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Comoros

HISTORY
GEOGRAPHY
PEOPLE & SOCIETY
ECONOMY
GOVERNMENT
NATIONAL SECURITY
REFERENCE

Comoros - HISTORY

THE FEDERAL ISLAMIC REPUBLIC of the Comoros is an archipelago situated in the western Indian Ocean, about midway between the island of Madagascar and the coast of East Africa at the northern end of the Mozambique Channel. The archipelago has served in past centuries as a stepping stone between the African continent and Madagascar, as a southern outpost for Arab traders operating along the East African coast, and as a center of Islamic culture. The name "Comoros" is derived from the Arabic kamar or kumr, meaning "moon," although this name was first applied by Arab geographers to Madagascar. In the nineteenth century, Comoros was absorbed into the French overseas empire, but it unilaterally proclaimed independence from France on July 6, 1975.

Comoros has had a troubled and uncertain course as an independent state. Mahoré, or Mayotte, the easternmost of the archipelago's four main islands, including Njazidja (formerly Grande Comore), Mwali (formerly Mohéli), and Nzwani (formerly Anjouan), remains under French administration, a majority of its voters having chosen to remain tied to France in referendums held in 1974 and 1976. By the mid-1990s, the integration of Mahoré into Comoros remained an official objective of the Comoran government, but it had taken a back seat to more pressing concerns, such as developing a viable national economy. Meanwhile, the Mahorais were making the most of their close relationship with France. They accepted large amounts of developmental aid and took an intense interest in French political events. Although South Africa played a major role in the Comoran economy in the 1980s, by the early 1990s France was the island republic's foremost patron, providing economic aid, political guidance, and national security.

Comoros is densely populated and dedicates only limited amounts of land to food production. Thus, it depends heavily on imports of rice, vegetables, and meat. Its economy is based on the production of cash crops, principally ylang-ylang (perfume essence), vanilla, and cloves, all of which have experienced wild price swings in recent years, thus complicating economic planning and contributing to a burgeoning trade deficit. A growing dependence on foreign aid, often provided to meet day-to-day needs for food, funds, and government operations, further clouds economic prospects. Comoros suffers the ills of a developing nation in particularly severe form: food shortages and inadequate diets, poor health standards, a high rate of population growth, widespread illiteracy, and international indebtedness.

The country has endured political and natural catastrophes. Less than a month after independence, the government of the first Comoran president, Ahmed Abdallah, was overthrown; in 1978 foreign mercenaries carried out a second coup, overthrowing the radical regime of Ali Soilih and returning Abdallah to power. Indigenous riots in Madagascar in 1976 led to the repatriation of an estimated 17,000 Comorans. The eruption of the volcano, Kartala, on Njazidja in 1977 displaced some 2,000 people and possibly hastened the downfall of the Soilih regime. Cyclones in the 1980s, along with a violent coup that included the assassination of President Abdallah in 1989 and two weeks of rule by European mercenaries, rounded out the first fifteen years of Comoran independence.

In the early 1990s, the omnipresent mercenaries of the late 1970s and 1980s were gone, and the winding down of civil conflict in southern Africa, in combination with the end of the Cold War, had reduced the republic's value as a strategic chess piece. However, as in the 1970s and 1980s, the challenge to Comorans was to find a way off the treadmills of economic dependency and domestic political dysfunction.

Comoros - Early Visitors and Settlers

Little is known of the first inhabitants of the archipelago, although a sixth-century settlement has been uncovered on Nzwani by archaeologists. Historians speculated that Indonesian immigrants used the islands as stepping stones on the way to Madagascar prior to A.D. 1000. Because Comoros lay at the juncture of African, Malayo-Indonesian, and Arab spheres of influence, the present population reflects a blend of these elements in its physical characteristics, language, culture, social structure, and religion. Local legend cites the first settlement of the archipelago by two families from Arabia after the death of Solomon. Legend also tells of a Persian king, Husain ibn Ali, who established a settlement on Comoros around the beginning of the eleventh century. Bantu peoples apparently moved to Comoros before the fourteenth century, principally from the coast of what is now southern Mozambique; on the island of Nzwani they apparently encountered an earlier group of inhabitants, a Malayo-Indonesian people. A number of chieftains bearing African titles established settlements on Njazidja and Nzwani, and by the fifteenth century they probably had contact with Arab merchants and traders who brought the Islamic faith to the islands.

A watershed in the history of the islands was the arrival of the Shirazi Arabs in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. The Shirazi, who originated from the city of Shiraz in what is now Iran, were Sunni Muslims adhering to the legal school of Muhammad ibn Idris ash Shafii, an eighth-century Meccan scholar who followed a middle path in combining tradition and independent judgment in legal matters. The Shirazi Arabs traveled and traded up and down the East African coast and as far east as India and Maldives. A legend is recounted on Comoros and on the East African coast of seven Shirazi brothers who set sail in seven ships, landed on the coast of northwest Madagascar and on Njazidja and Nzwani, and established colonies in the fifteenth century. The Shirazi, who divided Njazidja into eleven sultanates and Nzwani into two, extended their rule to Mahoré and Mwali, although the latter in the nineteenth century came under the control of Malagasy rulers. The Shirazi built mosques and established Islam as the religion of the islands. They also introduced stone architecture, carpentry, cotton weaving, the cultivation of a number of fruits, and the Persian solar calendar. By the sixteenth century, the Comoros had become a center of regional trade, exporting rice, ambergris, spices, and slaves to ports in East Africa and the Middle East in exchange for opium, cotton cloth, and other items.

The first Europeans to visit the islands were the Portuguese, who landed on Njazidja around 1505. The islands first appear on a European map in 1527, that of Portuguese cartographer Diogo Roberos. Dutch sixteenth-century accounts describe the Comoros sultanates as prosperous trade centers with the African coast and Madagascar. Intense competition for this trade, and, increasingly, for European commerce, resulted in constant warfare among the sultanates, a situation that persisted until the French occupation. The sultans of Njazidja only occasionally recognized the supremacy of one of their number as tibe, or supreme ruler.

By the early seventeenth century, slaves had become Comoros' most important export commodity, although the market for the islands' other products also continued to expand, mainly in response to the growing European presence in the region. To meet this increased demand, the sultans began using slave labor themselves, following common practice along the East African coast.

Beginning in 1785, the Sakalava of the west coast of Madagascar began slaving raids on Comoros. They captured thousands of inhabitants and carried them off in outrigger canoes to be sold in French-occupied Madagascar, Mauritius, or Reunion to work on the sugar plantations, many of which French investors owned. The island of Mahoré, closest of the group to Madagascar, was virtually depopulated. Comoran pleas for aid from the French and the other European powers went unanswered, and the raids ceased only after the Sakalava kingdoms were conquered by the Merina of Madagascar's central highlands. After the Merina conquest, groups of Sakalava and Betsimisaraka peoples left Madagascar and settled on Mahoré and Mwali.

Prosperity was restored as Comoran traders again became involved in transporting slaves from the East African coast to Reunion and Madagascar. Dhows carrying slaves brought in huge profits for their investors. On Comoros, it was estimated in 1865 that as much as 40 percent of the population consisted of slaves. For the elite, owning a large number of slaves to perform fieldwork and household service was a mark of status. On the eve of the French occupation, Comoran society consisted of three classes: the elite of the Shirazi sultans and their families, a middle class of free persons or commoners, and a slave class consisting of those who had been brought from the African coast or their descendants.

Comoros - French Colonization

France's presence in the western Indian Ocean dates to the early seventeenth century. The French established a settlement in southern Madagascar in 1634 and occupied the islands of Reunion and Rodrigues; in 1715 France claimed Mauritius ( Île de France), and in 1756 Seychelles. When France ceded Mauritius, Rodrigues, and Seychelles to Britain in 1814, it lost its Indian Ocean ports; Reunion, which remained French, did not offer a suitable natural harbor. In 1840 France acquired the island of Nosy-Be off the northwestern coast of Madagascar, but its potential as a port was limited. In 1841 the governor of Réunion, Admiral de Hell, negotiated with Andrian Souli, the Malagasy ruler of Mayotte, to cede Mayotte to France. Mahoré offered a suitable site for port facilities, and its acquisition was justified by de Hell on the grounds that if France did not act, Britain would occupy the island.

Although France had established a foothold in Comoros, the acquisition of the other islands proceeded fitfully. At times the French were spurred on by the threat of British intervention, especially on Nzwani, and other times, by the constant anarchy resulting from the sultans' wars upon each other. In the 1880s, Germany's growing influence on the East African coast added to the concerns of the French. Not until 1908, however, did the four Comoro Islands become part of France's colony of Madagascar and not until 1912 did the last sultan abdicate. Then, a colonial administration took over the islands and established a capital at Dzaoudzi on Mahoré. Treaties of protectorate status marked a transition point between independence and annexation; such treaties were signed with the rulers of Njazidja, Nzwani, and Mwali in 1886.

The effects of French colonialism were mixed, at best. Colonial rule brought an end to the institution of slavery, but economic and social differences between former slaves and free persons and their descendants persisted. Health standards improved with the introduction of modern medicine, and the population increased about 50 percent between 1900 and 1960. France continued to dominate the economy. Food crop cultivation was neglected as French sociétés (companies) established cash crop plantations in the coastal regions. The result was an economy dependent on the exporting of vanilla, ylang-ylang, cloves, cocoa, copra, and other tropical crops. Most profits obtained from exports were diverted to France rather than invested in the infrastructure of the islands. Development was further limited by the colonial government's practice of concentrating public services on Madagascar. One consequence of this policy was the migration of large numbers of Comorans to Madagascar, where their presence would be a long-term source of tension between Comoros and its giant island neighbor. The Shirazi elite continued to play a prominent role as large landowners and civil servants. On the eve of independence, Comoros remained poor and undeveloped, having only one secondary school and practically nothing in the way of national media. Isolated from important trade routes by the opening of the Suez Canal in 1869, having few natural resources, and largely neglected by France, the islands were poorly equipped for independence.

In 1946 the Comoro Islands became an overseas department of France with representation in the French National Assembly. The following year, the islands' administrative ties to Madagascar were severed; Comoros established its own customs regime in 1952. A Governing Council was elected in August 1957 on the four islands in conformity with the loi-cadre (enabling law) of June 23, 1956. A constitution providing for internal self-government was promulgated in 1961, following a 1958 referendum in which Comorans voted overwhelmingly to remain a part of France. This government consisted of a territorial assembly having, in 1975, thirty-nine members, and a Governing Council of six to nine ministers responsible to it.

Comoros - The Break with France

Politics in the 1960s were dominated by a social and economic elite--largely descendants of the precolonial sultanate ruling families--which was conservative and pro-French. During Comoros' period of self-government as an overseas department, there were two main conservative political groupings: the Parti Vert (Green Party), which later became known as the Comoros Democratic Union (Union Démocratique des Comores--UDC), and the Parti Blanc (White Party), later reconstituted as the Democratic Assembly of the Comoran People (Rassemblement Démocratique du Peuple Comorien-- RDPC). Dr. Said Mohamed Cheikh, president of the Parti Vert and of the Governing Council, was, until his death in 1970, the most important political leader in the islands. The Parti Blanc, under Prince Said Ibrahim, provided the opposition, endorsing a progressive program that included land reform and a loosening of the monopoly on Comoran cash crops enjoyed by the foreign-owned plantation sociétés. The second most powerful member of the Parti Vert, Ahmed Abdallah, a wealthy plantation owner and representative to the French National Assembly, succeeded Cheikh as president of the Governing Council soon after Cheikh died.

