High food and fuel prices may push Comoros to the brink of "social unrest" says a senior UN official.
Hopes were raised in Comoros when the government ousted rebel leader Mohammed Bacar in a military operation in March 2008 to take control of Anjouan Island, and officials promised that the assault would bring long-awaited stability to the three-island archipelago in the Indian Ocean.
But, rather than ending a painful history of coups, political bickering and poverty, Comoros again finds itself in crisis, with a population that is angry, disappointed and still very poor.
"There was an enormous amount of hope after the Anjouan assault," said Opiah Kumah, the UN Development Programme representative in Comoros. "The truth is that the situation is maybe even worse today, and that there is a general malaise across the country. The situation is severe, and we fear that if it persists, it could bring the country back to instability; we fear social unrest."
The United States has also issued a travel warning to its citizens, saying that social unrest could be expected in the country.
|The truth is that the situation is maybe even worse today, and that there is a general malaise across the country. The situation is severe, and we fear that if it persists, it could bring the country back to instability; we fear social unrest|
Comoros is one of the poorest and most indebted nations in the world. Incomes among its population of 700,000 have been shrinking in real terms for the past 20 years, down to an average US$633 per capita in 2004. Years of conflict have led to serious problems in almost all key sectors of the economy.
The military solution on troubled Anjouan was sometimes seen as a solution to the rest of the archipelago's problems, and the possibility of some political stability was indeed opened.
Yet in recent months the country has been affected by shortages of food, petrol (gasoline) and diesel after a contract for the sole supply of fuel was terminated in July 2008, according to the travel alerts issued by the US government. A new contract has so far not been secured.
"Everything is affected - transport, electricity and food - food has become so expensive that nobody can afford to buy anything. We are in a situation of permanent crisis here; people are really angry and disappointed," said El-had Said Omar, a journalist with an independent news agency, in a telephone call from Moroni.
The US government alert noted that "Street demonstrations protesting the lack of fuel have occurred in Moroni, the Comoran capital, [situated on Grand Comore Island] and on the island of Anjouan." Further demonstrations may occur, pending a resolution of the fuel shortages ... The political and security situation in Moroni is tense."
Many Comorans have demanded the resignation of Comoros Union President Ahmed Abdallah Mohamed Sambi, and almost all the workers in key sectors such as health and education have gone on strike. Hospitals are almost completely paralysed and student exams have had to be delayed.
Kumah said he expected the UN to allocate up to US$5 million for peace building; the money could be received in two months.