The most common language is Shikomoro, a Swahili dialect. French and Malagasy are also spoken. About 48% of the population is literate.
President Taki won an overwhelming majority in the March elections. He promptly replaced many ranking civil servants associated with the Djohar regime and believed to have been extremely corrupt. Their replacements have yet to establish a track record, but many observers believe widespread corruption continues. There were no reports of civil strife in the first nine months following the French intervention that ended the October 1995 coup; the March 1996 elections were conducted peacefully with no reports of violence. Civil unrest broke out in early 1997 as civil servants demanded payment of salary arrears. At President Taki's request, France agreed to maintain a small troop presence in Comoros. While Taki appears to be more popular and able than his predecessor, democratic institutions in Comoros are weak and political life will remain unstable until they are strengthened and the economy improves.
The military resources of the Comoros consist of a small standing army and a 500-member police force, as well as a 500-member defense force. A defense treaty with France provides naval resources for protection of territorial waters, training of Comorian military personnel, and air surveillance. France maintains a small troop presence in Comoros at government request. France maintains a small maritime base and a foreign legion contingent on Mayotte.
Comoros maintains a mission to the United States at 336 E. 45th St., 2d floor, New York, NY 10017 (tel. 212-972-8010).
Agriculture, involving more than 80% of the population and 40% of the gross domestic product, provides virtually all foreign exchange earnings. Services including tourism, construction, and commercial activities constitute the remainder of the GDP. Plantations engage a large proportion of the population in producing the islands' major cash crops for export: vanilla, cloves, perfume essences, and copra. Comoros is the world's leading producer of essence of ylang-ylang, used in manufacturing perfume. It also is the world's second largest producer of vanilla. Principal food crops are coconuts, bananas, and cassava. Foodstuffs constitute 34% of total imports.
The country lacks the infrastructure necessary for development. Some villages are not linked to the main road system or at best are connected by tracks usable only by four-wheel-drive vehicles. The islands' ports are rudimentary, although a deep-water facility was recently completed on Anjouan. Only small vessels can approach the existing quays in Moroni on Grande Comore, despite recent improvements. Long-distance, ocean-going ships must lie offshore and be unloaded by smaller boats; during the cyclone season, this procedure is dangerous, and ships are reluctant to call at the island. Most freight is sent first to Mombasa or Reunion and transshipped from there.
France, Comoros' major trading partner, also provides direct budgetary support essential to the government's daily operations. The United States receives a growing percentage of Comoros' exports but supplies only a negligible fraction of its imports (less than 1%).
Comoros has an international airport at Hahaya on Grande Comore. It is a member of the franc zone (Communaute Financiere Africaine--CFA), with an exchange rate of 428 CFA francs = U.S. $1 (1991).
Comoros also is a member of the Organization of African Unity, the European Development Fund, the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, the Indian Ocean Commission, and the African Development Bank.
The address of the United States embassy in Mauritius is Rogers House, John F. Kennedy Street, Port Louis. (tel: 230-208-2347; fax: 230-208-9534). The mailing address for the embassy is Department of State, Washington, DC 20521-2520.
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