Well into the 1960s, the two established parties were concerned primarily with maintaining a harmonious relationship with France while obtaining assistance in economic planning and infrastructure development. Given this consensus, politically active Comorans often based their allegiance on personal feelings toward the doctor and the prince who led the two main parties and on whatever patronage either party could provide.

The independence movement started not in the Comoro Islands but among Comoran expatriates in Tanzania, who founded the National Liberation Movement of Comoros (Mouvement de la Libération Nationale des Comores--Molinaco) in 1962. Molinaco actively promoted the cause of Comoran independence abroad, particularly in the forum of the Organization of African Unity (OAU), but not until 1967 did it begin to extend its influence to the islands themselves, engaging in largely clandestine activities. The Socialist Party of Comoros (Parti Socialiste des Comores--Pasoco), established in 1968, was largely supported by students and other young people.

A growing number of politically conscious Comorans, resenting what they perceived as French neglect of the Comoro Islands, supported independence. Independence-minded Comorans, especially younger ones, were energized by dramatic events across the Mozambique Channel on the African mainland. Tanganyika had gained its independence from Britain in 1961 and soon adopted a government based on "African socialism." Zanzibar, another longtime British colony, became independent in 1963 and overthrew the ruling Arab elite in a violent revolution the following year; the island state then merged with Tanganyika to form the new nation of Tanzania. Meanwhile, nationalists were beginning uprisings in the Portuguese colony of Mozambique.

Abdallah, although a conservative politician, saw independence as a "regrettable necessity," given the unsatisfactory level of French support and the growing alienation of an increasingly radicalized younger generation. The violent suppression of a student demonstration in 1968 and the death of Said Mohammed Cheikh in 1970 provided further evidence of the erosion of the existing order. In 1972 leaders of the Parti Vert (now the UDC) and the Parti Blanc (now the RDPC) agreed to press for independence, hoping at the same time to maintain cordial relations with France. A coalition of conservative and moderate parties, the Party for the Evolution of Comoros (Parti pour l'Évolution des Comores), was in the forefront of the independence effort. The coalition excluded Pasoco, which it perceived as violently revolutionary, but it cooperated for a time with Molinaco. During 1973 and 1974, the local government negotiated with France, and issued a "Common Declaration" on June 15, 1973, defining the means by which the islands would gain independence. Part of the backdrop of the negotiations was a proindependence riot in November 1973 in Moroni in which the buildings of the Chamber of Deputies were burned. A referendum was held on December 22, 1974. Voters supported independence by a 95 percent majority, but 65 percent of those casting ballots on Mahoré chose to remain as a French department.

Twenty-eight days after the declaration of independence, on August 3, 1975, a coalition of six political parties known as the United National Front overthrew the Abdallah government, with the aid of foreign mercenaries. Some observers claimed that French commercial interests, and possibly even the French government, had helped provide the funds and the matériel to bring off the coup. The reasons for the coup remain obscure, although the belief that France might return Mahoré if Abdallah were out of power appears to have been a contributing factor. Abdallah fled to Nzwani, his political power base, where he remained in control with an armed contingent of forty-five men until forces from Moroni recaptured the island and arrested him in late September 1975. After the coup, a three-man directorate took control. One of the three, Ali Soilih, was appointed minister of defense and justice and subsequently was made head of state by the Chamber of Deputies on January 3, 1976. Four days earlier, on December 31, 1975, France had formally recognized the independence of Comoros (minus Mahoré), but active relations, including all aid programs, which amounted to more than 40 percent of the national budget, remained suspended.

Comoros - The Soilih Regime

Originally an agronomist, Ali Soilih had become politically active as a supporter of RDPC leader Said Ibrahim in 1970. Lasting from January 1976 to May 1978, his rule was marked by continued hostility between France and Comoros. The main issues were the status of Mahoré (particularly after France held a second referendum on the island, on February 7, 1976, in which 99.4 percent of the voters endorsed continued status as a French department) and a radical reform program designed to break the hold of traditional values and French influence on Comoran life. Soilih envisioned accomplishing his revolution in three phases, beginning with independence from France. The second phase, a "social revolution," would abolish such customs as the wearing of veils, the costly grand mariage (great wedding; in Swahili ndola nkuu), and traditional funeral ceremonies. Comoran citizens, including young women, would be mobilized to serve in revolutionary militia and army units in an attempt to create something resembling the Red Guards of China's Cultural Revolution of the late 1960s. The third phase would decentralize government administration by establishing thirty-four local moudirias, or provinces. These would serve not only as administrative centers but would also provide post and telephone service and consumer goods for localities of about 9,000 people on the model of the Chinese people's communes.

Soilih emphasized the central role of young people in the revolution, lowering the voting age to fourteen. He mobilized Comoran youth into a special revolutionary militia (the Moissy), which particularly in the villages, launched violent attacks on conservative elders in Red Guard style.

After the withdrawal of French financial subsidies, the treasury was soon emptied, and in a move having budgetary as well as ideological implications, some 3,500 civil servants were dismissed in 1977. Soilih made a more than symbolic break with the past in 1976 by burning French government archives, which had been kept since the acquisition of Mahoré 135 years before. Tanzanian officers trained the Comoran Armed Forces, and the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (North Korea), Saudi Arabia, and other countries provided limited aid.

Soilih, who described himself as a devout Muslim, advocated a secular state and limitations on the privileges of the muftis, or Muslim jurists who interpret Islamic law. These reforms, which were perceived as attacks on Comoran traditions, combined with a deepening economic crisis to erode support for his government. Several attempts were made on Soilih's life, and in a referendum held in October 1977, only 55 percent of the voters supported a new constitution proposed by his government. Attacks by the Moissy on real and imagined political opponents escalated; raids on mosques were common; a number of refugees fled to Mahoré. The eruption of Kartala in April 1977 and the influx of refugees from Madagascar following a massacre of resident Comorans there exacerbated the situation. In March 1978, some fishers in the town of Iconi, south of Moroni, were killed after protesting the government's policy on compulsory sale of their catch to the state. Severe food shortages in 1976-77 required the government to seek aid internationally and forced the young nation to divert its already limited export earnings from economic development to purchases of rice and other staples.

Popular support had dwindled to such a level that when a mercenary force of fifty, consisting largely of former French paratroopers, landed at Itsandra Beach north of the capital on May 12, 1978 the regular armed forces offered no resistance. The mercenaries were led by French-born Bob Denard (an alias for Gilbert Bourgeaud, also known as Said Mustapha M'Hadjou) a veteran of wars of revolution, counterrevolution, and separatism from Indochina to Biafra. (Ironically, Denard had played a role in the 1975 coup that had enabled Soilih to come to power.) Most Comorans supported the coup and were happy to be free of Soilih's ineffective and repressive regime. The deposed head of state was killed under mysterious circumstances on May 29, 1978. The official explanation was that he had attempted to escape.

Comoros - The Abdallah Regime

Following a few days of provisional government, the two men who had financed the coup, former president Ahmed Abdallah (himself the victim of the 1975 coup) and former vice president Mohamed Ahmed, returned to Moroni from exile in Paris and installed themselves as joint presidents. Soon after, Abdallah was named sole executive.

The continued presence of the mercenaries impeded Abdallah's early efforts to stabilize Comoros. Denard seemed interested in remaining in Comoros, and he and his friends were given financially rewarding appointments with the new government. In reaction to Denard's involvement with Abdallah, the OAU revoked Comoros' OAU membership, Madagascar severed diplomatic relations, and the United Nations (UN) threatened economic sanctions against the regime. France also exerted pressure for Denard to leave, and in late September--temporarily, as it developed--he departed the islands.

Abdallah consolidated power, beginning with the writing of a new constitution. The document combined federalism and centralism. It granted each island its own legislature and control over taxes levied on individuals and businesses resident on the island (perhaps with an eye to rapprochement with Mahoré), while reserving strong executive powers for the president. It also restored Islam as the state religion, while acknowledging the rights of those who did not observe the Muslim faith. The new constitution was approved by 99 percent of Comoran voters on October 1, 1978. The Comorans also elected Abdallah to a six-year term as president of what was now known as the Federal Islamic Republic of the Comoros.

Although Abdallah had been president when Comoros broke away from France in 1975, he now moved to establish a relationship much more to France's liking. Upon Denard's departure, he gave a French military mission responsibility for training Comoros' defense force. He also signed an agreement with France to allow its navy full use of Comoran port facilities.

Making the most of Comoros' new presidential system, Abdallah induced the nation's National Assembly to enact a twelve-year ban on political parties, a move that guaranteed his reelection in 1984. In 1979 his government arrested Soilih regime members who had not already left or been killed during the 1978 coup. Four former ministers of the Soilih government disappeared and allegedly were murdered, and about 300 other Soilih supporters were imprisoned without trial. For the next three years, occasional trials were held, in many cases only after France had insisted on due process for the prisoners.

Although the restoration of good relations with France represented a sharp break with the policies of the previous regime, Abdallah built on Soilih's efforts to find new sources of diplomatic and economic support. Thanks in large part to aid from the European Community (EC) and the Arab states, the regime began to upgrade roads, telecommunications, and port facilities. The government also accepted international aid for programs to increase the cultivation of cash crops and food for domestic consumption. Abdallah endeavored to maintain the relations established by Soilih with China, Nigeria, and Tanzania, and to expand Comoros' contacts in the Islamic world with visits to Libya and the Persian Gulf states.

Despite international assistance, economic development was slow. Although some Comorans blamed the French, who had yet to restore technical assistance to pre-1975 levels, others suspected that Abdallah, who owned a large import-export firm, was enriching himself from development efforts with the assistance of Denard, who continued to visit Comoros.

Opposition to the Abdallah regime began to appear as early as 1979, with the formation of an exile-dominated group that became known as the United National Front of Comorans--Union of Comorans (Front National Uni des Komoriens--Union des Komoriens--FNUK-- Unikom). In 1980 the Comoran ambassador to France, Said Ali Kemal, resigned his position to form another opposition group, the National Committee for Public Safety (Comité National de Salut Public). A failed coup in February 1981, led by a former official of the Soilih regime, resulted in arrests of about forty people.

In regard to Mahoré, Abdallah offered little more than verbal resistance to a 1979 decision of the French government to postpone action on the status of the island until 1984. At the same time, he kept the door open to Mahoré by writing a large measure of autonomy for the component islands of the republic into the 1978 constitution and by appointing a Mahorais as his government's minister of finance. Having established an administration that, in comparison with the Soilih years, seemed tolerable to his domestic and international constituencies, Abdallah proceeded to entrench himself. He did this through domestic and international policies that would profoundly compromise Comoros' independence and create the chronic crisis that continued to characterize Comoran politics and government in 1994.

