Vanuatu is a string of 82 islands once known as the New Hebrides. The British and French established a joint settlement in the 19th century. In 1906, they agreed to an Anglo-French Condominium, which administered the islands until they were granted independence in 1980. New Hebrides was given its current name at the time of independence.
Unlike the nearby Solomon Islands and Fiji, Vanuatu has not experienced political unrest, although the largest island, Espiritu Santo, witnessed a brief insurrection in 1980.
The president of Vanuatu is Kalkot Mataskelekele, one the country’s first graduate lawyers. Mataskelekele became the president in August 2004, after his predecessor was removed from office due to a criminal record. The country’s prime minister, Edward Natapei, came into office as head of a new coalition government, following elections in September 2008.
Vanuatu’s islands are mountainous and covered with tropical rainforests. Most of the islands are inhabited, and some feature active volcanoes. Still, Vanuatu is prone to earthquakes and tidal waves.
Most of the population lives in rural areas, practicing subsistence agriculture. Ecotourism and agriculture are the two main sources of revenue, but both can be impacted by bad weather. Vanuatu is often hit with cyclones and relentless rains.
Australia is an important aid donor to Vanuatu. Vanuatu does not tax personal incomes or company profits. Instead, it generates tax revenues by imposing import duties. Vanuatu did tighten up its tax and regulatory systems after the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) threatened sanctions, since the country’s lax taxation regimes could be exploited for money-laundering.
Sources: BBC, International Crisis Group, CIA World Factbook.