Vanuatu

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Republic of Vanuatu
Vanuatu rel98.jpg
Flag of Vanuatu.png
Arms of Vanuatu.png
FlagCoat of Arms
CapitalPort Vila
GovernmentParliamentary Republic
LanguageBislama, English, French (official)
PresidentIolu Abil
Prime ministerSato Kilman
Area4,706 sq mi
Population 2006209,000
GDP 2005$726 million
GDP per capita$3,346
CurrencyVanuatu vatu

Vanuatu is a small island nation near Australia. Parts of the nation remain in a pre-modern state, sometimes typified by cargo cults.

Contents

Geography

Vanuatu is a 'Y' shaped archipelago of 83 islands. It is located about 1,750 kilometers east of Australia. Fiji lies to the east, New Caledonia to the south, and the Solomon Islands to the northwest, all within the area of the South Pacific called Melanesia.

The two largest islands, Espiritu Santo (or Santo) and Malakula, account for nearly one-half of the total land area. They are volcanic, with sharp mountain peaks, plateaus, and lowlands. The larger islands of the remaining half also are volcanic but are overlaid with limestone formations; the smaller ones are coral and limestone. Volcanic activity is common with an ever-present danger of a major eruption, the last of which occurred in 1945. Rainfall averages about 2,360 millimeters (94 in.) per year but can be as high as 4,000 millimeters (160 in.) in the northern islands.

People

The population of Vanuatu is 94% indigenous Melanesian. About 33,700 live in the capital, Port Vila. Another 10,700 live in Luganville (or Santo Town) on Espiritu Santo. The remainder live in rural areas. Approximately 2,000 ni-Vanuatu live and work in New Caledonia. Although local pidgin, called Bislama, is the national language, English and French also are official languages. Indigenous Melanesians speak 105 local languages.

Christianity has had a profound influence on ni-Vanuatu society, and an estimated 90% of the population is affiliated with one of the Christian denominations. The largest denominations are Presbyterian, Roman Catholic, and Anglican. John Frum, a syncretic sect, also is important on Tanna Island.

  • Population (2006): 221,506.
  • Annual growth rate (2005 est.): 2.2%.
  • Ethnic groups: 94% ni-Vanuatu; 4% European; 2% other Pacific Islanders, Asian.
  • Religion: Predominantly Christian.
  • Languages: Bislama (Pidgin), English, French, over 100 tribal languages.
  • Education: Enrollment in primary is 100% with rapid fall-off to 20% in secondary and upper secondary. Adult literacy rate (2005)--74% of those age 15 and older.
  • Health: Infant mortality rate (2005)--55.1/1,000. Life expectancy (2005)--62.5 yrs.
  • Work force (1999): 134,000. Agriculture--65%. Industry--5%. Service--30%.

Government

The constitution created a republican political system headed by a president who has primarily ceremonial powers and is elected by a two-thirds majority in an electoral college consisting of members of Parliament and the presidents of Regional Councils. The president serves a 5-year term. The president may be removed by the Electoral College for gross misconduct or incapacity. The prime minister, who is the head of government, is elected by a majority vote of a three-fourths quorum of the Parliament. The prime minister in turn appoints the Council of Ministers, whose number may not exceed one-fourth of the number of parliamentary representatives. The prime minister and the Council of Ministers constitute the executive government.

Parliament is a 52-member unicameral house elected by all persons over 18 years old. Parliament normally sits for a 4-year term unless dissolved by majority vote of a three-fourths quorum or a directive from the president on the advice of the prime minister. The national Council of Chiefs, called the Malvatu Mauri and elected by district councils of chiefs, advises the government on all matters concerning ni-Vanuatu culture and language.

The Supreme Court consists of a chief justice and up to three other judges. Two or more members of this court may constitute a Court of Appeal. Magistrate courts handle most routine legal matters. The legal system is based on British law. The constitution also provides for the establishment of village or island courts presided over by chiefs to deal with questions of customary law.

Principal Government Officials

  • President--Iolu Abil
  • Prime Minister--Sato Kilman
  • Foreign Minister/Deputy Prime Minister--Sato Kilman

Political Conditions

Government and society in Vanuatu tend to divide along linguistic--French and English--lines. Historically, English-speaking politicians such as Walter Lini and other leaders of the Vanua'aku Pati favored early independence, whereas French-speaking political leaders favored continuing association with the colonial administrators, particularly France.

