Comoros


Comoros
/kom"euh rohz'/, n.
Federal and Islamic Republic of the, a republic comprising three of the Comoro Islands (Grand Comoro, Mohéli, and Anjouan): a former overseas territory of France; declared independence 1975. 589,797; 719 sq. mi. (1862 sq. km). Cap.: Moroni.

* * *

Comoros

Introduction Comoros
Background: Unstable Comoros has endured 19 coups or attempted coups since gaining independence from France in 1975. In 1997, the islands of Anjouan and Moheli declared their independence from Comoros. In 1999, military chief Col. AZALI seized power. He has pledged to resolve the secessionist crisis through a confederal arrangement named the 2000 Fomboni Accord. In December 2001, voters approved a new constitution and presidential elections took place in the spring of 2002. Geography Comoros -
Location: Southern Africa, group of islands in the Mozambique Channel, about two- thirds of the way between northern Madagascar and northern Mozambique
Geographic coordinates: 12 10 S, 44 15 E
Map references: Africa
Area: total: 2,170 sq km water: 0 sq km land: 2,170 sq km
Area - comparative: slightly more than 12 times the size of Washington, DC
Land boundaries: 0 km
Coastline: 340 km
Maritime claims: exclusive economic zone: 200 NM territorial sea: 12 NM
Climate: tropical marine; rainy season (November to May)
Terrain: volcanic islands, interiors vary from steep mountains to low hills
Elevation extremes: lowest point: Indian Ocean 0 m highest point: Le Kartala 2,360 m
Natural resources: NEGL
Land use: arable land: 34.98% permanent crops: 17.94% other: 47.09% (1998 est.)
Irrigated land: NA sq km
Natural hazards: cyclones possible during rainy season (December to April); Le Kartala on Grand Comore is an active volcano Environment - current issues: soil degradation and erosion results from crop cultivation on slopes without proper terracing; deforestation Environment - international party to: Biodiversity, Climate
agreements: Change, Desertification, Endangered Species, Hazardous Wastes, Law of the Sea, Ozone Layer Protection, Ship Pollution, Wetlands signed, but not ratified: none of the selected agreements
Geography - note: important location at northern end of Mozambique Channel People Comoros
Population: 614,382 (July 2002 est.)
Age structure: 0-14 years: 42.9% (male 132,013; female 131,282) 15-64 years: 54.2% (male 164,245; female 168,793) 65 years and over: 2.9% (male 8,588; female 9,461) (2002 est.)
Population growth rate: 2.99% (2002 est.)
Birth rate: 39.01 births/1,000 population (2002 est.)
Death rate: 9.1 deaths/1,000 population (2002 est.)
Net migration rate: NEGL migrant(s)/1,000 population (2002 est.)
Sex ratio: at birth: 1.03 male(s)/female under 15 years: 1.01 male(s)/female 15-64 years: 0.97 male(s)/female 65 years and over: 0.91 male(s)/ female total population: 0.99 male(s)/ female (2002 est.)
Infant mortality rate: 81.79 deaths/1,000 live births (2002 est.) Life expectancy at birth: total population: 60.79 years female: 63.09 years (2002 est.) male: 58.56 years
Total fertility rate: 5.26 children born/woman (2002 est.) HIV/AIDS - adult prevalence rate: 0.12% (1999 est.) HIV/AIDS - people living with HIV/ NA
AIDS:
HIV/AIDS - deaths: NA
Nationality: noun: Comoran(s) adjective: Comoran
Ethnic groups: Antalote, Cafre, Makoa, Oimatsaha, Sakalava
Religions: Sunni Muslim 98%, Roman Catholic 2%
Languages: Arabic (official), French (official), Shikomoro (a blend of Swahili and Arabic)
Literacy: definition: age 15 and over can read and write total population: 57.3% male: 64.2% female: 50.4% (1995 est.) Government Comoros
Country name: conventional long form: Federal Islamic Republic of the Comoros conventional short form: Comoros local short form: Comores local long form: Republique Federale Islamique des Comores
Government type: independent republic
Capital: Moroni Administrative divisions: 3 islands; Grande Comore (Njazidja), Anjouan (Nzwani), and Moheli (Mwali); note - there are also four municipalities named Domoni, Fomboni, Moroni, and Moutsamoudou
Independence: 6 July 1975 (from France)
National holiday: Independence Day, 6 July (1975)
Constitution: 23 December 2001 note: a Transitional National Unity Government (GUNT) was formed on 20 January 2002 following the passing of the new constitution; the GUNT governed until the presidential elections on 14 April 2002
Legal system: French and Muslim law in a new consolidated code
Suffrage: 18 years of age; universal
Executive branch: chief of state: President AZALI Assoumani (since 26 May 2002); note - AZALI Assoumani became president on 6 May 1999 after a bloodless coup on 30 April 1999; on 16 January 2002, President AZALI resigned his position to run in the 14 April 2002 presidential elections; during that time, Prime Minister Hamada Madi BOLERO served as interim president election results: President AZALI Assoumani elected president with 75% of the vote elections: president elected by popular vote for a five-year term; election last held 14 April 2002 (next to be held NA April 2007); prime minister appointed by the president head of government: Prime Minister Hamada Madi BOLERO (since NA November 2000); note - on 16 January 2002, President AZALI resigned his position to run in the 14 April 2002 presidential elections; Prime Minister Hamada Madi BOLERO was appointed interim president and Djaffar SALIM interim deputy prime minister cabinet: Council of Ministers appointed by the president
Legislative branch: bicameral legislature consists of the Senate (15 seats - five from each island); members selected by regional councils for six-year terms) and a Federal Assembly or Assemblee Federale (42 seats; members elected by popular vote to serve five-year terms); note - the Federal Assembly was dissolved following the coup of 30 April 1999 elections: Federal Assembly - last held 1 and 8 December 1996 (next to be held NA) note: the constitution stipulates that only parties that win six seats in the Federal Assembly (two from each island) are permitted to be in the opposition, but if no party accomplishes that, the second most successful party will be in the opposition; in the elections of December 1996 the FNJ appeared to qualify as opposition election results: Federal Assembly - percent of vote by party - NA%; seats by party - RND 39, FNJ 3, independent 1
Judicial branch: Supreme Court or Cour Supremes (two members appointed by the president, two members elected by the Federal Assembly, one elected by the Council of each island, and others are former presidents of the republic) Political parties and leaders: Front National pour la Justice or FNJ (Islamic party in opposition) [Ahmed Abdallah MOHAMED, Ahmed ABOUBACAR, Soidiki M'BAPANOZA]; Rassemblement National pour le Development or RND (party of the government) [Ali Bazi SELIM] Political pressure groups and NA
leaders: International organization ACCT, ACP, AfDB, AFESD, AL, CCC,
participation: ECA, FAO, FZ, G-77, IBRD, ICAO, ICRM, IDA, IDB, IFAD, IFC, IFRCS (associate), ILO, IMF, IMO, InOC, Interpol, IOC, ISO (subscriber), ITU, NAM, OAU, OIC, OPCW (signatory), UN, UNCTAD, UNESCO, UNIDO, UPU, WHO, WMO, WTrO (applicant) Diplomatic representation in the US: chief of mission: Ambassador- designate Ahmed DJABIR (ambassador to the US and Canada and permanent representative to the UN) telephone: [1] (212) 972-8010 and 223-2711 FAX: [1] (212) 983-4712 and 715-0699 chancery: (temporary) care of the Permanent Mission of the Federal and Islamic Republic of the Comoros to the United Nations, 420 East 50th Street, New York, NY 10022 Diplomatic representation from the the US does not have an embassy in
US: Comoros; the ambassador to Mauritius is accredited to Comoros
Flag description: 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; the horizontal bands and the four stars represent the four main islands of the archipelago - Mwali, Njazidja, Nzwani, and Mayotte (a territorial collectivity of France, but claimed by Comoros); the crescent, stars, and color green are traditional symbols of Islam Economy Comoros -
Economy - overview: One of the world's poorest countries, Comoros is made up of three islands that have inadequate transportation links, a young and rapidly increasing population, and few natural resources. The low educational level of the labor force contributes to a subsistence level of economic activity, high unemployment, and a heavy dependence on foreign grants and technical assistance. Agriculture, including fishing, hunting, and forestry, contributes 40% to GDP, employs 80% of the labor force, and provides most of the exports. The country is not self-sufficient in food production; rice, the main staple, accounts for the bulk of imports. The government is struggling to upgrade education and technical training, to privatize commercial and industrial enterprises, to improve health services, to diversify exports, to promote tourism, and to reduce the high population growth rate. Increased foreign support is essential if the goal of 4% annual GDP growth is to be met. Remittances from 150,000 Comorans abroad help supplement GDP.
GDP: purchasing power parity - $424 million (2001 est.)
GDP - real growth rate: 1% (2001 est.)
GDP - per capita: purchasing power parity - $710 (2001 est.) GDP - composition by sector: agriculture: 40% industry: 4% services: 56% (2001 est.) Population below poverty line: 60% (2001 est.) Household income or consumption by lowest 10%: NA%
percentage share: highest 10%: NA% Inflation rate (consumer prices): 3.5% (2001 est.)
Labor force: 144,500 (1996 est.) Labor force - by occupation: agriculture 80%
Unemployment rate: 20% (1996 est.)
Budget: revenues: $27.6 million expenditures: $NA, including capital expenditures of $NA (2001 est.)
Industries: tourism, perfume distillation Industrial production growth rate: -2% (1999 est.) Electricity - production: 19 million kWh (2000) Electricity - production by source: fossil fuel: 89.47% hydro: 10.53% other: 0% (2000) nuclear: 0% Electricity - consumption: 17.67 million kWh (2000)
Electricity - exports: 0 kWh (2000)
Electricity - imports: 0 kWh (2000)
Agriculture - products: vanilla, cloves, perfume essences, copra, coconuts, bananas, cassava (tapioca)
Exports: $35.3 million (f.o.b., 2001 est.)
Exports - commodities: vanilla, ylang-ylang, cloves, perfume oil, copra
Exports - partners: France 46%, US 18%, Singapore 18%, Germany 9% (1999)
Imports: $44.9 million (f.o.b., 2001 est.)
Imports - commodities: rice and other foodstuffs, consumer goods; petroleum products, cement, transport equipment
Imports - partners: France 34%, South Africa 14%, Kenya 7%, Pakistan 4% (1999)
Debt - external: $225 million (yearend 2000 est.) Economic aid - recipient: $10 million (2001 est.)
Currency: Comoran franc (KMF)
Currency code: KMF
Exchange rates: Comoran francs per US dollar - 557.09 (January 2002), 549.78 (2001), 533.98 (2000), 461.77 (1999), 442.46 (1998), 437.75 (1997) note: prior to January 1999, the official rate was pegged to the French franc at 75 Comoran francs per French franc; since 1 January 1999, the Comoran franc is pegged to the euro at a rate of 491.9677 Comoran francs per euro
Fiscal year: calendar year Communications Comoros Telephones - main lines in use: 7,000 (2000) Telephones - mobile cellular: NA
Telephone system: general assessment: sparse system of microwave radio relay and HF radiotelephone communication stations domestic: HF radiotelephone communications and microwave radio relay international: HF radiotelephone communications to Madagascar and Reunion Radio broadcast stations: AM 1, FM 4, shortwave 1 (2001)
Radios: 90,000 (1997) Television broadcast stations: NA
Televisions: 1,000 (1997)
Internet country code: .km Internet Service Providers (ISPs): 1 (2000)
Internet users: 1,500 (2001) Transportation Comoros
Railways: 0 km
Highways: total: 880 km paved: 673 km unpaved: 207 km (1996)
Waterways: none
Ports and harbors: Fomboni, Moroni, Moutsamoudou
Merchant marine: total: 6 ships (1,000 GRT or over) totaling 139,779 GRT/205,369 DWT ships by type: cargo 6 note: includes some foreign-owned ships registered here as a flag of convenience: Malta 1, Pakistan 1, Turkey 1 (2002 est.)
Airports: 4 (2001) Airports - with paved runways: total: 4 2,438 to 3,047 m: 1 914 to 1,523 m: 3 (2001) Military Comoros
Military branches: Comoran Security Force Military manpower - availability: males age 15-49: 145,509 (2002 est.) Military manpower - fit for military males age 15-49: 86,455 (2002 est.)
service: Military expenditures - dollar $6 million (FY01)
figure: Military expenditures - percent of 3% (FY01)
GDP: Transnational Issues Comoros Disputes - international: claims French-administered Mayotte; the island of Anjouan (Nzwani) has moved to secede from Comoros again after recent military coup

