Facts about Comoros

By benim
In Comoros
Oct 15th, 2010
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Potentially a holiday paradise with picture-postcard beaches, the Comoros islands are trying to consolidate political stability amid tensions between semi-autonomous islands and the central government.

A history of political violence has left the Comoros desperately poor. At times, the country has teetered on the brink of disintegration.

Overview

The three Indian Ocean islands have experienced more than 20 coups or attempted coups, beginning just weeks after independence from France in 1975 when President Ahmed Abdallah was toppled in a coup assisted by French mercenary Colonel Bob Denard. Colonel Denard featured in several power struggles over the years.

AT-A-GLANCE
Mosque, Moroni waterfront, Comoros
Politics: After coups and secession bids, the Comoros gained some stability under a 2001 constitution granting the islands of Grande Comore, Anjouan, Moheli greater autonomy within a federation. The extension of the current president’s term has caused tension
Economy: Comoros is heavily reliant on aid and remittances from the diaspora
International: The African Union and South Africa have been involved in helping to stabilise the Comoros politically

To add to the country’s troubles, the islands of Anjouan and Moheli declared unilateral independence in a violent conflict in 1997.

In an effort to bring the breakaway islands back into the fold, Moheli, Anjouan and the largest island, Grande Comore, were granted their own presidents and greater autonomy under a 2001 constitution.

The Union of the Comoros retained control of security and financial matters.

The people of the Comoros are among the poorest in Africa and are heavily dependent on foreign aid. Natural resources are in short supply and the islands’ chief exports – vanilla, cloves and perfume essence – are prone to price fluctuations. Money sent home by Comorans living abroad is an important source of income.

The descendants of Arab traders, Malay immigrants and African peoples contribute to the islands’ complex ethnic mix.

Facts

  • Full name: The Union of the Comoros
  • Population: 676,000 (UN, 2009)
  • Capital: Moroni
  • Area: 1,862 sq km (719 sq miles)
  • Major languages: Arabic, French, Comoran (a blend of Swahili and Arabic)
  • Major religion: Islam
  • Life expectancy: 63 years (men), 67 years (women) (UN)
  • Monetary unit: 1 Comoran franc = 100 centimes
  • Main exports: Vanilla, cloves, perfume oil, copra
  • GNI per capita: US $750 (World Bank, 2008)
  • Internet domain: .km
  • International dialling code: +269

Leaders

President (Union of the Comoros): Ahmed Abdallah Mohamed Sambi

Iranian-trained Sunni Muslim cleric Ahmed Abdallah Mohamed Sambi, popularly known as “the Ayatollah”, became the Comoran leader in the first peaceful change of power in the country’s post-independence history.

Ahmed Abdallah Mohamed Sambi

Ahmed Abdallah Mohamed Sambi, a preacher and former MP

He won the May 2006 presidential election with 58% of the vote.

Mr Sambi, a former MP, campaigned on promises to fight unemployment and corruption. He has dismissed charges from his opponents that he is an Islamic extremist.

The presidency of the union rotates between the three islands. The former incumbent, Azali Assoumani, represented Grande Comore. Mr Sambi is from Anjouan, and is to be succeeded by a president from Moheli.

Voters in a referendum in May 2009 approved constitutional changes allowing Mr Sambi to serve until 2011, instead of stepping down in 2010. However, opponents of the extension have been forcefully registering their protest.

The term extension is meant to align local and federal elections. But critics accuse Mr Sambi of clinging to power and weakening the autonomy of Comoros’ three islands.

The presidents of the three semi-autonomous islands are vice presidents of the Union of Comoros. A 33-member national assembly sits on Grande Comore.

However, a standoff developed between the federal government and Anjouan in June 2007, when Anjouan’s leader, Mohamed Bacar, was re-elected in elections held in defiance of a central government order. In March 2008 the federal government, with the help of African Union troops, seized control of the island.

Media

Radio is the dominant medium. The national state-run network competes with regional services and private stations. There is a national TV service and a handful of private TV stations.

Radio and TV broadcasts from the neighbouring French island of Mayotte can be picked up in parts of the Comoros.

Most Comoran papers publish weekly; a feeble advertising market, high poverty rates and poor distribution networks inhibit circulation. The leading newspapers are Al-Watwan, published on Grand Comore, and Kwezi, published on Mayotte.

The authorities have a tight hold on the media. Journalists risk arrest and detention, and newspapers have been suspended and radio stations put off the air over reports deemed offensive to the government.

In its 2006 annual report, the rights body Freedom House said newspapers exercised “extensive self-censorship”.

Radio France Internationale is relayed on FM in the capital.

The press

  • La Gazette de Comores – state-owned weekly
  • Al-Watwan – state-owned weekly
  • KashKazi – weekly
  • L’Archipel – monthly

Television

  • Television Nationale Comorienne (TNC) – national, state-owned, operated by Office de la Radio et de la Television des Comores (ORTC)
  • Mtsangani Television (MTV) – Moroni, educational, cultural
  • Radio-Television Anjouanaise (RTA) – official station of Anjouan regional government
  • TV Ulezi – private

Radio

  • Radio Comoros – national, state-owned, operated by Office de la Radio et de la Television des Comores (ORTC)
  • Radio Dziyalandze Mutsamudu (RDM) – FM station on Anjouan, relays Radio France Internationale
  • Radio-Television Anjouanaise (RTA) – official station of Anjouan regional government
  • Radio Ngazidja – official station of Grand Comore regional government
  • RFO Mayotte – public radio from French island of Mayotte
  • Radio Kaz – private
  • Radio Tropique – private
  • Radio Karthala – private
  • Radio Ulezi – private

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