Comoros Islands are an archipelago situated in the western Indian Ocean, about midway between the island of Madagascar and the coast of East Africa at the northern end of the Mozambique Channel. The archipelago has served in past centuries as a stepping stone between the African continent and Madagascar, as a southern outpost for Arab traders operating along the East African coast, and as a center of Islamic culture. The name \"Comoros\" is derived from the Arabic kamar or kumr, meaning \"moon,\" although this name was first applied by Arab geographers to Madagascar.
Comoros was frequented by travelers from Africa, Madagascar, Indonesia, and Arabia before the first Europeans encountered the islands. Arabic influence has been the strongest.
Between 1841 and 1912, France established colonial rule over Grande Comore, Anjouan, Mayotte, and Mohéli and placed the islands under the administration of the governor general of Madagascar. Until the opening of the Suez Canal, the islands used to be an important refueling and provisioning stop for ships from Europe to the Indian Ocean. In 1904 had annexed the remainder of the archipelago. Later, French settlers, French-owned companies, and wealthy Arab merchants established a plantation-based economy that now uses about one-third of the land for export crops. After World War II, the islands became a French overseas territory and were represented in France\'s National Assembly.
In a 1974 referendum, 95% of the population voted for independence. The exception was Mayotte, which, with its Christian majority, voted against joining the other mainly Islamic islands in independence. Today it remains a French overseas territory.
The remaining Comoros islands declared themselves independent on July 6, 1975, with Ahmed Abdallah as president. A month after independence, he was overthrown by Justice Minister Ali Soilih. This was only the beginning of Comoros\'s chronic instability: the country has gone through more than 20 coups since independence and has experienced several attempts at secession. Orchestrating at least four of these coups was a group of white mercenaries known as Les Affreux (The Terrible Ones), and their notorious leader, Frenchman “Colonel” Bob Denard. Denard fled Comoros in 1989, when 3,000 French soldiers were sent after him.
The island of Anjouan declared independence on Aug. 3, 1997, after months of protests and clashes with security forces. The secessionists wanted a return to French rule, contending that independence from France had brought economic disaster and political chaos. Mohéli, the smallest island, also seceded. But France refused to support the secession of either island. In Sept. 1997, President Mohamed Taki\'s forces attempted to retake Anjouan but failed.
Ahmed Abdallah Abderrahman was Comoros’ first president. He was ousted in a 1976 coup, returned to power in a second coup in 1978, survived a coup attempt in 1983, and was assassinated in 1989. The nation\'s first democratic elections were held in 1990, and Saïd Mohamed Djohar was elected president. In 1991, Djohar was impeached and replaced by an interim president, but he returned to power with French backing. Multiparty elections in 1992 resulted in a legislative majority for the president and the creation of the office of prime minister.
Comoros joined the Arab League in 1993. A coup attempt in 1995 was suppressed by French troops. In 1996, Mohamed Taki Abdulkarim was elected president. In 1997, following years of economic decline, rebels took control of the islands of Nzwani and Mwali, declaring their secession and desire to return to French rule. The islands were granted greater autonomy in 1999, but voters on Nzwani endorsed independence in Jan., 2000, and rebels continue to control the island. Taki died in 1998 and was succeeded by Tadjiddine Ben Said Massounde. As violence spread to the main island, the Comoran military staged a coup in Apr., 1999, and Col. Azali Assoumani became president of the Comoros. An attempted coup in Mar., 2000, was foiled by the army. Forces favoring reuniting with the Comoros seized power in Nzwani in 2001, and in December Comoran voters approved giving the three islands additional autonomy (and their own presidents) within a Comoran federation. Under the new constitution, the presidency of the Comoros Union rotates among the islands.
In Jan., 2002, Azali resigned, and Prime Minister Hamada Madi became also interim president in the transitional government preparing for new elections. After two disputed elections (March and April), a commission declared Azali national president in May, 2002. An accord in Dec., 2003, concerning the division of powers between +the federal and island governments paved the way for legislative elections in 2004, in which parties favoring autonomy for the individual islands won a majority of the seats.
National Name: Union des Comores
President: Azali Assoumani (2002)
Area: 838 sq mi (2,170 km)
Population (2005 est.): 671,247 (growth rate: 2.9%); birth rate: 37.5/1000; infant mortality rate: 74.9/1000; life expectancy: 62.0; density per sq mi: 801
Capital and largest city (2003 est.): Moroni (on Grande Comoro), 60,200
Monetary unit: Franc
Languages: Arabic and French (both official), Shikomoro (Swahili/Arabic blend)
Ethnicity/race: Antalote, Cafre, Makoa, Oimatsaha, Sakalava
Religions: Sunni Muslim 98%, Roman Catholic 2%
Economic summary: GDP/PPP: (2002 est.) $441 million; per capita $700.
Real growth rate: 2%.
Arable land: 36%
Agriculture: vanilla, cloves, perfume essences, copra, coconuts, bananas, cassava (tapioca)
Industries: tourism, perfume distillation
Natural resources: negl.
Exports: $28 million (f.o.b., 2002 est.): vanilla, ylang-ylang, cloves, perfume oil, copra.
Imports: $88 million (f.o.b., 2002 est.): rice and other foodstuffs, consumer goods; petroleum products, cement, transport equipment.
Major trading partners: France, Germany, U.S., Singapore, Japan, South Africa, UAE, Kenya, Mauritius (2003).
Transportation: Railways: 0 km. Highways: total: 880 km; paved: 673 km; unpaved: 207 km (1999 est.).
Ports and harbors: Mayotte, Moutsamoudou.
Airports: 4 (2004 est.).
International disputes: claims French-administered Mayotte