* * *

officially Federal Islamic Republic of the Comoros

Islamic republic off the eastern coast of Africa.

Area: 719 sq mi (1,862 sq km). Population (2000 est.): 509,200. Capital: Moroni. The people are a mixture of Malay immigrants, Arab traders, and peoples from Madagascar and continental Africa. Languages: Comorian (a Bantu language), Arabic, French (all official). Religion: Islam (official). Currency: Comorian franc. Comoros comprises a group of islands between Madagascar and the mainland that includes Grande Comore (Njazidja), Mohéli (Mwali), and Anjouan (Nzwani) but excludes Mayotte. They are generally rocky, with shallow soils and poor harbours, though Mohéli, the smallest, has fertile valleys and forested hillsides. Mount Karthala, an active volcano, is the highest point, at 7,746 ft (2,361 m). The climate is tropical. One of the world's poorest nations, its economy is based on subsistence agriculture. The head of state and government is the president. Known to European navigators since the 16th century, the dominant influence on the islands was then and for long afterward Arab. In 1843 France officially took possession of Mayotte and in 1886 placed the other three islands under protection. Subordinated to Madagascar in 1914, the Comoros became an overseas territory of France in 1947. In 1961 they were granted autonomy. In 1974 majorities on three of the islands voted for independence, which was granted in 1975. The following decade saw several coup attempts, culminating in the assassination of the president in 1989. French intervention permitted multiparty elections in 1990, but the country remained in a state of chronic instability. In 1999 the army took control of the government.

* * *

▪ 2009

Area:
1,862 sq km (719 sq mi), excluding the 374-sq-km (144-sq-mi) island of Mayotte, a de facto dependency of France since 1976
Population
(2008 est.): 645,000 (excluding 192,000 on Mayotte)
Capital:
Moroni
Chief of state and head of government:
President Ahmed Abdallah Mohamed Sambi

      The political crisis that began in Comoros in 2007 after Anjouan Pres. Col. Mohamed Bacar defied orders to step down from office boiled over into 2008 when African Union (AU) and federal troops invaded the island to wrest control back from the renegade leader. Bacar, who was elected Anjouan president in 2002 after having seized power in a 2001 coup, unilaterally declared himself president in illegal local elections held in June 2007. In the coup-prone Comoros, each of the three autonomous islands of Grande Comore, Anjouan, and Mohéli had its own president; the federal presidency rotated between the island leaders every four years.

      In an unprecedented move, on March 25 more than 1,500 Comoran and AU troops landed on Anjouan under a military action dubbed “Operation Democracy,” which retook the island and ousted Bacar, who fled to neighbouring French-controlled Mayotte. After the deposed leader unsuccessfully sought haven in France, Bacar was expelled to Benin, which granted him asylum. The coalition troops were able to quickly establish calm on the island following the coup, and on June 29, Anjouan voters elected Moussa Toybou as Anjouan's president. In July, Mohéli Pres. Mohamed Ali Said suspended the island's government; it was the third time he had done so during his term in office.