The Undermining of the Political Process

In February 1982, Comoros became a one-party state. The government designated Abdallah's newly formed Comoran Union for Progress (Union Comorienne pour le Progrès--UCP) as the republic's sole political party. Although unaffiliated individuals could run for local and national office, the only party that could organize on behalf of candidates henceforth would be the UCP. In March 1982 elections, all but one of Abdallah's handpicked UCP candidates won. UCP candidates likewise dominated the May 1983 National Assembly elections, and opposition candidates attempting to stand for election in balloting for the three islands' legislative councils in July were removed from the lists by the Ministry of Interior. Abdallah himself was elected to a second six-year term as head of state in September 1984, winning more than 99 percent of the vote as the sole candidate. During the National Assembly elections of March 22, 1987, the Abdallah regime arrested 400 poll watchers from opposition groups. A state radio announcement that one non-UCP delegate had been elected was retracted the next day.

Abdallah also kept opponents from competing with him in the arena of legitimate politics by reshuffling his government and amending the 1978 constitution. As part of what one observer wryly called the process of "remov[ing] his most avid successors from temptation," Abdallah pushed through a constitutional amendment in 1985 that abolished the post of prime minister, a move that made the president both head of state and head of the elected government. The amendment also diminished the status of Ali Mroudjae, the erstwhile prime minister and a likely future candidate for president. Another 1985 amendment took away many of the powers of the president of the National Assembly, including his right to become interim head of state in the event of the incumbent's death. The amendment transferred the right of succession to the president of the Supreme Court, an appointee of the head of state. Feeling the effect of this second amendment was assembly president Mohamed Taki, another man generally regarded as presidential timber.

Mroudjae's subsequent career in the Abdallah government illustrated the way in which Abdallah used frequent reshufflings of his cabinet to eliminate potential challengers. Mroudjae's next job was to share duties as minister of state with four other people; he was removed from the government altogether in another reshuffle four months later.

Looking to the end of his second (and, according to the constitution, final) term as head of state, Abdallah created a commission in 1988 to recommend changes to the constitution. These changes, among other things, would permit him to run yet again in 1990. A referendum on revisions to the constitution was scheduled for November 4, 1989.

A weak, divided, and opportunistic opposition facilitated Abdallah's efforts to undermine the political process. The character of Comoran politics ensured that opposition would be sustained by an unwieldy group of strong personalities. As the personal stock of these would-be leaders rose and fell, coalitions coalesced and just as quickly fell apart in a process that engendered distrust and cynicism. The ban on opposition political organizations at home--brutally upheld, when necessary, by the Presidential Guard (Garde Presidentelle--GP) and the Comoran military--further undercut efforts to organize against the head of state. The French government's displeasure at intrigues of Comoran exiles in Paris also complicated opposition efforts.

Given the absence of an ideological basis for resisting the regime, it was also not surprising that some opposition leaders were willing to ally themselves with the head of state if such a move appeared likely to advance them personally. For example, Mouzaoir Abdallah, leader of the opposition Union for a Democratic Republic in Comoros (Union pour une République Démocratique aux Comores--URDC), appeared with the president at independence day celebrations in July 1988 amid rumors that the URDC chief was being considered for a reconstituted prime minister's office. In September 1988 another opposition leader, Said Hachim, agreed to join the commission considering revisions to the constitution.

The credibility of Abdallah's opponents was also damaged by the efforts of one opposition leader, former ambassador to France Said Ali Kemal, to recruit mercenaries to help overthrow the Abdallah government. Arrested in Australia in late 1983, six of the mercenaries gave testimony discrediting Kemal.

Mercenary Rule

Abdallah complemented his political maneuvers by employing a GP officered by many of the same mercenaries who had helped him take power in 1978. Denard led this force, and also became heavily involved in Comoran business activities, sometimes acting in partnership with President Abdallah or as a front for South African business interests, which played a growing role in the Comoran economy during the Abdallah regime.

Although Denard had made a ceremonial departure from Comoros following the 1978 coup, by the early 1980s he was again openly active in the islands. The GP, whose numbers were reported to range from 300 to 700 members, primarily indigenous Comorans, were led by about thirty French and Belgian mercenaries, mostly comrades of Denard's in the post-World War II conflicts that accompanied the decolonization of Africa and Asia. Answerable only to the president, the GP operated outside the chain of command of the French-trained 1,000-member Comoran Armed Forces, a situation that caused resentment among the regular military, Comoran citizens, and other African states.

The GP's primary missions were to protect the president and to deter attempts to overthrow his government. During the July 1983 elections to the three islands' legislative councils, the GP beat and arrested demonstrators protesting the republic's singleparty system. During elections to the National Assembly in March 1987, the GP--which had become known as les affreux, "the frighteners"--replaced several hundred dissident poll watchers who had been arrested by the army. On March 8, 1985, one of the most serious attempts to overthrow the Abdallah government began as a mutiny by about thirty Comoran troops of the GP against their European officers. The disaffected guards had formed ties to the Democratic Front (Front Démocratique--FD), one of the more nationalistic of the republic's many banned political parties. The mutiny was quickly squelched; three of the rebellious guards were killed, and the rest were taken prisoners.

President Abdallah used the uprising as an opportunity to round up dissidents, primarily FD members, whose leadership denied involvement in the coup attempt. Later in 1985, seventyseven received convictions; seventeen, including the FD's secretary general, Mustapha Said Cheikh, were sentenced to life imprisonment at hard labor. Most of the prisoners were released in 1986 following Amnesty International charges of illegal arrests, torture, and other abuses. France had also exerted pressure by temporarily withholding new aid projects and purchases of Comoran vanilla.

Perhaps the most notorious action of the GP on behalf of the Abdallah government occurred in November 1987. After an apparent attempt by dissidents to free some political prisoners, an event quickly labeled a coup attempt by the Abdallah regime, the GP arrested fourteen alleged plotters and tortured seven of them to death. Officials of the Comoran government apparently were not allowed to participate in the prisoners' interrogation. President Abdallah was on a state visit to Egypt at the time.

With Abdallah's acquiescence and occasional participation, Denard and the other GP officers used their connections to the head of state to make themselves important players in the Comoran economy. Denard was a part owner of Établissements Abdallah et Fils, Comoros' largest import-export firm, whose primary owner was President Abdallah. Denard also owned and operated a highly profitable commercial shuttle between South Africa and Comoros, and owned Sogecom, a private security firm with contracts to protect South African hotels being built in the islands.

The GP officers, sympathetic to South Africa's apartheid government, established themselves as a conduit of South African investment and influence in Comoros. An official South African trade representative conceded that a number of his country's investment projects, including a 525-hectare experimental farm, housing, road construction, and a medical evacuation program, were brokered and managed by guard officers at the mercenaries' insistence.

The GP also arranged for South African commercial aircraft to fly in the Middle East and parts of Africa under the aegis of the Comoran national airline, in contravention of international sanctions against South Africa. Furthermore, the GP provided for South African use of Comoran territory as a base for intelligence gathering in the Mozambique Channel and as a staging area for the shipment of arms to rightist rebels in Mozambique. The GP was widely understood to be funded by South Africa, at the rate of about US$3 million per year.

Comoros as Client State: The Economics of Abdallah

President Abdallah generally put his personal interests ahead of national interests in making economic policy. The result was the creation of a client state whose meager and unpredictable cash crop earnings were supplemented with increasing infusions of foreign aid.

Throughout the 1980s, export earnings from Comoros' four main cash crops--vanilla, ylang-ylang, cloves, and copra--experienced a wrenching sequence of booms and collapses because of weather and market factors, or else steadily dwindled. The regime's principal form of response was to apply the president's considerable diplomatic skills to developing an extensive network of governments and international organizations willing to extend loans and donate aid. The main suppliers were France, South Africa, the EC, the conservative Arab states, the World Bank and related organs, and regional financial institutions such as the Arab Bank for Economic Development in Africa and the African Development Bank. Some assistance went to projects of indisputable value, such as efforts to create independent news media and improve telephone communications with the outside world. Much of the aid, however, was questionable--for example, loans and grants to help the republic meet the payroll for its oversized civil service. Other more plausible projects, such as the protracted development of a seaport at the town of Mutsamudu, construction of paved ring roads linking each island's coastal settlements, and the building of power stations, nonetheless tended to be instances of placing the cart before the horse. That is, capital-intensive improvements to infrastructure had not been coordinated with local development projects; hence, little, if any, domestic commerce existed to benefit from road networks, electrical power, and world-class port facilities. The importation of huge quantities of building materials and construction equipment provided immediate benefits to importexport firms in the islands, of which Établissements Abdallah et Fils was the largest. In the meantime, the projects were of little immediate use to Comorans and were likely to go underused for years to come.

Throughout the Abdallah period, rice imports drained as much as 50 percent of Comoran export earnings. Projects to increase food self-sufficiency, as one observer noted, "fail[ed] to respond to the largesse" provided by international sponsors such as the European Development Fund and the International Fund for Agricultural Development. The president joined with vanilla growers in resisting international pressure to divert vanillaproducing land to the cultivation of corn and rice for domestic consumption. He also declined to heed World Bank advice to impose tariffs and domestic taxes on imported rice. Abdallah's importexport firm was heavily involved in vanilla exports, as well as in the importation of Far Eastern rice at three times its price at the source.

Abdallah's firm, whose co-owners included Denard and Kalfane and Company, a Pakistani concern, also profited from managing the importation of materials used by South African firms in developing tourist hotels. Little of the material used in building these resorts was of Comoran origin. Also, once completed, the resorts would be almost entirely owned and managed by non-Comorans. Although tourism, mainly by South Africans who were unwelcome in other African resorts, was widely considered the only promising new industry in Comoros, Abdallah guided its development so that resorts benefited few Comorans other than himself and his associates.

Under Abdallah's tutelage, the Comoran economy finished the 1980s much as it had started the decade--poor, underdeveloped, and dependent on export earnings from cash crops of unpredictable and generally declining value. The critical difference, with enormous implications for the republic's capacity to have some say in its own destiny, was its new status as a nation abjectly in debt. By 1988, the last full year of the Abdallah regime, 80 percent of annual public expenditures were funded by external aid.

The Demise of Abdallah, 1989

Only weeks before the violent end of the Abdallah regime in late 1989, one observer noted that "Comoros is still run like a village, with a handful of tough men in charge and supported by foreign aid." As Comorans prepared for a November 4, 1989, referendum on constitutional changes that would enable President Abdallah to run for a third term in 1990, human rights remained in precarious condition, and the only avenue of economic advancement for most islanders--the civil service--faced cutbacks at the urging of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF). Even those who would keep their government jobs, however, were not guaranteed economic security. As often occurred whenever export earnings slid, civil servants had not been paid since mid-summer.

