A Tiny Indian Ocean Island Nation Duped into Selling Its Citizenship for a Paradise Village That Never Came to Be

by Owen James Burke

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Photo: Encyclopaedia Britannica/UIG via Getty Images.

The Comoro Islands, which lie 200 miles off the east coast of Africa beside Madagascar in the Indian Ocean, are listed, economically, among the poorest countries in the world. In 2008, a group of Emirates devised a $200 million dollar scheme which would, ostensibly, provide the Comoros with enough capital to build new infrastructure: schools, roads, ports. Comorian politicians were led to believe that this new fortune would put Moroni, the nation’s capital city on the map. It was to become the next Dubai–“a Hawaii for Arabs.”

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The Comoro island of Moheli. Photograph: Marka/UIG via Getty Images.

In exchange for the investment, the Emirates would receive a bundle of over 10,000 passports for a nationless and disenfranchised group of ethnically diverse people collectively known as “Bidoons”, who exist at large throughout the Gulf countries. The Bidoons would not be moving to their “new country”, but simply receive what was dubbed an “economic citizenship.”

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Photograph: Richard Bouhet/AFP/Getty Images.

The $200 million, wouldn’t you know it, hardly found its way to the small island nation. Estimates as low as $33.6 million reached Comorian shores, and its anyone’s guess how much–or little–of that trickled through the hands of government officials.

Il ne faut pas croire qui promet la lune,” read a French idiom printed in the last issue of the newspaper owned by Bashar Kiwan, the great and twisted wizard behind this grubby little scheme, perhaps his only concession. “One should not believe he who promises the moon and stars.”

Read Atossa Araxia Abrahamian’s exposé on the “bizarre scheme” at The Guardian.

–OJB

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