Mary Ebeling

▪ 2008

Area:
1,862 sq km (719 sq mi), excluding the 374-sq-km (144-sq-mi) island of Mayotte, a de facto dependency of France since 1976
Population
(2007 est.): 629,000 (excluding 194,000 on Mayotte)
Capital:
Moroni
Chief of state and head of government:
President Ahmed Abdallah Mohamed Sambi

 The recent stability enjoyed in Comoros was interrupted in 2007 when the country faced a serious political crisis. The three autonomous islands of Grande Comore, Anjouan, and Mohéli each chose local presidents every five years, but Anjouan Pres. Col. Mohamed Bacar, who was elected to the office in 2002 after having seized power a year earlier in a coup, defied federal orders to step down in the run-up to local presidential elections planned for June 2007. In clashes between forces loyal to Bacar and the federal army, two army soldiers died. Owing to the ongoing strife, the government postponed the elections to be held on June 10 in Anjouan, but Bacar claimed victory in elections that he staged that day. The African Union (AU) and the national government refused to recognize the election results and declared that the Bacar government was illegal. The presidential elections on Grande Comore and Mohéli were held without incident, however, and Mohamed Abdouloihabi and Mohamed Ali Said were sworn in as presidents, respectively. In an effort to break the deadlock, in October the AU imposed travel and economic sanctions on Anjouan leaders. Comoros had endured 19 coups or attempted coups since gaining independence in 1975 from France. Mercenary Bob Denard (Denard, Bob ), who was involved in several coups in the Comoros, died in Paris.

Mary Ebeling

▪ 2007

Area:
1,862 sq km (719 sq mi), excluding the 374-sq-km (144-sq-mi) island of Mayotte, a de facto dependency of France since 1976
Population
(2006 est.): 632,000 (excluding 188,000 on Mayotte)
Capital:
Moroni
Chief of state and head of government:
Presidents Col. Azali Assoumani and, from May 26, Ahmed Abdallah Mohamed Sambi

      Said Mohamed Djohar, the first democratically elected president of Comoros, died on Feb. 22, 2006, at age 87. He served as head of state from 1990 to Sept. 27, 1995, when he was overthrown by forces led by French mercenary Bob Denard, who was arrested and deported to a French prison. Ironically, two days before Djohar's death, Denard was finally brought to trial, eventually being found guilty and given a token suspended five-year sentence.

      Prospects for political stability brightened for the coup-prone archipelago after a successful federal election on May 14 led to the peaceful handover of the presidency 12 days later from outgoing Pres. Azali Assoumani to Muslim cleric and businessman Ahmed Abdallah Mohamed Sambi. Sambi won a decisive victory, with 58% of the vote, compared with a total of 42% for his two rivals, Ibrahim Halidi and Mohamed Djaanfari. For the first time, there were women candidates in the preliminary election.

      Faced with steep declines in world market prices for the country's three major exports—vanilla, cloves, and ylang-ylang—the new regime's priority focused on revamping development plans. To this end it negotiated economic agreements with Tanzania, The Sudan, and Iran.

LaRay Denzer

▪ 2006

Area:
1,862 sq km (719 sq mi), excluding the 374-sq-km (144-sq-mi) island of Mayotte, a de facto dependency of France since 1976
Population
(2005 est.): 614,000 (excluding 181,000 on Mayotte)
Capital:
Moroni
Chief of state and head of government:
President Col. Azali Assoumani

      Following the Indian Ocean tsunami in December 2004, representatives of island states, including Comoros, met in January 2005 at a UN-sponsored conference in Mauritius to ask for help amid a decline in donor aid. Several student and teacher protests occurred in Moroni in January, and others in early March on Anjouan resulted in two deaths and an islandwide curfew. Hundreds were forced to flee their homes on Mt. Karthala on Grande Comore in April, when the volcano erupted in smoke.

      Pres. Col. Azali Assoumani made a historic state visit in January to France, the first since Comoros gained its independence in 1975. The visit helped to repair relations between the two countries, which had been strained since the 1999 coup that brought Assoumani to power. In April a controversial bill that would have allowed Assoumani to run for a second term as federal president was withdrawn. Under the 2001 constitution, the federal presidency rotated between the three islands' presidents every four years. In an effort to strengthen the country's economy and to receive donor funds and attract investors, the government submitted austerity measures in February to the International Monetary Fund.

Mary F.E. Ebeling

▪ 2005

Area:
1,862 sq km (719 sq mi), excluding the 374-sq-km (144-sq-mi) island of Mayotte, a de facto dependency of France since 1976
Population
(2004 est.): 596,000 (excluding 172,000 on Mayotte)
Capital:
Moroni
Chief of state and head of government:
President Col. Azali Assoumani

      Following the signing of the Moroni Agreement in December 2003, which mandated elections in Comoros and ironed out economic agreements, two rounds of parliamentary elections were held in April 2004. The elections had been postponed for more than a year owing to disagreements over the devolution process on the three islands— Anjouan, Grande Comore, and Mohéli. The process had been fraught with tensions since it was mandated by the Organization of African Unity in February 2001 to bring stability to the island country, which had suffered more than 20 coups since gaining independence from France in 1975. In both election rounds the party of federal Pres. Azali Assoumani suffered major setbacks, winning only 6 of the 33 national assembly seats. The majority of seats, 12, went to the parties of the autonomous islands' presidents, and the remaining 15 seats were to be appointed by the parliaments of the three islands. The new assembly finally opened in June but not without continuing tensions between the parties.

      In view of the years of political instability, the IMF called for sustainable economic reforms and an immediate solution to the distribution of federal funds among the island governments.

Mary F.E. Ebeling

▪ 2004

Area:
1,862 sq km (719 sq mi), excluding the 374-sq-km (144-sq-mi) island of Mayotte, a de facto dependency of France since 1976
Population
(2003 est.): 584,000 (excluding 165,000 on Mayotte)
Capital:
Moroni
Chief of state and head of government:
President Col. Azali Assoumani

      Parliamentary elections for each autonomous island—Anjouan, Grande Comore, and Mohéli—as well as elections for the Comoros Union scheduled for March 2003 were postponed indefinitely owing to disagreements between the four governments. The ongoing constitutional crisis deepened in February when plans for an alleged coup to overthrow union Pres. Azali Assoumani were revealed. Two ministers in the Grande Comore government along with a dozen gendarmes were arrested. In March a senior union official was arrested for alleged plans to hire mercenaries to destabilize the autonomous islands.

      Heavy floods in April displaced 300 people on Mohéli. A one-day strike, also in April, by the commercial sector on Grande Comore protested the double taxation by the autonomous and union governments and highlighted the legislative crisis. A meeting in August hosted in Pretoria, S.Af., by the South African foreign affairs minister, Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma, to reconcile the Comoros governments resulted in a draft agreement that addressed the disputes over customs management, internal security, and the 2003 budget, prepared previously in consultation with the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank. In early September, however, President Assoumani reversed his position and rejected the agreement.

Mary F.E. Ebeling

▪ 2003

Area:
1,862 sq km (719 sq mi), excluding the 375-sq-km (145-sq-mi) island of Mayotte, a de facto dependency of France since 1976
Population
(2002 est.): 583,000 (excluding 165,000 on Mayotte)
Capital:
Moroni
Chief of state and head of government:
Heads of State Col. Azali Assoumani and, from January 21 to May 26, Hamada Madi; President from May 26, Col. Azali Assoumani

      A referendum passed on Dec. 23, 2001, granted the three islands of the Comoros more autonomy and renamed the Federal Islamic Republic of the Comoros as the new Union of the Comoros. Accordingly, a series of elections were held in the first five months of 2002. Violence and protests over the first round of voting for union president in April resulted in the voiding of Col. Azali Assoumani's unopposed victory, but he went on to win in a fresh round and was sworn in as union president on May 26. Under the new constitution, each island had its own president and parliament. Voters on Anjouan elected Col. Mohammed Bacar, Mohamed Said Fazul was elected president for Mohéli, and Abdou Soule Elbak was voted president of Grande Comore (Njazidja). By mid-December 2002, parliaments for each autonomous island as well as for the Union of the Comoros were in place.

