World Guide  : Vanuatu


Vanuatu Vanatu  
Population: 186,000 (1999)
Area: 12,190 SQ KM
Capital: Vila
Currency: Vatu
Language: Bislama, English and French




Vanuatu is a Melanesian archipelago of volcanic origin, comprising more than 70 islands and islets many of them uninhabited. It stretches for 800 km, in a north-south direction in the South Pacific about 1,200 km east of Australia. Major islands are: Espiritu Santo, Malekula, Epi, Pentecost, Aoba, Maewa, Paama, Ambrym, Efate, Erromango, Tanna and Aneityum. Active volcanoes are found in Tanna, Ambrym and Lopevi and the area is subject to earthquakes. The land is mountainous and covered with dense tropical forests. The climate is tropical with heavy rainfall, moderated by the influence of the ocean. The subsoil of Efate is rich in manganese and the soil is suitable for farming. Fishing is a traditional economic activity. The land tenure system has contributed to general soil depletion (deforestation, erosion). Rising sea levels - a 20 cm increase in Vanuatu’s tides has been estimated for the next four decades - will affect both inhabited and uninhabited coastal areas. There is also a risk that salt water (from rising tides) will seep into ground water, threatening water supplies


Peoples: Most people are Melanesian (98 per cent), with 1 per cent European (British and French) and smaller groups from Vietnam, China and other Pacific islands.
Religions: Mainly Christian (77 per cent).
Languages: Bislama, English and French are official. Other Melanesian languages are also spoken.
Political Parties: Union of Moderate Parties; National United Party; People’s Democratic Party; Unity Front; Tan Union, Frei Melanesio and Na Griamel.
Social Organizations: Vanuatu Trade Union Congress (VTUC).

The State

Official Name: Ripablik blong Vanuatu. République de Vanuatu, Republic of Vanuatu.
Capital: Vila, on Efate Island, 30,000 people (1992).
Other cities: Luganville (Santo) 6,900 people; Port Olry 884; Isangel 752 (1989).
Administrative Divisions: 11 Government Regions, 2 Municipalities.
Government: John Bernard Bani, President since March 1999; Barak Sopé, Prime Minister since November 1999. The unicameral Representative Assembly is made up of 46 representatives elected every 4 years.
National Holiday: July 30, Independence Day (1980).


The first colonization of Polynesia is still a mystery to anthropologists and historians. Thor Heyerdahl’s highly publicized Kon Tiki expedition tried to demonstrate that people could have reached the South Pacific islands from America. But linguistic, cultural and agricultural similarities relate Melanesians to Indonesians.

2 Sailing westwards, Polynesians reached Vanuatu around 1400 BC. These navigators crossed and populated the entire Pacific Ocean from Antarctica to Hawaii and as far as Easter Island on the eastern edge of the Pacific Ocean. Their culture was highly developed, Polynesians domesticated animals and developed some subsistence crops; they manufactured ceramics and textiles, organized their societies with a caste system and, in some cases, possessed a historical knowledge which had been orally transmitted down the generations for centuries.

3 On April 29 1605 the Portuguese-Spanish navigator, Pedro Fernandez de Quiros, was the first European to sight mountains which he believed to be part of the Great Southern Continent for which he was searching; he named the place, Tierra del Espíritu Santo (Land of the Holy Spirit). A century and a half later, Frenchman Louis Antoine de Bougainville, sailed around the region and demonstrated that it was not part of Australia but rather a series of islands. In 1774, James Cook drew the first map of the archipelago, calling it the New Hebrides after the Scottish Hebrides Islands.

4 Shortly thereafter traders arrived and felled all the aromatic sandalwood forests. Lacking other attractive natural resources, the islands became the source of a semi-enslaved labor force. The workers were either taken by force or purchased from local leaders in exchange for tobacco, mirrors and firearms.

5 Popular resentment of this plundering caused the murders of more European missionaries in the New Hebrides than in any other area of the Pacific.

6 During almost all of the 19th century, the archipelago was on the dividing line between the French (in New Caledonia) and British (in the Solomon islands) zones of influence, and the two nations finally decided to share the islands instead of fighting over them. In 1887, a Joint Naval Commission was established, and in 1906, the Condominium was formalized. The native islanders soon referred to it as the «pandemonium».

7 The formula of shared domination envisaged the joint provisions of some basic services; the post, radio, customs, public works, but left each power free to develop other services. Consequently, there were two police forces, two monetary systems, two health services and two school systems ruled by two representatives on the islands.

