the Comoros (kŏm´ərōs), officially Union of the Comoros (2005 est. pop. 671,000), 838 sq mi (2,170 sq km), occupying most of the Comoro Islands, an archipelago in the Indian Ocean, at the northern end of the Mozambique Channel, between Madagascar and Mozambique. The capital and largest city is Moroni.
Land and People
The Comoros is comprised of three main islands, Njazidja (or Ngazidja; also Grande Comore or Grand Comoros)—on which Moroni is located—Nzwani (or Ndzouani; also Anjouan), and Mwali (also Mohéli), and numerous coral reefs and islets. They are volcanic in origin, with interiors that vary from high peaks to low hills and coastlines that feature many sandy beaches. Njazidja is the site of an active volcano, Karthala, which, at 7,746 ft (2,361 m), is the islands' highest peak. The Comoros have a tropical climate with the year almost evenly divided between dry and rainy seasons; cyclones (hurricanes) are quite frequent. The islands once supported extensive rain forests, but most have been severely depleted.
The inhabitants are a mix mostly of African, Arab, Indian, and Malay ethnic strains. Sunni Muslims make up 98% of the population; there is a small Roman Catholic minority. Arabic and French are the official languages, and Comorian (or Shikomoro, a blend of Swahili and Arabic) is also spoken.
With few natural resources, poor soil, and overpopulation, the islands are one of the world's poorest nations. Some 80% of the people are involved in agriculture. Vanilla, ylang-ylang (used in perfumes), cloves, and copra are the major exports; coconuts, bananas, and cassava are also grown. Fishing, tourism, and perfume distillation are the main industries, and remittances from Comorans working abroad are an important source of revenue. Rice and other foodstuffs, consumer goods, petroleum products, and transportation equipment are imported. The country is heavily dependent on France for trade and foreign aid.
The Comoros is governed under the constitution of 2001. The president, who is head of state, is chosen from among the elected heads of the three main islands; the presidency rotates every five years. The government is headed by the prime minister, who is appointed by the president. The unicameral legislature consists of the 33-seat Assembly of the Union. Fifteen members are selected by the individual islands' local assemblies, and 18 are popularly elected. All serve five-year terms. Administratively, the country is divided into the three main islands and four municipalities.
The islands were populated by successive waves of immigrants from Africa, Indonesia, Madagascar, and Arabia. They were long under Arab influence, especially Shiragi Arabs from Persia who first arrived in AD 933. Portugal, France, and England staked claims in the Comoros in the 16th cent., but the islands remained under Arab domination. All of the islands were ceded to the French between 1841 and 1909. Occupied by the British during World War II, the islands were granted administrative autonomy within the French Union in 1946 and internal self-government in 1968. In 1975 three of the islands voted to become independent, while Mayotte chose to remain a French dependency.
Ahmed Abdallah Abderrahman was Comoros's 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. The 2006 presidential election was won by Ahmed Abdallah Mohamed Sambi, a Sunni cleric regarded as a moderate Islamist.
In Apr., 2007, the president of Nzwani, Mohamed Bacar, refused to resign as required by the constitutional courts and used his police forces to retain power, holding an illegal election in June, after which he was declared the winner. The moves were denounced by the central government and the African Union, but the central government lacked the forces to dislodge Bacar. In Nov., 2007, the African Union began a naval blockade of Nzwani and imposed a travel ban on its government's officials. With support from African Union forces, Comoran troops landed on Mzwani in Mar., 2008, and reestablished federal control over the island. Bacar fled the country.
A referendum in May, 2009, approved of a constitutional amendment to extend the president's term to five years and replace the islands' presidents with governors, but it was denounced by opposition groups and voter turnout was light. In May, 2010, however, the constitutional court overturned the term extension, but the president's term expired without new elections. In June, President Sambi formed an interim government. Elections were finally held in November and December; Vice President Ikililou Dhoinine, the ruling party candidate, was elected to succeed Sambi, but the opposition accused the government of massive vote rigging.
See World Bank, Comoros (1983); M. and H. Ottenheimer, Historical Dictionary of the Comoro Islands (1994).
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Publication information: Article title: Comoros, the. Encyclopedia title: The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. © 2012 The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia © 2012, Columbia University Press. Licensed from Columbia University Press. Used with the permission of Columbia University Press. All Rights Reserved. Publisher: The Columbia University Press. Place of publication: Not available. Publication year: 2013.
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