      The new political structure was threatened in June when a struggle erupted between Union President Assoumani and Grande Comore President Elbak on how power should be shared. The military briefly occupied parts of Moroni, and in August soldiers shot demonstrators protesting against Assoumani. Owing to political uncertainty, the International Monetary Fund postponed plans for economic reform until the country had stabilized.

Mary F.E. Ebeling

▪ 2002

Area:
1,862 sq km (719 sq mi), excluding the 375-sq km (145-sq mi) island of Mayotte, a de facto dependency of France since 1976
Population
(2001 est.): 566,000 (excluding 159,000 on Mayotte)
Capital:
Moroni
Chief of state and head of government:
Col. Azali Assoumani

      The crisis brought about by the island of Anjouan's secession from the Comoros federation continued throughout 2001. Organization of African Unity (OAU) envoy José Francisco Madeira Caetano led intensive talks that produced a reconciliation agreement. Federal and Anjouan government officials, as well as opposition parties, signed the agreement on February 17. It provided greater autonomy for individual island governments but reserved defense and foreign policy for the national government. In March the reconciliation process stalled amid disputes over the composition of a committee to implement the agreement provisions. The OAU reaffirmed its commitment to ending the secession and vowed to maintain economic sanctions to this end.

      On August 9 soldiers on Anjouan deposed the island's ruler, Lieut. Col. Said Abeid Abdermane. The three-member military committee that took power cited Abdermane's alleged corruption and the government's failure to pay soldiers and civil servants. By August 28 the coup leaders had nominated chief of the gendarmerie Cmdr. Mohamed Bacar as head of state. In early November Abdermane attempted to retake power but was defeated by forces loyal to Bacar. In a referendum on December 23, 77% of voters backed a new constitution that would grant increased autonomy to the three Indian Ocean islands that made up the country but keep them part of the federation. About 90% of voters in Anjouan supported the measure.

      The economy continued to struggle despite the World Bank's approval of an $11.4 million credit in March for improving basic infrastructure.

Matthew A. Cenzer

▪ 2001

Area:
1,862 sq km (719 sq mi), excluding the 375-sq km (145-sq mi) island of Mayotte, a de facto dependency of France since 1976
Population
(2000 est.): 578,000 (excluding 156,000 on Mayotte)
Capital:
Moroni
Chief of state and head of government:
Col. Azali Assoumani

      In January 2000 the separatist Anjouan government held a referendum on an Organization of African Unity (OAU)-brokered agreement that would end the secession crisis by granting the three Comoros islands (Grande Comore, Anjouan, and Mohéli) a measure of autonomy. Amid accusations of fraud and other irregularities at the nonsecret ballot box, about 95% of the electorate supported the Anjouan government's refusal to sign. As a result, the OAU imposed sanctions on the breakaway island. In late March soldiers mounted an unsuccessful coup against federal Pres. Azali Assoumani, the 19th attempted coup since independence in 1975. In July the OAU Council of Ministers endorsed military intervention to end Anjouan's secession. By August the secessionists and the federal government had signed an agreement to replace the federal constitution with a looser confederation within 18 months. Observers and Comoros residents were skeptical of the arrangement, and in September the Anjouan government began cracking down on opponents of the reunification deal.

      In March World Bank and International Monetary Fund officials began talks with the government to activate previously frozen loans and aid projects. They cited the government's implementation of a short-term economic plan and restructured civil service. A cholera outbreak that struck Anjouan in April and then spread to Grande Comore subsided in June.

Matthew A. Cenzer

▪ 2000

Area:
1,862 sq km (719 sq mi), excluding the 375-sq km (145-sq mi) island of Mayotte, a de facto dependency of France since 1976
Population
(1999 est.): 563,000 (excluding 149,000 on Mayotte)
Capital:
Moroni
Chief of state and head of government:
President Tadjiddine Ben Said Massounde (acting) and, from April 30 (with the title of Head of State from May 6), Col. Azali Assoumani

      The integrity of the nation was the main concern in the Comoros throughout 1999. A meeting of regional states sponsored by the Organization of African Unity agreed to a framework for settling the crisis brought about by the secession of Anjouan Island in 1997. Under their auspices, talks began in April in Antananarivo, Madagascar, and produced an agreement that gave some powers to individual island governments and provided for a presidency that would rotate among the three islands. Anjouan delegates did not sign the agreement, and opposition to the new arrangements triggered widespread unrest on the main island, Grande Comore.

      On April 30, army units led by chief of staff Col. Azali Assoumani seized power in a bloodless coup. Assoumani promised to implement the Antananarivo agreement and return power to civilians in one year. He formed a government in May and promulgated a constitution giving him broad executive and legislative powers. In June Anjouan separatists promised to honour the accord. Further reconciliation talks in July ended without agreement. Fighting broke out again in September on Anjouan between those supporting and those opposed to the Antananarivo agreement. Separatist leader Col. Said Abeid repudiated the agreement and reasserted the independence of Anjouan.

Matthew A. Cenzer

▪ 1999

      Area: 1,862 sq km (719 sq mi), excluding the 375-sq km (145-sq mi) island of Mayotte, a de facto dependency of France since 1976

      Population (1998 est.): 546,000 (excluding 134,000 on Mayotte)

      Capital: Moroni

      Chief of state and head of government: President Mohamed Taki Abdoulkarim and, from November 6, acting President Tadjiddine Ben Said Massounde

      The year 1998 dawned with the secession crisis on the islands of Anjouan and Moheli unresolved. In February Anjouan voters approved a new constitution affirming their independence. An Organization of African Unity delegation arrived on Anjouan on March 18 in an unsuccessful attempt to persuade its leaders to return to the federation. On July 7, however, Anjouan Pres. Foundi Abdallah Ibrahim dismissed the government of Prime Minister Chamassi Said Omar, a strong supporter of secession and reunion with France, and announced that the new government would begin reconciliation negotiations with the Comoran government. After a failed assassination attempt against Foundi in December, violence broke out on Anjouan.

      In May the capital, Moroni, witnessed several days of violent protests. Demonstrators clashed with police over the closing of an opposition radio station. On May 29 Pres. Mohamed Taki Abdoulkarim dissolved the government and formed a new one the next day without a prime minister. On november 6 Taki died of natural causes, and Tadjiddine Ben Said Massounde became acting president.

MATTHEW A. CENZER

▪ 1998

      Area: 1,862 sq km (719 sq mi), excluding the 373-sq km (144-sq mi) island of Mayotte, a de facto dependency of France since 1976

      Population (1997 est.): 514,000 (excluding 128,000 on Mayotte)

      Capital: Moroni

      Chief of state: President Mohamed Taki Abdoulkarim

      Head of government: Prime Ministers Ahmed Abdou and, from December 7, Nourdine Bourhane

      During August 1997 two of Comoros's islands—Anjouan and Moheli—announced their secession from the nation despite promises by Pres. Mohamed Taki of greater island autonomy. They wanted to reestablish their connection with France. The French government reaffirmed its support for the territorial integrity of Comoros, and the Organization of African Unity (OAU) appealed for calm and said the separation of Anjouan was "totally unacceptable." OAU-sponsored peace talks followed. Early in September, however, government troops from Moroni set out by boat to recapture Anjouan despite appeals from the OAU and France to negotiate instead. The 300 troops met fierce resistance, and though the government at first claimed it had regained control of the island, it later admitted defeat. The government expressed "profound regret" that France had refused to offer support and also complained to the UN Security Council that foreign mercenaries had taken part in the conflict on the side of Anjouan. President Taki on December 7 appointed Nourdine Bourhane, a native of Anjouan, prime minister.

GUY ARNOLD
      This article updates Comoros.

