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U.S. Department of State Background Note

Comoros


Sunset at Moya beach on Anjouan island, Comoros, December 29, 2001. [© AP Images]


PROFILE

OFFICIAL NAME:
Union of the Comoros

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); Mutsamudu (pop. 20,000).
Terrain: Rugged.
Climate: Tropical marine.

People
Nationality: Noun and adjective--Comoran(s).
Population (2006 est.): 690,948. Mayotte (1990 est.)--70,000.
Annual growth rate (2006 est.): 2.87%.
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--62.33yrs. Infant mortality rate--72.85/1,000.
Work force (1996): 144,500. Agriculture--80%.

Government
Type: Republic.
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.

Economy
GDP (purchasing power parity): $419 million.
Annual growth rate: 0.5%.
Per capita income: $720.
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 (1999 est.)--$7.9 million: vanilla, cloves, perfume essences, copra. Major markets--France, Germany. Imports (1998 est.)--$35.84 million: rice, petroleum, meat, wheat flour, cotton textiles, cement. Major suppliers--France 38%, Pakistan 13%, Kenya 8%, South Africa 8%.

PEOPLE
The Comorans 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.

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 Comoranparliament passed a resolution declaring unilateral independence. The deputies of Mayotte abstained. As a result, the Comoran Government has effective control over only Grande Comore, Anjouan, and Moheli. Mayotte remains under French administration.

GOVERNMENT AND POLITICAL CONDITIONS
The Union of Comoros is ruled by President Ahmed Abdallah Sambi. Comoros has been plagued by political instability and civil strife following numerous coups and secession attempts since independence from France in 1975. Former President Azali seized power in a bloodless coup in April 1999, overthrowing interim President Tadijiddine Ben Said Massounde, who himself had held the office since the death of democratically elected President Mohamed Taki Abdoulkarim in November 1998. In May 1999, Azali decreed a constitution that gave him both executive and legislative powers. When Azali took power he had pledged to step down in 2000 and relinquish control to a democratically elected president. Instead, in 2001, Azali resigned from the military and ran as a civilian candidate for the national presidency. He was elected in 2002 in flawed but fair elections.

On May 26, 2006, following a two-stage electoral process that was generally free and fair, Ahmed Abdallah Mohamed Sambi was installed as the new President of the Union of the Comoros. Sambi's inaugural address included a promise to bring justice and development to the Comoros.

Principal Government Officials
President--Ahmed Abdallah Sambi
Minister of Foreign Affairs--Ahmed Ben Said Jaffar
Representative to the United States and Ambassador to the United Nations--Mahmoud M. Aboud

Comoros maintains a mission to the United States at 336 E. 45th St., 2d floor, New York, NY 10017 (tel. 212-750-1637).

ECONOMY
Comoros, with an estimated gross domestic product (GDP) per capita income of about $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% 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 557 CF = U.S. $1.

NATIONAL SECURITY
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.

FOREIGN RELATIONS
In November 1975, Comoros became the 143rd 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 African Union, the European Development Fund, the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, the Indian Ocean Commission, and the African Development Bank.

U.S.-COMORIAN RELATIONS
The United States recognized the Comorian Government in 1977. The two countries enjoy friendly relations. The U.S. closed its Embassy in Moroni in 1993 and is now represented by a nonresident Ambassador in neighboring Madagascar.

Principal U.S. Embassy Officials (all officers resident in Antananarivo, Madagascar)
Ambassador--James McGee
Deputy Chief of Mission--George Sibley
Management Officer--Keith Heffern
Public Affairs Officer--Ellen Irvine
Political Officer--Silvana Rodriguez
Economic-Commercial Officer--Brian Neubert
Regional Security Officer--Christopher Gillis
Consular Officer--Jay Epping

The address of the U.S. Embassy in Madagascar is 14-16 Rue Rainitovo, Antsahavola, Antananarivo. The mailing address is B.P. 620, Antsahavola, Antananarivo, Madagascar (tel: 261-20-22-212-57; fax: 261-20-22-345-39; E-mail: uswebmaster@wanadoo.mg).

TRAVEL AND BUSINESS INFORMATION
The U.S. Department of State's Consular Information Program advises Americans traveling and residing abroad through Consular Information Sheets, Public Announcements, and Travel Warnings. Consular Information Sheets exist for all countries and include information on entry and exit requirements, currency regulations, health conditions, safety and security, crime, political disturbances, and the addresses of the U.S. embassies and consulates abroad. Public Announcements are issued to disseminate information quickly about terrorist threats and other relatively short-term conditions overseas that pose significant risks to the security of American travelers. Travel Warnings are issued when the State Department recommends that Americans avoid travel to a certain country because the situation is dangerous or unstable.

For the latest security information, Americans living and traveling abroad should regularly monitor the Department's Bureau of Consular Affairs Internet web site at http://www.travel.state.gov, where the current Worldwide Caution, Public Announcements, and Travel Warnings can be found. Consular Affairs Publications, which contain information on obtaining passports and planning a safe trip abroad, are also available at http://www.travel.state.gov. For additional information on international travel, see http://www.usa.gov/Citizen/Topics/Travel/International.shtml.

The Department of State encourages all U.S citizens traveling or residing abroad to register via the State Department's travel registration website or at the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate abroad. Registration will make your presence and whereabouts known in case it is necessary to contact you in an emergency and will enable you to receive up-to-date information on security conditions.

Emergency information concerning Americans traveling abroad may be obtained by calling 1-888-407-4747 toll free in the U.S. and Canada or the regular toll line 1-202-501-4444 for callers outside the U.S. and Canada.

The National Passport Information Center (NPIC) is the U.S. Department of State's single, centralized public contact center for U.S. passport information. Telephone: 1-877-4USA-PPT (1-877-487-2778). Customer service representatives and operators for TDD/TTY are available Monday-Friday, 7:00 a.m. to 12:00 midnight, Eastern Time, excluding federal holidays.

Travelers can check the latest health information with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, Georgia. A hotline at 877-FYI-TRIP (877-394-8747) and a web site at http://www.cdc.gov/travel/index.htm give the most recent health advisories, immunization recommendations or requirements, and advice on food and drinking water safety for regions and countries. A booklet entitled "Health Information for International Travel" (HHS publication number CDC-95-8280) is available from the U.S. Government Printing Office, Washington, DC 20402, tel. (202) 512-1800.

Further Electronic Information
Department of State Web Site. Available on the Internet at http://www.state.gov, the Department of State web site provides timely, global access to official U.S. foreign policy information, including Background Notes and daily press briefings along with the directory of key officers of Foreign Service posts and more. The Overseas Security Advisory Council (OSAC) provides security information and regional news that impact U.S. companies working abroad through its website http://www.osac.gov

Export.gov provides a portal to all export-related assistance and market information offered by the federal government and provides trade leads, free export counseling, help with the export process, and more.

STAT-USA/Internet, a service of the U.S. Department of Commerce, provides authoritative economic, business, and international trade information from the Federal government. The site includes current and historical trade-related releases, international market research, trade opportunities, and country analysis and provides access to the National Trade Data Bank.

Revised: Jun. 2007

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