The Comoros, in long form the Union of the Comoros is a federal republic of Southern Africa located in the north of the Mozambique Channel, a maritime area of the Indian Ocean.
The capital of the country is Moroni, for official languages the Comorian (Shikomor), spoken by 96.9% of the population, French and Arabic and for currency the Comorian franc. The Union of the Comoros is a member of the Arab League, the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, the International Organization of La Francophonie and the Parliamentary Assembly of La Francophonie. French colony from 1892, the Comoros obtained their independence on July 6, 1975.
The constitution considers the Union of the Comoros composed of four islands, one of which is administered by France: these are the autonomous islands of Grande Comore (Ngazidja), Anjouan (Nzwani), Mohéli (Mwali) and Mayotte (Mahore). The latter is considered by the Comorian government to be occupied by France: the United Nations General Assembly condemned this state of affairs until the 1990s by more than twenty non-binding resolutions but the various local referendums have shown a Mahorais’ clear will to remain French, confirming this state of affairs in the name of the right of peoples to self-determination, a founding principle of the United Nations Charter.
Formed about 9 million years ago, the Comoros archipelago, of volcanic origin, does not seem to have known any human presence before the 7th century, mammals being probably absent with the exception of fruit bats.
The seventh and ninth centuries saw the first human settlements. It seems that the first inhabitants already belong to the first Swahili peoples, characterized by a culture of Bantu origin widespread on all the shores of East Africa from Somalia to Mozambique, maintaining relations still poorly known with the Malagasy populations, of Austronesian origin. Mayotte and Anjouan were apparently occupied later because the two islands differ from all of the Comoros by a specific linguistic evolution. The maritime trade, very active from this time, attests to contacts with the Moslem Middle East, in particular Persia, then Oman. The first populations were probably not Muslim, and would not have become Islamized until later, in contact with Arab merchants.
In the 13th and 15th centuries, the archipelago was structured under the direction of Muslim leaders, the Fani. Cultural contacts with the Swahili coast and Madagascar are important.
Around 1470, Shirazi sultanates (originally from Persia) gradually established themselves on the islands, recognized until the beginning of the 19th century. It was from this period that the establishment of Sunni Shafi Islam still practiced in the archipelago dates from.
The Comoros archipelago constitutes the southern border of the Swahili cultural area which developed from the end of the Middle Ages in this region which at the time was called the Zanguebar; Mayotte is also the point of contact for this group with the very different Malagasy culture, which makes this island a crossroads of influences – but also a warlike target. Influences from across the Indian Ocean, but also from the African coast, turned upside down by the Bantu eruption, and the Malagasy coast, continue to shape Swahili island society. Bantu and Malagasy immigration (Sakalaves) began imperceptibly.
Modern times In 1453, the fall of Constantinople brutally closed the trade routes which linked Europe to the East. Then opens the golden age of maritime trade, which bypasses Africa to reach India and China: the Mozambique Channel suddenly finds itself at the heart of the main trade route in the world, leading to an important period prosperity for the many islands and city-states of the Swahili cultural area. It is then Anjouan which becomes the most prosperous island of the archipelago, because acclaimed by the sailors: as it has three coasts, the sailors are sure of being able to shelter there no matter what wind, and the moorings are excellent; the Portuguese quickly made it an essential break on the Indian route, and established trade relations with the population. It was at the beginning of the 16th century that the first direct relations with European peoples date, first of all from Portuguese navigators, but also from Ottoman navigators such as Piri Reis. The archipelago was sufficiently known to Europeans in 1751 to have an article with his name in the Encyclopedia of Denis Diderot and Jean Le Rond d’Alembert.