The official result of the referendum was a 92.5 percent majority in favor of the amendments proposed by Abdallah, which now created "the conditions for a life presidency," warned one opposition leader. Balloting was marked by the now customary manipulation by the government. Opposition groups reported that polling places lacked private voting booths, government officials blocked the entry of opposition poll watchers, and the army and police removed ballot boxes before voting ended. Reaction to these abuses was unusually angry. In Njazidja voters smashed ballot boxes rather than have them carted away by the army; the governor's office was set on fire in Nzwani, and a bomb was found outside the home of the minister of finance in Moroni. More than 100 people were arrested following the election, and in subsequent weeks the international media described a deteriorating situation in the islands; the head of state claimed that France "authorizes terrorism in the Comoros," and leaders of the banned opposition in bold public statements questioned the legitimacy of the referendum.

President Abdallah was shot to death on the night of November 26-27, reportedly while asleep in his residence, the Beit el Salama (House of Peace). At first his death was seen as a logical outcome of the tense political situation following what was, in effect, his self-appointment as head of state for life. The recently dismissed head of the Comoran military was duly blamed for the murder.

Evidence emerged subsequently that Abdallah's assassination resulted from the late president's proposed actions with regard to the GP. In September 1989, Abdallah had engaged a French military consultant, who determined that the GP should be absorbed into the regular army. Following consultations among Abdallah, the French government, and South Africa's Ministry of Foreign Affairs, a decision was made to expel Denard and his fellow officers of the GP by the end of 1989. Denard and his second in command were seen walking with Abdallah only hours before he died. Although the mercenary initially blamed the assassination on the Comoran army, he later conceded that he was in Abdallah's office when the president was killed, but called the shooting "an accident due to the general state of mayhem" in the Beit al Salama.

Two days later, on November 29, the real reasons for the assassination emerged when Denard and the GP seized control of the government in a coup. Twenty-seven police officers were killed, hundreds of people were arrested, and all journalists were confined to their hotels. The mercenaries disarmed the regular army, ousted provisional president Haribon Chebani, who as chief of the Supreme Court had succeeded Abdallah, and installed Mohamed Said Djohar, who just three days earlier had become chief of the Supreme Court, as Comoros' third president in less than a week.

The immediate reaction of the republic's two main supporters, France and South Africa, was to isolate Denard. South Africa, admitting years of funding of the GP, cut off all aid. France began a military build-up on Mahoré and likewise suspended aid. On December 7, anti-Denard demonstrations by about 1,000 students and workers were violently broken up by the protests. By then the islands' school system had shut down, and the civil service had gone on strike. Faced with an untenable situation, Denard surrendered to French forces without a fight on December 15. Along with about two dozen comrades, he was flown to Pretoria and put under house arrest. The French government later announced that Denard would remain in detention in South Africa pending the outcome of a French judicial inquiry into Abdallah's death. In February 1993 he returned to France, where he was initially arrested, tried, and exonerated of involvement in the death of Abdallah.

Comoros - The Issue of Mahoré

One of the touchiest issues in the negotiations between Comoros and France over independence in the early 1970s had been whether the 1974 referendum would be considered for the Comoros archipelago as a whole or on an island-by-island basis. Opposition to independence on Mahoré was organized by the Mayotte Popular Movement (Mouvement Populaire Mahorais--MPM), an organization that had been founded in the 1960s by Zeina M'Dere, a spokeswoman for Mahoré shopkeepers, mostly women, who had been affected economically when the colonial capital was moved from the Mahoré town of Dzaoudzi to Moroni on Njazidja in 1962.

The reasons behind Mahoré's 65 percent vote against independence were several. First, the people of Mahoré considered themselves culturally, religiously, and linguistically distinct from those of the other three islands; they felt that their long association with France (since 1841) had given their island a distinct Creole character like that of Reunion or Seychelles. Second, given Mahoré's smaller population, greater natural resources, and higher standard of living, the Mahorais thought that their island would be economically viable within a French union and ought not to be brought down to the level of the other three poorer islands. Third, most Mahorais apparently felt that Mahoré's future within a Comoran state would not be a comfortable one, given a perception of neglect that had begun with the much resented transfer of the capital.

In France and among conservatives on Reunion, the 1974 vote on Mahoré in favor of continued association with France was greeted with great enthusiasm. Comoran leaders, in contrast, accused the MPM and its leader, Marcel Henri, of fabricating the illusion of Mahorais "uniqueness" to preserve the power of Mahoré's non-Muslim, Creole elite. The issue poisoned Comoran relations with France, particularly because the Indian Ocean lobby, whose leaders included Reunion's deputy to the French National Assembly, Michel Debré, pushed for a "Mayotte française" (French Mayotte). Apparently leaning toward the interpretation that the December 1974 referendum was an island-by-island plebiscite, the French legislature voted in June 1975 to postpone independence for six months and hold a second referendum. The Abdallah government responded by declaring independence unilaterally on July 6, 1975, for all Comoro Islands, including Mahoré. France reacted by cutting off financial aid, which provided 41 percent of the national budget. Fearing a Comoran attempt to assert control of Mahoré forcibly, France sent members of the Foreign Legion from Reunion and a fleet of three vessels to patrol the waters around the island on July 6-7. On November 12, 1975, the UN General Assembly passed a resolution giving Comoros UN membership and recognized its claims to Mahoré, which France opposed.

French policy toward Mahoré had been, in the words of one observer, "to cultivate a more or less honest majority for reunification among the uncooperative Mahorais," particularly after the forthrightly anti-French regime of Ali Soilih ended in 1978. By contrast, the Mahorais' objective appeared to be full departmental status such as that of Reunion, where residents enjoyed full rights as French citizens. In a 1976 referendum, the Mahorais expressed dissatisfaction with their status as an overseas territory. France then created a new classification for Mahoré--territorial community (collectivité territoriale)--under which Mahoré was administered by a prefect appointed by the French government. Local government consisted of a popularly elected seventeen-member General Council. The island was entitled to send elected representatives to Paris, one each to the National Assembly and the Senate. The French franc served as the currency of the island. This status still applied in 1993.

After it appeared that Mahoré would not be tempted by the federalist design of Ahmed Abdallah's 1978 constitution to join the Republic of the Comoros, the National Assembly in Paris decided in 1979 to prolong the existence of the collectivité territoriale until a 1984 plebiscite, resolving meanwhile to study the situation and consult with the islanders. In late 1984, with an overwhelming vote to remain associated with France in the offing, the French government postponed the plebiscite indefinitely. By late 1993, it had still not been held, the Mahorais apparently still eager to remain part of France and as disinclined as ever to reunite with the three troubled islands to their immediate west.

Although many politically conservative French relished the Mahorais' popular vow that nous resterons français pour rester libre ("we will remain French to remain free"), the Mahoré situation caused some discomfort for France internationally. Every year, resolutions calling on France to relinquish Mahoré to Comoros passed with near unanimity in the UN, and the OAU likewise issued annual condemnations. Although Comoran official distaste for the situation became more muted in the 1980s and 1990s, the Comoran government continued to draw French attention to the issue. In May 1990, newly elected president Said Mohamed Djohar called for peaceful dialogue and French review of Mahoré's status. But feeling obligated not to change the Mahorais' status against their will, the French could do little. Anti-Comoran riots and demonstrations, and the formation of an anti-immigrant paramilitary group on Mahoré in response to the presence of illegal Comoran immigrants, were also sources of embarrassment to France.

The economy of Mahoré in some ways resembles that of Comoros. Rice, cassava, and corn are cultivated for domestic consumption; ylang-ylang and vanilla are the primary exports. The main imports, whose value far outstripped that of exports, are foodstuffs, machinery and appliances, transport equipment, and metals. Construction, primarily of French-funded public works, is the only industrial activity.

A five-year development plan (1986-91) focused on large-scale public projects, principally construction of a deepwater port at Longoni and an airport at the capital, Dzaoudzi. The plan and its two main projects were later extended through 1993. Despite Mahoré's great natural beauty, tourism was inhibited by a dearth of hotel rooms and the island's isolated location.

Under French administration, Mahoré had generally enjoyed domestic peace and stability, although tensions appeared to be rising by the early 1990s. In the summer of 1991, the relocation of people from their homes to allow the expansion of the airport met with vociferous protests, mostly by young people. The protests soon grew into violent demonstrations against the local government's administration of the island. Paramilitary attacks on Comoran immigrants occurred in June 1992, and a February 1993 general strike for higher wages ended in rioting. Security forces from Reunion and France were called in to restore order.

Comoros - PHYSICAL ENVIRONMENT

The Comoros archipelago consists of four main islands aligned along a northwest-southeast axis at the north end of the Mozambique Channel, between Mozambique and the island of Madagascar. Still widely known by their French names, the islands officially have been called by their Swahili names by the Comoran government. They are Njazidja (Grande Comore), Mwali (Mohéli), Nzwani (Anjouan), and Mahoré (Mayotte). The islands' distance from each other--Njazidja is some 200 kilometers from Mahoré, forty kilometers from Mwali, and eighty kilometers from Nzwani--along with a lack of good harbor facilities, make transportation and communication difficult. The islands have a total land area of 2,236 square kilometers (including Mahoré), and claim territorial waters of 320 kilometers.

Njazidja is the largest island, sixty-seven kilometers long and twenty-seven kilometers wide, with a total area of 1,146 square kilometers. The most recently formed of the four islands in the archipelago, it is also of volcanic origin. Two volcanoes form the island's most prominent topographic features: La Grille in the north, with an elevation of 1,000 meters, is extinct and largely eroded; Kartala in the south, rising to a height of 2,361 meters, last erupted in 1977. A plateau averaging 600 to 700 meters high connects the two mountains. Because Njazidja is geologically a relatively new island, its soil is thin and rocky and cannot hold water. As a result, water from the island's heavy rainfall must be stored in catchment tanks. There are no coral reefs along the coast, and the island lacks a good harbor for ships. One of the largest remnants of Comoros' once-extensive rain forests is on the slopes of Kartala. The national capital has been at Moroni since 1962.

Nzwani, triangular shaped and forty kilometers from apex to base, has an area of 424 square kilometers. Three mountain chains--Sima, Nioumakele, and Jimilime--emanate from a central peak, Mtingui (1,575 meters), giving the island its distinctive shape. Older than Njazidja, Nzwani has deeper soil cover, but overcultivation has caused serious erosion. A coral reef lies close to shore; the island's capital of Mutsamudu is also its main port.

Mwali is thirty kilometers long and twelve kilometers wide, with an area of 290 square kilometers. It is the smallest of the four islands and has a central mountain chain reaching 860 meters at its highest. Like Njazidja, it retains stands of rain forest. Mwali's capital is Fomboni.

Mahoré, geologically the oldest of the four islands, is thirty-nine kilometers long and twenty-two kilometers wide, totaling 375 square kilometers, and its highest points are between 500 and 600 meters above sea level. Because of greater weathering of the volcanic rock, the soil is relatively rich in some areas. A well-developed coral reef that encircles much of the island ensures protection for ships and a habitat for fish. Dzaoudzi, capital of Comoros until 1962 and now Mahoré's administrative center, is situated on a rocky outcropping off the east shore of the main island. Dzaoudzi is linked by a causeway to le Pamanzi, which at ten kilometers in area is the largest of several islets adjacent to Mahoré. Islets are also scattered in the coastal waters of Njazidja, Nzwani, and Mwali.

