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new internationalist
issue 235 - September 1992

Country profile: Vanuatu

photo by ANNA BUCKLEY Port Vila, the capital of Vanuatu, is unlike the rest of the country. It is a sophisticated tax haven with patisséries, golf courses and international cuisine. Elsewhere, tropical forest covers dramatic volcanic topography. Most ni-Vanuatu live in coastal villages, only partially incorporated into the cash economy.

Vanuatu is one of the most culturally diverse nations of the world. Despite the widespread influence of missionaries (there is a church in almost every vil- lage), traditional beliefs and customs are strong.

On Tanna island, 'cargo- cult' followers of John Frum meet every year to await his return. Numerous stories surround this mythical man. During World War Two airstrips were cleared from the bush and houses built to store the 'cargo' he would bring - modem equipment, technology and other Westem goods. John Frum has not yet come. But, in the words of one believer, 'peo- ple have waited 2,000 years for Christ, so we can wait a few more years for John.'

For 73 years the islands were ruled jointly by the British and the French in one of the most bizarre arrangements in colonial history. Under the joint Condominium, nicknamed 'Pacific Pandemonium', neither colonial power had exclusive sovereignty. But nor did they want to be outdone by the other. So there were two post offices, two currencies, two sets of stamps, British schools and lycées. British and French flags, apparently, were raised to exactly the same height at exactly the same time every day.

The legacy of competing foreign powers still lingers; with political parties and an education system divided along old colonial lines. The language barrier hampers co-operation within the nation's small but growing educated elite. Plans to integrate English and French schools have met with little success.

Elections in December 1991 brought to power the first French-speaking Prime Minister, Maxime Carlot. After 11 years of govemment by Father Walter Lini, leader of the pre-dominantly English-speaking Vanuaaku Pati (VP), Carlot has promised more jobs for French-speakers in the public service and wider use of the French language generally.

Vanuatu was the first nation to join the Campaign for an Independent and Nuclear Free Pacific. In the past, the Lini administration was outspoken in its support for independence movements in New Caledonia, East Timor and French Polynesia. But the new Prime Minister's interests are more closely allied with the French.

As a small and open economy, Vanuatu is heavily influenced by external events: commodity prices, foreign aid inflows, the number of tourist arrivals and damage caused by cyclones. The most cyclone-prone of all Pacific nations, Vanuatu experiences an average of one attack a year - upheavals which mirror the changes in the country.

Anna Buckley


LEADER: Prime Minister Maxime Carlot

ECONOMY: GNP per capita: US $860 (US $20,910)
Monetary unit: Vatu
Main exports: Copra, fish re-exports, beef and cocoa.
Main imports: Machinery, transport equipment, food, live animals, basic manufactures, fuels, lubricants and chemicals. Eighty per cent of the population work on small-holdings, growing coconuts, taro, bananas, sweet potatoes, fruit and vegetables, and raising pigs and poultry. Along with the plantations, they also produce copra and cocoa for export. Cattle and forestry are increasingly important foreign exchange earners.

PEOPLE: 159,000

HEALTH: Infant mortality 69 per 1,000 (US 9 per 1,000)

CULTURE: Majority of people are Melanesian in origin, with another five per cent of European descent.
Language: Bislama (local pidgin dialect), English, French and many local languages.
Religion: 80 per cent Christian but animism is still prevalent and the cargo cult remains on Tanna island. Localised secessionist movements in some islands.

Sources: The State of the Worlds Children, 1992; The Asia and Pacific Review, 199 1/1992; World Bank Report, 1992; information supplied by author.



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INCOME DISTRIBUTION [image, unknown] [image, unknown] [image, unknown]
Good among ni-Vanuatu but expats earn most of the country's wealth.


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LITERACY [image, unknown] [image, unknown]
Poor despite education improvements since independence.


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SELF-RELIANCE [image, unknown]
Aid inflows per capita ten times the average for the developing world.


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FREEDOM [image, unknown] [image, unknown] [image, unknown]
Recent sacking of journalists spoilt an otherwise good record.


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POSITION OF WOMEN [image, unknown] [image, unknown]
Improving slowly as educational opportunities expand.


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LIFE EXPECTANCY [image, unknown] [image, unknown] [image, unknown]
65 years (US 76 years).
Malaria is main killer.




Politics now

Western-style democracy. Socialist since
independence; now more right-wing.


NI star rating

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previous page choose a different magazine go to the contents page go to the NI home page [image, unknown]

New Internationalist issue 235 magazine cover This article is from the September 1992 issue of New Internationalist.
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