Poverty in Comoros: Instability, Investment and Improvement

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MORONI — The Comoros, or the Union of the Comoros as it is officially known, is an archipelago nation located off the east coast of Africa between the continent and Madagascar. Poverty in Comoros is rampant. The country has one of the biggest wealth gaps in the world and was ranked 159th out of 188 countries in the U.N.’s 2015 Human Development Index.

Comoros is made up of three main islands: Grande Comore (Ngazidja), Moheli (Mwali) and Anjouan (Nzwani). While the country has three official languages — Comorian, Arabic and French — the islands are most commonly known by their French names, which are listed first.

Political Unrest and Instability

Political unrest is a driving factor behind poverty in Comoros. Comoros became a French protectorate in 1986, and its three main islands voted separately for independence in 1974. At the same time, Mayotte (Maore), a fourth island in the archipelago, voted against independence, and is administered by France to this day. Soon after, Comoros’ three main islands unilaterally declared independence, but their chosen president Ahmed Abdallah was overthrown almost immediately. Since then, political unrest has endured and more than 20 coups have occurred.

Investment and the Economy

This political instability has discouraged foreign investment and hindered economic development. Although Comoros’s economy is based in agriculture, the country’s main exports (vanilla, cloves and perfume essence) experience frequent price fluctuations. On a basic level, Comoros is physically isolated, making the transportation of outgoing goods particularly expensive.

It is important for the Comorian government to attempt to stimulate the country’s agriculture sector not just because there is money to be made from exports, but because the poorest Comorians live in rural areas and, as aforementioned, Comoros has one of the worst wealth gaps. Comorians in rural areas could especially be helped with the introduction of robust agricultural infrastructure.

Despite these facts, Comoros is beginning to make some political and economic progress. In 2016, Azali Assoumani was elected president of Comoros and began implementing a series of structural and financial reforms that have somewhat stabilized Comoros. Additionally, remittances from Comorian emigrants over the years have kept many Comorian families out of extreme poverty.

Interestingly, women play important social and economic roles in Comoros, especially on the island of Grande Comore. Comoros is a matriarchal society: Comorian women inherit most, if not all, of their family’s lands, own their houses, and are more likely to successfully obtain microcredit loans as their records of saving and repayment tend to be better than men’s. If the Comorian government created programs that, for instance, aimed to educate and steadily employ Comorian women, it could leverage the influence Comorian women already have on society to diminish poverty in Comoros on the whole.

Caroline Meyers

Photo: Flickr

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