Comoran waters are the habitat of the coelacanth, a rare fish with limblike fins and a cartilaginous skeleton, the fossil remains of which date as far back as 400 million years and which was once thought to have become extinct about 70 million years ago. A live specimen was caught in 1938 off southern Africa; other coelacanths have since been found in the vicinity of the Comoro Islands.

Several mammals are unique to the islands themselves. The macao, a lemur found only on Mahoré, is protected by French law and by local tradition. Another, Livingstone's fruit bat, although plentiful when discovered by explorer David Livingstone in 1863, has been reduced to a population of about 120, entirely on Nzwani. The world's largest bat, the jet-black Livingstone fruit bat has a wingspan of nearly two meters. A British preservation group sent an expedition to Comoros in 1992 to bring some of the bats to Britain to establish a breeding population. Humboldt's flycatcher is perhaps the best known of the birds native to Comoros. .

Partly in response to international pressures, Comorans in the 1990s have become more concerned about the environment. Steps are being taken not only to preserve the rare fauna, but also to counteract degradation of the environment, especially on densely populated Nzwani. Specifically, to minimize the cutting down of trees for fuel, kerosene is being subsidized, and efforts are being made to replace the loss of the forest cover caused by ylang-ylang distillation for perfume. The Community Development Support Fund, sponsored by the International Development Association (IDA) and the Comoran government, is working to improve water supply on the islands as well.

The climate is marine tropical, with two seasons: hot and humid from November to April, the result of the northeastern monsoon, and a cooler, drier season the rest of the year. Average monthly temperatures range from 23° C to 28° C along the coasts. Although the average annual precipitation is 2,000 millimeters, water is a scarce commodity in many parts of Comoros. Mwali and Mahoré possess streams and other natural sources of water, but Njazidja and Nzwani, whose mountainous landscapes retain water poorly, are almost devoid of naturally occurring running water. Cyclones, occurring during the hot and wet season, can cause extensive damage, especially in coastal areas. On the average, at least twice each decade houses, farms, and harbor facilities are devastated by these great storms.

Comoros - SOCIETY AND CULTURE

Comoran society and culture reflect the influences of Islam and the traditions of East Africa. The former provides the basis for religion and law; the East African influence is evident in the language, a Swahili dialect, and in a number of pre-Islamic customs. Western, primarily French, influences are also prevalent, particularly in the modern educational sector, the civil service, and cultural affairs.

Comoros - Population

The most recent official census by the Comoran government, conducted in 1991, put the islands' population, exclusive of Mahoré, at 446,817. Official counts put the population of Mahoré at 67,167 in 1985 and 94,410 in 1991--a 40 percent increase in just six years.

Average population density in Comoros was 183 persons per square kilometer in 1980. This figure concealed a great disparity between the republic's most crowded island, Nzwani, which had a density of 470 persons per square kilometer in 1991; Njazidja, which had a density of 250 persons per square kilometer in 1991; and Mwali, where the 1991 population density figure was 120 persons per square kilometer. Overall population density increased to about 285 persons per square kilometer by 1994. Mahoré's population density went from 179 persons per square kilometer in 1985 to 251 per square kilometer in 1991.

By comparison, estimates of the population density per square kilometer of the Indian Ocean's other island microstates ranged from 241 (Seychelles) to 690 (Maldives) in 1993. Given the rugged terrain of Njazidja and Nzwani, and the dedication of extensive tracts to agriculture on all three islands, population pressures on Comoros are becoming increasingly critical. A similar situation obtains on Mahoré.

The age structure of the population of Comoros is similar to that of many developing countries, in that the republic has a very large proportion of young people. In 1989, 46.4 percent of the population was under fifteen years of age, an above-average proportion even for sub-Saharan Africa. The population's rate of growth was a relatively high 3.5 percent per annum in the mid1980s , up substantially from 2.0 percent in the mid-1970s and 2.1 percent in the mid-1960s.

In 1983 the Abdallah regime borrowed US$2.85 million from the IDA to devise a national family planning program. However, Islamic reservations about contraception made forthright advocacy and implementation of birth control programs politically hazardous, and consequently little was done in the way of public policy.

The Comoran population has become increasingly urbanized in recent years. In 1991 the percentage of Comorans residing in cities and towns of more than 5,000 persons was about 30 percent, up from 25 percent in 1985 and 23 percent in 1980. Comoros' largest cities were the capital, Moroni, with about 30,000 people, and the port city of Mutsamudu, on the island of Nzwani, with about 20,000 people. Mahoré's capital, Dzaoudzi, had a population of 5,865 according to the 1985 census; the island's largest town, Mamoudzou, had 12,026 people.

Migration among the various islands is relatively small. Natives of Njazidja often settle in less crowded Mwali, and before independence people from Nzwani commonly moved to Mahoré. In 1977 Mahoré expelled peasants from Njazidja and Nzwani who had recently settled in large numbers on the island. Some were allowed to reenter starting in 1981 but solely as migrant labor.

The number of Comorans living abroad has been estimated at between 80,000 and 100,000; most of them lived in Tanzania, Madagascar, and other parts of East Africa. The number of Comorans residing in Madagascar was drastically reduced after anti-Comoran rioting in December 1976 in Mahajanga, in which at least 1,400 Comorans were killed. As many as 17,000 Comorans left Madagascar to seek refuge in their native land in 1977 alone. About 40,000 Comorans live in France; many of them had gone there for a university education and never returned. Small numbers of Indians, Malagasy, South Africans, and Europeans live on the islands and play an important role in the economy.



Updated population figures for Comoros.

Comoros - Society

The Comoran people are a blend of African, Arab, and MalayoIndonesian elements. A few small communities, primarily in Mahoré, speak kibushi, a Malagasy dialect. The principal Comoran Swahili dialect, written in Arabic script, is related to the Swahili spoken in East Africa but is not easily intelligible to East African Swahili speakers. Classical Arabic is significant for religious reasons, and French remains the principal language with which the Republic of the Comoros communicates with the rest of the world.

A number of ethnically distinguishable groups are found: the Arabs, descendants of Shirazi settlers, who arrived in significant numbers in the fifteenth century; the Cafres, an African group that settled on the islands before the coming of the Shirazi; a second African group, the Makoa, descendants of slaves brought by the Arabs from the East African coast; and three groups of Malayo-Indonesian peoples--the Oimatsaha, the Antalotes, and the Sakalava, the latter having settled largely on Mahoré. Intermarriage has tended to blur the distinctions among these groups, however. Creoles, descendants of French settlers who intermarried with the indigenous peoples, form a tiny but politically influential group on Mahoré, numbering no more than about 100 on that island. They are predominantly Roman Catholic and mainly cultivate small plantations. In addition, a small group of people descended in part from the Portuguese sailors who landed on the Comoro Islands at the beginning of the sixteenth century are reportedly living around the town of Tsangadjou on the east coast of Njazidja.

Shirazi Arab royal clans dominated the islands socially, culturally, and politically from the fifteenth century until the French occupation. Eleven such clans lived on Njazidja, where their power was strongest, and their leaders, the sultans or sharifs, who claimed to be descendants of the Prophet Muhammad, were in a continual state of war until the French occupation. Two similar clans were located on Nzwani, and these clans maintained vassals on Mahoré and Mwali after the Sakalava wiped out the local nobles in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries . Although the clan system was weakened by the economic and social dislocations of the colonial era, the descendants of clan nobles continue to form a major portion of the educated and propertied classes. The pre-independence rivalry of Said Mohamed Cheikh and Prince Said Ibrahim, leaders, respectively, of the conservative Parti Vert and the Parti Blanc, was interpreted by some as a revival of old clan antagonisms. Yet many descendants of nobles live in poverty and apparently have less influence socially and politically on Nzwani than on Njazidja.

The present-day elite, although composed in part of those of noble ancestry who took advantage of the opportunities of the cash crop economy established by the French, is mainly defined in terms of wealth rather than caste or descent. This focus on wealth is not unusual, considering that the original Shirazi settlers themselves were traders and that the precolonial sultans were actively involved in commerce. Conspicuous consumption continues to mark the lifestyle of the elite.

Especially well regarded are those individuals who hold the grand mariage, often after a lifetime of scrimping and saving. This wedding ceremony, which can cost as much as the equivalent of US$20,000 to US$30,000, involves an exchange of expensive gifts between the couple's families and feasts for an entire village. Although the gift giving and dancing that accompany the grand mariage have helped perpetuate indigenous arts in silversmithing, goldsmithing, folk song, and folk dance, the waste involved has disastrous consequences for an economy already short on domestic resources. A ban or curb on the grand mariage was on the agenda of many reformers in the period preceding the radical regime of Ali Soilih, who himself had taken the almost unheard-of step of declining to participate in the ritual. However, the efforts of the Soilih government to restrict the custom aroused great resentment, and it was restored to its preeminent place in Comoran society almost immediately after Soilih was deposed in 1978. Although its expense limits the number of families that can provide their sons and daughters a grand mariage, the ritual is still used as a means of distinguishing Comoran society's future leaders. Only by participating in the ceremony is a Comoran man entitled to participate in his village's assembly of notables and to wear the mharuma, a sash that entitles him to enter the mosque by a special door. Few, if any, candidates win election to the National Assembly without a grand mariage in their pasts. For these reasons in particular, critics of traditional Comoran society condemn the grand mariage as a means of excluding people of modest resources from participating in the islands' political life.

Those who can afford the pilgrimage to Mecca are also accorded prestige. The imams who lead prayers in mosques form a distinct elite group.

Despite the weakening of the position of the Shirazi elite, one observer reports that in many subtle ways old distinctions persist. The descendants of slaves, formally emancipated in 1904, are mostly sharecroppers or squatters, working the land that belonged to their ancestors' former owners, although some have gone abroad as migrant laborers (a greatly restricted option since Madagascar's expulsion of thousands of Comorans in the late 1970s). Men of "freeborn" families choose "freeborn" wives, holding, if possible, a grand mariage; but if they take second wives, these women often are of slave ancestry.

Comoros - Status of Women

Among men who can afford it, the preferred form of marriage appears to be polygyny with matrilocal residence. Although possible, the first marriage is formally initiated with the grand mariage when possible, subsequent unions involve much simpler ceremonies. The result is that a man will establish two or even more households and will alternate residence between them, a reflection, most likely, of the trading origins of the Shirazi elite who maintained wives at different trading posts. Said Mohamed Djohar, elected president in 1990, had two wives, one in Njazidja and the other in Nzwani, an arrangement said to have broadened his appeal to voters. For men, divorce is easy, although by custom a divorced wife retains the family home.

Islamic law recognizes only male ownership and inheritance of land. In Comoros, however, certain landholdings called magnahouli are controlled by women and inherited through the female line, apparently in observance of a surviving matriarchal African tradition.

Despite their lower economic status, women married to farmers or laborers often move about more freely than their counterparts among the social elite, managing market stands or working in the fields. On Mwali, where traditional Islamic values are less dominant, women generally are not as strictly secluded. Women constituted 40.4 percent of the work force in 1990, a figure slightly above average for sub-Saharan Africa.

