Until the colonial period, the Comoros were not a political unit but consisted of a large number of independent local political units. In the centuries before the French colonization, the Comoros were a southern outpost for Arab merchants, who also introduced Islamic culture and religion to the islands. From the late 18th century the area was ravaged by slave hunters from Madagascar. Later Comorian traders took part in the slave transport themselves, and slavery was introduced as an institution in the Comoros. In 1865, about 40 percent of the Comoros population was estimated to have been slaves.
From 1841 to 1909 the Comoros came under French sovereignty. See abbreviationfinder for geography, history, society, politics, and economy of Comoros. The islands were declared in 1912 as a French colony administratively placed under Madagascar and in 1947 became an overseas territory within the French Union. In December 1961, the Comoros gained internal independence, but the local French representative retained considerable power. In the early 1970s, the demands for full independence from France grew stronger, and in a 1974 referendum, 96 percent of those eligible to vote for independence grew. The population of the island of Mayotte (Mahoré), however, chose to remain within France. After the Comoros rejected a French proposal for increased autonomy for the various islands, the Comoros unilaterally declared themselves independent on July 6, 1975. France made no attempt to intervene but retained control of Mayotte, which broke the diplomatic relations between the Comoros and France.
The first President of the Comoros was appointed Ahmed Abdallah (1919–89). However, he was overthrown less than a month later by a well-planned coup, carried out with the help of foreign mercenaries led by Frenchman Bob Denard (1929–2007). After a transitional period, Ali Soilih (1937–78) was installed as president in January 1976. Soilih sought to revolutionize the Comoros socio-economic system, inspired by both Islam and Maoism. The revolution failed, and in a new coup in 1978, again led by Denard, the government collapsed and Soilih was assassinated. Following a referendum, a new constitution was adopted that made the Comoros a federal Islamic republic, and Ahmed Abdallah was elected president for six years.
The mercenaries under Denard remained in the Comoros, officially as the President’s security guard, but in practice they became increasingly involved in the Comoros’ internal affairs. France and South Africa also increased their economic and political presence. Abdallah was re-elected president but murdered in 1989 by Denard’s mercenaries. Denard tried openly to take control of the Comoros, which led to France’s military intervention. In 1990, Said M. Djohar (1918–2006) was elected) to the president. His presidential term was characterized by corruption and unrest, and in 1995 the Comoros were again invaded by Denard-led Lego troops and the president was taken hostage. France intervened again and the Lego troops were expelled. Djohar was not allowed to resume the presidency, and in the 1996 presidential election, Mohammed Taki Abdulkarim (1936-98), supported by Islamic fundamentalists, was elected president.
Taki’s presidential period was characterized by major internal contradictions and financial problems that were sought to be solved, among other things, by cuts in the public sector and increased import duties and taxes. Taki died in November 1998. His death left the Comoros in a severe crisis of disintegration. The island of Nzwani (Anjouan) had unilaterally declared itself independent in August 1997 and wished to re-join France, which, however, rejected the wishes. Tadjidine ben Said Massounde (1933–2004) was appointed interim president from the main island of Ngazidja (Grand Comore).
After a bloody coup, Army commander Azali Assoumani resigned as president in May 1999. Shortly before, a conference in Antananarivo in Madagascar, organized by the Organization of African Unity (OAU), culminated in an agreement on far-reaching self-government for the islands. However, the representatives of Nzwani refused to sign the agreement without consulting the islanders. Local elections in Nzwani in August strengthened the position of separatists, and despite threats from the OAU on financial sanctions, a large majority of Nzwani residents said yes to full independence in a January 2000 referendum. with travel bans.
A reconciliation agreement in August 2000 between Assoumani and separatist leader Said Abeid Abderemane led to unrest between different phalanges on Nzwani. Despite this, a formal agreement was signed in February 2001 on national reconciliation and a new constitution. In August of that year, Abeid Abderemane was ousted by a military council that promised continued support for the peace agreement. Despite several new coup attempts in the fall, more than 76 percent of participants voted for the new constitution in a referendum in December 2001.
In April 2002, Azali Assoumani won a presidential election that was only approved after the original electoral commission had been dissolved and replaced with a new one. Then opposition politician Abdou Soule Elbak (born 1954)) elected regional president of Grand Comore a bitter power struggle broke out between him and Assoumani. Ambiguities in the constitution had led to two rival centers of power being set up side by side in the capital Moroni. The disagreement related to both the economy and security issues. Following the mediation of the African Union (AU; which replaced the dissolved OAU) and South Africa, in 2003 it was decided that the army would be controlled by the central government while the police would obey the regional governments. In regional elections in March 2004, local forces prevailed on all three islands. The fragmentation trends continued in the elections to the Union Assembly in April of that year, when the opposition to Assoumani gained a clear majority.
The first peaceful change of power in the country took place in 2006, when Ahmed Abdallah Sambi (born 1958) of Nzwani won the presidential election after receiving 58 percent of the vote in the second round. The following years were marked by conflict between the Union government and Mohamed Bacar (born 1962), who first refused to resign as president of Nzwani in 2007 and then allowed himself to be re-elected in an election which was declared invalid by the country’s constitutional court. The following year, the Union government invaded the island with military support from the AU. Bacar fled to Mayotte and was eventually deported to Benin by the French authorities, even though the Comoros requested him extradited.
At President Zambi’s proposal, constitutional amendments in 2009 limited the influence of the three islands again in favor of central power. One reason was the high administrative costs it entailed to have three presidents, in addition to the president of the Union, three governments and three parliaments, which the 2001 constitution prescribed. Instead of president, each island should have a governor, ministers are called commissioners and parliaments are called delegates. The revision of the constitution also meant that the term of office of the President of the Union was extended from four to five years. Sambi was allowed with limited powers to lead an interim government for an extra year. He was succeeded in May by his Vice President Ikililou Dhoinine from Mwali (Mohéli), who at the end of 2010 received 61 percent of the votes in the second round of the presidential election. In the 2009 parliamentary elections, the Sami faithful coalition “Baoba Movement” won a clear victory and received 19 out of 24 seats.
The parliamentary elections, which should have been held in April 2014, were finally held in January-February 2015. Both Dhoinine and Sambi had formed new parties since the previous election. The Union for the Development of the Comores (UDC), led by Dhoinine, was given a mandate more than Zambi’s party Juwa (the ‘Sun’).
In 2009, an overwhelming majority of Mayotte Islanders agreed to further strengthen ties with France. Two years later, the island became France’s 101st department.
Assoumani back with strengthened power
In 2018, Azali Assoumani, who was re-elected President 2016, underwent constitutional changes which meant that the presidential post no longer necessarily rotates between the three main islands every five years; the president should now be able to sit for two terms in a row. At the same time, the head of state was empowered to abolish the system of vice presidents from the two islands that do not hold the presidential post. The constitutional amendments were approved in a referendum boycotted by the opposition. Before that, Assoumani had dissolved the country’s constitutional court. The fact that, following the referendum, Assoumani had seized several opposition politicians and militants was another indication that his rule was moving in an authoritarian direction.
Elections to the presidential post were held in March 2019 and resulted in a clear victory for Assoumani, who got 61 percent of the vote already in the first round of elections. However, only just over half of the voters voted. The election was heavily criticized by the opposition, which accused the regime of electoral fraud of various kinds. The African Union and other international observers also stated that the election was unfair.