The Comoro Islands

An archipelago sounds like a word with an exotic feeling attached to it and one would expect a similar description. But then, we all know that is not what it might portray throughout.

The Comoro Islands are located in the Mozambique Channel to the north-west of Madagascar and facing Mozambique. These volcanic islands, covering a total area of 2034 km², are:

  • Ngazidja (or Grande Comore): the largest island, with the capital of the Union of the Comoros, Moroni
  • Ndzwani (or Anjouan)
  • Mwali (or Mohéli)
  • Maore (or Mayotte): under French administration, and including
  • Pamanzi (or Petite Terre) Mayotte’s second-largest island. Supports Mayotte’s only airport inDzaoudzi
  • Banc Vailheu, or Raya, lies 20 km west of Grande Comore, is within 7m of the surface at low tide.

They are divided between the sovereign state of the Comoros and the French overseas department of Mayotte.

Two islets have been considered parts of this archipelago, by various sources, and at different times:

  • TheBanc du Geyser is a reef situated 130 km North-East of Mayottea. It is 8km by 5 km in area and some parts of it are underwater. It is claimed by Comoros, France and Madagascar.
  • TheGlorioso Islands (French Îles Glorieuses) formed a part of the archipelago and were administratively attached to it 1975. At a geological level, they still do.

In addition, between Madagascar and Mayotte, there is the Banc du Leven, a former island which is submerged in the present days.

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There is an affinity between the Comorian flora and the Madagascan flora. The Banc du Leven, which lies along about one hundred kilometres to the extreme north-west of Madagascar between the Montagne d’Ambre and the archipelago could partly explain it. In fact, this bank with a tabular appearance presents coralliferous sediments which can be attributed to the presence of a coral reef during the Würm glaciations, i.e., the last glacial period in the Alpine region.

Politically, the islands are currently divided into two entities:

  • The Union of the Comoros, which is a sovereign nation formed by the three islands of Grande Comore, Anjouan and Mohéli.
  • Mayotte, anoverseas department of France.  This island is claimed by the Union of the Comoros, but it has chosen to remain French in numerous referenda that France has held to decide its position.

The Union of the Comoros is declared their independence in 1997. However, these unilateral declarations of independence received no international recognition and were later rescinded.

Grande Comore is the youngest volcanically active island in the lot. Karthala is a shield volcano which occupies some two thirds of the island and rises up to 2361m.

Geology

The Comoro Archipelago comprises volcanic islands. The Tertiary and Quaternary Eras witnessed the formation of some of these volcanic islands, suc as the high mountains in the north of Madagascar. The oldest island above sea level, that of Mayotte underwent three volcanic phases in the last 15 million years. As we travel from east to west the islands get younger.

History

The 6th century welcomed the first inhabitants of this archipelago. Numerous peoples have crossed over and mixed, including those of Bantu, Malagasy, Indonesian, Arab, Portuguese, French and Indian origin.

The French established their rule over the islands between 1841 and 1912. They succeeded in establishing a colony in Mayotte in 1841 and protectorates over the other islands in 1886. These were constituted as a single administrative unit under the authority of the Governor General of Madagascar in 1908. The European powers recognised the French influence over the islands after the Berlin conference of 1884-85 which divided up Africa. In 1912 the colony of Mayotte and its dependencies became a province of the colony of Madagascar.

The workforce on Réunion, a French island was getting more expensive day by day. Hence, the Comoro Islands offered the colonists and colonial societies like la Bambao a workforce in plantations of aromatic plants and vanilla. They were offered various other perspectives too. In 1946, the islands formed a united and recognized administrative entity, an Overseas Territory of France (Territoire d’outre-mer or TOM). They were no longer administratively attached to Madagascar.

In 1974, France organized a referendum for self-determination in the archipelago in which the population except in Mayotte voted overwhelmingly in favour of independence. France maintained sovereignty over Mayotte after the unilateral declaration of independence in 1975,. The three remaining islands formed the Etat Comorian, which later became the Federal Islamic Republic of the Comoro Islands.

Mayotte expressed a wish to accede to the status of a département d’outre-mer (DOM) (Overseas Department) following another referendum held on the island on the 29 March 2009. It officially became France’s 101st department on 31 March 2011.

Climate

The Comoro Archipelago enjoys a tropical maritime climate. There are slight daytime temperature variations of around 26 °C (78.8 °F) at sea-level throughout the year. There are two seasons in the Comoros. They are:

The hot and humid season: This season lasts from November to April. During this season, it can rain as much as 20cmm (7.9 in) in a day.

The dry season: This one lasts from May to October and is much calmer. There are winds, but with a lot lesser intensity.

The climate on Mayotte is, nevertheless, noticeably warmer and drier. It is also characterized by important local variations in temperature and precipitation according to altitude, relief and the degree of exposure to the elements. The annual precipitation therefore varies in the region of 1,000 to 6,000 mm (39.4 to 236.2 in) and the absolute minimum of 0 °C (32 °F) is reached on the summit of Karthala.

The two winds that bring the two different seasons are called the Kashkasi (in November) and the Kusi.

The Tourism Industry

As of today, the Comoro islands also serve as a travel and holidaying destination for tourists. Although there are beaches, the marine environment, scenery and other attractions, it does not have a strong tourism industry unlike its regional rival Mauritius. The reason behind that happens to be an insecure political climate.