Posted on Friday, 20 November 2015 11:00

Comoros Country Profile 2015: Struggling to keep the lights on

By The Africa Report

altThe risk of political tension in the Comoros continues to run high as the government machinery is unable to meet the population's development demands and rivalries between politicians continue to call the country's rotating presidency into question.

President Ikililou Dhoinine has not achieved much during his tenure and is preparing to hand over to a president elected from Grande Comore island in 2016.

The government does not have the money or the logistical capacity to organise polls on time and it is struggling to provide basic infrastructure for the islands of Grande Comore, Anjouan and Mohéli.

The year 2015 will also be one of elections, with overdue legislative polls scheduled for January and February 2015, at the same time as the vote for the leadership of the islands' governments. The legislature's mandate expired in April 2014 and was extended due to the difficulties in planning the polls.

Candidates line up

Politicians continue to criticise the rotating presidency. Ahmed Abdallah Sambi, who is from Anjouan and was president from 2006 to 2011, has made it clear he intends to run in 2016 even though he is not eligible. Former vice-president Idi Nadhoim, lawyer Saïd Larifou and former president Azali Assoumani are among the candidates already campaigning for 2016.

The country has been relatively stable over the past few years after many coups throughout its recent history, with the last attempted coup in April 2013.

Private consumption and public investment remain the main drivers of growth, which is underpinned by donor financing, remittances and revenue from the Economic Citizenship Programme – the controversial scheme that sells Comorian nationality.

Exports account for just 15% of gross domestic product (GDP). Oil could change the archipelago's economic fundamentals. There has been little exploration conducted so far.


The Comoros awarded exploration licences for six offshore blocks to two consortiums in March 2014. The blocks are located close to proven reserves in Mozambique and Tanzania, so their potential – and that of the remaining 34 blocks – is thought to be high.

The search for oil could cause diplomatic problems, too, as some blocks overlap with the maritime border of Mayotte, the French overseas department also claimed by the Comoros.

The government has not implemented many structural economic reforms. The agricultural sector still accounts for around half of GDP. The share of the service sector, which includes potentially transformative sectors such as telecoms, banking and tourism, recently declined to less than 40% of GDP.

Unemployment remains high, and the public sector is bloated and inefficient. The public wage bill accounts for 60% of the federal government's budget, and the state was late with several salary payments in 2014.

Donors back reforms

The government is drafting its Strategy for Accelerated Growth and Sustainable Development 2015-2019, which seeks to make the economy more competitive. The strategy will prioritise basic infrastructure development – roads and ports in particular – and improvements to the business climate.

Donors are backing these reforms: the World Bank's country strategy for 2014-2017 earmarked $60m for increased public sector capacity, shared growth and job creation. Oman and the Comoros signed a $10m bilateral agreement for infrastructure financing in January 2014.

The archipelago also became eligible for the African Development Bank Fragile States Facility, which should significantly increase the bank's commitment to infrastructure funding.

Amongst the most pressing reforms are those of the energy and telecoms sectors. As part of the International Monetary Fund's Heavily Indebted Poor Countries scheme, Comores Télécom was meant to be privatised and a licence for a second operator granted to boost competition in 2014.

Those projects were delayed due to opposition within parliament. State-owned electricity utility Ma-Mwé is in dire financial straits due to poor management.

Moroni, the federal capital, had no electricity between mid-August and mid-September because the company could not pay for diesel imports. The government is looking to develop solar and geothermal energy.

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