Girls are somewhat less likely than boys to attend school in Comoros. The World Bank estimated in 1993 that 67 percent of girls were enrolled in primary schools, whereas 82 percent of boys were enrolled. In secondary school, 15 percent of eligible Comoran girls were in attendance, in comparison with about 19 percent of eligible boys.

Although the 1992 constitution recognizes their right to suffrage, as did the 1978 constitution, women otherwise play a limited role in politics in Comoros. By contrast, in Mahoré female merchants sparked the movement for continued association with France, and later, for continued separation from the Republic of the Comoros.

Comoros accepted international aid for family planning in 1983, but it was considered politically inexpedient to put any plans into effect. According to a 1993 estimate, there were 6.8 births per woman in Comoros. By contrast, the figure was 6.4 births per woman for the rest of sub-Saharan Africa.

In one of Comoran society's first acknowledgments of women as a discrete interest group, the Abdallah government organized a seminar, "Women, Family, and Development," in 1986. Despite participants' hopes that programs for family planning and female literacy would be announced, conference organizers stressed the role of women in agriculture and family life. Women fared slightly better under the Djohar regime. In February 1990, while still interim president, Djohar created a cabinet-level Ministry of Social and Women's Affairs, and appointed a woman, Ahlonkoba Aithnard, to head it. She lasted until a few weeks after Djohar's election to the presidency in March, when her ministry was reorganized out of existence, along with several others. Another female official, Situ Mohamed, was named to head the second-tier Ministry of Population and Women's Affairs, in August 1991. She lost her position--and the subministry was eliminated--hardly a week later, in one of President Djohar's routine ministerial reshufflings. Djohar made another nod to women in February 1992, when he invited representatives of an interest group, the Women's Federation, to take part in discussions on what would become the constitution of 1992. Women only apparently organized and participated in a large demonstration critical of French support of the Djohar regime in October 1992, following government suppression of a coup attempt.

Comoros - Religion and Education

Islam and its institutions help to integrate Comoran society and provide an identification with a world beyond the islands' shores. As Sunni Muslims, the people follow religious observances conscientiously and strictly adhere to religious orthodoxy. During the period of colonization, the French did not attempt to supplant Islamic customs and practices and were careful to respect the precedents of Islamic law as interpreted by the Shafii school (one of the four major legal schools in Sunni Islam, named after Muhammad ibn Idris ash Shafii, it stresses reasoning by analogy). Hundreds of mosques dot the islands.

Practically all children attend Quranic school for two or three years, starting around age five; there they learn the rudiments of the Islamic faith and some classical Arabic. When rural children attend these schools, they sometimes move away from home and help the teacher work his land.

France established a system of primary and secondary schools based on the French model, which remains largely in place. Comoran law requires all children to complete eight years of schooling between the ages of seven and fifteen. The system provides six years of primary education for students ages six to twelve, followed by seven years of secondary school. In recent years, enrollment has expanded greatly, particularly at the primary level. About 20,750 pupils, or roughly 75 percent of primary-school-age children were enrolled in 1993, up from about 46 percent in the late 1970s. About 17 percent of the secondaryschool -age population was enrolled, up from an estimated 7 percent fifteen to twenty years earlier. Teacher-student ratios also improved, from 47:1 to 36:1 in the primary schools and from 26:1 to 25:1 in secondary schools. The increased attendance was all the more significant given the population's high percentage of school-age children. Improvement in educational facilities was funded in 1993 by loans from the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) and the African Development Bank. Despite the spread of education, adult literacy in 1993 has been estimated at no better than 50 percent.

Comoros has no university but post-secondary education, which in 1993 involved 400 students, is available in the form of teacher training, agricultural education training, health sciences, and business. Those desiring higher education must study abroad; a "brain drain" has resulted because few university graduates are willing to return to the islands. Teacher training and other specialized courses are available at the M'Vouni School for Higher Education, in operation since 1981 at a site near Moroni. Few Comoran teachers study overseas, but the republic often cannot give its teachers all the training they need. Some international aid has been provided, however, to further teacher training in the islands themselves. For example, in 1987 the IDA extended credits worth US$7.9 million to train 3,000 primary and 350 secondary school teachers. In 1986 the government began opening technology training centers offering a three-year diploma program at the upper secondary level. The Ministry of National Education and Professional Training is responsible for education policy.

As elsewhere in Comoran society, political instability has taken a toll on the education system. Routinely announced reductions in force among the civil service, often made in response to international pressure for fiscal reform, sometimes result in teacher strikes. When civil service cutbacks result in canceled classes or examinations, students have at times taken to the streets in protest. Students have also protested, even violently, against government underfunding or general mismanagement of the schools--the World Bank stated in 1994 that the quality of education resulted in high rates of repetition and dropouts such that the average student needed fourteen years to complete the six-year primary cycle.

Comoros - Public Health

After independence in 1975, the French withdrew their medical teams, leaving the three islands' already rudimentary health care system in a state of severe crisis. French assistance was eventually resumed, and other nations also contributed medical assistance to the young republic. Despite improvements in life expectancy and the infant mortality rate, Comoros in 1993 continued to face public health problems characteristic of developing countries.

Life expectancy at birth was estimated at fifty-six years in 1990, up from fifty-one years in 1980. The crude birthrate was forty-eight per 1,000 and the crude death rate, twelve per 1,000 according to 1989 statistics. All three of these figures were close to the averages for sub-Saharan Africa. The rate of infant mortality per 1,000 live births was eighty-nine in 1991, down from 113 in 1980. The 1990 average rate for sub-Saharan Africa was 107.

Malaria was ubiquitous in the islands, with 80 to 90 percent of the population said to be affected by the disease. Other prevalent maladies included tuberculosis, leprosy, and parasitic diseases. In 1989 about half of all children one year old or younger had been immunized against tuberculosis, diphtheria, pertussis, tetanus, polio, and measles, a proportion roughly comparable to the rate of immunization among other states in subSaharan Africa. Per capita daily caloric intake in 1988 was 2,046, about average for sub-Saharan Africa but only a little better than 90 percent of daily requirements. Children were most often the victims of malnutrition. Their generally poor diets were deficient in protein in part because local custom discouraged the feeding of fish to children. The scarcity of safe drinking water--available to about one in three Comorans--made intestinal parasites a problem and compounded malnutrition, with children again being the main victims.

The World Bank estimated that in 1993 Comoros had one physician per 6,582 Comorans, a marked improvement over the ratio of one to 13,810 reported in 1983. Comparable data for subSaharan Africa as a whole were not available; however, it appeared that Comorans enjoyed a more favorable ratio than many of their neighbors in East Africa and the Indian Ocean.

Despite improvements in life expectancy, infant mortality, and the number of physicians, the overall quality of care remained poor. About 80 percent of the population lives within one hour's walk of a health facility, usually headed by a trained nurse, but paramedical staff are in short supply and many health facilities are in poor condition. Some international medical aid has been provided, mostly by France and the World Health Organization (WHO).

Although Comoros lacks homegrown narcotics, the islands are used as a transit site for drugs coming mainly from Madagascar. In view of international concern about drug trafficking, in 1993 France began providing technical expertise in this field to Comoros. In addition, the World Bank in a 1994 report pointed out the "high prevalence of sexually transmitted diseases and the low use of condoms" as a significant health threat with regard to the spread of acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS), which already affected the islands. However, in the period prior to 1990 and extending through 1992, the WHO reported that Comoros had a very low incidence of AIDS--a total of three cases with no case reported in 1992, or an overall case rate of 0.1 per 100,000 population.

Comoros - Media

As recently as the early 1980s Comoros had no national media. State-run Radio Comoros, transmitting from Njazidja, was not strong enough to send clear signals to the republic's other two islands. In 1984 France agreed to provide Radio Comoros with funding for an FM (frequency modulation) transmitter strong enough to broadcast to all three islands, and in 1985 made a commitment to fund a national newspaper after a United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) study revealed that Comoros was the only UN member lacking print and electronic media. A state-owned newspaper, Al Watwany, began operations in July 1985, first as a monthly and soon afterward as a weekly. An independent weekly, L'Archipel, began publishing in 1988. A news agency, Agence Comores Presse, is now based in Moroni, and France has provided funds for establishing a national television service. In 1989 Comoros had an estimated 61,000 radios and 200 television sets.

In addition to national broadcasts on FM in Comoran Swahili and French, Radio Comoros in 1993 broadcast internationally on the shortwave band in Swahili, Arabic, and French. An independent commercial FM radio station, Radio Tropique FM, began broadcasting in 1991, although it and its director, political activist Ali Bakar Cassim, have both been the object of government ire over the station's readiness to criticize the Djohar regime.

During the independent media's brief career, its representatives occasionally have been rounded up along with other critics of the government during the republic's recurrent bouts of political crisis. However, outlets such as Radio Tropique FM and L'Archipel, which is noted for its satirical column, "Winking Eye," continue to provide independent political commentary.

Comoros - ECONOMY

During the colonial period, the French and local leading citizens established plantations to grow cash crops for export. Even after independence, French companies, such as Société Bambao and Établissements Grimaldi--and other concerns, such as Kalfane and Company and later, President Abdallah's Établissements Abdallah et Fils--dominated the Comoran economy. These firms diverted most of their profits overseas, investing little in the infrastructure of the islands beyond what was needed for profitable management of the plantations, or what could benefit these businesses' associates or related concerns. A serious consequence of this approach has been the languishing of the food-crop agricultural sector and the resultant dependence on overseas food imports, particularly rice. In 1993 Comoros remained hostage to fluctuating prices on the international market for such crops as vanilla, ylang-ylang, and cloves.

Comoros is one of the world's poorest countries; its per capita gross national product (GNP) was estimated at US$400 in 1994, following the January devaluation of the Comoran franc. Although GNP increased in real terms at an average annual rate of 3.1 percent during the 1980s, rapid population growth effaced these gains and caused an average annual decrease in per capita GNP of 0.6 percent. Gross domestic product (GDP) grew in real terms by 4.2 percent per year from 1980 to 1985, 1.8 percent from 1985 to 1988, and 1.5 percent in 1990. In 1991, because of its balance of payments difficulties, Comoros became eligible for the IDA's Special Program of Assistance for debt-distressed countries of sub-Saharan Africa.

The economy is based on private ownership, frequently by foreign investors. Nationalization, even during the Soilih years, has been limited. Soilih did expropriate the facilities of a foreign oil company, but only after the government of Madagascar took over the company's plants in that country. The Abdallah government, despite its openness to foreign participation in the economy, nationalized the Société Bambao and another Frenchcapitalized firm, the Comoran Meat Company (Société Comorienne des Viandes--Socovia), which specialized in sales of meat and other foods in the islands. The nationalization was short-lived, however, because Socovia and other government-held enterprises were either liquidated or privatized as part of economic restructuring efforts in 1992.

