Republic of the Marshall Islands
Area: 181 sq. km. (about 70 sq. mi.) of land
area scattered over 750,000 sq. mi. of the
Cities: Capital--Majuro (pop. 25,000 in
2005). Other towns--Ebeye (12,000 in
Terrain: 29 low-lying coral atolls and five
Climate: Tropical with a wet season from May to
Nationality: Noun and adjective--Marshallese.
Population (2002 est.): 56,639. (Figures not
adjusted for migration to the U.S., where
Marshallese colonies of unknown size exist.)
Annual growth rate (2004): 2.27%.
Ethnic groups: 90% Marshallese, 10% estimated
U.S., Filipino, Chinese, New Zealander,
Australian, other Micronesian (FSM), Kiribati,
Korean, and Fijian.
Religions: Christian, mostly Protestant.
Languages: Two major Marshallese dialects from
Malayo-Polynesian family; English;
Education: Literacy (2002)--98%
(officially based on question, "Do you read the
Health: Infant mortality rate--(2004)
2.3%, under age 5 mortality rate 4.8%. Life
expectancy--men 65.7 yrs.; women 69.4 yrs.
Work force (14,677: 66% employed, 34%
unemployed): Services, including government--64%;
construction and services--18%;
agriculture and fishing--18%.
Type: Parliamentary democracy in free
association with the U.S. A Compact of Free
Association entered into force in 1986 and an
Amended Compact entered into force May 1, 2004.
Independence: October 21, 1986 from the
U.S.-administered UN trusteeship.
Constitution: May 1, 1979.
Branches: Executive--president (chief of
state), cabinet. Legislative--unicameral
parliament (Nitijela) and consultative Council
of Iroij (traditional leaders). Judicial--Supreme
Court, high court, district and community
courts, traditional rights court.
Political parties: United Democratic and Ailin
Kein Ad (Our Islands).
Suffrage: Universal at age 18.
Administrative subdivisions: 24 local
GDP (current market prices, 2004): $135.3
Natural resources: Marine resources, including
mariculture and possible deep seabed minerals.
Agriculture: Products--Copra (dried
coconut meat); taro and breadfruit are
Industry: Types--Copra processing, fish
processing, tourism, pearl farming, handicrafts.
Trade: Major trading partners--U.S.,
Japan, Australia, China, Hong Kong, New Zealand,
Official currency: U.S. dollar.
GEOGRAPHY AND PEOPLE
The Marshall Islands is comprised of 29 atolls
and five major islands, which form two parallel
groups--the "Ratak" (sunrise) chain and the "Ralik"(sunset)
chain. Two-thirds of the nation's population
lives in Majuro and Ebeye. The outer islands are
sparsely populated due to lack of employment
opportunities and economic development.
The Marshallese are of Micronesian origin,
which is traced to a combination of peoples who
emigrated from Southeast Asia in the remote
past. The matrilineal Marshallese culture
revolves around a complex system of clans and
lineages tied to land ownership.
Virtually all Marshallese are Christian, most
of them Protestant. Other Christian
denominations include Roman Catholic,
Seventh-day Adventist, Mormon, Salvation Army,
and Jehovah's Witness. A small Bahai community
Marshallese is the official language. English
is spoken by most of the adult urban population.
However, both the Nitijela (parliament) and
national radio use Marshallese.
The public school system provides education
through grade 12, although admission to
secondary school is selective. The elementary
program employs a bilingual/bicultural
curriculum. English is introduced in the fourth
grade. Many Marshallese and American observers
have lamented the poor state of the public
education system as a major stumbling block to
economic development. The Marshall Islands’
largest secondary institution--the 2-year
College of the Marshall Islands--has experienced
U.S. accreditation problems since 2003. The
University of the South Pacific offers courses
at a small campus on Majuro.
