Republic of Vanuatu
Area: Land--12,200 sq. km. (4,707 sq.
mi.), includes more than 80 Islands. Comparative
area--about the size of Connecticut.
Cities: Capital--Port Vila (on the island
of Efate), pop. 30,000. Other towns--Luganville
(on the island of Espiritu Santo, also known as
Terrain: Mostly mountains of volcanic origin,
narrow coastal plains.
Nationality: Noun and adjective--ni-Vanuatu.
Population (2005 est.): 206,000.
Annual growth rate (2003 est.): 2.7%.
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
Work force (1999): 134,000. Agriculture--65%.
Type: Parliamentary democracy.
Independence: July 30, 1980.
Constitution: July 30, 1980.
Branches: Executive--president (head of
state), prime minister (head of government).
parliament). Judicial--Supreme Court.
Administrative subdivisions: 6 administrative
Political parties: Vanua'aku Pati, Union of
Moderate Parties, Melanesian Progressive Party,
National United Party, People's Democratic
Party, John Frum.
Suffrage: Universal over 18.
National holiday: July 30.
GDP (2003): $281 million.
Per capita income (2003): $1,180.
Real growth rate (2000): 1.6%.
Avg. inflation rate (2002): 2%.
Natural resources: Forests, agricultural land,
Agriculture: Products--copra, cocoa,
coffee, cattle, timber.
Industry: Types--copra production, beef
processing, sawmilling, tourism, financial
Trade (2003): Exports--$92 million:
cocoa, beef and veal, copra, timber, kava,
coffee. Major markets--India 31.9%, Thailand
27.5%, South Korea 10.2%, Indonesia 6.1%,
Australia 4.6%, Japan 4.1%, Germany 1.4%, United
States 1.2%. Imports--$136 million:
machines and transport equipment, foodstuffs,
fuel, basic manufactures, chemicals,
miscellaneous manufactures. Major suppliers--Australia
22.9%, Singapore 12.1%, New Zealand 9.9%, Fiji
7.4%, France 5.8%, India 5.5%, Japan 3.1%, U.S.
Official exchange rate (2003 avg.): 122
Vanuatu is a 'Y' shaped archipelago that
comprises 80 islands. It is located 2,172
kilometers (1,303 mi.) northeast of Sydney and
5,750 kilometers (3,450 mi.) southwest of
Honolulu. 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.
The population of Vanuatu is 94% indigenous
Melanesian. About 30,000 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
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.
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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
Prime Minister--Ham Lini
Foreign Minister/Deputy Prime Minister--Sato
Vanuatu does not have an embassy in
Washington. Its mission to the United Nations is
located at 866 UN Plaza, 4th Floor, Room 41,
First Avenue and 48th Street, New York, NY
10017. Vanuatu Maritime Services, which provides
information on ship registration in Vanuatu, is
located at 120 Broadway, Suite 1743, New York,
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 thanks 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
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 the
potential for money laundering, Vanuatu
increased oversight and reporting requirements
for its off-shore sector.
Copra, cocoa, kava and beef account for more
than 60% of Vanuatu's total exports by value 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.
Vanuatu is a small country, with only a few
commodities, mostly agricultural, produced for
export. In 2000, imports exceeded exports by a
ratio of nearly 4 to 1. However, this was offset
by high services income from tourism, which kept
the current account balance fairly even.
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
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
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 United
States’ Millennium Challenge Corporation is
currently negotiating with Vanuatu on a possible
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
Vanuatu retains strong economic and cultural
ties to Australia, New Zealand, and France.
Australia now provides the bulk of external
assistance, including to the police force, which
has a paramilitary wing.
Membership in International Organizations
Vanuatu is a member of the United Nations and
its specialized and related agencies, including
the World Bank and the International Monetary
Fund; South Pacific Commission; South Pacific
Forum; Non-Aligned Movement; Commonwealth, Group
of 77; and Asian Development Bank (ADB).
The United States and Vanuatu established
diplomatic relations in 1986. Between 1977 and
1987, Vanuatu received just under $3 million
from the U.S. Agency for International
Development (USAID), including projects focusing
on assisting the transition to indigenous
plantation management. In June 1994, the
regional USAID office located in Suva, Fiji, was
closed due to U.S. Government budgetary
cutbacks. The U.S. military retains training
links and conducts ad hoc assistance projects in
the island. However, the United States remains a
major financial contributor to international and
regional organizations that assist Vanuatu,
including the World Bank, UNICEF, WHO, the UN
Fund for Population Activities, and the Asian
In 1989, the United States concluded a
agreement with Vanuatu. The Peace Corps has met
with a warm welcome there and currently has
about 82 volunteers in-country. The United
States also provides military training
assistance to the police force.
Principal U.S. Embassy Officials
W. Fitts (resident in Port Moresby, Papua
Peace Corps Country Director--Kevin George
The mailing address of the
Embassy in Papua New Guinea is P.O. Box
1492, Port Moresby (tel: 675-321-1455; fax:
675-321-3423). The Embassy maintains a web site
dedicated to relations with Vanuatu at