Comoros, with an estimated gross domestic product (GDP) per capita income of about $1,000, is among the world's poorest and least developed nations. Although the quality of the land differs from island to island, most of the widespread lava-encrusted soil formations are unsuited to agriculture. As a result, most of the inhabitants make their living from subsistence agriculture and fishing.
Agriculture, involving more than 80% of the population and 40% of the gross domestic product, provides virtually all foreign exchange earnings. Services including tourism, construction, and commercial activities constitute the remainder of the GDP. Plantations engage a large proportion of the population in producing the islands' major cash crops for export: vanilla, cloves, perfume essences, and copra. Comoros is the world's leading producer of essence of ylang-ylang, used in manufacturing perfume. It also is the world's second-largest producer of vanilla. Principal food crops are coconuts, bananas, and cassava. Foodstuffs constitute 32% of total imports.
The country lacks the infrastructure necessary for development. Some villages are not linked to the main road system or at best are connected by tracks usable only by four-wheel-drive vehicles. The islands' ports are rudimentary, although a deepwater facility functions in Anjouan. Only small vessels can approach the existing quays in Moroni on Grande Comore, despite improvements. Long-distance, ocean-going ships must lie offshore and be unloaded by smaller boats; during the cyclone season, this procedure is dangerous, and ships are reluctant to call at the island. Most freight is sent first to Mombasa, Kenya or the island of Reunion and transshipped from there.
France, Comoros' major trading partner, finances small projects only. The United States receives a growing percentage of Comoros' exports but supplies only a negligible fraction of its imports (less than 1%).
Comoros has an international airport at Hahaya on Grande Comore. Comoros has its own currency, the Comorian Franc, which is currently valued at approximately 350 CF = U.S. $1.
GDP (purchasing power parity, 2008 est.): $741.4 million.
Annual growth rate: 0.5%.
GDP per capita (2008 est.): $1,000.
Agriculture (40% of GDP): Products--vanilla, cloves, perfume essences, copra, banana, cassava, coconuts.
Services (56% of GDP): Commerce, tourism.
Industry (4% of GDP): Types--perfume distillation.
Trade: Exports (2006 est.)--$32 million f.o.b.: vanilla, cloves, perfume essences, copra. Major markets--Turkey, France, Singapore, Saudi Arabia. Imports (2006 est.)--$143 million: rice and other foodstuffs, consumer goods, petroleum, cement, transport equipment. Major suppliers--France 18.2%, U.A.E. 10.8%, South Africa 8.5%, Pakistan 7.2%, Kenya 5.7%, China 5.4%, India 5%.
Southern Africa, group of islands in the Mozambique Channel, about two-thirds of the way between northern Madagascar and northern Mozambique
total area: 2,171 sq km (838 sq. mi.)
land area: 2,170 sq km
major islands: Grande Comore (1,025 sq. km.), Anjouan (424 sq. km.), Mayotte (374 sq. km.), and Moheli (211 sq. km.)
Cities: Capital--Moroni (pop. 30,000), Mutsamudu (pop. 20,000)
comparative area: slightly less than half the size of Delaware
exclusive economic zone: 200 nm
territorial sea: 12 nm
claims French-administered Mayotte
tropical marine; rainy season (November to May)
volcanic islands, interiors vary from steep mountains to low hills
arable land: 35%
permanent crops: 8%
meadows and pastures: 7%
forest and woodland: 16%
NA sq km
current issues: soil degradation and erosion results from crop cultivation on slopes without proper terracing; deforestation
natural hazards: cyclones and tsunamis possible during rainy season (December to April); Mount Kartala on Grand Comore is an active volcano
international agreements: party to - Biodiversity, Climate Change, Endangered Species, Hazardous Wastes, Law of the Sea, Ozone Layer Protection; signed, but not ratified - Desertification
important location at northern end of Mozambique Channel
Since 2002, Comoros has been ruled by democratically elected leaders. It has a unique system under the 2001 constitution, wherein the office of the presidency rotates every 4 years between the three main islands. Thus, in the most recent elections, in December 2010, only those originating from the island of Moheli were eligible to run for the presidency. In 2014 the turn will fall to those originating from Grande Comore. Ikililou Dhoinine, a vice president and the favored candidate of the incumbent president, was elected in December 2010 in a vote that was deemed generally free and fair. Though some irregularities were noted on the island of Anjouan, they were determined not to have changed the outcome of the vote. Dhoinine officially takes office in May 2011. Ruling President Ahmed Abdallah Mohamed Sambi, originating from the island of Anjouan, came to power in 2006 elections that were deemed generally free and fair, taking over from President Azali, who initially came to power in a coup but was elected in 2002 after resigning his military commission.
Principal Government Officials
President--Ahmed Abdallah Mohamed Sambi
Minister of Foreign Affairs--Fahmi Said Ibrahim El Maceli
Ambassador to the United States and to the United Nations--Mohamed Toihiri
Comoros maintains a mission to the United States at 336 E. 45th St., 2d floor, New York, NY 10017 (tel. 212-750-1637).
Independence: July 6, 1975 (Mayotte remains under French administration).
Constitution: Adopted by referendum on December 23, 2001.
Branches: Executive--national president; regional island presidents. Legislative--National Assembly. Judicial--traditional Muslim and codified law from French sources.
Political parties: 17 political parties.
Suffrage: Universal adult.
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Over the centuries, the islands were invaded by a succession of diverse groups from the coast of Africa, the Persian Gulf, Indonesia, and Madagascar. Portuguese explorers visited the archipelago in 1505. "Shirazi" Arab migrants introduced Islam at about the same time. Between 1841 and 1912, France established colonial rule over Grande Comore, Anjouan, Mayotte, and Moheli and placed the islands under the administration of the governor general of Madagascar. Later, French settlers, French-owned companies, and wealthy Arab merchants established a plantation-based economy that now uses about one-third of the land for export crops. After World War II, the islands became a French overseas territory and were represented in France's National Assembly. Internal political autonomy was granted in 1961. Agreement was reached with France in 1973 for Comoros to become independent in 1978. On July 6, 1975, however, the Comorian Parliament passed a resolution declaring unilateral independence. The deputies of Mayotte abstained, and as a result, the Comorian Government has effective control over only Grande Comore, Anjouan, and Moheli. Mayotte remains under French administration.
The Comorians inhabiting Grande Comore, Anjouan, and Moheli (86% of the population) share African-Arab origins. Islam is the dominant religion, and Koranic schools for children reinforce its influence. Although Arab culture is firmly established throughout the archipelago, a substantial minority of the citizens of Mayotte (the Mahorais) are Catholic and have been strongly influenced by French culture.
The most common language is Shikomoro, a Swahili dialect. French and Arabic also are spoken. About 57% of the population is literate.
Nationality: Noun and adjective--Comoran(s).
Population (July 2009 est.): 752,438. Mayotte (1990 est.)--70,000.
Annual growth rate (2009 est.): 2.766%.
Ethnic groups: Antalote, Cafre, Makoa, Oimatsaha, Sakalava.
Religions: Sunni Muslim 98%, Roman Catholic 2%.
Languages: Shikomoro (a Swahili-Arabic blend), Arabic (official), French (official).
Education: Attendance--60% primary, 34% secondary. Literacy--56.5%.
Health: Life expectancy--63.47 yrs. Infant mortality rate--66.57/1,000.
Work force (1996): 144,500. Agriculture--80%.