The seventeenth and eighteenth centuries were a particularly prosperous period for the Comoros, ideally placed on a flourishing trade route between Europe and what became the Omani Empire. But this wealth was soon accompanied by political rivalries between the four islands (we then speak of “battling sultans”), which gave rise to numerous raids and open wars: thus from 1742 to 1791, the sultanate of Anjouan made several attempts to conquer the sultanate of Mayotte, and notably steals the carved wooden minbar from the Tsingoni mosque. No sultan ever succeeds in unifying the four islands, and these rivalries deeply weaken the archipelago. From 1795 to 1820, the raids of the Madagascan pirates (Sakalaves and Betsimisarakas) depopulate the three minor islands considerably, and cause the archipelago to sink into a serious economic crisis, quickly coupled with a political crisis, marked by numerous assassinations of sultans and takeovers by foreign sovereigns (Malagasy, Zanzibarians, Omani …). In particular, the sakalave king of Iboina in Madagascar, Andriantsoly, offers his protection to the sultan of Mayotte Bwana Combo in exchange for half of his island, but then expels him to Mohéli. The latter then tried to ally himself with the local sultan of Malagasy origin, the hova Ramanetaka (who became the master of Mohéli under the name of Abderahmane), who however preferred the spoiler to become co-sultan of Mayotte in his place. Ambitious, he chased Andriantsoly from Mayotte in 1836 to reign supreme on the island, but then returned to Mohéli. Andriantsoly then allies with Sultan Abdallah of Anjouan to recover the island. Andriantsoly wishes to preserve the autonomy of his island in front of the other Comorian sovereigns, and to protect it from the attacks of pirates: however, deprived of ally against the latter and against the Malagasy monarchy supported by Great Britain, he knows himself threatened. He then turned to the British rivals, the French, who, also present in Madagascar since 1643, have just taken Nosy Be.
It is in this context that, on April 25, 1841, the Sultan sold Mayotte to France thus ceding his sovereignty to the July monarchy of Louis-Philippe Ier.
Mayotte therefore linked from that time its destiny to that of France, while the other three islands remained independent for a time. In 1851, by the Expedition of Anjouan, the United States imposed on Anjouan a privileged trade treaty. Europeans gradually settle in Comoros, acquire land and slaves there [Doubtful Information], and sometimes make their fortune there, like Léon Humblot (installed in 1884), who following a contract with the sultan of Bambao Said Ali bin Said Omar quickly became the most powerful man in the archipelago, nicknamed the “white sultan of the Comoros”, reigning with an iron fist over Grande Comore, at the head of a system based on slavery. It is therefore partly to temper these individual ambitions that France undertakes to establish a protectorate in the Comoros, ratified by the Sultan of Grande Comore in 1886. From 1892, power over the Comoros islands was exercised by the Residents subordinated to the governors of Mayotte (therefore under the authority of the President of the French Republic), who gradually took power and abolished slavery (Humblot was stripped of his privileges in 1896). Colonial farms make up almost half of Grande Comore, 40% of Anjouan, 20% of Mohéli. The islands then become a colony of “Mayotte and dependencies”. As the official language became French, teaching went from Arabic to French. The use of the Kiswahilis dialects continues however in the medium of the trade.
In 1904 the official legal connection was made between the islands. It was followed, on July 25, 1912, by a second decree officially linking “Mayotte and its dependencies” to Madagascar. Little by little, the lands are returned to the Comorians, and a local elite is gradually emerging (often educated in Reunion before the founding of the Moroni high school).
In 1946, the Comoros being a French colony, they are no longer administratively attached to Madagascar, which has become independent, and for the first time in their history form a united and recognized administrative entity, under the status of overseas territory (TOM ). After the wave of independence from African countries in the 1960s, a number of intellectuals began to demand independence for the Comoros. With the agreements of June 15, 1973, in an objective of concerted independence, France organized the consultation of 1974. Mayotte, French for two generations more than her sisters, expressed herself differently from the other three islands, then making the choice of maintenance of its French status while the others voted overwhelmingly for independence. According to the Comorian point of view, Jacques Chirac, Prime Minister, would have decided not to link the fate of Mayotte to that of the three other islands and this in opposition to the previous writings on the subject of Valéry Giscard d’Estaing and with the right international, which would have struck the elected representatives of the islands. By the voice of the Anjouanese Ahmed Abdallah Abderamane was declared unilaterally the independence of the Comorian state on July 6, 1975. According to the French point of view, the fate of the two fractions of the territory was not linked for both legal and political reasons. Indeed Mayotte is French since 1841 (purchase of the island), the rest of the Comoros being only a simple protectorate since 1886. Thus the result of the referendum had to be interpreted island by island. In addition, the Constitution does not allow independence without the consent of the people. This is why, the Mayor’s consultation being negative, Mayotte will, unlike the other islands, be kept in the status quo ante. This difference in appreciation has remained a subject of recurring diplomatic tensions between France and the Comoros, but also between the Mahoran community and the rest of the Comorians.
While Mayotte voted again in 1976 for a definitive attachment to the French Republic, the Islamic Federal Republic of the Comoros plunged into a long period of political instability and coups. Ali Soilih, socialist, and Bob Denard, French mercenary, act in turn on behalf of France or for his own account. Non-democratic regimes and coups d’état follow one another.