8 Melanesians were relegated to being «stateless» in their own country, and they were not considered citizens until a legislative assembly was established in the territory in 1974. Until then only British or French people were entitled to citizenship or land ownership.

9 Most of the neighboring archipelagos achieved independence in the 1970s. This encouraged the foundation of the National Party of the New Hebrides (the Vanuatu Party, VP) in 1971. The Party organized grassroots groups on all of the islands on the basis of the Protestant parochial structure. The Party became the country’s leading political force and demanded total independence, in opposition to various «moderate» pro-French parties that preferred to maintain the colonial status. When the Party won two-thirds of the vote in 1979 this convinced the British that independence could no longer be postponed. The British also carried out a vigorous anti-nuclear policy and turned Vanuatu into the only nation among the Pacific islands to become a member of the Non-Aligned Movement.

10 During that period French agents and US business encouraged the growth of the Na Griamel separatist group in Espíritu Santo. This group began as a popular protest movement against the sale of property to North American hotels. The group’s leader, Jimmy Stevens, received $250,000, arms and a radio from the Phoenix Foundation, an ultra-right US organization, in return for concessions to install a casino and, allegedly, cover for illicit activities from Stevens’ «Republic of Vemarana».

11 Stevens visited France to obtain the support of President Giscard d’Estaing, and the French police did nothing to prevent the rebellion and expulsion of Vanuatu Party followers from the island. Meanwhile francophone support of the other islands encouraged small «moderate» pro-French parties to oppose the VP government of Walter Lini, who was accused of being authoritarian, too centralist and too close to Britain and Australia.

12 Finally, Lini, supported by forces from Papua New Guinea, managed to disarm the separatists, deporting Stevens and his followers, who were granted asylum in Kanaky/New Caledonia.

13 Vanuatan independence was declared on July 30 1980. Measures were immediately taken to return the land held by foreigners to the Melanesians; the school system was unified and a national army was created.

14 In February 1981, the newly-arrived itinerant ambassador of Vanuatu, Barak Sope, was refused entry at Nouméa airport by the French Government, to prevent his participation in the Melanesian Independence Front Congress in New Caledonia (Kanaky). Retaliation was immediate; Lini’s government declared the French ambassador persona non grata and requested that the French diplomatic mission be reduced to five members. This incident delayed the cooperation program between the governments.

15 At this time government revenues depended heavily on foreign aid and the country’s exports covered only half of the cost of its imports. Since the country was a tax haven with more than 60 banks established in Vila there was no firm strategy raise taxes. One project called for opening the country to international maritime registration under Vanuatu’s flag.

16 In February 1984, President Ati George Sokomanu resigned, claiming that the constitution did not adequately protect the head of state or his ministers, or guarantee «coherent management». However, he later agreed to participate in the March 1984 elections, and was re-elected.

17 The second Vanuatu Development Plan (1987-1991) to ensure balanced regional and rural development, to take better advantage of the country’s natural resources, to provide for the faster development of human resources and to promote development of the private sector. The plan suffered a serious set-back in February 1987, with Hurricane Ulna, which caused an estimated $36 million damage and affected about 34 per cent of the population.

18 In the December 1987 elections, Lini won over Barak Sope, who attempted an unsuccessful challenge for the party leadership. Barak Sope accepted the cabinet post of minister of tourism and immigration, but in May 1988 he was relieved of his responsibilities by Lini, due to violent demonstrations by his followers. Finally, Sope split from the ruling party and founded his own political group, the Melanesian Progressive Party.

19 In 1988, former president Sokomau, together with Barak Sope, tried unsuccessfully to oust Prime Minister Walter Lini. They were both arrested and imprisoned. Fred Timakata was appointed president.

20 On August 7 1991, the ruling party of Vanuatu voted in favor of deposing Walter Lini as Prime Minister. The minister of foreign affairs, Donald Kalpokas, was appointed to this post.

21 In October, Walter Lini founded the United National Party. The Union of Moderate Parties, led by Maxime Carlot Korman, won the elections held on December 2.

22 In January 1992, Carlot Korman formed a coalition with the UNP. Lini’s sister Hilda was named minister of health, occupying the cabinet position to which the UNP - as a member of the coalition - was entitled. At this time, French was re-established as an official language. Minister of Finance Willy Jimmy’s economic plan established a series of priorities, including exports, foreign investment, agrarian reform and free primary education.

