The Union of Comoros celebrates its 41st Independence Day from French rule this July.
Geography and History
Positioned 12 degrees south of the equator in the Mozambique Channel lies the archipelago of the Comoros— four unique islands formed by a volcano. The name “Comoros” stems from the Arabic word qamar, meaning “moon”. The volcanic islands of Grande Comore (Ngazidja), Anjouan (Ndzuwani or Nzwani) and Mohéli (Mwali) make us The Union of the Comoros. A fourth island, Mayotte (Maore), and its smaller surrounding islands is geographically and culturally part of the Comoros but politically affiliated with France. Mayotte was colonised by France and when the Comoros voted for independence from the French protectorate in 1975 the Christian majority island of Mayotte voted against independence and unity with the three other Islamic majority islands. Because of this, Mayotte remains a French territory to this day and the people have French citizenship. The islands cover in total 2,170 sq. km.
|Area||2,230 sq. km|
|Major Language (s)||Arabic, French, Comorian|
|Major Religion (s)||Islam|
|Life Expectancy||Male: 61.63 years ; Female: 64.96 years|
|Currency||Comoran Francs (KMF)|
|Literacy rate||Youth 99.76%, Adults 99.31%|
|GDP Per Capita||841.20 USD (2014)|
The islands are aged according to their position from East to West. The most eastern island, Mayotte, is the oldest at 7.7 million years old. The youngest island on the west side is Grand Comore at 10,000 years old. Grande Comore is also the largest island and is home to the capital Moroni. It is home to two volcanos one of which is active. The volcano of Karthala is the islands highest point at 2,163 metres. Karthala is one of the world’s most active volcanoes. It most recently erupted in 2006.
The forests of the Comoros are a unique ecological region. There is an abundance of wildlife among the islands and the volcanic areas are home to some endangered bird species, such as the Anjouan sparrow hawk and the Anjouan scops owl. Many other rate species can be found in the Comoros including coelacanths (a rare fish species thought to be extinct and dating back 360 million years), sea turtles, and lemurs. The only other place in the world that lemurs are found in the wild is Madagascar. There are at least 500 plant species endemic to the Comoros. Changes in terrain can be seen across the islands from black volcanic rocky soil to sloping mountains, wide valleys, thick forests and low, flat sand areas.
Society and People
The population of this Islamic island nation is more approximately 773,000 people in total, with the highest concentration in the capital. Youth aged 15 and younger constitute 43 per cent of the population. Culture and everyday life is influence by Arab, African and French culture and heritage. French is taught is the schools, but all children learn Arabic and get a Quranic education. The local language of Comorian is a Bantu language similar to Swahili and contains
many Arabic and French words. The social structure in the Comoros is matrilineal, meaning it is based off kinship of the mother or female line. This is seen through the favourable property and inheritance rights. Each person participates in society based on either lineage, age or gender. Villages or neighbourhoods act as social units and while men occupy most of the administrative positions, women are given control over community activities and affairs. The indigenous population is a mix of Afro- Asian and Arab ethnicities. The main ethnic groups among the islands include the Antalote, Cafre, Makoa, Oimatsaha, and Sakalava. Despite that there is a Christian minority in the Comoros (1 per cent of the population), Christianity along with practicing other religions has been prohibited by the government. Traditional dress for men, women and children follow the Islamic way of life. Women wear a long dress with a skirt called a Shiromeni. This is accompanied by a headscarf which is compulsory in the Comoros. Many women can also be seen wearing a white-coloured face mask made of coral and sandalwood. Men wear tunics, jalabiyas or sarangs with a shirt.
Economy and Industry
Indians, Europeans and Malagasy contribute to the economy. Up to 30 per cent of Comorians live outside the country and remittances account for 12 per cent of the GDP. Agriculture and fishing are the main industries employing 80 per cent of the population and making up 40 per cent of the GDP. The Comoros is the world’s second largest producer of vanilla and the first largest producer of ylang-ylang, a flower extract essence used in perfumes and other scented products. Vanilla and ylang-ylang along with cloves and copra are the leading exports. The economy is partially supported by tourism, although it is not a significant industry. The fishing industry has potential to build the economy but requires some development.
Of the total land, 45 per cent is arable. The chief crops cultivated include cassava, coconut, bananas, sweet potatoes and corn. Domestic food production is not sufficient for the population and at least 50 per cent of the government’s annual budget is spent importing foods. Trade partners include France, the United States, Germany, Singapore, Turkey, South Africa, Turkey, UAE, Italy, Pakistan and Mauritius. The nation’s imports far exceed the exports and foreign aid compensates for this.
A Platform for Eco-tourism
The Comoros as a destination is still at the very early stage of its development despite past success stories (i.e. Galawa Beach Resort) and there are missing or weak links in the tourism structure that impact the whole industry, which relies on a limited number of firms operating in a very small market with high growth potential. In fact, it takes more than a nice natural site, the creation of a tourism product or the construction of a hotel to generate tourism revenues or have a profitable business. Like all business activities, the supply needs to meet the demand. In the Comoros tourism value chain, the existing supply is good enough in terms of quality, however maybe not so good in terms of competitiveness.
Improving the tourism competitiveness is a key to opening the door for this sector to contribute to the national economy of the Comoros. Currently, revenues from tourism are barley 0.5% of the union’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP). Without working on developing sites of attraction, these will be no way to promote Comoros as a tourism destination. Investment should be encouraged in establishing an ecotourism system which will attract more tourists. Such system is viable according to a study and evaluation by the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO). One way this can be done is to invite investors from the OIC member countries – a thing that would be of benefit for the investors, the union and the organisation at large. The current figure of intra-OIC tourist arrivals does not reach 1 per cent.
In Need of Support
The Union of the Comoros is one of the least developed members of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC). A lot need to be done across all levels to improve the social life and economic performance of the union. This support is needed especially in reference to the fact that God bestowed several gifts on Comoros which are yet to be utilised due to lack of proficiency and experience. There are a number of issues that require urgent actions such as the relatively low literacy rates. Education is very important to pursue any development plan. While the authorities in the union are trying to initiate development strategies, different kinds of assistance are needed. Financial assistance is just one part of it, even though it is the most important.
The OIC and its different organs have been working with the government in Comoros on implementing various projects. The Islamic Development Bank has the lead in these projects. For example, upon the request of the Union of Comoros’ authorities, a fact finding mission to the Union of Comoros comprising representatives from the OIC, the Islamic Development Bank (IDB) and some charity organisations visited the union in 2008. The purpose of the OIC mission was to examine, with the Comoros authorities, ways and means of bringing political support to the Government. The mission recommended a few plans towards strengthening cooperation between the OIC and its specialised organs and the Union of Comoros. These plans include economic and social projects which will be financed by the IDB and private sector in the OIC member states.