U.S. Department of State
Background Notes: Comoros, July 1996
Bureau of African Affairs
Prepared and released by the Bureau of African Affairs,
Office of East African Affairs
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
Climate: Tropical marine.
Nationality: Noun and adjective--Comorian(s).
Population (1995 est.): 550,000. Mayotte--70,000 (1990 est.).
Annual growth rate (1995 est.): 3.56 percent.
Ethnic groups: Antalote, Cafre, Makoa, Oimatsaha, Sakalava.
Religions: Sunni Muslim 98 percent, Roman Catholic 2 percent.
Languages: Shikomoro (a Swahili-Arab), Malagasy, French.
Education: Attendance--62 percent primary, 32 percent secondary.
Health: Infant mortality rate--77/1,000. Life expectancy--58 yrs.
Work force (200,000): Agriculture--80 percent. Government--3
Independence: July 6, 1975 (Mayotte remains under French
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 field.
GDP (1994 estimate; purchasing power parity): dollars 370 million.
Avg. annual growth rate (1980-1993): 2.5 percent; 1994: 0.9%.
Per capita income: dollars 770.
Agriculture (40 percent of GDP): Products--perfume essences, copra,
coconuts, cloves, vanilla, cinnamon, yams, bananas.
Services (25 percent of GDP): commerce, tourism.
Industry (6 percent of GDP): Types--perfume distillation.
Trade: Exports--(1993 est.) dollars 13.7 million: vanilla, cloves,
perfume essences, copra. Major markets--United States 44 percent,
France 40 percent, Germany 6 percent, Africa 5 percent. Imports--
(1993 est.) dollars 40.9 million: rice, petroleum, meat, wheat flour,
cotton textiles, cement. Major suppliers--France 34 percent, South
Africa 14 percent, Kenya 8 percent, Japan 4 percent.
Official exchange rate (1996): Comorian franc 380=USdollars 1.
US Economic Aid: Assistance in FY96 totaled $120,000. ($20,000 in
self-help; 25,000 in democracy/human rights funds; $75,000 in
international military education and training - IMET). The Peace Corps
ended its programs in Comoros in 1995.
The Comorians inhabiting Grande Comore, Anjouan, and Moheli (86
percent 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 French
The most common language is Shikomoro, a Swahili dialect. French
and Malagasy are also spoken. About 48 percent 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.
The present government of President Mohamed Taki Abdoulkarim was
elected in March 1996 in internationally monitored elections that
observers generally considered free and fair. Taki's election followed a
short-lived coup by foreign mercenaries in October 1995 that ousted
then-president said Mohamed Djohar. French troops intervened,
arresting the coup leaders and placing Djohar under virtual house arrest
in the neighboring French territory of Reunion. An interim government
ruled for five months prior to the March elections. The Taki
government has taken several steps, including banning the sale of
alcohol to Comorian residents, designed to appeal to the country's
Islamic majority. The government has also indicated its desire to
strengthen relations with the United States and France.
Principal Government Officials
President--Mohamed Taki Abdoulkarim
Minister of Foreign Affairs--Said Omar Said Ahmed
Ambassador to the United States and the United Nations--vacant
Comoros maintains a mission to the United States at 336 E. 45th St., 2d
floor, New York, NY 10017, tel. (212) 972-8010.
President Taki won an overwhelming majority in the March elections.
He promptly replaced many ranking civil servants associated with the
Djohar regime and believed to have been extremely corrupt. Their
replacements have yet to establish a track record, but many observers
believe widespread corruption continues. There were no reports of civil
strife in the first nine months following the French intervention that
ended the October 1995 coup; the March 1996 elections were
conducted peacefully with no reports of violence. At President Taki's
request, France agreed to maintain a small troop presence in Comoros.
While Taki appears to be far more popular and able than his
predecessor, democratic institutions in Comoros are weak and political
life will remain unstable until they are strengthened and the economy
Comoros, with an estimated gross domestic product (GDP) per capita
income of about dollars 700, 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 percent of the population and 40
percent 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 percent 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 transshipped 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 percent) fraction of its imports.
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 380 CFA francs=USdollars 1 (1991).
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 over
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
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 troop
presence in Comoros at government request. 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. The United States closed its
embassy in Moroni in 1993 and is now represented by a non-resident
ambassador in neighboring Mauritius.
Principal U.S. Officials
Ambassador--Harold W. Geisel (resident in Port Louis, Mauritius)
Administrative/Consular Officer--Rowena Cross-Najafy
The address of the United States embassy in Mauritius is Rogers
House, John F. Kennedy street, Port Louis. (tel: 230-208-2347; fax:
230-208-9534). Embassy hours are 8 am to 4:40 pm, Monday through
Climate and clothing: The climate is hot. Light rainwear and summer
clothing are appropriate year round. Women are expected to dress
modestly when away from principal tourist hotels.
Transportation: There are flights to and from Comoros from France,
Kenya, Madagascar, Mauritius, Reunion, South Africa and Tanzania.
Air travel between the three main islands of Comoros is available but
unreliable. There is no regular ocean communication.
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
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