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Nation in Focus


VOL.2 May 2010
The Union of Comoros
Each month ChinAfrica will introduce an African country, looking briefly at the bilateral relations with China, as well as getting a glimpse into the background of each country

Located in the Indian Ocean, off Africa's east coast, the Union of Comoros is one of the world's smallest nations. It consists of three main islands, Grande Comore, Mohéli and Anjouan, as well as several small islets.

Despite its isolated location, the Comoros Islands have seen waves of immigration by an incredible range of ethnic groups, from regions as diverse as East Africa, the Persian Gulf, the Malay Archipelago and Madagascar. There is some dispute about the earliest date of human habitation on the islands, but archeological findings show that it had certainly begun by the seventh century. Arabic-speaking Sunni Persians were the most influential group on the archipelago by the 19th century.

The islands were formed by volcanic activity and today there are two active volcanoes on Grande Comore. The largest one is Mount Karthala, which stands at 2,361 meters and has erupted many times in the past century.

The French began colonizing the islands in 1841, but it was not until 1912 that they declared colonial rule over the entire archipelago. Although the Comoros gained independence on July 6, 1975, the population of Mayotte voted to remain a French protectorate and the island has been separate from the Union of Comoros ever since.

The following three decades saw numerous coups and attempted coups, but a new constitution came into effect in 2002, under which each of the three major islands has considerable autonomy and elects its own president. The presidency of the Union of Comoros is rotated between the three islands every four years.

In a positive sign for the country, 2006 saw the nation's first peaceful handover of the presidency. The incumbent, Azali Assoumani, accepted defeat in a May 2006 election, handing power over to the victor, current President Ahmed Abdallah Mohamed Sambi.

The nation's agricultural industry accounts for 51 percent of GDP. This includes three main crops that make up 95 percent of export earnings: vanilla, cloves and ylang ylang (flower producing essential oil).


Bilateral political relations

The People's Republic of China and the Union of Comoros established diplomatic relations on November 13, 1975. Since then, relations have continued uninterrupted and over the years several government ministers from both sides have paid official visits to the other.

In 2003, then Comoran President Azali Assoumani traveled to Beijing to meet Chinese President Hu Jintao and Premier Wen Jiabao. President Hu spoke enthusiastically of the smooth development of mutual trust in international affairs and cooperation in health, economic and cultural matters.

Comoran President Ahmed Abdallah Mohamed Sambi traveled to China in 2006 for the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation, followed by another trip in 2007. This past January, Chinese Vice Minister for Foreign Affairs Zhai Jun visited the Comoros where he met with President Sambi and other Comoran government figures.


Trade relations 

Although trade between the two nations is quite small, China has initiated several aid projects in the Comoros. These include a water-supply project at Nioumakélé and the construction of a number of government buildings.


Cultural exchange 

In 1985, the two countries signed an Agreement for Cultural Cooperation. In the years since, Chinese acrobatic and folk music groups have performed in the Comoros.

China has provided scholarships for Comoran students to study in China and Chinese medical teams have been working in the Comoros since 1994.


Malaria treatment

In 2008 a team from Guangzhou University of Traditional Chinese Medicine went to the island of Mohéli to conduct a pilot project aimed at eradicating malaria using the revolutionary drug Artequick, a pharmaceutical derived from artemisia shrubs. The project has been hailed as a resounding success; the island's entire population of 40,000 received treatment and within two months, the prevalence of malaria among the population had plummeted from 23 percent to less than 2 percent.


Capital: Moroni (on Grande Comore)

President: Ahmed Abdallah Mohamed Sambi

Population: 676,000 (UN, 2009)

Language: Arabic (official), French (official), Shikomoro (a blend of Swahili and Arabic)

Religion: Sunni Muslim 98 percent, Catholic 2 percent

Currency: Comoran franc (KMF) $1 = 363.752 KMF

Independence: July 6, 1975

Climate: Tropical and mild. Rainy season December-April; dry season May-November




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