▪ 1997

      The Islamic republic of the Comoros is an island state in the Indian Ocean off the east coast of Africa. Area: 1,862 sq km (719 sq mi), excluding the island of Mayotte, which continued to be a de facto dependency of France. Pop. (1996 est.; excluding Mayotte): 562,000. Cap.: Moroni. Monetary unit: Comorian franc, with a par value of CF 75 to the French franc and (as of Oct. 11, 1996) a free rate of CF 388.59 to U.S. $1 (CF 612.15 = £ 1 sterling). Presidents in 1996, Caabi el Yachourtu Mohamed and, from March 25, Mohamed Taki Abdoulkarim; prime ministers, Caabi el Yachourtu Mohamed and, from March 27, Tadjidine Ben Said Massounde.

      At the end of 1995, a political crisis arose when Pres. Said Mohamed Djohar went to Réunion for medical treatment and Prime Minister Caabi el Yachourtu Mohamed assumed the title of interim president. Prime Minister Yachourtu called presidential elections for January 28. After two days of talks between Djohar and representatives of Yachourtu in Madagascar under the auspices of the Organization of African Unity, it was agreed that Djohar could return to Comoros to a "symbolic" role; a new electoral code laid down that the age range for presidential candidates should be between 40 and 70 (Djohar was around 80).

      In the first round of the presidential elections, which had been postponed to March 6, Mohamed Taki Abdoulkarim and his National Union for Democracy in the Comoros (UNDC) won with 21% of the votes. In the second round the UNDC won with 64% of the total. Following his election Taki said he wished French troops to remain in Comoros and France to undertake the external defense of the country. He was sworn in on March 25. In April he dissolved the National Assembly and scheduled new elections to the Assembly for October 6. In the election, boycotted by the opposition coalition, the UNDC won 36 of the 43 seats. (GUY ARNOLD)

      This article updates Comoros.

▪ 1996

      The Islamic republic of the Comoros is an island state in the Indian Ocean off the east coast of Africa. Area: 1,862 sq km (719 sq mi), excluding the island of Mayotte, which continued to be a de facto dependency of France. Pop. (1995 est.; excluding Mayotte): 545,000. Cap.: Moroni. Monetary unit: Comorian franc, with a par value of CF 75 to the French franc and (as of Oct. 6, 1995) a free rate of CF 371.60 to U.S. $1 (CF 587.47 = £ 1 sterling). President in 1995, Said Mohamed Djohar; prime ministers, Halifa Houmadi and, from April 29, Caabi el Yachroutou Mohamed. From October 4 the constitutional president and prime minister were unclear.

      Prime Minister Halifa Houmadi resigned at the end of April 1995 as a result of growing tensions in the ruling Rally for Democracy and Renewal. Pres. Said Mohamed Djohar then asked the former finance minister, Caabi el Yachroutou Mohamed, to form a government; it was the 14th administration in five years. The new prime minister kept only five members of the outgoing Cabinet and demoted Said Mohamed Sagaf (the president's son-in-law) from Foreign Affairs to Posts and Telecommunications, Information, Culture, Youth and Sports in an effort to reduce his influence.

      A coup against the government was mounted at the end of September by French mercenary Bob Denard and a number of followers who were joined by between 300 and 700 Comorans. Prime Minister Yachroutou took refuge in the French embassy and appealed for help; a week later French special forces arrived from Mayotte to reverse the coup. Denard and his mercenaries negotiated their surrender and were flown off the island. Opposition groups demanded an early election, claiming Djohar was corrupt and incompetent. The octogenarian president flew to Réunion for medical treatment on October 4. Yachroutou then declared himself "interim president" and appointed a government. Thereupon Djohar announced his intentions to return and on October 31 faxed a statement appointing his own government. The Organization of African Unity sent a delegation, but the political situation in the Comoros was still confused at year's end. (GUY ARNOLD)

      This updates the article Comoros.

▪ 1995

      The Islamic republic of the Comoros is an island state in the Indian Ocean off the east coast of Africa. Area: 1,862 sq km (719 sq mi), excluding the island of Mayotte, which continued to be a de facto dependency of France. Pop. (1994 est.; excluding Mayotte): 527,000. Cap.: Moroni. Monetary unit: Comorian franc, with (from Jan. 12, 1994) a par value of CF 75 to the French franc and (as of Oct. 7, 1994) a free rate of CF 395.82 to U.S. $1 (CF 629.56 = £1 sterling). President in 1994, Said Mohamed Djohar; prime ministers, Mohamed Abdou Madi and, from October 14, Halifa Houmadi.

      The early part of 1994 was dominated by political maneuvers as a consequence of the December 1993 legislative elections. These, in two rounds on December 12 and 20, had given Pres. Said Mohamed Djohar a clear victory, with his newly formed Rassemblement pour la Démocratie et le Renouveau (RDR) party taking 24 out of 42 seats while 18 went to opposition groups. Some violence and irregularities marred the second round; three people were killed on Anjouan Island, and voting was canceled (to be rerun) in seven constituencies.

      On January 2 President Djohar appointed Mohamed Abdou Madi prime minister. Madi then named a Cabinet of 12. The opposition rejected the appointment of Madi and also continued to contest the validity of the elections. The later (January 7) appointment of Mohamed Said Abdallah M'Changama (the president's son-in-law) as president of the National Assembly was also condemned by the opposition. On January 17 the 12 main opposition parties adopted a resolution denouncing the "brutal interruption of the transition to democracy" and called for Djohar's resignation. They agreed to form a Forum for National Recovery, and Abbas Djoussouf of the Popular Democratic Movement was elected its spokesman. M'Changama, viewed as the real power in the country, and Madi had a falling-out in October; another new government was named, and Madi was replaced as prime minister by Halifa Houmadi.

      In March the International Monetary Fund provided a credit of SDR 1,350,000 (about $1.9 million) for a 12-month program to seek 0.7% growth while keeping inflation down to 15%. This was a consequence of the devaluation in January of the Comorian franc. (GUY ARNOLD)

      This updates the article Comoros.

▪ 1994

      The Islamic republic of the Comoros is an island state in the Indian Ocean off the east coast of Africa. Area: 1,862 sq km (719 sq mi), excluding the island of Mayotte, which continued to be a de facto dependency of France. Pop. (1993 est.; excluding Mayotte): 516,000. Cap.: Moroni. Monetary unit: Comorian franc, with (Oct. 4, 1993) a par value of CF 50 to the French franc and a free rate of CF 283.25 to U.S. $1 (CF 429.12 = £ 1 sterling). President in 1993, Said Mohamed Djohar; prime ministers, Ibrahim Abderamane Halidi, Said Ali Mohamed from May 26 to June 19, and, from June 20, Ahmed Ben Cheikh Attoumane.

      The final outcome of the November 1992 elections was a stalemate in the Federal Assembly, and on Jan. 1, 1993, Pres. Said Mohamed Djohar appointed Ibrahim Abderamane Halidi prime minister of the Comoros. Halidi announced an 11-member coalition government on January 6 that included himself as trade and economics minister, Said Athoumane Said Ahmed of the Mitsamiouli Party as foreign minister, and the president's son, Anis Djohar, as secretary-general to the government. On April 25, death sentences were passed on nine people who had taken part in the coup attempt of September 1992 (they included two sons of the former president, Ahmed Abdallah, who had been assassinated in November 1989). These sentences were later commuted to prison terms.

      In May, following a no-confidence vote, President Djohar appointed Said Ali Mohamed prime minister and asked him to form a new government. Another political crisis erupted in June when the president dissolved the Federal Assembly and appointed a new interim prime minister following a motion of censure. After three postponements by Djohar, elections were held throughout December amid great violence, rule changes, and other irregularities; the president's supporters reportedly won 21 of the 42 seats in the Federal Assembly. (GUY ARNOLD)

      This updates the article Comoros.

* * *

Introduction
Comoros, flag of  an independent state comprising three of the islands of the Comorian archipelago in the Indian Ocean, off the coast of East Africa. A fourth island of the Comorian archipelago, Mayotte, is claimed by the country of Comoros but administered by France.

