Islamic Federal Republic of the Comoros
Union of the Comoros
The Union of the Comores, mostly simply described as The Comoros, is a state consisting of three volcanic islands situated east of Mozambique of 750 000 inhabitants. A string of post-independence coups and secession attempts made the country notoriously unstable.
The archipelago of Comoros comprises four islands: Grande Comore, Anjouan, Moheli and Mayotte, at the northern mouth of the Mozambique Channel, about two-thirds of the way between northern Madagascar and northern Mozambique. In spite of the country’s access to independence in 1975, Mayotte remained under French administration. Little known and isolated in the Indian Ocean, the archipelago of Comoros is a small treasure still authentic out of the way. There are few tourist agencies, few guided tours, and no direct flights from Europe or America.
Anjouan is nicknamed the island of perfume because of its many cultures. Mohéli has one of the most beautiful underwater sites in the Indian Ocean, protected since 2001 by the creation of a marine park. And finally, Grande Comore, the largest and most developed of the 4 islands.
At least 150,000 to 200,000 people of Comoran citizenship or descent live abroad, mainly in France, where they have gone seeking a better quality of life, job opportunities, higher education (Comoros has no universities), advanced health care, and to finance elaborate traditional wedding ceremonies (aada). Remittances from the diaspora are an economic mainstay, in 2013 representing approximately 25% of Comoros’ GDP and significantly more than the value of its exports of goods and services (only 15% of GDP).
Since visas to enter Mayotte were introduced in 1995, thousands of islanders from Grande Comore, Anjouan and Moheli have drowned trying to get there. They largely travel in small boats known as kwasa-kwasa, which are prone to capsizing on the 70-kilometre journey from Anjouan to Mayotte. Reliable casualty figures are hard to come by. They are also disputed, with the governor of Anjouan once claiming that more than 50,000 had drowned since 1995.
The French government estimates that as many as 40 percent of Mayotte's population is made up of what it calls illegal residents, referring to them as being in "une situation irreguliere". Grand Comore, Comoros’ most populous island, is both the primary source of emigrants and the main recipient of remittances. Most remittances are spent on private consumption, but this often goes toward luxury goods and does not contribute to economic development or poverty reduction. Although the majority of the diaspora is now French-born with more distant ties to Comoros, it is unclear whether they will sustain the current level of remittances.
One of the world's poorest countries, continuous population growth has serious consequences on both the state of the environment and the standard of living. As a small-island developing state, rapid urbanisation is a threat to peace in the Comoros, where there are few job opportunities for young people. The Comoros are facing very serious environmental problems with the disappearance of its forests. The situation is alarming in all the islands, while the majority live in precarious material conditions. Uncontrolled urbanization and the growth of slum areas are particularly visible along the coasts and main roads in the immediate vicinity of towns and villages.
Six separate security forces report to five different authorities. Union government forces include the Army of National Development and the gendarmerie, both of which normally report to the president’s cabinet director for defense. The National Directorate of Territorial Safety, which oversees police, immigration, and customs, reports to the minister of interior, information, and decentralization. When the gendarmerie serves as the judicial police, it reports to the minister of justice.
The military resources of the Comoros consist of small standing armies from each island and a 500-member police force, as well as a 600-member national defense force [wtih a budget of about $13,000,000]. A defense treaty with France provides naval resources for protection of territorial waters, training of Comoran military personnel, and air surveillance. France maintains a small maritime base and a Foreign Legion contingent on neighboring Mayotte - the Forces Armées dans la Zone Sud de l’Océan Indien (FAZSOI) assists the l’Armée nationale de développement (AND).
Military branches are the National Army for Development (l'Armee Nationale de Developpement, AND): Comoran Security Force (also called Comoran Defense Force (Force Comorienne de Defense, FCD), includes Gendarmerie), Comoran Coast Guard, Comoran Federal Police.
Comoros claims French-administered Mayotte and challenges France's and Madagascar's claims to Banc du Geyser, a drying reef in the Mozambique Channel. In May 2008, African Union forces assisted the Comoros military recapture Anjouan Island from rebels who seized it in 2001.
Comoros has experienced occasional strikes and civil unrest, resulting in violent clashes between police and demonstrators. The Comorian Franc (KMF) is the official currency. This is a cash society; credit cards are not widely accepted. There is one bank on the island to exchange currency.
Some urban roads are paved, but most including rural roads are not and are poorly maintained. Roads are very narrow, poorly lit, full of potholes, and have dangerous curves. Visitors should not drive more than 30 miles an hour. Pedestrians and drivers should exercise extreme caution after dark. Professional roadside assistance service is not available. Travel between the islands by boat is common but is poorly regulated. Boats may be overcrowded and lacking safety equipment resulting is capsized vessels and fatalities. Death by drowning is common.
Visitors should not take photos of Comorians without permission. It is illegal to take pictures of government buildings, military installations, and other key infrastructure such as ports, train stations, and airports. Visitors could be fined, have photographic equipment confiscated, and risk detention and arrest.
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