In the 15th century, the Arabs settled on what is now known as the Comoros Islands. The islands surrendered to the French in 1841 and became a French protectorate in 1886. In 1912 it became a French Colony.
Prior to 1947, the Comoros were governed as part of Madagascar. They became a separate French Overseas Territory after this and full independence was finally achieved in 1975.
One of the original Comoros island group, Mayotte, wanted to maintain its links with France. With Mayotte going its own way, the Comoros joined the United Nations as the Federal Islamic Republic of the Comoros, comprising three islands: Grande Comore, Anjouan and Moheli.
In total, the three islands have experienced almost 20 coups since gaining independence in 1975! Ahmed Abdallah was elected as the first president but within months was overthrown. But in 1978, he regained his position with the help of French mercenaries only to be assassinated the following year.
Abdallah’s successor was Said Mohamed Djohar who held power until he was killed in 1995 when Bob Denard, a French soldier and mercenary returned. Bob Denard had been active in many previous coups in the Comoros Islands. But he was removed after about a week by French troops from Réunion.
Elections took place in 1996, and brought in the Government of Abdulkarim Taki. Taki was resisted by many as he tried to introduce Islamic law to the islands and after his death in 1998, Ben Said Massounde took over. A military coup in 1999 led by the Chief of the Army General Staff, Colonel Azzali Assoumani taking over. Te military government wanted to keep the islands as one group but with more autonomy to each island. This proved popular with the islands so that following a referendum in May 2002, Assoumani was declared President of the newly entitled Union of Comoros.
From the sixteenth century, the Comoros have been known as the perfumed islands- 65% of the world’s perfume essence comes from here, being processed from the blossoms of ylang ylang, jasmine and orange. Spices, including nutmeg, cloves, pepper, basil and vanilla, are another mainstay of the economy.
In common with a few other places, such as the wine growing areas of France, one of the main attractions of the Comoros is its non-tourist commercial activity. It’s people are a blend of Arab, African and Malagasy, with Arabic and French being the official languages, the latter is due to the fact that these islands were under French rule from 1912 to 1973.
However, the majority speak Comoran, a blend of Arabic and Swahili.