      The volcanic islands of the Comorian archipelago have been called the “perfumed islands” for their fragrant plant life and are known for their great scenic beauty. The four main islands of the archipelago —“four small effervescent stones, wedged between the nearby large red island [Madagascar] and the Mozambican coast,” in the words of the Comorian writer Sitti Saïd Youssouf—combine African, Arabic, Malagasy, and French influences and were once important in the significant Indian Ocean trade between East Africa and Asian ports such as India and Japan.

      Although the early history of the islands is uncertain, they are thought to have been explored by Arab and Persian traders in antiquity and, like Madagascar, settled by small numbers of Malayo-Indonesian peoples, gaining a sizable population only when Bantu-speaking peoples from the African mainland settled there. Shīrāzi Persians are thought to have arrived later, establishing Sunni Islam as the dominant religion. The ensuing Shīrāzi sultanates established trade relations with other countries along the Indian Ocean and developed a thriving economy based on the sale of spices and slaves. The opening of the Suez Canal substantially lessened the islands' importance as an entrepôt, though not their strategic value. European colonial powers agreed that the Comorian archipelago would come under French rule in 1886–87, and it became an overseas territory of France in 1947. Three of the islands gained independence in 1975.

      Comoros is poor, witnessing an ongoing exodus of educated and skilled workers to France and a steady decline in gross domestic product. The capital, Moroni, located on the island of Ngazidja, has most of the modern commercial and manufacturing facilities located in the country; in the absence of other possibilities, most islanders must rely on subsistence farming. With miles of beautiful beaches, tourists have always been drawn to Comoros. The islands' history of political unrest, however, has hampered efforts to promote tourism.

Land
 The Comoros are a group of islands at the northern end of the Mozambique Channel of the Indian Ocean, between Madagascar and the southeast African mainland, about 180 miles (290 km) off the eastern coast of Africa. The islands from northwest to southeast include Ngazidja (Grande Comore), Mwali (Mohéli), Nzwani (Anjouan), and Mayotte (Maoré).

Relief, drainage, and soils
      The islands emerged from the floor of the Indian Ocean as a result of volcanic activity. Coral reefs provide occasional barriers to the rolling seas of the Indian Ocean, and breakers mark some of the world's best diving areas. Along the seashore broad expanses of open, sandy beaches are interrupted by isolated groups of coconut palms or mangrove trees. A few coastal areas are distinguished by the harsh, dark tangle of recent lava flows, while others are covered by smoothly rounded rocks, eroded reminders of ancient volcanic activity.

      Ngazidja is the largest and loftiest island; it rises near its southern end in an active volcano, Mount Karthala, which at 7,746 feet (2,361 metres) is the country's highest point. Karthala has erupted more than a dozen times in the last two centuries. The capital, Moroni, lies in the shadow of the volcano along the island's west coast; the town of Mitsamiouli lies on the north coast. North of Mount Karthala is a wide plateau averaging 2,000 feet (600 metres) in elevation. The surface is generally rocky and the soils shallow. There are no perennial streams, and the coast, without large inlets, is ill-suited for shipping.

      Mwali is the smallest island of the group. Composed largely of a plateau that averages about 1,000 feet (300 metres) in elevation, the island ends in the west in a ridge reaching more than 2,600 feet (790 metres) above sea level. The valleys are generally fertile, and the hillsides are covered with thick forests. A strong sea swell hampers shipping. Mwali's chief towns are Fomboni on the northern coast and Nioumachoua in the southwest.

      Nzwani is a triangular island rising centrally in a volcanic massif (Mount Ntingui) that reaches an elevation of about 5,200 feet (1,580 metres). Although the soil cover is good, much erosion has occurred, and many areas are no longer arable. There are no good natural harbours. Mutsamudu, on the northwest coast, is the chief town; its port facilities were modernized in the mid-1980s.

      Southeast of Nzwani lies Mayotte, the oldest of the four islands. It is claimed by Comoros (a claim recognized by the United Nations General Assembly), but its status is unsettled, and it continues to be a de facto dependency of France.

Climate
      The tropical climate has two clearly marked seasons: a cooler, dry period between May and October and a warmer, humid season between November and April. In November the summer monsoon (kashkazi) brings the highest afternoon temperatures—about 91 °F (33 °C). The highest monthly rainfall occurs in January with about 11–15 inches (275–375 mm), and the rainy season is the season of greatest tropical-cyclone frequency. Dry season daily maximum temperatures fall to their lowest, about 84 °F (29 °C), in July. The average annual rainfall varies between 43 and 114 inches (1,100 and 2,900 mm), being highest on the windward northeast sides of the islands.

      Rain sinks so deeply into the hardened lava and porous rocks of Ngazidja that wells are difficult to drill. Traditionally, most of Ngazidja's water supply has come from reservoirs filled in the rainy season and from freshwater springs along the coasts (foumbous).

Plant and animal life
      Less than one-sixth of the land remains covered with forest, and rapid deforestation caused mainly by domestic firewood consumption threatens to reduce the islands' forested land still more. A coastal zone of mangroves is followed inland by one of coconut palms, mangoes, and bananas up to about 1,300 feet (400 metres), above which a forest zone rises to about 5,900 feet (1,800 metres). Mahogany trees and orchids are primarily limited to the rugged slopes of the mountains. On the highest peaks only broom, heather, and lichens grow. Additional aromatic plants such as frangipani (Plumeria), jasmine, and lemongrass lend a delightful fragrance to the islands.

      Animal life, which is similar to that of Madagascar, includes land birds (guinea fowl and egrets) and species of both lemurs and fruit bats that are peculiar to the islands. Turtles abound along the coasts and are exported. The Comorian waters are one of the habitats of the coelacanth, a rare fish once thought to be extinct, the fossil remains of which date to about 400 million years ago. Besides these unique species, the islands are also home to civets, small lizards, and giant land crabs. The expanding human population has put a number of wildlife species under threat of extinction.

People
 The islanders reflect a diversity of origins. Malay immigrants and Arab and Persian traders have mixed with peoples from Madagascar and with various African peoples. Most of the islands' inhabitants speak island-specific varieties of Comorian (Shikomoro), a Bantu (Bantu languages) language related to Swahili (Swahili language) and written in Arabic script. Comorian, Arabic (Arabic language), and French are the official languages; French is the language of administration. Most Comorians are Sunni Muslims, and Islam is the state religion. Some three-fourths of the people live in rural areas, and most of the population is centred on the two larger islands; Ngazidja contains about half of the country's population, Nzwani about two-fifths, and Mwali less than one-tenth. The capital, Moroni, is the country's most populous urban area. The birth and death rates are both high in Comoros, and, although infant mortality is a major problem, the population growth rate is about twice the world average. Almost half of the population is younger than age 15.

Economy
      Comoros, which is one of the world's poorest countries, has an economy based on subsistence agriculture and fishing. The country's gross domestic product generally has grown at a rate slightly faster than the population but is among the lowest in the world. Since independence in 1975, aid from the European Union (EU), notably France, has been the major underpinning of the economy; Saudi Arabia, Japan, and Kuwait have also provided financial aid.

Agriculture, forestry, and fishing
      Although corn (maize) and coconut cultivation and poultry projects (aimed at helping Comoros achieve self-sufficiency in food production) had been established by 1981, at the beginning of the 21st century the economy remained in poor condition, plagued by overpopulation, poor harvests, and severe unemployment. Subsistence agriculture yields cassava, sweet potatoes, bananas, and mountain (dry-field) rice, but much of the country's food must be imported. Chickens, goats, cattle, and sheep are also raised. Plantations cultivating vanilla (mostly on Ngazidja and Nzwani), perfume plants (particularly ylang-ylang on Nzwani), coconuts (mostly on Mwali), coffee, cloves, and cacao cover much of the islands. Forestry contributes somewhat to total agricultural production, but the forested areas have been severely reduced because of a lack of cultivable land and as a result of ylang-ylang production.

