Over the centuries, the islands were invaded by a succession of diverse
groups from the coast of Africa, the Persian Gulf, Indonesia, and Madagascar.
Portuguese explorers visited the archipelago in 1505. "Shirazi" Arab migrants
introduced Islam at about the same time. Between 1841 and 1912, France
established colonial rule over Grande Comore, Anjouan, Mayotte, and Moheli
and placed the islands under the administration of the governor general
of Madagascar. 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. Internal political autonomy was granted in 1961. Agreement was
reached with France in 1973 for Comoros to become independent in 1978.
On July 6, 1975, however, the Comorian Parliament passed a resolution declaring
unilateral independence. The deputies of Mayotte abstained. As a result,
the Comorian Government has effective control over only Grande Comore,
Anjouan, and Moheli. Mayotte remains under French administration.
The Union of Comoros is ruled by former Army Col. President Azali Assoumani.
The political situation in Comoros has been extremely fluid since the country's
independence in 1975, subject to the volatility of coups and political
insurrection. Colonel Azali seized power in a bloodless coup in April 1999,
overthrowing Interim President Tadjiddine Ben Said Massounde, who himself
had held the office since the death of democratically elected President
Mohamed Taki Abdoulkarim in November 1998. In May 1999, Azali decreed a
Constitution that gave him both executive and legislative powers. Bowing
somewhat to international criticism, Azali appointed a civilian prime minister,
Bainrifi Tarmidi, in December 1999; however, Azali retained the mantle
of head of state and army commander. In December 2000, Azali named a new
civilian Prime Minister, Hamada Madi, and formed a new civilian Cabinet.
When Azali took power he also pledged to step down in 2000 and relinquish
control to a democratically elected president. Instead, in 2001, Azali
resigned from the military and ran as a civilian candidate for the national
president. He was elected in flawed but fair elections.
In a separate nod to pressure to fully restore civilian rule, the government
organized several committees to compose a new Constitution, including the
August 2000 National Congress and November 2000 Tripartite Commission.
The opposition parties initially refused to participate in the Tripartite
Commission, but on February 17, representatives of the government, the
Anjouan separatists, the political opposition, and civil society organizations
signed a "Framework Accord for Reconciliation in Comoros," brokered by
the Organization for African Unity (OAU), now the African Union. The accord
called for the creation of a new Tripartite Commission for National Reconciliation
to develop a "New Comorian Entity" with a new Constitution. Although the
Commission set June as its goal for completing the Constitution and December
for the national elections, disagreements over procedure and goals delayed
completion of the draft Constitution. The African Union and the Francophonie
organization have encouraged continued negotiation over the outstanding
fiscal and political issues dividing the national government and the regional
island authorities. The principal disagreements concern distribution of
national revenues and authority over law enforcement and national security.