, but access to desirable jobs in the administration requires a French diploma.


One must respect and greet one's elders regardless of their social status. A woman may not go out without a head veil. The wife eats in the kitchen with the children; the husband eats at the dinner table or in the living room, where he may invite a parent or friend. Master in his wife's house, a man must behave with dignity and authority.


Religious Beliefs. Sunni Islam of the Chafeite rite is the dominant religious and cultural standard. Many Comorians also believe in the power of djinn, and other spirits of the earth. These beliefs derive from Arab, African, and Madagascan traditions. People also believe in a concept of cosmic balance that grew out of Arab astrology.

Religious Practitioners. There are many ways of practicing Islam, and religious roles may overlap. Some roles and practices are clearly defined and institutionalized: conducting prayer on Fridays, preachers and muezzin who organize community prayer at the mosque, and Koranic masters. Sheiks and Sufi brotherhoods have a strictly Islamic mystical experience; walimu masters, who are numerous in the countryside, may be Koranic instructors, healers, astrologists, and masters of the Muslim djinn. Communication with the invisible is a common experience.

Rituals and Holy Places. In addition to Sunni Islam's religious holidays, Comorians celebrate the Birth of the Prophet and the birthdays of local saints. Most prayer services are held at neighborhood and Friday mosques, while the special devotions of the shadhuliyya, kadiriyya, and rifayya brotherhoods are held in the orders' mosques' courtyards (zawiya ), where local saints are buried in tombs where people come to pray. Cults of spirits in the bush constitute a less visible religious practice.

Death and the Afterlife. People bury the dead according to Islamic rites that exclude women and organize special prayers for the third, ninth, and fortieth days of mourning. Seeing one's dead parent in a dream informs a person about that relative's happiness, facilitating prayer.

Medicine and Health Care

The failure of the public health care system has led to the opening of many small private clinics in the cities. Comorians do not separate sickness from other misfortunes that may be revealed by traditional practitioners who offer herbal remedies, protective amulets with Koranic texts, astrological calculations, or propitiation of possessor spirits. People use these remedies according to the nature of their need (health, love, work, social relations) and wealth.

Secular Celebrations

The national holiday, commemorating independence, is celebrated on 6 July.

The Arts and Humanities

Support for the Arts. Customary celebrations (ada ) are occasions for male and female dancing, violin concerts, and the recitation of important literary texts. Religious and secular musical events are transmitted by the national radio and independent radio and television stations.

Literature. Oral literature includes stories about the creation of villages, war epics, philosophical poetry, tales, riddles, and proverbs. Novels and poetry in French are available.

Graphic Arts. Artisans produce everyday objects, including sculpted wood coconut graters and abacus-style number games, makeup tables in carved coral, basketry, pottery, embroidery (ceremonial coats, Islamic bonnets, openwork curtains), and jewelry.

Performance Arts. Traditional musical genres coexist with music performed by modern village orchestras. Comedic and tragic theatrical works deal with historical themes and often are critical of society.

The State of the Physical and Social Sciences

The National Center for Research and Scientific Documentation at Moroni coordinates studies in the human and natural sciences. The center is also home to an archive, a museum, and a library.


Ahmed-Chamanga, Mohammed. Lexique Comorien (Shindzuani)-Francais, 1992.

Blanchy, Sophie. "Famille et Parente dans L'Archipel des Comores." Journal des Africanistes 62 (1): 753, 1992.

. "Le Partage des Boeufs dans les Rituels Sociaux du Grand Mariage a Ngazidja (Comores)." Journal des Africanistes, 66 (12): 169203, 1996.

, and Moinesha Mroudjae Said Islam. The Status and Situation of Women in the Comoros, 1989.

, Moinecha Cheikh, Moussa A. Saïd, Masseande Allaoui, and Moussa Issihak. "Therapies Traditionnelles aux Comores." Cahiers des Sciences Humaines de l'ORSTOM 29 (4): 763791, 1993.

, Moinecha Cheikh, Moussa A. Saïd, Masseande Allaoui, and Moussa Issihak. "Rituels de Protection dans l'Archipel des Comores." Islam et Societes au Sud du Sahara 10: 121145, 1996.

Chanfi, Ahmed A. Islam et Politique aux Comores, 1999

Chanudet, Claude, and Jean-Aime Rakotoarisoa. Moheli, une Ile des Comores a la Recherche de Son Identite, 2000.

Chouzour, Sultan. Le Pouvoir de l'Honneur: Tradition et Contestation en Grande Comore, 1994.

Damir Ben Ali, George Boulinier, and Paul Ottino. Traditions d'une Lignee Royale des Comores, 1985.

Gevrey, A. Essai sur les Comores, 1870.

Lafon, Michel. "Le Shingazidja, une Langue Bantu sous Influence Arabe." Ph.D. dissertation, INALCO, Paris, 1987.

Martin, Jean. Comores, Quatre Iles entre Pirates et Planteurs, 1983.

Otteinheimer, Martin. Marriage in Domoni, 1985.

and Harriet Otteinheimer. Historical Dictionary of the Comoro Islands, 1994.

Saïd, Moussa A. Princes, Guerriers et Poetes dans la Litterature Comorienne, 2000.

Sidi, Aïnouddine. Anjouan: L'Histoire d'une Crise Fonciere, 1998.

Vérin, Pierre. Les Comores, 1994.

Wright, Henry, "Early Seafarers of the Comoro Islands: The Dembeni Phase of the IXX Centuries a.d." Azania 19: 1360, 1984.

Sophie Blanchy

See Also: Mayotte

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Comoros (Comores) Independent republic off the e coast of Africa between Mozambique and Madagascar in the Indian Ocean, made up of a group of volcanic islands. The three major islands are Grande Comore (site of the capital, Moroni), Anjouan, and Mohéli. The islands are mountainous, the climate tropical, and the soil fertile. Farming is the chief occupation. Coconuts, copra, vanilla, cocoa, and sisal are the main crops and exports. France owned the islands between 1841 and 1909. They gained their independence in 1975. Area: 1862sq km (719sq mi). Pop. (2000 est.) 670,000.

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