      Because Comoros is made up of islands, fishing should be a significant part of the market economy. Its potential has yet to be fully realized, however. The industry exists only on a small scale, and the abundant tuna that inhabit Comorian waters have so far been fished largely by EU countries. Coelecanth fish that are caught there provide some income to Comorian fishermen.

Resources, power, and manufacturing
      Utilities were privatized in 1997. Although there are hydroelectric power plants, the islands still suffer from an unreliable supply of water and power. Manufacturing generally is limited to the processing of agricultural products—primarily vanilla, essential oils, cloves, and copra—for export. There are also sawmills and woodworking establishments.

Finance and trade
      The Central Bank of Comoros (Banque Centrale des Comores) issues the country's currency, the Comoros franc. There is commercial and development banking in Moroni.

      Imports, of much higher value than exports, include rice, petroleum, meat, iron and steel, and cement. France is the country's main trading partner for both exports and imports.

Services
      Several hotels, primarily on Ngazidja, service a small but growing tourist industry. The development of this sector is linked to political stability, however. Tourists come mainly from France, Réunion, South Africa, and the United Kingdom.

Transportation and telecommunications
      Most of the islands' roads are usable throughout the year. There is an international airport near Moroni on Ngazidja. Commercial airlines provide air links with Dubayy, Paris, Réunion, and Johannesburg. A port was built at Fomboni on Mwali in the early 1990s with EU funds. Sea connections exist between the islands, and ferries provide a limited amount of interisland service. Landline telephone service is available on all of the islands. Mobile phone usage and Internet access were limited in the early 21st century, but both technologies are growing in popularity.

Government and society

Constitutional framework
      Under the constitution of 2001, the three main islands—Ngazidja, Mwali, and Nzwani—form the Union of the Comoros. Executive power of the federal government is vested in the Council of the Union, which comprises a president and two vice presidents. Each council member serves a four-year term and represents one of the three islands, with the office of the federal president rotating between the islands every four years. The president, who serves as head of state, is directly elected in nationwide elections.

      The unicameral legislature consists of the Assembly of the Union; members are elected to five-year terms. Slightly more than half the members are directly elected, with the remainder selected by the islands' local governments.

      In the late 1990s, secessionist movements on the islands of Nzwani and Mwali threatened the stability of Comoros. The individual islands' desire for greater independence in their own affairs was not provided for under the existing constitution (from 1996) and continued to be the source of much conflict. Changes brought about by the 2001 constitution granted the three main islands partial autonomy, and each elects its own president and legislative assembly. The government of each island is free to administer its own affairs so long as its actions do not infringe upon the rights of the other islands or otherwise threaten the state of the union.

Political process
      The 1996 constitution created a multiparty system, but stringent criteria severely limited the number of parties with legal recognition. The 2001 constitution removed these impediments, thus allowing political parties to operate freely. The country has universal suffrage, and women participate in all aspects of the economy. By the 1990s women had become cabinet members and held other positions in various governments.

Justice and security
      The legal system is a combination of French and Islamic law. The judiciary is headed by the Supreme Court. Other components include the Higher Council of the Magistracy, which is mandated to aid the president in providing for an independent judiciary, and a Constitutional Court. There is also a High Council, which is concerned with constitutional and electoral matters and rules in conflicts involving the islands and the union.

      Comoros maintains a small army. The country also has an agreement with France that provides for a permanent French military presence in Comoros. The agreement was suspended after a military coup in April 1999, but it recommenced in September 2002.

Health and welfare
      Comoros has hospitals on each of the islands but suffers from a shortage of medical personnel, modern facilities, and supplies. Comorians largely depend on traditional medicines and healers. Those who have more-serious health problems and can afford to seek medical assistance do so in either Madagascar or France. While infant mortality has decreased and life expectancy has increased, there are still several growing health concerns. Less than half of the population has access to safe drinking water, and parasitic infestation is prevalent. Other serious illnesses are malaria, cholera, tuberculosis, and, to a lesser extent, leprosy and AIDS.

Housing
      Housing in Comoros varies from two-room structures covered with palm leaves to multilevel buildings made of stone and coral. The part of the house at street level often serves as a shop or warehouse, but in earlier times that level housed slaves or servants. Some Western-style houses, with indoor bathrooms and kitchens, also exist. Because of the practice of matrilocality—a societal custom where the offspring of a family reside with their mother—females often remain part of their mother's household, even after marriage. This is owing in part to the practice of polygamy, as well as the traditional need for Comorian men to travel away from their communities in search of work. The family home can be expanded, or a separate structure can be built for a woman to inhabit with her children.

Education
      Education is officially compulsory for those between 6 and 16 years of age, but in practice a large percentage of the country's children receive little or no schooling. Instruction is provided by both traditional Islamic schools, in which the Qurʾān is studied, and state-run schools established by and patterned on the French system. The public school system, however, has been chronically underfunded. There is a university in Moroni. Nearly nine-tenths of the population can read and write Comorian, using Arabic script, though only about half of the population is literate in French, the language of government administration.

Cultural life
      Over the centuries, diverse peoples have come together to form the complex cultural mix of Comoros. Contemporary Comorian culture reflects these many influences; the islands' towns, for example, blend the architectural styles of mainland Africa, France, and the Middle East, and Comorian cuisine draws on many traditions. A culturally liberal form of Islam is the basis for religious observance during the year, and it provides the framework for daily life. Traditional Comorian women wear colourful sari-like dresses called shiromani (French, chiromani) and adorn their faces with a paste of ground sandalwood and coral called msinzano (French msindanu). Social organization is generational, with religious and ritual duties falling mostly to elders, who also enjoy political dominance.

Daily life and social customs
      Elaborate and expensive public weddings lasting as long as three weeks are common. Typically the unions are arranged between an older man and a younger woman, and it is the man's responsibility to pay for the festivities, as well as to provide a dowry for his bride. These events often feed the entire community, and tourists are generally welcome to attend. This custom, called grand mariage on Ngazidja, is so expensive that only the wealthiest can afford it. A man who hosts a grand mariage is thereafter considered to be a grand notable—a person of high social standing. Ali Soilih, who was president of the country in the mid-1970s, attempted to ban this practice on the grounds that it imposed needless financial stress on an already impoverished society and kept the poor from participating in political life, but he was unsuccessful.

      The religious centre of Comorian culture is the mosque, but the centre of daily life is the public square, often merely a tiny plaza nestled behind apartment houses at the end of a maze of alleyways. In the public squares on Ngazidja, men gather to one side, ranked by clan, age, and social status, so that the most-honoured have the best seats; on another side, sometimes separated by a wooden or fabric partition, sit women, similarly ordered by status. There they meet to share news and opinions, drink tea, and play chess and the game of mraha wa ntso. Students of Comorian society note that younger people of both sexes often prefer to gather in restaurants, clubs, and discotheques, and there is concern that the public square will dwindle in importance and perhaps even disappear within a generation or two.

      Comorian cuisine is a mix of East African root-based stews and Indian Ocean (in particular South Asian and Indonesian) rice-based curry dishes. Locally grown spices such as vanilla, coriander, cardamom, and nutmeg figure heavily in regional cuisine, as do fresh fish and mutton. French styles have also influenced the Comorian table.

The arts
      Traditional arts include basketry, wood carving (notably doors and furniture), elaborate embroidery on clothing and hats, and jewelry making in gold and silver filigree.

      Music is a widely shared form of cultural expression, and public squares and other gathering places showcase local groups and artists. Comorian popular music blends Arabic, African, Indian, and Western influences to produce a driving dance sound with lyrical, harmonized vocals. Common instrumentation includes accordions, guitars, gongs, drums, and rattles. Many successful musicians have relocated to France, and several have found a large following among European audiences.

      The country has produced only a few internationally known writers, including Salim Hatubou, Soilih Mohamed Soilih, and Aboubacar Said Salim.