In 1997, Anjouan and Mohéli unilaterally proclaimed their independence from the Islamic Federal Republic of the Comoros and wanted their attachment to France, but the latter refused. This attempt at secession led to an embargo led by the RFIC and the OAU. While in 1998, under the aegis of the OAU, Mohéli again accepted the authority of Moroni, Anjouan still refused.
In February 1999, Colonel Azali Assoumani took power over Grande Comore by overthrowing the interim president Tadjidine ben Saïd Massounde, an Anjouanese; which causes a serious institutional crisis. Colonel Assoumani is pursuing more fruitful negotiations with Colonel Mohamed Bacar of Anjouan in order to resolve the crisis.
This crisis will be resolved with the signing of the Fomboni agreements of 2000/2001 and the referendum of December 23, 2001. With this process of national reconciliation, the three islands once again form an entity with a new constitution under the aegis of the OAU : Union of the Comoros. According to the constitution, elections were organized in 2006 which were won by Ahmed Abdallah Mohamed Sambi.
In 2007, Mohamed Bacar, president of Anjouan since 2002, seeks again to obtain the independence of the island, whereas he has just won the rotating presidency of the Union, disputed by Grande Comore. On March 23, 2008, the President of the Comoros Ahmed Abdallah Mohamed Sambi sent the country’s army, supported by the African Union, to launch an assault on the island of Anjouan. The capital fell two days later and Colonel Bacar fled19. In May 2009, President Sambi convened Comorian voters for a constitutional referendum, which was approved by 93% of the voters. This new constitution, correcting that of 2001, strengthens the powers of the president of the Union, those of the islands becoming “governors” with greater autonomy. Islam becomes “state religion”, whereas the previous Constitution defined it only as “inspiring the rules and principles that govern the Union of the Comoros”. And the president’s mandate is extended by one year. His successor Ikililou Dhoinine, who had been his vice-president since 2006, was elected on December 26, 2010 and effectively succeeded him on May 26, 2011. Hydrocarbon deposits having been discovered in Mozambique in 2010, Ikililou Dhoinine authorized in 2012 the company Tullow Oil to conduct a prospecting campaign to try to detect the presence of petroleum resources off the archipelago. This perspective revers the managers. The country, subject to a demographic surge, is experiencing economic difficulties, half of its population lives below the poverty line, and partly suffers from hunger. During the 2016 presidential election, the candidate for power is his vice-president Mohamed Ali Soilihi. But the latter is beaten, after a bouncing ballot, by the former putschist Azali Assoumani with 41.43% against 39.67% of the votes. On July 30, 2018, the Comorians approved by referendum a new constitutional reform which further strengthened the powers of the president, notably authorizing him to run for two consecutive terms. This reform also ratifies the abolition of the post of vice-president and abolishes the constitutional court in favor of the Supreme Court.
The current regime was adopted by referendum in December 2001. In 2009, Islam became a state religion.
The current institutions are marked by the crisis of 1997 and the constitution of 2001. The Union, as well as each of the three islands, has a president who is also head of government. The prerogatives of the President of the Union are foreign policy and defense. The islands have a large autonomy concerning in particular the economy, the taxes, health, and justice. But each constitutional development has resulted in a strengthening of presidential powers.
The Comorian franc is pegged to the euro and is not an independent currency.
The legislative chamber is called “assembly” and has thirty-three members including twenty-four elected (four in Moheli, nine in Anjouan and eleven in Grande-Comore) and nine representatives elected by indirect suffrage (due to three elected by island ). These elected officials are advisers to the assembly of the islands). The members are elected for five years (deputies and councilors):
the Grande-Comore assembly has 20 members;
the Anjouan assembly has 25 members;
the Mohéli assembly has 10 members.
The legal system is a legacy of Muslim law, customary law and French law. The village elders settle most of the disputes. The judiciary is independent of the legislature and the executive. The Supreme Court is the highest court.
A Constitutional Court, in place from 2006 to 2018, was responsible for ensuring the smooth running of the elections and for arbitrating in the event of accusations of government embezzlement. It was made up of two members chosen by the president of the Union, two personalities elected by the federal assembly, and one by the assembly of each island. It was abolished in favor of the Supreme Court.
