President: Baldwin Lonsdale (2014)

Prime Minister: Joe Natuman (2014)

Total area: 4,710 sq mi (12,200 sq km)

Population (2014 est.): 266,937 (growth rate: 2.01%); birth rate: 25.69/1000; infant mortality rate: 16.41/1000; life expectancy: 72.72; density per sq mi: 51

Capital and largest city (2011 est.): Port Vila, 47,000

Monetary unit: Vatu

Republic of Vanuatu

Current government officials

Languages: Bislama 33.7% (a Melanesian pidgin English), English 2%, French 0.6% (all 3 official); other 0.5%; more than 100 local languages 63.2%

Ethnicity/race: Ni-Vanuatu 97.6%, part Ni-Vanuatu 1.1%, other 1.3% (2009 est.)

Religions: Protestant 70% (includes Presbyterian 27.9%, Anglican 15.1%, Seventh Day Adventist 12.5%, Assemblies of God 4.7%, Church of Christ 4.5%, Neil Thomas Ministry 3.1%, and Apostolic 2.2%), Roman Catholic 12.4%, customary beliefs 3.7% (including Jon Frum cargo cult), other 12.6%, none 1.1%, unspecified 0.2% (2009 est.)

Literacy rate: 83.2% (2011 est.)

Economic summary: GDP/PPP (2013 est.): $1.27 billion; per capita $4,800. Real growth rate: 3.3%. Inflation: 1.9%. Unemployment: 1.7% (1999). Arable land: 1.64%. Agriculture: copra, coconuts, cocoa, coffee, taro, yams, fruits, vegetables; beef; fish. Labor force: 115,900 (2007); agriculture 65%, services 30%, industry 5% (2000 est.). Industries: food and fish freezing, wood processing, meat canning. Natural resources: manganese, hardwood forests, fish. Exports: $43.1 million (2013 est.): copra, beef, cocoa, timber, kava, coffee. Imports: $319.4 million (2013 est.): machinery and equipment, foodstuffs, fuels. Major trading partners: Thailand, Japan, China, Cote divoire, United States, Australia, Singapore, New Zealand, Fiji (2012).

Communications: Telephones: main lines in use: 5,800 (2012); mobile cellular: 137,000 (2012). Radio broadcast stations: AM 2, FM 2, shortwave 1 (2008). Radios: 67,000 (1997). Television broadcast stations: 1 (2002). Televisions: 2,300 (1999). Internet Service Providers (ISPs): 5,655 (2012). Internet users: 17,000 (2009).

Transportation: Railways: 0 km. Highways: total: 1,070 km; paved: 256 km; unpaved: 814 km (2000 est.). Waterways: none. Ports and harbors: Forari Bay, Luganville (Santo, Espiritu Santo), Port-Vila. Airports: 31 (2013).

International disputes: Matthew and Hunter Islands east of New Caledonia claimed by Vanuatu and France.

Major sources and definitions

Flag of Vanuatu


Vanuatu is an archipelago of 83 islands lying between New Caledonia and Fiji in the South Pacific. Largest of the islands is Espiritu Santo (875 sq mi; 2,266 sq km); others are Efate, Malekula, Malo, Pentecost, and Tanna.




The first settlers are believed to have arrived approximately 3,500 years ago from New Guinea and the Solomon Islands by canoe. The islands were sighted by Pedro Fernandes de Queiros of Portugal in 1606 and were charted by the British navigator James Cook in 1774, who named the archipelago New Hebrides, after the northern Scottish islands. Competing British and French claims to the islands led to the formation of a condominium government, allowing for joint British-French rule in 1906. The islands' plantation economy, based on imported Vietnamese labor, was prosperous until the 1920s, when markets for its products declined. Diseases brought by missionaries, sandalwood traders, and others helped reduce the population from approximately 1 million in 1800 to 45,000 in 1935. The islands served as a major Allied base in World War II. After the war, the indigenous Melanesians began lobbying for independence, which in 1980 the country achieved. It was then renamed Vanuatu.

A brief rebellion by French settlers and plantation workers on Espiritu Santo took place in May 1980. Britain, France, and Papua New Guinea sent soldiers, who quelled the revolt, which the new government said was financed by the Phoenix Foundation, a right-wing U.S. group.

