The most stable period in the Comoros since independence is threatened by new unrest on the island of Anjouan, by fuel and power shortages and by high food prices. 45 percent of the population lives below the poverty line, and high food prices on the world market threaten food security.
The Comoros experienced their first democratic power transfer in 2006, when Colonel Azali Assoumani stepped down and left the presidential office of election winner Ahmed Abdallah Sambi of the Islamist Front National de La Justice (FNJ).
This was also the first time the Comoros elected a president under the new power distribution system, enshrined in the Fomboni Agreement of 2000 and in the new Constitution. This scheme involves a federal state, with a parliament and a president on each island, subordinate to a national president and a national parliament. The three islands – Grand Comore, Anjouan and Moheli – are now largely autonomous. The hope is that the scheme will ensure a more equitable distribution of resources and prevent more separation attempts, as Anjouan last tried in 1997.
Once again, Anjouan may overturn the fragile peace consolidation of the archipelago. Colonel Mohamed Bacar, former chief of police and since president of Anjouan from 2001 to 2008, refused to abide by demands for postponement of the presidential election at Anjouan in June 2007. Both the African Union (AU) and the federal government would postpone the election after allegations of threats against voters and irregularities. But Bacar printed his own ballots and walked away with the victory of his choice. No one wanted to recognize Bacar’s self-proclaimed presidency, and the AU imposed harsh sanctions on the island community. In the end, Bacar was arrested in an AU-led intervention. A new presidential election was held in June 2008 at Anjouan, where civil engineer Moussa Toybou resigned.
President Zambi’s popularity has declined as ever-increasing food prices, fuel shortages, power shortages and large delays in payroll payments to government employees.
In April, the government announced that French Total would no longer supply the state oil company / k / Société comorienne des hydrocarbures (SCH)./ k / The contract was awarded to an unidentified Iranian company. The new system has not started, with fuel shortages and power outages as a result. The capital of Moroni only has electricity for four hours a day, and at Anjouan it’s even worse. In other words, it is not an ideal start for President Toybou at Anjouan.
Ahmed Koudra, head of Comorian employer organization Opaco, claims according to the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU)that the crisis was directly created by the Comorian authorities. Houmed Msaidie, former defense minister under Assoumani, describes the situation as “financial crime”.
Depending on food imports,
37 percent of households, or 45 percent of the population, live below the poverty line ($ 700 a year). But conditions have improved. In 1995, 47 percent of households lived below this limit. However, this can quickly turn around. Unless economic growth is created, the FNS Development Program (UNDP) expects the share to rise to 93 percent in 2015.
A report from the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) mentions the Comoros as one of five countries in the world that are particularly threatened by high food prices. Parts of the population are threatened by malnutrition and hunger. Half of the food consumption consists of imported food, mostly rice, meat and cooking oil. The price of imported dairy products, mostly dry milk, has doubled from 2007 to 2008.
The possibilities of producing more food itself are limited, due to population density and low arable land. Forests are cut down and erosion makes farming difficult.
No torture or persecution has been reported. According to the EIU, self-censorship is reported in the media, but several independent newspapers are critical of the government. Blogs have also emerged which are very critical. Five television stations and several radio stations operate without visible interference from the authorities.
The health of the population is better than the average for sub-Saharan Africa, but shows signs of serious deterioration. Malaria is the most common cause of death, especially for children under five and women. The number of people living with AIDS may have tripled between 2001 and 2007, but still accounts for less than 1 percent of the population, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). Maternal and child mortality is “alarmingly high,” according to WHO.
44 percent of adult Comoros are illiterate, according to the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD). There is little prospect of improvement, as only half of the children received primary education between 1999 and 2005. Only 2.3 percent of the population takes higher education in the islands, which have only one university. It opened in 2004.
Unstable export goods
The three main export goods are vanilla, cloves and ylang-ylang. These are highly unreliable export goods, with large price fluctuations and an increasing number of competitors. The most reliable has been vanilla, but this goes to the end. Export volume fell from 144 tonnes a year in 1999
to 50 tonnes in 2007, according to the EIU. Artificial vanilla has taken over much of the market and prices are low. In addition, the country has received competition from India, Vietnam and Indonesia, and more and more farmers are switching to other goods.
In 2004, cloves became the largest export product, with an export value of US $ 6.7 million in 2006. As for vanilla, prices depend on Indonesian production. The production, which mostly takes place in Anjouan, has been hit by the political turmoil.
The production of Ylang-ylang, an essence used in perfume, has remained stable at 50 tonnes over the last three years. But more and more perfume manufacturers are now switching to synthetic alternatives, and revenue is on the decline.
The International Monetary Fund (IMF) forecasts GDP growth of only 0.5 percent in 2008. That would be the worst result since 1999. Comoros have major debt problems. By the end of 2007, foreign debt had reached USD 280 million (70 percent of GDP).
This problem must be resolved quickly if there is any hope of development at all. Initially, the Comoros have been benefited through a loan program under the IMF, a so-called EPCA (Emergency post-conflict assistance) program, until March 2009. If the country satisfies the IMF’s demands for economic reform, this will pave the way for the more comprehensive PRGF- / k / (Poverty reduction and growth facility)./ k / Finally, the Comoros will be able to benefit through the comprehensive HIPC (Highly indebted poor countries initiative) program.
President Zambi now has three Presidents under him on the three islands who are all to be loyal to him. Democracy seems to be gaining ground, with military assistance from the AU.
It may be the only bright spot. Although the situation at Anjouan is calming, the turmoil of the recession is spreading in the island union. A number of strikes have been announced in protest of the high food and fuel prices. The future of the Comoros is largely dependent on conditions outside the country
. If the IMF and the World Bank’s efforts do not alleviate the financial problems, and if the oil and food prices do not go down, the distress will spread and the unrest could flare up again.