Following the Abdallah regime's rapprochement with France in 1978, the Comoran economy became increasingly dependent on infusions of French aid, along with assistance from other governments and international organizations. By 1990, the year Comoros concluded negotiations with the IMF for an economic restructuring program, the republic's total external public debt was US$162.4 million, an amount equal to about three-quarters of GNP. The government delayed implementing the structural adjustment plan and was directed by the World Bank and the IMF to do so by September 1992. The plan recommendations entailed discharging about 2,800 of 9,000 civil servants, among other unpopular measures. The IMF granted Comoros a new credit for US$1.9 million in March 1994 under the Structural Adjustment Facility. For the period 1994-96, Comoros sought an economic growth rate of 4 percent as well as an inflation rate of 4 percent for 1995-96. The growth rate for 1994, however, was estimated only at 0.7 percent and the inflation rate at 15 percent. Meanwhile, in a move designed to encourage private enterprise and reduce unemployment, in May 1993 the UN Development Programme had given Comoros a credit of US$2 million for programs in these areas. In January 1994, the European Development Fund (EDF) granted 1.3 million European Currency Units (ECUs) to Comoros to develop small businesses. Comoros also received 5.7 million French francs from the French Aid and Cooperation Fund for agriculture and rural development.

The results of foreign aid to Comoros have been mixed at best. The purposes of the aid ranged from helping the government cover its payroll for such huge, seemingly endless projects as expanding the seaport at Moroni and developing a new port at Mutsamuda on Nzwani. Neither project had shown much promise by early 1994. Meanwhile, the islands have been unable to develop local resources or create the infrastructure needed for economic development. The few successes included the creation of national news media and limited improvements in public health, education, and telecommunications. Developmental assistance from the United States, which totaled US$700,000 in fiscal year (FY) 1991, was administered by CARE, the nongovernmental organization, and focused primarily on reforestation, soil conservation, and sustainable agriculture.

The overall effect of the republic's dependence on aid has been perennial trade deficits accompanied by chronic budget deficits. In 1992 total exports had a value of US$21 million, and total imports were valued at US$50 million. In 1991 receipts totaled about US$34.7 million (CF9.7 trillion; CF--Comoran franc) whereas expenditures totaled about US$93.8 million (CF26.2 trillion). The shortfall, which equaled about 170 percent of receipts, was financed by international grants and loans, by draws upon existing lines of credit, and by debt rescheduling.

In 1991 France received 55 percent of Comoran exports, followed by the United States (19 percent) and Germany (16 percent). The main export products were vanilla, ylang-ylang, and cloves. The republic's primary suppliers were France (56 percent of imports), the Belgium-Luxembourg economic union (11 percent), and Japan (5 percent). Imports consisted of basic foodstuffs (rice and meat), petroleum, and construction materials.

Comoros has officially participated in the African Franc Zone (Communauté Financière Africaine-- CFA) since 1979. The CFA franc was devalued by 50 percent on January 12, 1994, causing the exchange rate to become 100 CFA francs for one French franc. Subsequently, the Comoran franc was devalued so that instead of being directly aligned with the CFA franc, seventyfive Comoran francs equaled one French franc.

The banking system consists of the Central Bank of Comoros (Banque Centrale des Comores) established in 1981; the Bank for Industry and Commerce (Banque pour l'Industrie et le Commerce-- BIC), a commercial bank established in 1990 that had six branches in 1993 and was a subsidiary of the National Bank of Paris-- International (Banque Nationale de Paris--Internationale); BIC Afribank, a BIC subsidiary; and the Development Bank of Comoros (Banque de Développement des Comores), established in 1982, which provided support for small and midsize development projects. Most of the shares in the Development Bank of Comoros were held by the Comoran government and the central bank; the rest were held by the European Investment Bank and the Central Bank for Economic Cooperation (Caisse Centrale de Coopération Économique--CCCE), a development agency of the French government. All of these banks had headquarters in Moroni.

A national labor organization, the Union of Comoran Workers (Union des Travailleurs des Comores), also had headquarters in Moroni. Strikes and worker demonstrations often occurred in response to political crises, economic restructuring mandated by international financial organizations, and the failure of the government--occasionally for months at a time--to pay civil servants.

Comoros - Agriculture, Livestock, and Fishing

Agriculture supported about 80 percent of the population and supplied about 95 percent of exports in the early 1990s. Two agricultural zones are generally defined: the coastal area, which ranges in elevation from sea level to 400 meters and which supports cash crops such as vanilla, ylang-ylang, and cloves; and the highlands, which support cultivation of crops for domestic consumption, such as cassava, bananas, rain rice, and sweet potatoes. As the population increased, food grown for domestic use met fewer and fewer of Comorans' needs. Data collected by the World Bank showed that food production per capita fell about 12 percent from 1980 to 1987. The republic imported virtually all its meat and vegetables; rice imports alone often accounted for up to 30 percent of the value of all imports.

Comoros is the world's principal producer of ylang-ylang essence, an essence derived from the flowers of a tree originally brought from Indonesia that is used in manufacturing perfumes and soaps. Ylang-ylang essence is a major component of Chanel No. 5, the popular scent for women. The republic is the world's second largest producer of vanilla, after Madagascar. Cloves are also an important cash crop. A total of 237 tons of vanilla was exported in 1991, at a price of about CF19 per kilogram. A total of 2,750 tons of cloves was exported in 1991, at a price of CF397 per kilogram. That year forty-three tons of ylang-ylang essence were exported at a price of about CF23,000 per kilogram. The production of all three commodities fluctuates wildly, mainly in response to changes in global demand and natural disasters such as cyclones. Profits--and therefore, government receipts-- likewise skyrocket and plummet, wreaking havoc with government efforts to predict revenues and plan expenditures. Stabex (Stabilization of Export Earnings), a system of the EC, provides aid to Comoros and other developing countries to mitigate the effects of fluctuations in the prices of export commodities.

Long-term prospects for the growth and stabilization of the markets for vanilla and ylang-ylang did not appear strong in the early 1990s. Vanilla faced increased competition from synthetic flavorings, and the preferences of perfume users were moving away from the sweet fragrance provided by ylang-ylang essence. Copra, the dried coconut meat that yields coconut oil, once an important Comoran export, had ceased to be a significant factor in the economy by the late 1980s, when the world's tastes shifted from high-fat coconut oil toward "leaner" substances such as palm oil. Although clove production and revenues also experienced swings, in the early 1990s cloves did not appear to face the same sorts of challenges confronting vanilla and ylang-ylang. Most Comoran vanilla is grown on Njazidja; Nzwani is the source of most ylangylang .

Numerous international programs have attempted to reduce the country's dependence on food imports, particularly of rice, a major drain on export earnings. Organizations initiating these rural development programs have included the EDF, the IFAD, the World Food Program, the Arab Bank for Economic Development in Africa, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization, and the governments of France and the United States. Despite these international efforts, which numbered as many as seventeen in 1984, food production per capita actually declined in Comoros during the 1980s. The major clove and vanilla growers, whose plantations occupy the islands' fertile coastal lands, generally resisted these restructuring efforts, as did rice-importing firms, including the country's largest, Établissements Abdallah et Fils.

Crowded onto the mountain slopes by the cash crop plantations, food-crop farmers have caused deforestation and the erosion of the highlands' thin, fragile soil. In response, aid providers have dedicated an increasing amount of agricultural assistance to reforestation, soil restoration, and environmentally sensitive means of cultivation. For example, all United States agricultural aid in 1991 (US$700,000) was directed to such projects, as was a US$4 million loan from the IFAD to help initiate a small producers' support program on Nzwani.

The livestock sector is small--some 47,000 cattle, 120,000 goats, 13,000 sheep, and 4,000 asses in 1990. Comoros continues to import most domestically consumed meat.

Since the latter part of the 1980s, Comoros has made headway in developing fisheries as a source of export earnings. In 1988 the government concluded a three-year agreement with the EC by which forty French and Spanish vessels would be permitted to fish in Comoran waters, primarily for tuna. In return, Comoros would receive ECU300,000, and ECU50,000 would be invested in fisheries research. In addition, fishing vessel operators would pay ECU20 per ton of tuna netted. Although the deep waters outside the islands' reefs do not abound in fish, it has been estimated that up to 30,000 tons of fish could be taken per year from Comoran waters (which extend 320 kilometers offshore). The total catch in 1990 was 5,500 tons. Japan has also provided aid to the fishing industry. Fisheries development is overseen by a state agency, the Development Company for Small-Scale Fisheries of Comoros (Société de Développement de la Pêche Artisanale des Comores).

Comoros - Industry and Infrastructure

Industrial activities are responsible for only a tiny portion of Comoran economic activity--about 5 percent of GDP in 1994. Principal industries are those that involve processing cash crops for export: preparing vanilla and distilling ylang-ylang into perfume essence. These activities were once controlled almost entirely by French companies, but as they closed unprofitable plantations, individual farmers set up many small, inefficient distilleries. Comorans also produce handicrafts for export. Other industries are small and geared to internal markets: sawmills, printing, carpentry, and the production of shoes, plastics, yogurt, handicrafts (such as the jewelry exchanged as part of the grand mariage), and small fishing boats. Several factors provide major obstacles to the growth of industry: the islands' geographically isolated position, their distance from each other, a scarcity of raw materials and skilled labor, and the high cost of electricity (energy is produced by hydropower, imported petroleum, and wood products) and transportation. Value added in industry slowly declined throughout the 1980s.

Perhaps the primary outcome of South African penetration of the Comoran economy during the Abdallah regime was the development of tourism. Although South African investors built or renovated several hotels during the 1980s (with assistance from the South African and Comoran governments), only one resort, the 182-room Galawa Beach on Njazidja, was operating by late 1992. About 100 other hotel rooms were available on the islands. Political instability, a declining South African interest in the islands as the apartheid regime was disassembled and other tropical tourism venues became more welcoming, and the need to import most construction materials and consumable supplies inhibited the growth of tourism, despite the islands' physical beauty. Nonetheless, in large part thanks to Galawa Beach, which had been closed during 1990, tourism increased from 7,627 visitors in 1990 to 16,942 in 1991. Most of these tourists were Europeans, primarily French.

Comoros - GOVERNMENT AND POLITICS

The Constitution of the Federal Islamic Republic of the Comoros was approved by referendum on June 7, 1992. It replaced the constitution of 1978, as amended in 1982 and 1985. Among the general principles enumerated in the preamble are the recognition of Islam as the state religion and respect for human rights as set forth in the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights. All citizens are declared equal before the law.

The president is elected by direct universal suffrage to a five-year term and is limited to two terms. All persons over the age of eighteen who possess full civil and political rights may vote. The president may be elected to no more than two terms. The president is both head of state and head of government. The president nominates ministers to form the Council of Government, which had twelve members in the latter half of 1994. The ministries, which are routinely reshuffled, merged, eliminated, and resurrected, consisted of the following at that time: the prime minister, who also served as minister of civil service; Economy, Plan, Industry, and Handicrafts; Equipment, Energy, Urbanization, and Housing; Finance and Budget; Foreign Affairs and Cooperation; Information, Culture, Youth, Sports, and Posts and Telecommunication; Islamic Affairs and Justice; National Education and Technical and Professional Teaching; Public Health; Rural Development, Fisheries, and the Environment; Social Affairs, Work, and Employment; and Transportation and Tourism. The president also nominates governors for each of the three islands for five-year terms. If the presidency becomes vacant, the president of the Supreme Court serves as interim president until an election can be held.

