PESA
PESA Editorial - Comoros - 3Q2018/19

History of Conflict and its Impact on Comorian Development

Political stability and economic growth go hand-in-hand and it is generally expected that political turmoil and conflict undermine countries’ development. The Union of the Comoros illustrates this quite well[1]. The Comoros has had a long history of conflicts and military coups during both the pre and post-colonial period. Comoros experienced more than twenty military coups since independence from France in 1975 causing political instability which has disrupted economic growth and development[2].

France officially acquired Mayotte in 1843 and had taken control of the remaining three islands in the archipelago by 1886. At the time the French governor-general of Madagascar administered all four islands as one territory. In 1947, the Comoros became an overseas territory of France and did not gain internal independence until 1961. Full independence was achieved in 1975 when 96.0% of Comorians approved a national referendum to split from France. However, the population of Mayotte rejected the referendum, opting instead to remain a dependent of France. Right after gaining independence, Ali Soilih carried out a military coup ousting government of the very first Comorian president, Ahmed Abdallah, after assuming presidential power for only a month[3].

In 1978, Comoros armed forces initiated a second coup d’état, overthrowing the radical regime of Ali Soilih and returning Abdallah to power with the help of French mercenary Bob Denard[4]. The conflict left five civilians dead and at least 13 with severe injuries. Subsequently, political turmoil persisted when Abdallah established a one-party state and ruled in an autocratic manner until being assassinated in November 1989[5].  In 1990, a peaceful transfer of power took place when Said Djohar defeated Mohamed Taki in the presidential elections. This was the first democratic elections in the post- independence period[6].

The Comoros has endured a distressed and uncertain course as an independent state. Amidst the political and economic instability in early 1992 President Djohar advocated for reconciliation with the political opposition and established a government of national unity[7]. The envisioned government of national unity collapsed in late 1992 due to the greed shown by President Djohar to hold on to power for long (Djohar desperately sought to hang on to power in the face of repeated coup attempts and chronic cabinet instability)[8].

Power struggles have always been at the centre of all the Comorian intra-state conflicts. Various groups and movements have clashed in order to occupy the supreme power or to rule the state. Contestations and the political unrest reflect the continuous power struggle over control of the three islands in the past three decades[9]. The 1995 coup d’état against President Djohar, which was overturned a week later with the help of French troops, illustrates this[10]. A year later in 1996, the country’s first multiparty elections took place peacefully and resulted in a transfer of power to President Taki.

 

PESA Editorial - Comorian Armed Forces - 3Q2018/19
Comorian Armed Forces with President Azali Assoumani

 

Power in the case of Comoros implies having control, influence and being part of the decision-making and policy-making bodies across the three islands. Over time, more of the decision-making has been centralized to one island, Grande Comore, where the capital Mohéli is located, infuriating the populations of the other islands. Leaders of the other two islands were met with violence from the military groups when they pressured the government to decentralise power and planning secession, which led to the coup of 30 April 1999[11]. This coup left two soldiers dead and about 23 people injured.

A new draft constitution was approved in 2001 through the AU-brokered “Antananarivo Agreement” with the aim of uniting the three islands. The constitution of 2001 established a federal system of governance with a four-year “rotational presidency” amongst the three islands[12]. Islands gained autonomy and freedom to elect their own presidents, and also develop an independent legislative structure. Subsequently, the presidential elections took place peacefully in 2002 and 2006, and therefore the country regained political stability. In 2009, President Sambi announced a referendum to revise the 2001 constitution with the aim to harmonise the length of electoral mandates and facilitate the organisation of elections, and also make Comoros an Islamic republic. The new constitution sets the length of a parliament at five years, aligning it with the length of the terms of other elected officials, including the Union president, the island governors and councillors[13].

The islands have struggled to sustain political and economic stability for better development and transition of the state, improvement of the quality of life and the well-being of its civilians. The endured instability is mainly caused by long lasting crisis of conflicts, which then discourages investment confidence and cripples the economy. Since independence in 1975, foreign aid from the European Union has been the major underpinning of the economy[14]. At least 45.0% of the population lived in absolute poverty from 2004 until 2009. Conversely, the recent household survey conducted indicated that less than 20.0% of the population lived under the international poverty line set at USD 1.9 per capita per day from 2010 to 2014[15]. Official Development Assistance, on which the country is heavily dependent, declined from an average of USD 60.0 million from 1990 to 2000, to an average of USD 25.0 million from 2000 to 2005.