On the eve of independence in 1980, Jimmy Stevens' Nagriamel movement, in alliance with private French interests and backed by American libertarians hoping to establish a tax-free haven, declared the island of Espiritu Santo independent of the new government. Following independence, Vanuatu requested assistance from Papua New Guinea, whose forces restored order on Santo. From then until 1991, the Vanua'aku Pati and its predominantly English-speaking leadership controlled the Vanuatu Government, and Walter Lini became widely considered as the nation's founding father.

In December 1991, and following a split in the Vanua'aku Pati, Maxime Carlot Korman, leader of the Francophone Union of Moderate Parties (UMP), was elected Vanuatu's first Francophone prime minister. He formed a coalition government with Walter Lini's breakaway VP faction, now named the National United Party (NUP). From 1995-2004 government leadership changed frequently due to unstable coalitions within the Parliament and within the major parties.

The president dissolved Parliament in May 2004 to forestall a vote of no confidence and called a special election that resulted in losses for most major parties. UMP’s leader, Serge Vohor, returned as Prime Minister at the head of an unwieldy coalition government. Following controversy over Vohor's attempt to extend diplomatic relations to Taiwan, he was ousted by a vote of no confidence in December 2004 and replaced by Ham Lini, brother of Walter Lini. The new coalition includes ten parties and features the former opposition leader, Sato Kilman, as Deputy Prime Minister/Foreign Minister.

Foreign Relations

Vanuatu maintains relations with more than 65 countries, including Russia, the People's Republic of China, Cuba, and Vietnam. However, only Australia, France, New Zealand, and the People's Republic of China maintain embassies, high commissions, or missions in Port Vila.

The government's main concern has been to bolster the economy. In keeping with its need for financial assistance, Vanuatu has joined the Asian Development Bank, the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, and the Agence de Cooperation Culturelle et Technique.

The government encourages private enterprise, foreign investment, and producer cooperatives. Like other developing countries, Vanuatu is particularly interested in enterprises that add value to local primary products and that provide employment. In less lucrative sectors, the government sets up its own production companies or enters joint ventures with foreign investors.

Since 1980, Australia, the United Kingdom, France, and New Zealand have provided the bulk of Vanuatu's development aid. A number of other countries, including Japan, Canada, Germany, and various multilateral organizations, such as the Economic and Social Council for Asia and the Pacific, the UN Development Program, the Asian Development Bank, the European Economic Community, and the Commonwealth Development Corporation also provide developmental aid. The United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, the United Kingdom, and Japan also send volunteers. In March 2006 the United States Millennium Challenge Corporation signed a five-year $65.69 million Compact agreement with Vanuatu. Vanuatu retains strong economic and cultural ties to Australia, New Zealand, and France.

Economy

Vanuatu's economy is primarily agricultural; 80% of the population is engaged in agricultural activities that range from subsistence farming to smallholder farming of coconuts and other cash crops. Copra is by far the most important cash crop (making up more than 35% of the country's exports), followed by timber, beef, and cocoa. Kava root extract exports also have become important. In addition, the government has maintained Vanuatu's preindependence status as a tax haven and international off-shore financial center. About 2,000 registered institutions offer a wide range of offshore banking, investment, legal, accounting, and insurance and trust-company services. Vanuatu also maintains an international shipping register in New York City. In 2002, following increasing international concern over money laundering, Vanuatu increased oversight and reporting requirements for its off-shore sector.

Coconut oil, copra, kava and beef account for more than 75% of Vanuatu's total agricultural exports and agriculture accounts for approximately 20% of GDP. Tourism is Vanuatu's fastest-growing sector, having comprised 40% of GDP in 2000. Industry’s portion of GDP declined from 15% to 10% between 1990 and 2000. Government consumption accounted for about 27% of GDP.

