The next 30 years were marked by political upheaval. In an armed coup on August 3, 1975, President Ahmed Abdallah was deposed and replaced by United National Front of the Comoros (FNUK) member Prince Said Mohamed Jaffar. In January 1976, Jaffar was deposed in favor of Ali Soilih, his Minister of Defense.
In two referendums held at the time, the people of Mayotte decided against independence from France. The first, on December 22, 1974, received 63.8 percent support for keeping relations with France, and the second, in February 1976, received an astounding 99.4 percent. President Soilih, who governed the three surviving islands, implemented a variety of socialist and isolationist measures that strained ties with France. Bob Denard returned on May 13, 1978, with the backing of the French, Rhodesian, and South African governments, to depose President Soilih and restore Abdallah. During Soilih’s short reign, he was subjected to seven more coup attempts before being deposed and murdered.
Abdallah’s presidency, in contrast to Soilih’s, was characterized by authoritarian control and greater devotion to traditional Islam, and the nation was renamed the Federal Islamic Republic of the Comoros (République Fédérale Islamique des Comores; ). Fearing a coup d’état, Abdallah remained president until 1989, when he issued a proclamation ordering the Presidential Guard, commanded by Bob Denard, to disarm the armed forces. Abdallah was reportedly shot dead in his office by an angry military officer shortly after the decree was signed, but subsequent reports say an antitank missile was fired into his bedroom and killed him. Despite the fact that Denard was wounded, it is believed that Abdallah’s murderer was a soldier under his command.
Bob Denard was airlifted to South Africa by French paratroopers a few days later. The president was subsequently Said Mohamed Djohar, Soilih’s elder half-brother, who ruled until September 1995, when Bob Denard returned and tried another coup. Denard was forced to surrender when France intervened with paratroopers. Djohar was deported to Reunion by the French, and Mohamed Taki Abdoulkarim, who was supported by Paris, was elected president. He was the country’s leader from 1996 until his death in November 1998, during a period marked by labor unrest, government repression, and separatist wars. Interim President Tadjidine Ben Said Massounde took over as his successor.
In an effort to reclaim French sovereignty, the islands of Anjouan and Mohéli proclaimed independence from the Comoros in 1997. However, France turned against their request, resulting in violent clashes between federal forces and insurgents. Colonel Azali Assoumani, the Army Chief of Staff, overthrew Interim President Massounde in a bloodless coup in April 1999, claiming poor leadership in the face of the crisis. Since independence in 1975, the Comoros have seen 18 coups or attempted coups.
Azali’s failure to consolidate authority and restore control over the islands drew worldwide condemnation. The African Union, led by South African President Thabo Mbeki, placed penalties on Anjouan to aid in the mediation and reconciliation process. The country’s formal name was changed to the Union of the Comoros, and a new system of political autonomy for each island was established, as well as a union administration for the three islands.
Azali stood aside in 2002 to compete for President of the Comoros in a democratic election, which he won. As a military dictator who had first risen to power by force and was not always democratic while in government, Azali led the Comoros through constitutional revisions that allowed fresh elections, despite continuing international criticism. A Loi des compétences legislation, which specifies the duties of each governmental entity, was enacted in early 2005 and is now being implemented. Ahmed Abdallah Mohamed Sambi, a Sunni Muslim cleric dubbed “Ayatollah” for his years studying Islam in Iran, won the 2006 elections. Azali accepted the election results, enabling the archipelago’s first peaceful and democratic transfer of power.
Colonel Mohammed Bacar, a former gendarme educated in France, took control in Anjouan in 2001. In June 2007, he held a referendum to affirm his leadership, which the Comoros federal government and the African Union both condemned as unconstitutional. Hundreds of troops from the African Union and the Comoros invaded rebel-held Anjouan on March 25, 2008, to the delight of the local population: hundreds, if not thousands, of people were tortured under Bacar’s reign. Some rebels were killed or wounded, but no official numbers are available. At least 11 people were injured in the attack. A number of officials have been imprisoned. Bacar escaped to Mayotte, a French Indian Ocean enclave, on a speedboat to seek refuge. In the Comoros, anti-French demonstrations erupted.
More than 20 coups or attempted coups have occurred in the Comoros since independence from France.
On May 26, 2011, former Vice-President Ikililou Dhoinine was sworn in as President after elections in late 2010. Dhoinine, a member of the governing party, was backed in the election by President Ahmed Abdallah Mohamed Sambi. Dhoinine, a pharmacist by profession, is the Comoros’ first President, hailing from the island of Mohéli.