23 Carlot Korman launched a program to diversify agriculture in 1993, a year after Hurricane Betsy had destroyed 30 per cent of the harvest. In 1994 the Government decided to cut 200 of the 4,800 public sector posts. They justified this by pointing to the large increase since 1985, when there had been only 3,300.

24 On the international front, Vanuatu was the only country of the South Pacific Forum which did not join this organization’s protests against French nuclear tests in Polynesia, in September 1995.

25 Carlot Korman was forced to resign in February 1996 and Serge Vohor became Prime Minister. In August 1996, the Vanuatu Mobile Force (VMF), a paramilitary group, declared a strike over unpaid wages. Three months later, its officers were arrested by the police and freed once they had sworn their loyalty.

26 In 1997, against a background of political instability, caused partly by constant rumors of a new VMF uprising, the Asian Development Bank agreed a $14 million loan for the economic reform program brought in by the Government.

27 In early 1998, the Court of Appeal confirmed the dissolution of Parliament called for by President Jean-Marie Leye.

28 In early 1998, the Court of Appeals confirmed the dissolution of the Parliament of the Republic, requested by the president Jean-Marie Leye. In the ensuing elections, held in March, the Vanua’aku Unity Front (UF) won 18 of the 52 seats in play, followed by the Union of Moderate Parties (UMP), with 12 and the United National Party (UNP) with 11. The other seats were distributed amongst various minor groups. Donald Kalpokas, former vice president and leader of the UF, formed an unstable alliance with the UNP, which collapsed a few months later and once again formed a cabinet with the UMP.

29 Growing corruption in government spheres was cited by Ombudsman Marie-Noelle Ferrieux-Patterson, who presented reports denouncing the diversion of funds meant for cyclone victim aid, the issuing of false passports and the misappropriation of monies from pensions funds. These accusations provoked street demonstrations and the Government declared a state of emergency to bring the disturbances under control.

30 The Government was unable to stabilize the situation and in November 1999 Barak Sopé, of the Melanesian Progressive Party, was asked to form a new cabinet.  The government of Prime Minister Barak SOPE was then ousted in a no confidence vote on 14 April 2001 and Edward NATAPEI was elected the new prime minister by Parliament .  Current Prime Minister Edward NATAPEI (since 16 April 2001); Deputy Prime Minister Serge VOHOR (since 16 April 2001).

31  The government of Prime Minister Barak SOPE was then ousted in a no confidence vote on 14 April 2001 and Edward NATAPEI was elected the new prime minister by Parliament .  Current Prime Minister Edward NATAPEI (since 16 April 2001); Deputy Prime Minister Serge VOHOR (since 16 April 2001).


Vanuatu Vanatu  
Population: 186,000 (1999)
Annual growth: 2.5 % (1975/97)
Estimates for year 2015 (million): 0.3 (1999)
Annual growth to year 2015: 2.3 % (1997/2015)
Urban population: 19.3 % (1997)
Children per woman: 4.3 (1998)

Life expectancy at birth: 68 years (1998)
male: 66 years (1998)
female: 70 years (1998)
Infant mortality: 38 per 1,000 (1998)
Under-5 child mortality: 49 per 1,000 (1998)
Daily calorie supply: 2,624 per capita (1996)
Safe water: 77 % (1990/98)

Literacy: 64 % (1995)
female: 60 % (1995)
School enrolment:
Primary total: 106 % (1990/96)
male: 105 % (1990/97)
female: 107 % (1990/97)
male: 23 % (1990/96)
female: 18 % (1990/96)

Forest & woodland: 75.0 % of total (1993)
Arable: 1.6 % of total (1993)
Other: 23.4 % of total (1993)

348 radios (1997) , 13 TV sets (1996) and 26 main telephone lines (1996) per 1,000 people

Per capita, GNP: $ 1,260 (1998)
Annual growth, GNP: 2.1 % (1998)
Consumer price index: 107.2 (1998)
Cereal imports: 11,445 metric tons (1998)
External debt: $ 63 million (1998); $ 347 per capita (1998)
Development aid received: $ 27 million (1997) ; $ 178.2 per capita (1997) ; 11.60 % of GNP (1997)

HDI (rank/value): 116 /0.627 (1997)


This information is the result of documentation, research, writing, editing and design work done by the Instituto del Tercer Mundo (Third World Institute), a non-profit institution, devoted to information, communication and education, based in Montevideo, Uruguay.