  • GDP (2005): $343.6 million.
  • Per capita income (2005): $1,576.
  • Real growth rate (2005): 3.1%.
  • Avg. inflation rate (2005): 2.6%.
  • Natural resources: Forests, agricultural land, marine resources.
  • Agriculture: Products--copra, cocoa, coffee, cattle, timber.
  • Industry: Types--copra production, beef processing, sawmilling, tourism, financial services.
  • Trade (2003): Exports--$135.27 million: coconut oil, copra, kava, beef. Major markets--EU 44.9%, Australia 12.1%, Japan 6.8%, New Caledonia 4.6%. Imports--$181.4 million: machines and transport equipment, food and live animals, basic manufactures, mineral fuels. Major suppliers--Australia 42.5%, New Zealand 13.0%, Fiji 8.6%, Singapore 6.2%.
  • Exchange rate (2005 avg.): 109.25 vatu=U.S.$1.

Vanuatu is a small country, with only a few commodities, mostly agricultural, produced for export. In 2003, imports exceeded exports by a ratio of nearly 3 to 2. However, this was partially offset by high services income from tourism, keeping the current account balance at $-28.4 million.

Vanuatu claims an exclusive economic zone of 680,000 square kilometers and possesses substantial marine resources. Currently, only a limited number of ni-Vanuatu are involved in fishing, while foreign fleets exploit this potential.

In 1997 the government, with the aid of the Asian Development Bank, committed itself to a 3-year comprehensive reform program. During the first year of the program the government adopted a value-added tax, consolidated and reformed government-owned banks, and started a 10% downsizing in the public service. An important part of the reform installed career civil servants as Director Generals in charge of each ministry, helping to ensure continuity of service despite the frequent changes in government.

History

The prehistory of Vanuatu is obscure; archaeological evidence supports the commonly held theory that peoples speaking Austronesian languages first came to the islands some 4,000 years ago. Pottery fragments have been found dating back to 1300-1100 B.C.

The first island in the Vanuatu group discovered by Europeans was Espiritu Santo, when in 1606 the Portuguese explorer, Pedro Fernandez De Quiros, spied what he thought was a southern continent. Europeans did not return until 1768, when Louis Antoine de Bougainville rediscovered the islands. In 1774, Captain Cook named the islands the New Hebrides, a name that lasted until independence.

In 1825, trader Peter Dillon's discovery of sandalwood on the island of Erromango began a rush that ended in 1830 after a clash between immigrant Polynesian workers and indigenous Melanesians. During the 1860s, planters in Australia, Fiji, New Caledonia, and the Samoa Islands, in need of laborers, encouraged a long-term indentured labor trade called "blackbirding." At the height of the labor trade, more than one-half the adult male population of several of the Islands worked abroad. Fragmentary evidence indicates that the current population of Vanuatu is greatly reduced compared to pre-contact times.

It was at this time that missionaries, both Catholic and Protestant, arrived on the islands. Settlers also came, looking for land on which to establish cotton plantations. When international cotton prices collapsed, they switched to coffee, cocoa, bananas, and, most successfully, coconuts. Initially, British subjects from Australia made up the majority, but the establishment of the Caledonian Company of the New Hebrides in 1882 soon tipped the balance in favor of French subjects. By the turn of the century, the French outnumbered the British two to one.

The jumbling of French and British interests in the islands brought petitions for one or another of the two powers to annex the territory. In 1906, however, France and the United Kingdom agreed to administer the islands jointly. Called the British-French Condominium, it was a unique form of government, with separate governmental systems that came together only in a joint court. Melanesians were barred from acquiring the citizenship of either power.

Challenges to this form of government began in the early 1940s. The arrival of Americans during World War II, with their informal demeanor and relative wealth, was instrumental in the rise of nationalism in the islands. The belief in a mythical messianic figure named John Frum was the basis for an indigenous cargo cult (a movement attempting to obtain industrial goods through magic) promising Melanesian deliverance. Today, John Frum is both a religion and a political party with a member in Parliament.

The first political party was established in the early 1970s and originally was called the New Hebrides National Party. One of the founders was Father Walter Lini, who later became Prime Minister. Renamed the Vanua'aku Pati in 1974, the party pushed for independence; in 1980, the Republic of Vanuatu was created.


Copyright Details
License: This work is in the Public Domain in the United States because it is a work of the United States Federal Government under the terms of Title 17, Chapter 1, Section 105 of the U.S. Code
Source: File available from the United States Federal Government [1].
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