Moroni - History

 

The Comoros Islands were very likely inhabited by Malayo-Polynesian sailors as early as the sixth century AD. Arabs and Africans were later arrivals.

For hundreds of years, the islands were a centre for traffic in slaves and spices. Between the 10th and 15th centuries, people from the areas around the Red Sea and the Persian Gulf came to the islands and established Islam. These people set up rival sultanates and while no political stability or unity was achieved, Islam gave the people homogeneity and it has subsequently dominated all aspects of the islands' social life. The present culture of the Comoros is very similar to that of the Swahili people on the African coast from Somalia to Mozambique.

Because of rival sultanates on the islands, in the nineteenth century France was able to exploit the situation and establish a presence. In 1886 the Comoros became a French protectorate and in 1912 France officially proclaimed them colonies.

Until the 1960s the islands were more or less totally isolated from the world. France maintained a situation which forbade political organisation and a local press. In December 1961, however, in response to increased demands from the people of the islands, a system of internal autonomy was set up

In 1968 there was a students' strike and in the atmosphere following it, concessions were made by the French government and the first political parties were formed in the country.

Some parties urged immediate independence from France; others were for a less-than-total break and there was even one party based in Mahoré (Mayotte), the Mouvement Populaire Mahorais (MPM), which opposed independenceFrom 1971 to 1973 there was great political unrest in the islands. In December 1972 a union of pro-independence parties won 34 seats, while the MPM won only five. The French government submitted a document to the Comorian ministers which was endorsed by them in Paris on 15 July 1973. Under the terms of the document, independence was to be granted after a delay of five years and then only after a referendum on an island-by-island basis.

There was considerable resistance to these terms in the islands and when the French Colonial Secretary visited the Comoros in September, he was greeted by hostile demonstrations. In December 1974, a referendum produced a 94.6% vote for independence but in Mahoré (Mayotte), there was a 64% vote against independence. Following this on 6 July 1975, Ahmed Abdallah, the leader of one of the major political parties, announced a unilateral declaration of independence. The five deputies, however, from Mahoré (Mayotte) rejected independence but nonetheless on 7 July, Ahmed Abdallah was elected head of state and on 18 July, the OAU (Organisation of African Unity) accepted the Comoros' membership

Almost as soon as he became leader, Ahmed Abdallah was deposed by Ali Solih, the leader of an opposing political party. This occurred on 3 August 1975 and Ali Solih retained a more or less tenuous hold on the country until a coup, with the help of white mercenaries led by Bob Denard, restored Ahmed Abdallah to power on 13 May 1978.

The mercenaries helped consolidate the rule of Ahmed Abdallah but their presence in the Comoros was not looked upon kindly by neighbouring countries. And in fact, the Comorian Foreign Minister was expelled from an OAU Foreign Ministers' Conference in Khartoum in July 1978. Intense diplomatic efforts were set in motion and the OAU re-accepted Comoros' membership in the organisation in February 1979.

Opposition to Ahmed Abdallah's rule was considerable both within his party and outside it. As all party politics were banned, the opposition was necessarily low-key.

After a generally unpopular tenure as leader of the country, on 27 November 1989 President Ahmed Abdallah was killed by members of his armed forces. Even though the acting president, Said Mohammed Djohar, was required to hold an election within 40 days, real power remained in the hands of Denard and his mercenaries.

In December, Denard surrendered to French forces and left the island. Subsequent elections in March 1990 saw Said Mohammed Djohar become president for a six-year term with 55.1% of the vote.

In 1997 Anjouan seceded from the Comoros. Two opposing factions took control of the island and although both factions agreed to secede from Comoros they disagreed as to whether they should join France or declare independence. Fierce fighting broke out in the island.

On 23 April 1999, the Anjouan representatives refused to sign an agreement by the Organisation of African Unity (OAU) which proposed broad autonomy for the three islands under a central administration. What followed was an escalation of violence which spread to the main island and the capital Moroni.

In order to stop the spreading violence, Col. Assoumani Azzali staged a bloodless coup and ousted President Mohamed Tadjidine Ben Said Massounde and the government of his Prime Minister Abbas Djoussouf on 30 April 1999. The new leader promised that he will stay in power for one year only, and that elections will be held within that time period.

 


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