The constitution provides for a bicameral legislature. The forty-two members of the "lower" house, the Federal Assembly, represent electoral wards for four-year terms. The Federal Assembly meets for two forty-five-day sessions per year, in April and October. The upper house, the Senate, has fifteen members, five from each island, who are chosen by an Electoral College. The post of prime minister is held by a member of the party holding a majority of seats in the Federal Assembly. The number of political parties may be regulated by federal law. In 1994 more than twenty political parties were active. Areas subject to federal legislation include defense, communications, law, international trade, federal taxation, economic planning, and social services.

As a federal republic, Comoros assigns autonomy to the three constituent islands in matters that, in accordance with the constitution, do not come within the purview of the national government. Each island has a council whose members are elected to represent electoral wards for four-year terms. Normally, each council meets twice yearly, in March and December, for a fifteenday session.

The judiciary is considered independent of the executive and legislature. The Supreme Court examines constitutional issues and supervises presidential elections. The high court also arbitrates when the government is accused of malpractice. The Supreme Court normally consists of at least seven members: two chosen by the president, two elected by the Federal Assembly, and three chosen by the respective island councils. Former presidents also may serve on the high court.

Comoros - Political Dynamics

In the immediate aftermath of the Abdallah assassination and subsequent events of late 1989, a limited amount of political healing occurred in Comoros. Denard and his fellow mercenaries were expelled, although the fate of their vast financial holdings in the islands remained unclear. With the South African government temporarily out of the picture, French officials now oversaw the police and the army, and the remnants of the GP were under the watchful eye of French paratroopers. Among those released in a general amnesty for political prisoners was Mustapha Said Cheikh, leader of the opposition FD who had been imprisoned for four years for alleged involvement in the unsuccessful March 1985 coup. He was quickly proposed as a possible presidential candidate. Also suggested was Mohamed Taki, one-time National Assembly president whose power had been diminished by Abdallah's constitutional maneuvers; he had subsequently gone into exile in France, where his entourage reportedly included two mercenary bodyguards. Also announcing for the presidency was Said Ali Kemal, who had been living in quiet exile in Paris since being exposed as the sponsor of Australian mercenaries who had plotted to overthrow the Abdallah government in 1983. In late December 1989, members of the formerly banned opposition, along with President Djohar, decided to form a provisional "national unity" government and to hold a multiparty presidential election in 1990.

In an awkward but somehow effective campaign to keep himself in power, Djohar spent much of the early 1990s playing a political shell game with the opposition. He moved election dates backward and forward and sanctioned irregularities, giving his opponents little choice but to condemn the balloting as invalid. Djohar began this strategy within weeks of his installation as interim president, rescheduling the presidential election set for January 14, 1990 to February 18. Djohar's decision was met with demonstrations and violence that marked an abrupt end to the post-Abdallah period of national unity, hardly three weeks after Bob Denard had been expelled from the country. The February 18 balloting broke down shortly after the polls opened. The government was accused of widespread fraud, including issuing multiple voting cards to some voters and opening the polls to voters who looked well below the minimum age of eighteen.

Elections were rescheduled for March 4, 1990 with a runoff on March 11; Djohar was the official victor, claiming 55 percent of the vote over runner-up Mohamed Taki's 45 percent. Djohar had run under the banner of the Union Comorienne pour le Progrès (Udzima- -Comoran Union for Progress), basically a recycled version of Ahmed Abdallah's old UCP, whereas Taki had represented the National Union for Comoran Democracy (Union Nationale pour la Démocratie Comorien--UNDC). As would be the case in other Comoran elections in the 1990s, the sole major issue appeared to be the character and ability of the incumbent president rather than any matter of public policy or ideology. The Supreme Court certified the results of the election, despite strong evidence that the Ministry of Interior had altered the vote count, especially in the first round, to favor Djohar at Taki's expense.

In March 1992, with two of the government's Udzima ministers having broken away to form a new party and conflict among the remaining Udzima ministers growing, Djohar headed off the complete collapse of his government by convening a multiparty constitutional convention. He scheduled a referendum on the new document in May, with general elections in June and balloting for local offices in July. After one postponement, the referendum was held on June 7. The Constitution of 1992 passed with about 74 percent of the vote, despite intensive campaigning against it by the FD and Udzima, which by this point opposed President Djohar. Among the new document's elements were articles calling for a bicameral legislature and a limit on presidential tenure to two five-year terms.

The legislative elections, postponed several times, finally were held on November 22 and 29, 1992. They were preceded in late September by an attempted coup by junior army officers, allegedly with the support of opposition politicians. Possible motives for the coup were an unpopular restructuring program mandated by the World Bank, which entailed sharp reductions in the number of civil servants, and President Djohar's ambiguous threat on September 10 that his main opponents would "not be around for the elections." Djohar used the coup attempt as an opportunity to jail six military men and six opposition leaders "under conditions of extreme illegality," according to the Comoran Association of Human Rights (Association Comorienne des Droits Humains--ACDH).

Although a trio of French public officials sent to observe the balloting judged the election generally democratic, President Djohar's most prominent and determined opponents spent the voting days either in hiding or in jail. Two of the most important of the republic's twenty-four political parties, Udzima and the UNDC, boycotted the election. Given the president's own lack of party support, he spent most of 1993 cobbling together one government after another; at one point, in late spring 1993, he formed two governments in the space of three weeks.

The events of a single day in July 1993 perhaps summed up the near-term prospects of politics in Comoros. On July 23, heeding demands that he call legislative elections (he had dissolved parliament on June 18 because of its inability to agree to a candidate for prime minister and because of the lack of a government majority) or else face the prospect of "other forms of action" by the opposition, Djohar scheduled voting for late October. That same day, his government arrested two opposition leaders for public criticism of the president.

The scheduled elections were again postponed--for the fourth time--until December 1993. On November 17, 1993, Djohar created a new National Electoral Commission, said to be appropriately representative of the various political parties. Meanwhile Djohar had established a new progovernment party, the Rally for Democracy and Renewal (Rassemblement pour la Démocratie et le Renouveau--RDR). In the first round of elections on December 12, which featured twenty-four parties with 214 candidates for fortytwo seats, various voting irregularities occurred, including the failure to issue voting cards to some 30 percent of eligible voters. The government announced that Djohar's party had won twenty-one seats with three seats remaining to be contested. Most opposition parties stated that they would not sit in the assembly and also refused to participate in the postponed second stage elections, which were supervised by the Ministry of Interior and the gendarmerie after the National Electoral Commission disintegrated. As a result, the RDR gained a total of twenty-two seats, and Djohar appointed RDR secretary general Mohamed Abdou Madi as prime minister.

Denouncing the proceedings, on January 17, 1994, thirteen opposition parties formed a combined Forum for National Recovery (Forum pour le Redressement National--FRN). The Udzima Party began broadcasting articles about Comoros appearing in the Indian Ocean Newsletter, including criticisms of the RDR. In consequence, its radio station, Voix des Îles (Voice of the Islands) was confiscated by the government in mid-February 1994-- in September 1993, the radio station belonging to Abbas Djoussouf, who later became leader of the RDR, had been closed. Tensions increased, and in March 1994 an assassination attempt against Djohar occurred. At the end of May, civil service employees went on strike, including teachers, and violence erupted in mid-June when the FRN prepared to meet.

Comoros - Foreign Affairs

Comoros' most significant international relationship is that with France. The three years of estrangement following the unilateral declaration of independence and the nationalistic Soilih regime were followed during the conservative Abdallah and Djohar regimes by a period of growing trade, aid, cultural, and defense links between the former colony and France, punctuated by frequent visits to Paris by the head of state and occasional visits by the French president to Moroni. The leading military power in the region, France has detachments on Mahoré and Reunion, and its Indian Ocean fleet sails the waters around the islands. France and Comoros signed a mutual security treaty in 1978; following the mercenary coup against Abdallah in 1989, French troops restored order and took responsibility for reorganizing and training the Comoran army. With Mahoré continuing to gravitate politically and economically toward France, and Comoros increasingly dependent on the French for help with its own considerable social, political, and economic problems, the issue of Mahoré diminished somewhat in urgency.

The close relationship Comoros developed with South Africa in the 1980s was much less significant to both countries in the 1990s. With the reform of its apartheid government, South Africa no longer needed Comoros as evidence of its ostensible ability to enjoy good relations with a black African state; the end of the Cold War had also diminished Comoros' strategic value to Pretoria. Although South Africa continued to provide developmental aid, it closed its consulate in Moroni in 1992. Since the 1989 coup and subsequent expulsion of South Africanfinanced mercenaries, Comoros likewise turned away from South Africa and toward France for assistance with its security needs.

The government fostered close relationships with the more conservative (and oil-rich) Arab states, such as Saudi Arabia and Kuwait. It frequently received aid from those countries and the regional financial institutions they influenced, such as the Arab Bank for Economic Development in Africa and the Arab Fund for Economic and Social Development. In October 1993, Comoros joined the League of Arab States, after having been rejected when it applied for membership initially in 1977.

Regional relations generally were good. In 1985 Madagascar, Mauritius, and Seychelles agreed to admit Comoros as the fourth member of the Indian Ocean Commission (IOC), an organization established in 1982 to encourage regional cooperation. In 1993 Mauritius and Seychelles had two of the five embassies in Moroni, and Mauritius and Madagascar were connected to the republic by regularly scheduled commercial flights.

Comoros also hosted an embassy of China, which established relations during the Soilih regime. The Chinese had long been a source of aid and apparently wished to maintain contact with Comoros to counterbalance Indian and Soviet (later Russian) influence in the Indian Ocean. Comoran relations with Japan were also significant because Japan was the second largest provider of aid, consisting of funding for fisheries, food, and highway development. The United States established diplomatic relations in 1977 but in September 1993 closed it embassy in Moroni. The two countries enjoy friendly relations.

In November 1975, Comoros became the 143d member of the UN. In the 1990s, the republic continued to represent Mahoré in the UN. Comoros was also a member of the OAU, the EDF, the World Bank, the IMF, the IOC, and the African Development Bank.

Comoros thus cultivated relations with various nations, both East and West, seeking to increase trade and obtain financial assistance. In 1994, however, it was increasingly facing the need to control its expenditures and reorganize its economy so that it would be viewed as a sounder recipient of investment. Comoros also confronted domestically the problem of the degree of democracy the government was prepared to grant to its citizens, a consideration that related to its standing in the world community.

Comoros - Bibliography

Althabe, Gérard. "Les manifestations paysannes d'avril 1971,"
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     [Dakar, Senegal], 78, June 1972, 70-77.

Andriamirado, Sennen. Madagascar aujourd'hui. Paris:
     Éditions J.A., 1978.

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CITATION: Federal Research Division of the
Library of Congress. The Country Studies Series. Published 1988-1999.

Please note: This text comes from the Country Studies Program, formerly the Army Area Handbook Program. The Country Studies Series presents a description and analysis of the historical setting and the social, economic, political, and national security systems and institutions of countries throughout the world.


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