CAPE TOWN – The Comoro Islands are 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.
The Comoro Islands are a volcanic archipelago off the coast of East Africa in the Indian Ocean. Named after the Arabic word for moon, Qamar, it comprises four volcanic islands: Grande Comore (Ngazidja), Anjouan (Nzwani) and Moheli (Mwali), which form the union of Comoros, and the fourth island, Mayotte, is under French administration.
The Comoro Islands have an estimated population of 850 886, of which 60 percent is under the age of 25. Since the independence from France in 1975, the country has experienced more than 20 successful and attempted coups, with the most recent in 2013, mainly due to a power struggle among the three Islands. The first democratic transition of power took place in 2006 in which the agreement was also established that a presidential election would be held after every five years, with the presidency rotating among the three islands.
The country's economy is still undiversified, with service and agriculture sectors being the major drivers. Last year, its GDP was estimated at $1.2 billion (R17.7bn) of which the highest contributor with 56.3 percent was the service sector, followed by agriculture with 31.6 percent.
Its primary agriculture produce is vanilla, cloves, ylang-ylang, coconuts, bananas, and cassava, which are also its main exports.
The country still imports 70 percent of its food, such as meat, flour, sugar, fish and dairy products from its main trade partners, the United Arab Emirates and EU. The Comoros' agriculture sector employs 80 percent of the Comorians.
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 francs (R9) and the price of a litre of petrol is 493 francs.
The Comoros are heavily dependent on donors and development partners with a budget deficits averaging 2.1 percent of GDP, and public debt standing at 28.4 percent of GDP.
Foreign direct inflow is at $8.6 million, with inflation at 1 percent and unemployment levels at 4.3 percent. In the past 15 years, net official development assistance averaged about 10 percent of GDP.
The Comoros' business environment is affected mainly by lack of infrastructure in tourism, transport and the energy sector.
The country aims to build an economy that is more diversified and resilient to external shocks and job creation. 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 its history is one of severe instability from a political and natural point of view, with the agricultural wealth and determination of the people, it can rise to sustained stability and grow to be Africa’s perfumed nation.
Neil de Beer is president of the Investment Fund Africa. He consults with various African leaders on economic development – [email protected] and www.ifa.africa