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Archived updates for Wednesday, January 19, 2005

Where in the World is WIPO's Newest Member?

Union des Comores - Udzima wa Komori - الاتحاد القمر

On January 3, 2005, the Director General of the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) presented his compliments to the Minister for Foreign Affairs and had the honor to notify him of the deposit by the Government of the Union of the Comoros of its instrument of accession to the Convention Establishing the World Intellectual Property Organization.

Comoros is one of the poorest countries in the world, with a gross domestic product of $441 million (2002 est.) that is roughly equal to the yearly budget of WIPO. This small group of islands in the Indian Ocean is perhaps best known for the Coelacanth fish, once thought by western scientists to have been extinct for millions of years.

Over the centuries, the islands were invaded by a succession of diverse groups from the coast of Africa, the Persian Gulf, Indonesia, and Madagascar. Portuguese explorers visited the archipelago in 1505. "Shirazi" Arab migrants introduced Islam at about the same time. Between 1841 and 1912, France established colonial rule over Grande Comore, Anjouan, Mayotte, and Moheli and placed the islands under the administration of the governor general of Madagascar. Later, French settlers, French-owned companies, and wealthy Arab merchants established a plantation-based economy that now uses about one-third of the land for export crops. After World War II, the islands became a French overseas territory and were represented in France's National Assembly.

Internal political autonomy was granted in 1961. Agreement was reached with France in 1973 for Comoros to become independent in 1978. On July 6, 1975, however, the Comorian parliament passed a resolution declaring unilateral independence. The deputies of Mayotte abstained. As a result, the Comorian Government has effective control over only Grande Comore, Anjouan, and Moheli. Mayotte remains under French administration.

The political situation in Comoros has been extremely fluid since the country's independence in 1975, subject to the volatility of coups and political insurrection. Colonel Azali seized power in a bloodless coup in April 1999, overthrowing interim President Tadjiddine Ben Said Massounde, who himself had held the office since the death of democratically elected President Mohamed Taki Abdoulkarim in November 1998. In May 1999, Azali decreed a constitution that gave him both executive and legislative powers. Bowing somewhat to international criticism, Azali appointed a civilian Prime Minister, Bainrifi Tarmidi, in December 1999; however, Azali retained the mantle of head of state and army commander. In December 2000, Azali named a new civilian Prime Minister, Hamada Madi, and formed a new civilian cabinet.

When Azali took power he had pledged to step down in 2000 and relinquish control to a democratically elected president. Instead, in 2001, Azali resigned from the military and ran as a civilian candidate for the national presidency. He was elected in 2002 in flawed but fair elections. General elections were held in 2004, when Azali suffered a major setback by only winning 6 of the 18 seats in the National assembly, the other going to the supporters of the presidents of the semi-autonomous islands.

The Comorians inhabiting Grande Comore, Anjouan, and Moheli (86% of the population) share African-Arab origins. Islam is the dominant religion, and Koranic schools for children reinforce its influence. Although Arab culture is firmly established throughout the archipelago, a substantial minority of the citizens of Mayotte (the Mahorais) are Catholic and have been strongly influenced by French culture. About 57% of the population is literate with latin letters, more with arabian letters.

Although French , Arabic and malagasy are spoken, the most common language is Shikomor, a Swahili dialect. It is a close relative of Swahili with a very strong Arabic influence, and is one of the three official languages, next to French and Arabic. Each island has a slightly different dialect; that of Anjouan is called Shindzuani, that of Mohel Shimwali, that of Maore Shimaore, and that of Grand Comoro Shingadzija. No official alphabet existed in 1992, but Arabic and Latin scripts were both used. It is also the language of Udzima wa ya Masiwa, the national anthem of the moon islands ("al-qamar" is Arabic for "moon").

A Comorian style of Zanzibar's "taarab" music, called "twarab," is popular on the islands. Leading twarab bands include Sambeco and Belle Lumière, as well as star singer Mohammed Hassan. Comorian instruments include the 'ud and violin, the most frequent accompaniment for twarab, as well as gabusi (a type of lute) and ndzendze. Sega music from nearby Mauritius and Réunion islands is also popular. Modern musicians like Abou Chihabi, who composed the Comorian national anthem and is known for his reggae-tinged pan-African variet music, and reggae/zouk/soukous fusionists like Maalesh and Salim Ali Amir.

Click here for a music sample.

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