Comoras

Country Code: 269
ISO Code: COM

The Union of the Comoros (in French: Union des Comores, in Comorense: Udzima wa Komori, in Arabic: الاتحاد القمري, al-Ittiḥād al-Qumurī / Qamarī), or simply the Comoros or Comoros, (formerly the Islamic Federal Republic of the Comoros) is a country made up of three islands in southeastern Africa, located at the northern end of the Mozambique Channel in the Indian Ocean, between northern Madagascar and eastern Mozambique.

The country consists of three volcanic islands: Grande Comora (Ngazidja), Mohéli (Mwali) and Anjouan (Nzwani), while the neighboring island of Mayotte (Mahore), claimed by Comoros, still belongs to France. The territory also includes other small islands.

Comoros is the only state to be a member of the African Union, the International Organization of La Francophonie, the Organization for Islamic Cooperation, the Arab League (of which it is the southernmost state of the countries it groups, being same the only state included in the Arab League that is totally circumscribed to the Southern Hemisphere) and of the Indian Ocean Commission.

The name derives from the Arabic word قمر (qamar), “moon”. The current name in Arabic is precisely “islands of the moon” (جزر القمر, ŷuzuru l-qamar), and on its flag appears the Muslim half moon. This name had been used by Arab geographers to name Madagascar.

Since declaring its independence, the country has experienced more than 20 coup d’état or attempted coups, with several heads of state assassinated. Along with this constant political instability, the population of the Comoros lives with the worst income inequality of any nation, with a Gini coefficient of over 60%, while also being in a low quartile of the Human Development Index. In 2008, approximately half of the population lives below the international poverty rate of $ 1.25 per day.

HISTORY

The documented historical development of the Comoros began with the Swahili influence, consolidating at the time of Dembeni (IX-X centuries), during which each island maintained a single central town, then, in the period between the 11th and 12th centuries. XV, trade with the island of Madagascar and merchants of the Middle East flourished, giving rise to the emergence of smaller towns, and the growth of existing cities. Citizens and historians of the state of the Comoros claim that the first Arab settlements existed even before the arrival of the Swahili to the archipelago, who often trace their genealogies until the arrival of Arab ancestors, who would have traveled from Yemen and the ancient Kingdom of Saba in Aden, a city that is popularly considered in the Comoros as the Biblical Eden, although there is no scientific certainty to affirm the latter.

Arab merchants were the first to bring Islamic influence to the islands. Most likely, the slave trade in Africa by the Arabs produced an increase in the spread and dominance of Arab culture. As their religion acquired prestige, large mosques were built. The Comoros Islands, like other coastal areas of the region, were part of the important Islamic trade routes frequented by Persians and Arabs. Despite its distance to the coast, Comoros is located on the sea route between the main ports of Kilwa and Mozambique, at the exit of Zimbabwe’s gold.

In the nineteenth century, the influence of the Sunni Persians of the Arabic language of Shiraz and Iran had dominated the islands. Shiraz maintained intense commercial relations along the coasts of Eastern Africa and the Middle East, for which settlements and colonies were developed in the archipelago. This generated a sustained growth of Arab cultural influence in the Comoros, especially in architecture and religion. The islands were changing hands throughout the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, but always under the command of Arab sultanates.

When the Europeans showed interest in the Comoros, the Arab cultural heritage of the islands prevailed to the detriment of the African heritage. However, recent studies published by Thomas Spear and Randall Pouwells highlight the historical predominance of African culture over the Arab perspective.

This archipelago served the ancient navigators as a bridge between the African continent and Madagascar, being also a strategic point of importance for Arab merchants.

Portuguese explorers visited the archipelago since 1505 and caused the destruction of the islands’ commercial economy. Afonso de Albuquerque himself sacked the islands in 1514, miraculously escaping the Muslim ruler hidden in a volcano where he was not found by the Portuguese. When the Sultan of Oman succeeded in expelling the Portuguese from the region, they were under the influence of Zanzibar and the slave trade of the inhabitants of Bantu origin increased considerably.

During the nineteenth century, after the separation of Zanzibar from the Sultanate of Oman, the Europeans pressed and France occupied Mayotte in 1841 and later to the rest of the archipelago between 1886 and 1909. In 1912 the islands were under the administration of the Governor General of Madagascar. Later, French colonizers, French-owned companies and wealthy Arab merchants established a plantation-based economy that now covers a third of the country’s territory to export their crops.

In 1946, France granted it administrative autonomy under the name of the Overseas Territory of the Comoros Islands. An agreement was rejected by France in 1973 to grant independence in 1978. However, on July 6, 1975, the Comoran parliament issued a resolution declaring independence. The deputies of Mayotte, which remained under French control, abstained. In two referendums, in December 1974 and February 1976, the population of Mayotte voted against the independence of France (by 63.8% and 99.4% respectively).

In 1978, President Ali Solilih is overthrown and assassinated and the country adopts a new constitution and adopts the name of Islamic Federal Republic of the Comoros under the command of Ahmed Abdallah Abderramane; the following year the single-party regime was established. In 1983 and 1985 failed coup attempts against Abdallah, but this is killed in 1989. On September 28, 1995 a group of European mercenaries led by Bob Denard and supported by Comandante soldiers overthrow the government and take the president hostage Said Mohamed Yohar; but special French forces arrive from Mayotte to reverse the blow.

In 1997, the islands of Anjouan and Mohéli declared their independence from the Comoros, but the government managed to reestablish control over the rebels.

ECONOMY

Comoros is one of the poorest countries in Africa. Its economy is based on tourism, foreign aid, subsistence agriculture, as well as fishing and forestry, a leading sector of the country’s economy.

Unemployment levels are very high and the population below the poverty level reaches 60% of the total. 80% of the population is dedicated to agriculture, which continues to constitute a good part of its exports.

It has inadequate transport systems, a young and fast growing population, and few natural resources. The low educational level of the labor force contributes to a subsistence economic activity, and a heavy dependence on foreign assistance.

The government intends to increase educational and technical training, to privatize commercial and industrial entities, to implement health services, to diversify exports, promote tourism and reduce high population growth.

DEMOGRAPHY

The Comoran ethnic group that inhabits the main islands (86% of the population), is of Arab and African origin. Islam is the dominant religion, and Koranic schools for children reinforce their influence. Although Arab culture is firmly established in the archipelago, a substantial minority of the citizens of Mayotte are Catholics and have a strong influence of French culture.

The most common language is Comorense (Shikomor), dialect of Swahili. French, Arabic and Malagasy are also spoken. About 57% of the population writes with the Latin alphabet, more than with the Arabic alphabet.

It has 651.901 inhabitants in 2004, a population density of 300 inhabitants / km², the life expectancy is 62 years and 56.8% of the population is literate.

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