Comoros: The Dead Island that continues to stifle freedom voices

What image do you get when you think about an island with an exotic name like Comoros? Probably a picturesque island with endless sandy beaches, clear turquoise water, teeming with happy spirited tourists mingling with the locals is probably what you have in mind. A beautiful island in the Indian Ocean should be that way and to a large extent you are right but then again you are wrong, Comoros is a beautiful Island, off the Northern coast of Mozambique, which the BBC describes, “Potentially a holiday paradise with picture-postcard beaches.” Comoros could be paradise, save for one thing, its government. The beautiful island does not have a history of good government and the current one is no exception.

Comoros has had a tumultuous political past, coups and counter coups including one that happened barely weeks into Comoros’ independence from France in 1975. Between then and now, the three Indian Ocean Islands that form Comoros have experienced over 20 Coup De tats. This political upheaval has adversely affected the economic environment and the quality of life in the Comoros. Even by African standards Comoros lies at the nadir of economic underdevelopment, the World Bank reports that the people of Comoros are among the poorest on the continent. Over 44.8 % of the population live below the poverty line, its GDP was US$D 598.9 million in the year 2013, contrasting that with the Comoros’ other Indian Ocean cousin, Mauritius, which had a GDP of US$D 11.93 Billion in the same year portrays a paradox of sorts. In the same year the average GNI per capita in African was US$D 1,657 in Comoros it was approximately half of that at, US$D 840. Whereas the rest of Sub-Saharan African has enjoyed modest economic growth during the last few years, Comoros’ economic growth is regressing, from 3.5% in 2013 to 3.4% in 2014 and it is estimated that it will a paltry 3.0% in 2016.

What is happening in Comoros? A multiplicity of factors most hinging on constricted social, economic, political and individual freedom seem to be pushing Comoros to economic doldrums. In the Economic Freedom of the world index by the Heritage Foundation, Comoros ranks 142ndin the ‘mostly unfree’ category of the 166 country index. But ultimately the bane of the Comoros’ lies in its political repression and corruption by the government of Ikililou Dhoinine.

At his inauguration in 2010 Dhoinine promised a valiant fight against corruption, but evidence has been far and thin that he has kept that promise. Transparency International’s Corruption perception index (2014) place the country 142/175. Moreover, an influx of aid from Qatar and Saudi Arabia reduce all incentives for fiscal discipline and transparency in government.

The absence of political and civil freedoms often come at a big cost, opponents of state corruption and political activists are hunted, haunted and detained by the state. Last week the president of the Federation of Comorian consumers, Mohamed Said Abdallah Mchangama a former Finance Minister, was arrested for organizing a demonstration against state corruption and erratic power supply, his unconstitutional detention has been extended indefinitely. Mr. Mchangama was arrested on the grounds of “incitement to hatred.”

Mr. Mchangama was arrested for (together with other civil society organizations) starting a movement by the name ‘Madji Na Mwedje’Ile Morte” or “Dead Island.” Crackdown against the civil movement has been happening for a while now. A 2010 USAID reports about the impunity that characterizes Comoros, “Impunity was a problem, and there was no mechanism to investigate police abuses. Police and security forces participated in training on civil-military relations, public health, and peacekeeping operations.” The report further says that rights to expedient administration and fair administration to justice were, “In practice these rights were inconsistently respected.”

For the average Comorian, the island really is dead, it has become insular and whereas other countries in Africa have been converging towards good governance and economic deregulation, the Comoros is heading down hill in the opposite direction. Africans of good will should not let this paradise slip down the drain, they should stand up for freedom and justice and rule of law and demand that Ikililou Dhoinine release political prisoners.

Alex Njeru wrote in from Nairobi

photo: Ikililou Dhoinine via SnipView