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Comoros Modern History

Deep division has characterized the Comoros ever since the independence of colonial power France in 1975. An important reason for the divide has been conflicts between the three islands that make up the country and contradictions between the central power and the islands' local representatives. A number of military coups have hampered economic development and poverty has in turn fueled separatist currents. The weak political leadership has enabled foreign mercenaries to take control of the country periodically.

In a 1975 referendum, 96 percent of the residents of the islands of Grand Comore, Anjouan and Mohéli voted for independence, while the people of the fourth Comorian island, Mayotte, chose to remain part of France. Therefore, Mayotte was not included in the new Comorian state formation that was proclaimed in July 1975.

  • ABBREVIATIONFINDER: List of most commonly used acronyms containing Comoros. Also includes historical, economical and political aspects of the country.

Less than a month after independence, Comoros first president Ahmed Abdallah was overthrown. The coup leader Mohamed Ali Soilihi (also called Mamadou) was appointed new head of state in 1976. Soilih had a peculiar political program including Maoist elements. He organized youths in semi-military units to help him implement radical reforms. However, a ban on certain Muslim and traditional practices, combined with a hard-line regime and a series of financial failures, caused Soilih to quickly lose support.

In May 1978, Soilih himself was overthrown in a coup in May 1978 by European mercenaries hired by former President Abdallah. The Lego force, called Les Affreux ("The Terrible"), was led by Frenchman Bob Denard, but in the background, the French government's adviser on African affairs, Jacques Foccart's influence was assumed. Both have been designated as responsible for the first coup. Two weeks after he was overthrown, Soilih was killed during an "escape attempt" and Abdallah became president again.

Contemporary History of ComorosCoup attempts and invasions

Abdallah attached increasing power to the presidential post and a one-party system was introduced in 1982. However, the mercenary Denard held a strong position as head of the presidential guard and was supported by the white apartheid regimes in South Africa and Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe). From bases in the Comoros, South African agents were able to monitor the South African liberation movement ANC's operations in East Africa.

When President Abdallah was assassinated in 1989, Denard's mercenaries were identified as guilty. The reason was probably that Abdallah, with the support of South Africa and France, tired of Denard and his legacy and wanted to get rid of them. After unrest and international pressure, the mercenaries were forced to leave the country. Supreme Court President Saïd Mohamed Djohar was appointed new president in March 1990.

Following new coup attempts, in October 1992, the first parliamentary elections were held in which several parties were allowed to participate. The government side secured a scarce majority but was accused of electoral fraud by the opposition. The government soon fell and new elections were held in December 1993. In the new elections, parties related to President Djohar again won. Again, the opposition made allegations of electoral fraud.

In the fall of 1995, European mercenaries again invaded the Comoros, again led by Bob Denard. 300 Comorian soldiers joined Denard and President Djohar was captured. Prime Minister El Yachroutu appealed to France to send troops to the islands, and when they arrived the capitals surrendered.

In the 1996 presidential election, Mohamed Taki, who initiated a new, more Islamic constitution that also strengthened the president's position.

Rebellion on Anjouan and Mohéli

In 1997, protests erupted on Anjouan and Mohéli, where residents had grown tired of what they perceived to be the dominance of the larger island of Grand Comore. Protesters demanded a reunification with France, firstly, independence. The relative wealth of the French-controlled Mayotte attracted. France rejected all such discussions, while reports surfaced that up to 200 people each day were illegally trying to get from Anjouan to Mayotte.

When Anjouan declared independence in August 1997, President Taki ordered an invasion of the island, but it failed and some 60 people were killed in subsequent fighting. Mediation attempts were made by, among others, the African Unity Organization (OAU; predecessor to the African Union, AU), but without results.

In 1998, clashes broke out between different groups of independence leaders at Anjouan. That same year, President Taki died suddenly of a heart attack. A transitional government under the Chief Justice of the Constitutional Court Majidine Ben Saïd Massounde agreed in 1999, with the help of mediators from the OAU, with Anjouan and Mohéli on increased self-government within a federation.

However, the representatives of Anjouan refused to sign the agreement unless it was first approved in a referendum. Violent protests in the capital of Moroni on Grand Comore forced thousands of people from Anjouan to flee the city. The military was deployed to restore order. The OAU imposed sanctions on Anjouan for getting the island's management to accept the agreement. All communications between the island and the outside world were stopped.

The islands' self-government is strengthened

A few days later President Massounde was deposed in a military coup led by Commander Azali Assoumani. He appointed himself as president as well as prime minister and defense minister. In early 2001, the government of Assoumani, again through the OAU's mediation, was able to conclude an agreement with the leaders of Anjouan on increased self-government for the individual islands. In August of that year, Anjouan leader Said Abeid Abdérémane was deposed in a coup. A military council under Major Mohamed Bacar took power on the island. Bacar supported the agreement on self-government.

In a referendum in December 2001, three-quarters of voters voted in favor of a new constitution for the Union of Comoros, which gave the islands increased autonomy (see Political system). Later that year, all three islands adopted their own constitution.

The 2002 EU presidential election was messy and turnout was low. The election results showed that Azali Assoumani was re-elected with 75 percent of the vote, but the other candidates accused him of cheating. The election was annulled by the Election Commission, which led to it being rejected. A new electoral commission was formed and confirmed that Assoumani had won.

In the presidential elections in the individual islands that year, one of Assoumani's political opponents, Abdou Soule Elbak, won the Grand Comore. At Anjouan, the coup maker Mohamed Bacar was elected president, while Mohammed Said Fazul became president of Mohéli.

A power struggle soon broke out between Union President Assoumani and Grand Comoros local president Elbak over who would have control of the island's economy and security forces. The power struggle on several occasions led to violence between the two camps. In December 2002, with the help of mediation from South Africa, among others, the parties agreed to establish a new customs authority, that the police would sort under the local governments and that the army should be the responsibility of the federal government.