PESA Editorial - Comorian Armed Forces - 3Q2018/19
Comorian Armed Forces Emblem

Conflict and political instability in the Comoros can be resolved through the adoption and utilization of proper conflict resolution mechanisms. A well-developed political culture and system which does not entail the use of coups for political transition will foster political stability. Monitoring and evaluation of government role and intervention strategies should be in place to assess the impact of government and the state generally in resolving conflict and addressing political and economic instability. Good governance principles and public participation in decision-making processes is necessary to establish a culture of accountable and transparent leadership and government in general. Decentralisation of power amongst all the three islands forming the Union of Comoros, as well as the balance and separation of powers is therefore essential to gain political certainty. This will then open space for sustainable growth and development of the economy. Economic development and prosperity will remain a distant hope unless the Comoros’s political leadership embraces democratic governance practices that ensure political stability.

 


[1] FH 2006. Comoros, on the Freedom House Website, viewed on 14 October 2018, from https://freedomhouse.org/.
[2]  THF 2019. 2019 Index of Economic Freedom: Comoros, viewed on 30 January 2019, from https://www.heritage.org/.
[3] CSP 2010. Polity IV Country Report 2010: Comoros, Centre for Systematic Peace: Vienna. Available At: http://www.systemicpeace.org/ [Last Accessed: 30 January 2019].
[4] CSP 2010. Polity IV Country Report 2010: Comoros, ibid.
[5] Daou, N.A. 2017. Constitutional Reform: Decolonisation in the Comoros Islands, SIT Graduate Institute: Brattleboro. Available At: https://digitalcollections.sit.edu/ [Last Accessed: 30 January 2019].
[6] CSP 2010. Polity IV Country Report 2010: Comoros, ibid.
[7] Lea, D. and Rowe, A. 2001. A Political Chronology of Africa, Taylor & Francis: London. Available At: https://www.taylorfrancis.com/ [Last Accessed: 12 October 2018].
[8] CSP 2010. Polity IV Country Report 2010: Comoros, ibid.
[9] Chacko, C.P. 2004. African Chronicle: A Fortnightly Record on Governance, Economy, Development, Human Rights, and Environment, Volume 5, University of Michigan: Ann Arbor.
[10] CSP 2010. Polity IV Country Report 2010: Comoros, ibid.
[11]  IMF 2018. Union of the Comoros 2018 Article IV Consultation, International Monetary Fund: Washington, D. C. Available At: https://www.imf.org/ [Last Accessed: 14 November 2018].
[12] BL 2010. Autonomous Islands of the Comoros: Anjouan, Mohéli, Grande Comore, Iso 3166-2: Km, Books LLC: Memphis.
[13] Sellström, T. 2015. Africa in the Indian Ocean: Islands in Ebb and Flow, Brill: Leiden.
[14] Mugwera, S.K, Kone, S., Kouassi, D. and Trape, P. 2011. Union of Comoros Country Strategy Paper: 2011-2015, African Development Bank Group: Abidjan. Available At: https://www.afdb.org/ [Last Accessed: 30 January 2019].
[15] Sellström, T. 2015. Africa in the Indian Ocean: Islands in Ebb and Flow, ibid.

 

 

 


Mandipa Goitsemang Machacha

Former Junior Regional Analyst

Lebohang Nelson Ndaba

Former Junior Regional Analyst

Inga Mtolo

Role: Editing and Research Specialist
Contact: inga@politicaleconomy.org.za
Inga is an Economist specialising in Financial Markets and Socioeconomic Research...

Add comment

Mandipa Goitsemang Machacha

Lebohang Nelson Ndaba

Inga Mtolo

Follow PESA Online

Follow PESA Online

Follow us on some of your favourite social media.

Contact Us

Please complete the General Enquiry form and submit it to us for a response. Please use the subject “Media” for all media-related requests.