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
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.
Coup 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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.