In July 2002, former prime minister Barak Sope was convicted of forgery. Alfred Maseng was elected president in April 2004, but he was forced to step down when his criminal record was revealed. In Aug. 2004, Kalkot Mataskelekele was selected from 16 candidates as the new president. He is the country's first president to hold a university degree.

Prime Minister's Leadership Challenged in Court

Serge Vohor was elected prime minister in the summer of 2004. His tenure was brief; he was ousted in a vote of no confidence by Parliament in November after a controversial attempt to establish diplomatic relations with Taiwan. He was succeeded by Ham Lini. In elections in September 2008, the Vanuaaku Pati, led by Edward Natapei, won the most seats in Parliament. Natapei formed a coalition government and became prime minister. In November 2009, the Speaker of the House stripped Natapei of his seat in Parliament and thus disqualified him to serve as prime minister after Natapei did not show up for three consecutive meetings of Parliament and failed to submit paperwork explaining his absences. However, Vanuatu's chief justice ruled that the move was unconstitutional, and Natapei then survived a no confidence vote and remained in office.

Natapei suffered another test of his leadership when he was ousted in a no-confidence vote in 2010. Sato Kilman, the deputy prime minister, assumed the position. Natapei brought the case to the Supreme Court, which ruled on June 16, 2011, that the election of Sato Kilman was unconstitutional and installed Natapei as acting prime minister.

During Natapei's brief time as prime minister, he cancelled diplomatic recognition of Abkhazia, an order that Kilman had issued during his short period in charge. Then on June 26, 2011, Natapei's interim as prime minister ended. Parliament elected Sato Kilman as prime minister.

Lacking a Majority, Prime Minister Kilman Resigns

On March 21, 2013, Prime Minister Sato Kilman resigned. The previous day, Minister for Ni-Vanuatu Business Marcellino Pipite and Minister of Justice and Social Welfare Thomas Laken joined the Opposition in Parliament. Six government officials followed, leaving Kilman without the needed majority to continue to govern.

Kilman resigned before a no confidence motion was brought against him. He remained in charge of the interim government until his successor was named. On March 23, 2013, Moana Carcasses Kalosil became prime minister. A member of the Green Confederation party, Kalosil was the first naturalized citizen of Vanuatu to become prime minister.

Kalosil lost a no-confidence vote in Vanuatu's parliament by 35-11 votes in May 2014. That same month, Vanua'aku Pati party member Joe Natuman took over as prime minister.

In Sept. 2014, Anglican priest Baldwin Lonsdale was elected president by an electoral college made up of governors and members of parliament. The election was the longest in Vanuatu's history, lasting eight rounds before a candidate had a majority because of the conflict between Prime Minister Natuman's government and the opposition. During the lengthy election process, Philip Boedoro served as the interim president.

Category Five Cyclone Hits Vanuatu

A category five cyclone hits Vanuatu directly on March 14, 2015. Named Tropical Cyclone Pam, the storm carried heavy rainfall and damaging winds as strong as 168 miles per hour. At least 3,300 people sought shelter in 37 evacuation centers.

The following day, an official at the United Nations (UN) Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said that Cyclone Pam would likely be the South Pacific's worst natural disaster. β€œAt least nine nations have experienced some level of devastation including Vanuatu, Solomon Islands, Kiribati, Fiji, Tuvalu, and Papua New Guinea. Officials have yet to assess the damage in many of the hard-hit outer islands because communications and power remain cut,” the UN official said. As of March 17, the death toll from the cyclone was 11, according to the UN, but the number was expected to rise as the rescue effort continued.

See also Encyclopedia: Vanuatu.
U.S. State Dept. Country Notes: Vanuatu


More on Vanuatu from Fact Monster:

  • Vanuatu - Vanuatu Vanuatu , formerly New Hebrides, officially Republic of Vanuatu, independent republic (2005 ...
  • Vanuatu - Vanuatu Profile: Geography, People, History, Government, Political Conditions, Economy, Foreign Relations, U.S.-Vanuatu Relations
  • Vanuatu - Map of Vanuatu & articles on flags, geography, history, statistics, disasters current events, and international relations.
  • Vanuatu: History - History Vanuatu has been inhabited since at least 1000 B.C.; remains of the Lapita culture from ...
  • Current Government Officials: Vanuatu - World > Heads of State Info Vanuatu Chiefs of State and Cabinet Members of Foreign Governments ...