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What are Vanilla Islands?

What are Vanilla Islands?

Tag:GS-2|| International Relations|| India & Rest of the World|| Indian Ocean Geopolitics

Why in News?

  • Vice President Shri M. Venkaiah Naidu undertook a State visit to Comoros from 10-12 October 2019.
  • Vice President Naidu was conferred the highest civilian award of Comoros, the ‘Commander of the Green Crescent’.

What are the Vanilla islands?

  • Vanilla Islands is an affiliation of the island nations in the southwest Indian Ocean
    • Seychelles
    • Madagascar
    • Réunion
    • Mauritius
    • Comoros
    • Mayotte
  • They formed a new travel destination brand on August 4, 2010 to pool forces and jointly market the region compared to the sole individual marketing of each island in the past.

The Importance of Comoros and Vanilla islands

  • Comoros was of special importance as it sits at the northern end of the Mozambique Channel and provided a strong base from which to control the channel.
  • France gained the upper hand among the European powers in the Vanilla Islands in the 18th century.
  • The construction of the Suez Canal linking the Mediterranean and the Red Sea in the mid 19th century obviated the need for European shipping to go round Africa.
  • This, in turn, reduced the strategic significance of the Vanilla Islands.

The Mozambique Channel

  • Mozambique, Madagascar and Comoros together constitute the Mozambique Channel, a critical waterway in the Indian Ocean
  • It has shaped the strategic evolution of the Indian Ocean over the centuries.
  • Vasco da Gama, in his search for a sea route to India, sailed through the Mozambique Channel in 1498 after coming round the southern tip of Africa.
  • Since then, the Mozambique Channel had been a major choke point in the sea lines of communication from Europe to India and further east.

Union of the Comoros

  • Independence from France on 6 July 1975

The Vice-presidential visit

  • Shri M. Venkaiah Naidu undertook a State visit to Comoros from 10-12 October 2019
  • The first visit by any high political dignitary from India.
  • He was accompanied by a high-level delegation comprising of Dr. Sanjeev Kumar Balyan, Minister of State of Fisheries, Animal Husbandry and Dairying in addition to Senior Government Officials.
  • Naidu’s recent visit to Comoros this week and President Ramnath Kovind’s travel to Madagascar last year are the first steps in what could be an exciting Indian journey to the Vanilla Islands.
  • On his arrival, President of Comoros, Azali Assoumani along with his entire cabinet came to the airport and received the Vice President.
  • Vice President Naidu was conferred the highest civilian award of Comoros, the ‘Commander of the Green Crescent’.

Mutual Co-operation

  • Both the leaders witnessed the signing of the following MoUs between India and Comoros
    • Co-operation in the field of defence.
    • Co-operation in the field of Health and Medicine ($1million).
    • Exemption of visa for diplomatic and official passport holders.
    • Cooperation in the field of Arts and Culture.
    • Protocol on Foreign Office Consultations
    • e-VBAB Network Project (e-VidyaBharati and e-AarogyaBharati).

India’s helping hand

  • The Vice President also announced
    • Gift of medicines and medical equipment worth US$ 1 Million
    • Gift of 1000MT of rice
    • Gifting of Interceptor Boats worth USD 2 million
    • Transport vehicles worth USD 1 million.
    • India also extended a Line of Credit of USD 20 million for the procurement of High-Speed Interceptor Boats.

 Other engagements with Comoros

  • Multiple lines of connection with the Comoros.
  • The island nation is a founding member of the International Solar Alliance launched by Modi in 2018.
  • It is a member of the Indian Ocean Rim Association that Delhi has sought to revive in recent years.
  • Comoros is also a member of the Arab League that India always had strong ties with and the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation that India has begun to reach out in recent years.

Importance of engaging with small island nations

  • As part of the growing interaction with the island states, PM Modi met leaders of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) and the Pacific Islands Forum (PIF) on the margins of the UNGA last month.
  • Together they account for more than 40 members at the UN.
  • Their large numbers and impact on the voting patterns in the UN and other multilateral forums had always made island states of interest to major powers.

Increasing importance of IOR littoral states

  • Many of the island states are beginning to see themselves as more than specks of land in the vast blue sea.
  • Some of them are calling themselves large “Ocean States”.
  • According to the provisions of the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), the ocean states are entitled to large exclusive economic zones (EEZ).
  • One of the Vanilla Islands, Seychelles for example, has a land area of approximately 455 sq km spread over 115 islands and a population of barely 100,000.
  • But its EEZ is close to 1.3 million sq km.

Indian ocean century

  • As India becomes one of the world’s leading economies, the centre of gravity of its strategic thinking is shifting towards the Indian Ocean.
  • Two-thirds of the world’s oil, a third of the bulk cargo and half of all container traffic travel Indian Ocean.
  • India is conscious that its sea power will help preserve peace and stability in the Indian Ocean in the coming decades, something that it needs to undertake its economic transformation.


The  Indian ocean can be accessed only through its choke points at

  • Cape of Good Hope,
  • Bab-el-Mandeb,
  • Hormuz,
  • Malacca,
  • Mozambique channel,
  • Sunda and
  • Lombok Straits

 India’s outreach in IOR

  • Monitoring station in northern Madagascar.
    • Complete with radars and surveillance gear to intercept maritime communication. It is India’s first “listening post” on foreign soil made operational as part of the Indian Navy’s strategy to protect the country’s sea lanes of commerce.
    • While the station will also monitor piracy and terrorist activities, its primary aim is to counter the growing Chinese influence in the Indian Ocean Region.

Renewed Strategic Importance of Vanilla islands

  • Troubles in and on the Suez canal route  -Piracy and civil war
  • Increasing oil traffic across the Cape of Good Hope and the Mozambique Channel route -preferred by super tankers.

Issues with India’s engagement in the region

  • The amount of engagement has been historically very little.
  • For a desiring global power –it needs to be scaled up (10 visits by Indian president to Africa in the past 2 years)
  • The Indian Ocean Region (IOR) division in the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) created under Modi government in its first term is tasked with coordination of India’s engagements with the Indian Ocean islands and the region at large –Mauritius, Seychelles, Reunion, Maldives.
  • However, Delhi left behind a critical sub-region-the Western Indian Ocean and the islands of Madagascar and Comoros while formulating an Indian Ocean vision.

 Way forward

  • Nevertheless, Delhi will begin to treat the Vanilla Islands as a single strategic space in order to be effective in the south-western Indian Ocean. Building on its traditional presence in Mauritius, it can initiate significant littoral economic and defence cooperation.
  • This current visit to Comoros by Naidu and last year’s trip to Madagascar by President Ramnath Kovind are first moves in what might be an exciting Indian trip to the Vanilla Islands.

Mains model question

  • India needs to treat Vanilla Islands as a single strategic space to have a strong influence in the southwestern part of Indian Ocean. Discuss