First peaceful change of president

When elections to the European Parliament were held in April 2004, supporters of the three regional presidents reaped great success. Their joint party coalition, the Independent Islands Camp (CdIA), received 12 of the 18 electable seats. Union President Assoumani's party, the Comoros Reconstruction Collection (CRC), won the other 6 seats.

In April / May 2006, the Comoros experienced their first peaceful change of power since independence. Under the rotating system of the Union presidential post, it was Anjouan's turn to assume office. Businessman Ahmed Abdallah Mohamed Sambi won big over a dozen opponents. Sambi had studied in Iran and was called by his followers the "Ayatollah". However, he appeared rather like a moderate Muslim and stated his priority was to fight widespread corruption, create more jobs and build good housing for the poor.

Sambi took office in May 2006. It was not long before the islands' local authorities complained that it took too long to enforce the distribution of power between the islands and the Union government. Tensions remained strong, not least on Anjouan.

In June 2007, local presidential elections were held. At Grand Comore and Mohéli, advocates of federal cooperation prevailed, but at Anjouan, President Bacar refused to step down. The island's semi-military police force supported him and attacked Union troops sent to the island to ensure the election could be conducted. Bacar eventually agreed to resign and stand for re-election, but when Union President Sambi ordered that the presidential election on Anjouan be postponed, Bacar nonetheless pushed through the election and claimed that he won big. AU rejected the election and demanded that it be redone. Bacar considered that the elections on the other two islands would be redone as well.

Bacar's horror, financial problems

The conflict led to Anjouan being invaded by around 450 Comorian soldiers in March 2008, supported by up to 1,400 AU troops. Previously, both France and the United States had approved an intervention. Bacar was forced to flee to the French possession of Reunion, from which he was later deported to Benin in West Africa.

After Anjouan's isolation had broken, it turned out that both health care and schools had major problems because many teachers and doctors had moved away from Bacar's fear. Perhaps thousands of residents, especially the well-educated, had been tortured. UN staff also found serious malnutrition among children and the elderly. Almost half of those entitled to vote participated when a new local presidential election was held in Anjouan in June of that year.

The optimism that had characterized the Comoros in the spring, when the Anjouan uprising was fought, was soon blown away because of the country's increasingly poor economy. Lack of food and gasoline led to demands for Union President Zambi's resignation, while schools and hospitals were hit by strikes.

One reason for the state's financial difficulties was the sky-high cost of the oversized administration, with four presidents, four governments and four parliaments. In the winter of 2009, Sambi therefore proposed a series of constitutional amendments to strengthen the central board. The Presidents of the islands would be degraded to governors, the ministers would be commissioners and the parliaments would be called delegates. The term of office of the Union President would be extended from four to five years. The amendments would be preceded by a referendum.

Increased centralization

The proposals to re-restrict the islands' self-government aroused opposition among local leaders. Opposition parties called for a boycott of the planned referendum. The opposition was particularly strong on Mohéli, who, under the system of rotating presidency, had not yet exercised his right to appoint a president of the Union. Opposition politicians warned that extending the president's term of office from four years to five years could be a first step for Sambi to become a dictator.

However, when the referendum was conducted in May 2009, over 90 percent of voters said yes to the proposed constitutional amendments. However, turnout was low, only 53 percent.

The election to the European Parliament in December 2009 strengthened President Zambi's position by giving a clear majority to his sympathizers in the Baobab coalition. The newly elected parliament extended the incumbent president's term by 18 months. Without the extension, the term of office would have expired in May 2010. However, the extension was shortened by the Constitutional Court to 12 months. During a transitional period, Sambi would lead an interim government with limited powers of power.

In the election of a new Union President in November and December 2010, Ikililou Dhoinine, a close ally of Sambi, prevailed. Dhoinine won the election with 61 percent of the vote in the second round.

In the elections to the Union Parliament in the spring of 2015, both Dhoinines and Zambi both supported a large majority of the mandate and thereby strengthened their position.

Assoumani back in power

Tensions rose before the presidential and governor elections in 2016. Ahmed Abdallah Mohamed Sambi, the country's president in 2006–2011, tried in August 2015 to register as presidential candidate despite the rules stipulating that the next president should be withdrawn from Grand Comore. However, he had to withdraw his candidacy after the Constitutional Court said its end of the same year.

Twenty-five candidates ran in the first round of the presidential election on February 21, 2016. Three candidates advanced to the second round of elections on April 10: Vice President Mohamed Ali Soilihi (also known as Mamadou), Grande Comoros Governor Mouigni Baraka and former President and President Azali Assoumani. According to preliminary results, Assoumani won a tight victory over Mamadou but when it became clear that thousands of people had been barred from voting on Anjouan, the Constitutional Court ordered the election to be reassigned in 13 constituencies.

When the results of the re-election on Anjouan were complete, Assoumani was victorious and took up his third term as president on May 26.

In 2016 and 2017, the country was shaken by a series of corruption scandals, including allegations that several people who had held high positions under Zambi and his successor Ikililou Dhoinine's regime were accused of selling Comorian passports (also diplomatic passports) in violation of the law.

Referendum on constitutional changes

A national conference was held in early 2018 where the largest parties and various organizations discussed the country's development. The discussions were about proposals to write about the constitution and how to boost the Comorian economy.

A few months later, President Assoumani dissolved the country's constitutional court, announcing a referendum on a draft constitutional reform. The opposition called the president's actions a "constitutional coup" and accused him of restricting freedom of speech. But the constitutional amendments were approved in July 2018 by almost 93 percent of voters. However, turnout was relatively low, at almost 64 percent.

 
 

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