Background Notes: Comoros
Source: Office of Public Communication, Bureau of Public
Date: Apr 28, 19924/28/92
Category: Country Data
Region: Subsaharan Africa
Subject: Military Affairs, Cultural Exchange, Travel,
International Organizations, Trade/Economics,
Official Name: Federal Islamic Republic of Comoros
Area: 2,171 sq. km. (838 sq. mi.); slightly less than half the size of
Delaware. 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). Other city--Mutsamudu
(20,000). Terrain: Rugged. Climate: Tropical marine.
Nationality: Noun and adjective--Comorian(s). Population (1990
est.): 455,000. Mayotte--70,000 (1990 est.). Annual growth rate
(1990 est.): 3.1%. Ethnic groups: Antalote, Cafre, Makoa, Oimatsaha,
Sakalava. Religions: Sunni Muslim 98%, Roman Catholic 2%.
Languages: Shikomoro (a Swahili-Arab), Malagasy, French.
Education: Attendance--62% primary, 32% secondary. Literacy--
15%. Health: Infant mortality rate--120/1,000. Life expectancy--
54 yrs. Work force (200,000): Agriculture--87%. Government--3%.
Type: Republic. Independence: July 6, 1975 (Mayotte remains under
French administration). Constitution: Adopted by referendum in
1978 and since amended.
Branches: Executive--president. Legislative--National Assembly.
Judicial--traditional Muslim and codified law from French sources.
Political parties: 17 political parties. Suffrage: Universal adult.
Flag: White crescent moon encircling four white stars on green
GDP (1990 est.): $240 million.
Avg. annual growth rate (1989-1990): 1.9%. Per capita income:
Agriculture (37% of GDP): Products--perfume essences, copra,
coconuts, cloves, vanilla, cinnamon, yams, bananas.
Services (25% of GDP): Commerce, tourism.
Industry (4% of GDP): Types--perfume distillation.
Trade: Exports--$22 million: vanilla, cloves, perfume essences,
copra. Major markets--France 47%, US 37%, Germany 10%. Imports-
-$40 million: rice, petroleum, meat, wheat flour, cotton textiles,
cement. Major suppliers--France 41%, Madagascar 12%, Pakistan
8%, South Africa 6%.
Official exchange rate (1991): Comorian franc 279=US$1.
US economic aid received: US development assistance is
administered by CARE, the private voluntary organization (primarily
for reforestation, soil conservation, and sustainable agriculture).
Assistance in FY1991 was $700,000. The Peace Corps has 21
volunteers. Scholarship assistance totaling $100,000 was available
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 influenced strongly by
The most common language is Shikomoro, a Swahili dialect.
French and Malagasy are also spoken. About 15% of the population is
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.
Although Comoros has been independent since 1975, the
country had no constitution until the return to power of President
Abdallah in 1978. A National Assembly was elected in 1982, and
the constitution was revised in 1984 to permit the president to
appoint governors of each of the three main islands. Two months
after President Abdallah's assassination on November 27, 1989,
presidential elections were held, and Said Mohamed Djohar was
designated president for a 6-year term. It is widely expected that a
new constitution, formed by a government of national unity and
allowing for a prime minister, will be ratified and adopted in 1992.
New elections are also planned for late 1992.
Principal Government Officials
President--Said Mohamed Djohar
Minister of Foreign Affairs--Said Hassan Said Hachim
Ambassador to the United States and the United Nations--Amin Ali
Comoros maintains a mission to the United States at 336 E.
45th St., 2d Floor, New York, NY 10017, tel. (212) 972-8010.
After a unilateral declaration of independence from France by
the Comorian parliament in 1975, Ahmed Abdallah was designated
President. After barely a month in office, he was overthrown by
foreign mercenaries who installed Ali Soilih. Soilih embarked on a
"socialist" revolution, relying on undisciplined youth committees
that often terrorized the public. Government archives were burned
and civil servants fired. Soilih openly challenged the dominance of
Islam, alienating much of the devoutly Islamic population. A second
mercenary attack, in 1978, restored Abdallah to power, and Soilih
was killed. A constitution was adopted by popular referendum on
October 1, 1978, and Abdallah was elected President the same year.
Sometime during the night of November 26, 1989, President
Abdallah was assassinated at his residence, probably by
mercenaries in his presidential guard under Bob Denard. French
troops were dispatched from Mayotte, and the mercenaries were
forced to leave on December 15, 1989.
In early 1990, Said Mohamed Djohar emerged as the winner of
the presidential elections. Since then the country has been engaged
in rewriting the constitution, which is expected to be adopted this
year. The country is also engaged in implementing the terms of an
IMF/World Bank structural adjustment program to improve its
Comoros, with an estimated gross domestic product (GDP) per
capita income of about $450, 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
Agriculture, involving more than 87% of the
population and 37% 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 34% 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 deep-water
facility was recently completed on Anjouan. Only small vessels can
approach the existing quays in Moroni on Grande Comore, despite
recent 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 or Reunion and
transhipped from there.
France, Comoros' major trading partner, also provides direct
budgetary support essential to the government's daily operations.
The United States receives a growing percentage of Comoros'
exports but supplies only a negligible (less than 1%) fraction of its
Comoros has an international airport at Hahaya on Grande
Comore. It is a member of the franc zone (Communaute Financiere
Africaine--CFA), with an exchange rate of 279 CFA francs=US$1
In November 1975, Comoros became the 143d member of the
United Nations. The new nation was defined as consisting of the
entire archipelago, despite the fact that France maintains control
Comoros also is a member of the Organization of African
Unity, the European Development Fund, the World Bank, the
International Monetary Fund, the Indian Ocean Commission, and the
African Development Bank.
The military resources of the Comoros consist of a small
standing army and a 500-member police force, as well as a 500-
member defense force. A defense treaty with France provides naval
resources for protection of territorial waters, training of Comorian
military personnel, and air surveillance. France maintains a small
maritime base and a Foreign Legion contingent on Mayotte.
The United States recognized the Comorian Government in
1977, and the two countries enjoy friendly relations.
Principal US Officials
Ambassador--Kenneth N. Peltier
Administrative/Consular Officer Rowena Cross-Najafy
The address of the US Embassy in Moroni is PO Box 1318,
Moroni, RFI des Comoros (tel. 73-22-03 or 73-29-22). Embassy
hours are 7:30-3:30 Monday to Friday.
Climate and clothing: The climate is hot. Light rainwear and
summer clothing are appropriate year round.
Customs: A valid passport and visa are required. Visas are
available through the Embassy of Senegal in Washington. Visas also
may be obtained on arrival if unavailable in country of origin.
Health: No vaccinations are required. Malaria is widespread,
and prophylactics, such as chloroquine, paludrine, and fansidar, are
used. Take reasonable precautions in eating fruits, vegetables, and
meats. Seek advice before using beaches.
Telecommunications: Long-distance telephone and telegraph
services are available in Moroni. The country is 8 time zones earlier
than eastern standard time.
Transportation: There are flights to and from Comoros from
Paris, Mauritius, Nairobi, South Africa, Tanzania, and Madagascar.
The three main islands are connected by daily flights, but there is
no regular ocean communication.
Published by the United States Department of State -- Bureau of
Public Affairs -- Office of Public Communication -- Washington,
DC -- April 1992 -- Editor: Peter A. Knecht.
Department of State Publication 8963--Background Notes Series --
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