DR Ambedkar IAS Academy

Why ‘Vanilla Islands’ In South West Indian Ocean Are Important For India

On Thursday (10 October), Vice President Venkaiah Naidu departed for a five day visit to the Comoros and Sierra Leone with the goal of deepening ties with the African subcontinent.

The Comoros island is a part of ‘Vanilla Islands’, with whom India is seeking to increase its engagement.

What are the ‘Vanilla Islands’

Vanilla Islands is a grouping of six island nations in south-west Indian Ocean who joined hands in 2010 to integrate their efforts to boost tourism. Mayotte, Comoros, Mauritius, Seychelles, Reunion and Madagascar are its members.

The term ‘Vanilla’ is used because these countries are known for their export of the flavouring substance Vanilla.

Madagascar is an island country situated approximately 400 kilometres off the coast of East Africa. A former French colony, Madagascar is one of the least developed nations of the world. It is a member of the the African Union (AU) as well as the Southern African Development Community (SADC). A small Gujarati merchant community exists here.

Comoros is a small island nation situated in the warm Indian Ocean waters of the Mozambique Channel. It is a volcanic archipelago with the largest city and capital at Moroni. Arabic and French are the two official languages.

The majority of the Comorans follow Sunni Islam and Comoros is the only Muslim-majority country in Southern Africa

Mayotte is a part of Comoros archipelagio but France-administered territory situated in the Mozambique channel. It is the southernmost Muslim-majority territory (not a country as it is a part of France) in the African continent.

Reunion is another French territory located east of Madagascar. It has substantial presence of Indian origin people due to indentured labour from South India as well as Gujarati Muslim merchants. The Roman Catholicism is the religion of the majority while Hindus make up 6.7 per cent of the population.

The Republic of Seychelles is an archipelago country in the Indian Ocean with 115 islands. Excluding the French regions, Seychelles has the highest nominal per capita GDP in Africa. It has high Human Development Index (HDI) and is classified as a high-income economy by the World Bank.

Seychelles had no indigenous inhabitants and most of its present day population consists of African, French, Indian and Chinese origin people. A majority of the population of Seychelles follows Christianity.

Hindus comprise of 2.4 per cent of the Seychelles population and Hinduism has seen a rise in the country with formation of Seychelles Hindu Kovil Sangam in 1984. In May 1992, the Navasakti Vinayagar Temple was consecrated. In 1998, the Seychelles government declared Taippoosam Kavadi Festival a national holiday.

Mauritius also has substantial presence of Indian diaspora. The island nation was formerly under the control of the Dutch, the French as well as the British, and got its independence in 1968.

Mauritius has highest HDI in the Africa and ranks highly on economic development. It also has the highest population density in Africa. Around 50 per cent of the Mauritian population follows Hinduism, mostly Biharis with Tamil, Telugu and Marathi minorities, followed by Christianity (32.7 per cent), and Islam (17.2 per cent).

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