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

July 1996
Official Name: Federal Islamic Republic of Comoros

PROFILE

Geography

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.

People

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. 
Literacy--48 percent.
Health: Infant mortality rate--77/1,000. Life expectancy--58 yrs.
Work force (200,000): Agriculture--80 percent. Government--3 
percent.

Government

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 field.

Economy

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.

PEOPLE

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 
culture.

The most common language is Shikomoro, a Swahili dialect. French 
and Malagasy are also spoken. About 48 percent of the population is 
literate.

HISTORY

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.

GOVERNMENT

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.

POLITICAL CONDITIONS

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 
improves.

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).



FOREIGN RELATIONS

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 
Mayotte.

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.

DEFENSE

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.

US-COMORIAN RELATIONS

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 
Friday.

TRAVEL NOTES

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 
ocean communication.

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