Little is clearly understood about the
prehistory of the Marshall Islands. Researchers
agree on little more than that successive waves
of migratory peoples from Southeast Asia spread
across the Western Pacific about 3,000 years ago
and that some of them landed on and remained on
these islands. The Spanish explorer de Saavedra
landed there in 1529. They were named for
English explorer John Marshall, who visited them
in 1799. The Marshall Islands were claimed by
Spain in 1874.
Germany established a protectorate in 1885
and set up trading stations on the islands of
Jaluit and Ebon to carry out the flourishing
copra (dried coconut meat) trade. Marshallese
Iroij (high chiefs) continued to rule under
indirect colonial German administration.
At the beginning of World War I, Japan
assumed control of the Marshall Islands. Their
headquarters remained at the German center of
administration, Jaluit. U.S. Marines and Army
troops took control from the Japanese in early
1944, following intense fighting on Kwajalein
and Enewetak atolls. In 1947, the United States,
as the occupying power, entered into an
agreement with the UN Security Council to
administer Micronesia, including the Marshall
Islands, as the Trust Territory of the Pacific
On May 1, 1979, in recognition of the
evolving political status of the Marshall
Islands, the United States recognized the
constitution of the Marshall Islands and the
establishment of the Government of the Republic
of the Marshall Islands. The constitution
incorporates both American and British
The legislative branch of the government
consists of the Nitijela (parliament) with an
advisory council of high chiefs. The Nitijela
has 33 members from 24 districts elected for
concurrent 4-year terms. Members are called
senators. The president is elected by the
Nitijela from among its members. Presidents pick
cabinet members from the Nitijela. Amata Kabua
was elected as the first president of the
republic in 1979. Subsequently, he was
re-elected to 4-year terms in 1983, 1987, 1991,
and 1996. After Amata Kabua's death in office,
his first cousin, Imata Kabua, won a special
election in 1997. The current president's party
was re-elected in the general elections of
November 2003, and President Note was reaffirmed
in office in January 2004.
The Republic of the Marshall Islands has four
court systems: Supreme Court, high court,
district and community courts, and the
traditional rights court. Trial is by jury or
judge. Jurisdiction of the traditional rights
court is limited to cases involving titles or
land rights or other disputes arising from
customary law and traditional practice.
Principal Government Officials
Head of State--President Kessai H. Note
Minister of Foreign Affairs--Gerald Zackios
Ambassador to the U.S.--Banny de Brum
Ambassador to the UN--Alfred Capelle
The Republic of the Marshall Islands
at 2433 Massachusetts Avenue NW, Washington, DC
20008 (tel. 202-234-5414). It has a consulate at
1888 Lusitana St., Suite 301, Honolulu, HI 96813
(tel. 808-545-7767), and small embassies in
Tokyo, Suva, and Taipei.
The Marshall Islands' mission to the United
Nations is located at the News Building, 220 E.
42nd St., 31st Floor, New York, NY 10017 (tel.
Citizens of the Marshall Islands live with a
relatively new democratic political system
combined with a hierarchical traditional
culture. The first two presidents were chiefs.
Kessai Note is a commoner.
There have been a number of local and
national elections since the Republic of the
Marshall Islands was founded, and in general,
democracy has functioned well. The United
Democratic Party, running on a reform platform,
won the 1999 parliamentary election, taking
control of the presidency and cabinet. Elections
on November 17, 2003 elected a new Nitijela that
took office in January 2004.
The government is the largest employer,
employing 64% of the salaried work force. GDP is
derived mainly from payments made by the United
States under the terms of the Compact of Free
Association. Direct U.S. aid accounted for 67.8%
of the Marshall Islands' $146.4 million budget
for FY 2006.
The economy combines a small subsistence
sector and a modern urban sector. In short,
fishing and breadfruit, banana, taro, and
pandanus cultivation constitute the subsistence
sector. On the outer islands, production of
copra and handicrafts provides some cash income.
The modern service-oriented economy is located
in Majuro and Ebeye. It is sustained by
government expenditures and the U.S. Army
installation at Kwajalein Atoll. The airfield
there also serves as a second national hub for
The modern sector consists of wholesale and
retail trade; restaurants; banking and
insurance; construction, repair, and
professional services; and copra processing.