Sports and recreation
      A wide variety of sports are popular in Comoros, including football (soccer), basketball, athletics (track and field), swimming, tennis, and cycling, most of which were introduced during the period of French colonialism. Comoros participates in several regional and international competitions, such as the Aces Cup (a Comoros-Mayotte basketball competition), the Indian Ocean Games, and the Francophone Games.

      Football is the most widely played sport. Every town has at least one team, and fans are fiercely loyal. However, with the creation of a national basketball federation in the late 1990s, basketball has fast become as well-liked as football. In 1999, for the first time since independence, both the men's and women's Mayottan basketball teams played against those representing Ngazidja, a notable cultural and athletic interchange between the two islands.

Media and publishing
      Al Watwan, a government-sponsored weekly newspaper, is published in both French and Shingazidja, a local dialect that is spoken on Ngazidja. La Gazette des Comores is an independently owned weekly, and a magazine called L'Archipel is published monthly. There are several radio and television stations, which are all government-operated.

History
      Comoros may have been inhabited by people of Malayo-Polynesian descent by the 5th or 6th century AD and possibly earlier. Others came from nearby Africa and Madagascar, and Arabs also made up a significant portion of the early population. The islands did not appear on a European world map until 1527, when they were depicted by the Portuguese cartographer Diego Ribero. The first Europeans known to visit the archipelago appear to have been Portuguese, somewhat later in the 16th century. The Englishman Sir James Lancaster (Lancaster, Sir James) visited Ngazidja about 1591, but the dominant foreign influence in the islands remained Arabian until the 19th century.

      In 1843 France officially took possession of Mayotte, and in 1886 it placed the other three islands under its protection. Administratively attached to Madagascar in 1912, Comoros became an overseas territory of France in 1947 and was given representation in the French National Assembly. In 1961, a year after Madagascar became independent, the islands were granted internal autonomy. Majorities on three of the islands voted for independence in 1974, but most of the inhabitants of Mayotte favoured continuing French rule. When the National Assembly of France held that each island should decide its own status, Comorian President Ahmed Abdallah (who was deposed later that year) declared the whole archipelago independent on July 6, 1975. Comoros was subsequently admitted to the United Nations, which recognized the integrity of the entire archipelago as one nation. France, however, acknowledged the sovereignty of only the three islands and upheld the autonomy of Mayotte, designating it a “territorial collectivity” (i.e., neither a territory nor a département) of France in 1976. As relations deteriorated, France withdrew all development and technical aid from Comoros. Ali Soilih became president and attempted to convert the country into a secular, socialist republic. In May 1978 a coup led by a French citizen, Col. Robert Denard, and a group of European mercenaries brought Abdallah, the exiled former president, back into power.

      Diplomatic relations with France were resumed, a new constitution was drawn up, and Abdallah was reelected president in late 1978 and again in 1984, when he ran unopposed. He survived three coup attempts, but in November 1989 he was assassinated. Multiparty presidential elections were held in 1990, and Saïd Mohamed Djohar was elected president, but in September 1995 he was deposed in a coup led by Denard. The coup was defused when French intervention removed Denard and the mercenaries.

      New elections were held in 1996. Under the newly elected president, Mohamed Abdoulkarim Taki, a new constitution was ratified and attempts were made to curtail government expenditures and increase revenues. By August 1997 secessionist movements on the islands of Nzwani and Mwali had become strong enough that their leaders declared each island independent of the republic. The following month an attempt was made by the federal government to suppress the secessionist movement, but troops sent to the island of Nzwani were completely routed. The independence of the two islands was not recognized by any political polity outside the islands, however, and attempts to mediate the situation by international organizations failed.

      Taki died suddenly in November 1998 and was replaced by an interim president, Tadjiddine Ben Saïd Massounde. The constitution called for new elections, but, before any were held, the interim president was ousted in April 1999 by a military coup led by the army chief of staff, Col. Assoumani Azali, who took control of the government. The new government was not recognized by the international community, but in July Azali negotiated an accord with the secessionists on the island of Nzwani. The secessionists signed an agreement that established a presidential term that would rotate among the three islands. The rotating presidential term was approved by all three islands in December 2001, as was a new draft constitution that provided each island with partial autonomy and their own local president and legislative assembly. The first federal elections under the terms of the new constitution were held in 2002, and Azali, from Ngazidja, was elected president. In 2006 the presidential term rotated to the island of Nzwani. Ahmed Abdallah Mohamed Sambi was declared the winner of the federal presidential election in May and assumed control of the federal government in a peaceful transfer of power.

Martin Ottenheimer Harriet Joseph Ottenheimer  The fragile peace was threatened in 2007 when the federal government, in response to violence and evidence of voter intimidation, ordered the Nzwani (also known by its French name, Anjouan) government to postpone the island's local presidential election and called for Nzwani's president, Col. Mohamed Bacar, to step down and allow for an interim president. Bacar ignored the order and in June 2007 held an election in which he was declared the winner. The results were not recognized by the federal government or the African Union (AU): both demanded new elections, which Bacar refused to hold. With the situation at an impasse, the AU imposed sanctions on Bacar's administration in October, which had little impact in pressuring him to comply with their demands. Comorian and AU troops invaded Nzwani on March 25, 2008, and quickly secured the island; Bacar avoided capture and fled to the nearby island of Mayotte.

Ed.

Additional Reading
René Battistini and Pierre Vérin, Géographie des Comores (1984), outlines and details the archipelago's physical features. A thorough history is provided by Jean Martin, Comores: quatre îles entre pirates et planteurs (1983). Martin Ottenheimer and Harriet Ottenheimer, Historical Dictionary of the Comoro Islands (1994) is an excellent reference source; and Pierre Vérin, Les Comores (1994) gives an overview of geography, history, politics, culture, and economics.Martin Ottenheimer Harriet Joseph Ottenheimer

* * *


Universalium. 2010.

Look at other dictionaries:

  • Comoros — a country consisting of three islands in the Mozambique Channel between northwest Madagascar and southeast Africa. Population: 596,202 (2001). Capital: Moroni …   Dictionary of contemporary English

  • Comoros — [käm′ə rōz] country on a group of islands (Comoro Islands) in the Indian Ocean, at the head of the Mozambique Channel: formerly a French territory, it became independent in 1975: 719 sq mi (1,862 sq km); pop. 347,000; cap. Moroni …   English World dictionary

  • Comoros — This article is about the country. For the archipelago, see Comoro Islands. Union of the Comoros Union des Comores (French) Udzima wa Komori (Comorian) الاتحاد القمري …   Wikipedia

  • Comoros — <p></p> <p></p> Introduction ::Comoros <p></p> Background: <p></p> Comoros has endured more than 20 coups or attempted coups since gaining independence from France in 1975. In 1997, the islands of… …   The World Factbook

  • Comoros — noun a country on the Comoro Islands • Syn: ↑Federal Islamic Republic of the Comoros • Instance Hypernyms: ↑country, ↑state, ↑land • Part Holonyms: ↑Comoro Islands, ↑Iles …   Useful english dictionary

  • Comoros — /ˈkɒməroʊz/ (say komuhrohz) noun the, a republic consisting of a group of islands in the Indian Ocean, between Madagascar and the east African coast; a French territory before independence in 1976 when the island of Mayotte separated and decided… …   Australian English dictionary

  • Comoros — Republic of the Comoros (island nation in the Indian Ocean northwest of Madagascar), Etat Comorien …   Eponyms, nicknames, and geographical games

  • Comoros — n. Union of the Comoros, country composed of three islands located in southern Africa off the coast of Mozambique …   English contemporary dictionary

  • Comoros — geographical name group of islands forming a country off SE Africa between Mozambique & Madagascar; formerly a French possession; a republic (except for Mayotte Island, which remains French) since 1975 capital Moroni area 719 square miles (1862… …   New Collegiate Dictionary

  • Comoros — noun /ˈkam.ə.ɹoʊz/ Country in Eastern Africa. Official name: Union of the Comores …   Wiktionary