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Country profile: The Comoros

Country profile: The Comoros


<p><strong>Security forces in the Indian Ocean island nation of the Comoros are struggling to contain the latests political crisis, that has been sparked by a disputed presidential election.</strong></p> <p>On Thursday, the authorities killed at least three gunmen in a shootout at a military base in the capital after renegade soldiers broke out of prison and the opposition announced a plan to unseat President Azali Assoumani.</p> <p>Assoumani was declared the winner in Sunday’s election with more than 60 percent of the vote, enough to avoid a second-round run-off. Observers from African monitoring missions have said the election lacked credibility.</p> <p>Hours before Thursday’s shooting, Assoumani’s 12 opponents in the election announced they had set up a body to remove him. Their National Transition Council would be chaired by one of them, former armed forces chief of staff Mohamed Soilihi.</p> <p>“The mission of the National Transitional Council is to resolve the post-election crisis, to ensure a peaceful transition, to preserve peace, stability and national cohesion in our country,” said Soilihi in a statement broadcast on private-owned radio stations and social media platforms.</p> <p>In this article, we provide some background on the country, that has previously rocked by political turmoil that has hindered economic development.</p> <h2 style="font-size:16px;">‘Islands of the Moon’</h2> <p>Made up of the islands of Anjouan, Grande-Comore and Moheli, the small country has a population of nearly 814,000 on a land surface of 1,870 square kilometres (772 square miles).</p> <p>It is densely populated, with about 400 inhabitants per square kilometre (1,150 inhabitants per square mile), according to World Bank data.</p> <p>The Comoros, which means “Islands of the Moon” in Arabic, are situated between Madagascar and Mozambique, and next to the French-administered island of Mayotte.</p> <p>It embraced Islam in the 12th century and 99 percent of its people are Muslim, mostly Sunnis.</p> <p>Just over half are aged under 20 years.</p> <h2 style="font-size:16px;">Tensions with France</h2> <p>The Comoros became independent from France in 1975, breaking away in a referendum in which nearby Mayotte opted to remain with the colonial-era power.</p> <p>The Comoros continues to lay claim to Mayotte and is backed by several UN resolutions.</p> <p>Mayotte is relatively well-off compared to the impoverished and unstable Comoros, and grapples with an influx of illegal migrants, many of whom make the 70-kilometre (40-mile) crossing in makeshift boats.</p> <h2 style="font-size:16px;">Coups and mercenaries</h2> <p>Since independence, the Comoros has endured more than 20 attempted coups, four of which were successful.</p> <p>The first president, Ahmed Abdallah, was ousted a month after independence with the help of renowned French mercenary Bob Denard.</p> <p>In 1978 Denard organised a coup to reinstate Abdallah and became army chief.</p> <p>Abdallah was assassinated in 1989 in as yet unexplained circumstances. Denard, then head of the presidential guard, tried to take control but fled as France intervened militarily.</p> <p>The island of Anjouan seceded in 1997 and only rejoined the others in 2001 after a new constitution created the Union of the Comoros that allowed more autonomy, including rotating the presidency between the islands.</p> <p>The incumbent president Azali seized power in a coup in 1999. He was re-elected in a 2016 vote marred by violence and allegations of irregularities.</p> <h2 style="font-size:16px;">Controversial reforms</h2> <p>Tensions have been running high since a contested referendum in July 2018 that enables the rotating president to hold two five-year mandates instead of one.</p> <p>After his victory on Sunday, Azali is considered as starting a first term, allowing him to vie for a second in 2024.</p> <p>The referendum sparked violent protests and dozens of officials and opposition activists have been arrested in recent months.</p> <p>In October an armed rebel group clashed with Comoran security forces in Mutsamudu, the capital of opposition-leaning Anjouan which had been next in line for the presidency.</p> <p>Both observers and community groups have questioned the credibility of the election, which saw Azali declared the winner with almost 61 percent of the vote.</p> <h2 style="font-size:16px;">Ylang-ylang and poverty</h2> <p>Lacking the infrastructure that draws tourists to Mauritius and the Seychelles, the country’s main activities are fishing and agriculture.</p> <p>Vanilla, cloves and above all ylang-ylang, the tree whose fragrant oil is used to make perfume, are the principal sources of hard currency.</p> <p>The country is heavily dependent on remittances from emigrants, notably in France which is home to 200,000-300,000 Comorans.</p> <p>It is at the tail end of the UN’s Human Development Index, which compares life expectancy, education and living standards — and ranked 165 from 189 in 2018.</p> <p>The World Bank says the Comoros must tackle hunger and malnutrition, with almost 18 percent of its population living on less than $1.90 a day, the international poverty line.</p> <p>It projected economic growth in 2018 at a stable 2.7 percent.</p> <p><strong><em><span class="caps">AFP</span></em></strong></p>
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