Copra cake and oil are by far the nation's
largest exports. A tuna loining plant that
employed 600 workers--starting at $1.50 per
hour--closed in 2004, and the government is
seeking a new owner. Copra production, the most
important single commercial activity for the
past 100 years, now depends on government
subsidies. The subsidies, more a social policy
than an economic strategy, help reduce migration
from outer atolls to densely populated Majuro
Marine resources, including fishing,
aquaculture, tourism development, and
agriculture, are top government development
priorities. The Marshall Islands sells fishing
rights to other nations as a source of income.
Since 1990, the Marshall Islands has offered
ship registrations under the Marshall Islands
flag. It now registers about 1,000 vessels, the
ninth largest fleet in the world, and receives
an income of approximately a million dollars
annually. As a small nation, the Marshall
Islands must import a wide variety of goods,
including foodstuffs, consumer goods, machinery,
and petroleum products.
While the Government of the Marshall Islands is
free to conduct its own foreign relations, it
does so under the terms of the Compact of Free
Association. Since independence, the Republic of
the Marshall Islands has established relations
with 67 nations, including most other Pacific
Island nations. Regional cooperation, through
membership in various regional and international
organizations, is a key element in its foreign
The Marshall Islands became a member of the
United Nations in September 1991. The Marshall
Islands maintains embassies in the U.S., Fiji,
Japan, and Taiwan.
The Republic of the Marshall Islands is a
sovereign nation in "free association" with the
United States. After more than a decade of
negotiation, the Marshall Islands and the United
States signed the Compact of Free Association on
June 25, 1983. The people of the Marshall
Islands approved the Compact in a UN-observed
plebiscite on September 7, 1983. The U.S.
Congress subsequently approved the Compact,
adding several amendments which were accepted by
the Government of the Marshall Islands, and the
Compact entered into force on October 21, 1986.
In 1999-2003, the two nations negotiated an
Amended Compact that entered into force on May
1, 2004. Under the Amended Compact, the U.S.
will provide the Marshall Islands at least $57
million every year until 2023, including
contributions to a jointly managed Trust Fund.
Marshallese will continue to have access to many
U.S. programs and services. A Joint Economic
Management and Financial Accountability
Committee (JEMFAC) comprised of representatives
of both governments will ensure that Compact
assistance funds are spent effectively.
Under the Compact, the United States has full
authority and responsibility for security and
defense of the Marshall Islands, and the
Government of the Marshall Islands is obligated
to refrain from taking actions that would be
incompatible with these security and defense
The Department of Defense, under a subsidiary
government-to-government agreement of the
original Compact, has use of the lagoon and
several islands on Kwajalein Atoll. The atoll
consists of approximately 90 islets around the
largest lagoon in the world. The original
agreement allowed the United States continued
use of the U.S. Army Kwajalein Atoll (USAKA)
missile test range until 2016. An amendment to
that agreement, extending U.S. rights until 2066
with an option until 2086, was negotiated in
conjunction with the Amended Compact. Another
major subsidiary agreement of the original
Compact provides for settlement of all claims
arising from the U.S. nuclear tests conducted at
Bikini and Enewetak Atolls from 1946 to 1958.
Under the terms of free association, more than
40 U.S. Government agencies such as the Federal
Aviation Administration, U.S. Postal Service,
the Small Business Administration, and the
Federal Emergency Management Agency operate
programs or render assistance to the Marshall
The United States and the Marshall Islands
have full diplomatic relations. The Marshall
Islands has expressed an interest in attracting
Principal U.S. Embassy Officials
Deputy Chief of Mission--Helen Reed-Rowe
Office Manager--Karen Baker-Ramroop
U.S. Embassy in the Marshall Islands is
located on Long Island, Majuro (tel.
692-247-4011, fax 692-247-4012). Mailing
Address: P.O. Box 1379, Majuro, MH 96960-1379.