Comoros is the 21st poorest country in the world. Most of the population is rural and lives on food crops or fishing. The islands nevertheless export vanilla, ylang-ylang (the country is the largest producer of ylang-ylang in the world since the relocation of the Guerlain factories following the departmentalization of Mayotte) and cloves. The country is not self-sufficient in food. A World Bank report suggests that the campaigns are also organizing the food shortage of local products to support prices. The Union of the Comoros lives partially on remittances from its diaspora, which constitute 25% of the GDP: more Comorians live on French territory than on Comorian territory, notably in Mayotte, Reunion and Marseille. However, this ad hoc aid without organization or planning contributes only very marginally to the economy and development of the island, essentially allowing expatriate families to live comfortably without working, and thus fueling a rentier economy without creation of activity. Thus, the rapporteur for the Foreign Affairs Commission reports that “The inhabitants of Grande Comore are therefore in no hurry to go to work for an average salary of 300 euros per month, they are lining up in front of the Western Union to wait for the mandates. Which allow a privileged few to go to the outside of the island for medical treatment or to educate their children there.The Comoros live mainly on foreign financial aid, mainly from the European Union, Saudi Arabia and China. However, these investments are often made in exchange for geopolitical alignments, and in particular Saudi aid was paid in exchange for religious radicalization alongside Saudi Arabia against Qatar and Iran, leading, among other things, to persecution Shiites and the destruction of a Qatar-funded hotel. China finances in the Comoros many very visible buildings to signal its influence on the archipelago, without any real concern for development (for example, the brand new hospital of Bambao in Anjouan has almost no equipment or personnel), and in a essentially political goal: thus, the new buildings of the National Assembly of the Union of the Comoros is now located “Avenue of the People’s Republic of China”.
According to CIA estimates, the population would be 794 67,835 inhabitants in 2016.
According to the last census (2004) the population is estimated at 646,400 people on the three islands (31,200 in Mohéli, 363,200 in Grande Comore, 252,000 in Anjouan), but the diaspora, mainly with the Comorians of metropolitan France (especially in Marseille, Paris, Lyon, Bordeaux, Toulouse, Dunkirk, Nice) as well as Reunion and Mayotte would count at least as many people.
The education system in Comoros seems to have emerged with the advent of Islam in the archipelago, around the twelfth century, and has undergone several changes since that period. These developments have not been continuous, but this history will be mainly marked by the institutional development of the archipelago and an increasingly broad access to education since the proclamation of independence until today. The education system is inherited from the customary system (private Koranic school) and the French education system based on free education. Almost all children first learn in the madrasah where they learn to read Arabic (with the Qur’an), and most of them then follow “western” education. Western education is in French at least until the baccalaureate, recognized by France. The children of the wealthiest and most westernized social classes follow, in Moroni especially, a scheme of western education and a Muslim teaching apart.
Long confined to the instruction of the religious values of Islam as well as the learning of the rudiments necessary for the life of then (agriculture, breeding and household tasks), the education system was going to know its first great upheaval with the introduction of the secular colonial school at the beginning of the 20th century. This model long reserved for a certain elite, will experience an important democratization after the independence of the country in 1975. But since that time, the question of access, still topical, has been one of the problems to which the authorities public bodies should respond having regard to the “social elevator” function assigned to the school.
The cash flow difficulties of the various governments, which could not pay the salaries of civil servants, also affected the education system. Also, between 1997 and 2001, teachers in public education, unpaid, went on strike. Only the private operated. Between 1978 and 2000, students wishing to acquire additional training (post bac) had to expatriate. A university has been recreated since 2000 in a few fields. However, education in the Comoros is still essentially based on sending young people from wealthy families to France (and who rarely come back to work in the country), and little is done to invest locally in education. Thus, a 2019 report from the Foreign Affairs Commission of the National Assembly points out that education in the Comoros “is like everything that is happening on this island, namely that they are waiting for outside. All that is development at the university level, even if there is among them excellent wills […], [knows] a lot of obstacles, both at the administrative and political level. Investments are diverted, the means are poor, and there is currently no question of doing medical school ”.
The educational, judicial and administrative system uses the Arabic and French languages. It is however planned to take the preparatory course (two years, CP1 and CP2) in the different local languages (one per island) in order to facilitate literacy.
The national audiovisual media mainly use Shimassiwa, in its different dialects, the written press is in Arabic and French. RFI is broadcast on FM in the main cities, and French satellite TV channels are the most watched.
There are Franco-Comorian alliances (Alliance française) in Moroni, Fomboni and Mutsamudu and CLACs (Organization internationale de la francophonie) in around fifteen localities.
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