Comoros Islands – Africa’s Perfumed Islands

Comoros Islands, also known as the “perfumed islands” as they are the world’s largest producer of Ylang-Ylang, which is valued for the perfume extracted from its flowers and its oil used as a base oil for perfumes. Comoros is a volcanic archipelago off the coast of East Africa in the Indian Ocean, north of the Mozambique Channel, 350 km northwest of Madagascar and 250 km from the coast of Mozambique. Named after the Arabic word for ‘moon’ Qamar it comprises of four volcanic islands:  Grande Comore (Ngazidja), Anjouan (Nzwani) and Moheli (Mwali) which form the union of Comoros and the fourth Island Mayotte, which is under French administration.

Comoros has an estimated population of 850,886 of which 60% of the country’s population is under the age of 25 years. Since its independence from France in 1975, the country has experienced more than 20 successful and attempted coups d’états with the most recent in 2013, mainly due to the power struggle among the three Islands. The first-ever democratic transition of power took place in 2006 in which the agreement was also established that the presidential election will be held every after 5 years with the presidency rotating among the three islands.

Comoros economy is still undiversified, with Service and Agriculture sectors being the major drivers of the economy. In 2018, the country GDP was estimated at $1.2 billion (World Bank) of which the highest contributor with 56.3 percent was the service sector followed by the agriculture sector with 31.6 percent. Its primary agriculture produce is Vanilla, cloves, Ylang-ylang, coconuts, bananas, and cassava which are also its main exports. Despite, the economic activity is centred on agriculture, the country still imports 70 percent of its food products like meat, flour, sugar, fish and dairy products from its main trade partners; the United Arab Emirates and European Union. Furthermore, the Comoros agriculture sector employs 80 percent of the Comorians which has resulted in a shortage of habitable land in the country.

A story is told that King Solomon left his ring in a crater and some spirits stole it. In anger, the King swore that every day, every month and every year, there would always be eruptions in the land. On the Neil Economic scale, the price of a can of Coke costs 275 Comorian Franc (KMF) (R9) and the price of a liter of petrol is 493 Comorian Franc (KMF) (R16.16). Inflation in the country is around 1.75%.

Comoros is heavily dependent on donors and development partners with budget deficits averaging 2.1 percent of GDP and public debt standing at 28.4 percent of GDP. The Foreign Direct inflow is at $8.6 million with inflation at 1.0 percent and unemployment levels at 4.3 percent. In the last 15 years, net official development assistance averaged about 10 percent of GDP. Comoros business environment is affected mainly by lack of Infrastructure in tourism, transport and energy sector which has also affected trade among the island.

The country primary objective is an economy that is more diversified and resilient to external shocks and job-creating. Through the adoption of a new Constitution built on the autonomy of the islands and the rotating presidency among the three islands, the country has returned to relative political stability.

Although the history of this nation is one of severe instability from a political and natural point of view, one does hope that with the agricultural wealth and determination of the people, this country can rise to sustained stability and grow to be Africa’s Perfumed Nation.