Comoros is an island nation in the Indian Ocean. The country is made up of three main islands and several smaller islands. It is Africa’s smallest country. Comoros’ three main islands are Grande Comore, Mohéli, and Anjouan. They cover a total area of 718 square miles. The islands are located in southeastern Africa, at the northern end of the Indian Ocean’s Mozambique Channel. Moroni is its capital and largest city. The islands are volcanic in origin, with interiors ranging from high peaks to low hills and many sandy beaches. Karthala, the islands’ highest peak at 7,746 feet (2,361 meters), is located near Njazidja. The Comoros islands have a tropical climate, with the year divided almost evenly between dry and rainy seasons; cyclones (hurricanes) are common. The islands once had extensive rainforests, but the majority of them have been severely depleted, contributing to the drying up of island streams.
Based on Worldometer elaboration of the latest United Nations data, as of February 13, 2023, the current population of Comoros is 917,988. The Comoros islands are 97.1% ethnically Comorian, a mix of Bantu, Malagasy, and Arab people. Makua and Indians are two minorities (mostly Ismaili). In Grande Comore, there are recent Chinese immigrants (especially Moroni). The Comorian languages, collectively known as Shikomori, are the most widely spoken languages in Comoros. They are related to Swahili, and each of the four islands has its own variant (Shingazidja, Shimwali, Shindzwani, and Shimaore). Both Arabic and Latin scripts are used, with Arabic being the more widely used, and an official orthography for the Latin script has recently been developed. Arabic, French, and Comorian are also official languages. Arabic is widely known as a second language because it is the language of Quranic instruction. Sunni Muslims make up 98% of the population; there is a small Roman Catholic minority.
Agriculture is the most important sector of the economy, employing 38.4% of Comoros’ workforce. The government’s current priorities are poverty reduction and economic growth. Because agricultural land is being converted to settlements, the high population density and growth, particularly in the agricultural zone, has had an impact on agricultural production. The main exports are vanilla, ylang-ylang (used in perfumes), cloves, and copra; coconuts, bananas, and cassava are also grown. The main industries are fishing, tourism, and perfume distillation, and remittances from Comorans working abroad are significant sources of revenue. Imported goods include rice and other foodstuffs, consumer goods, petroleum products, and transportation equipment. The country relies heavily on France for trade and foreign aid.
Comoros may have been inhabited by Malayo-Polynesian descendants as early as the 5th or 6th century CE, if not earlier. Others arrived from nearby Africa and Madagascar, and Arabs made up a sizable portion of the early population. The islands did not appear on a European world map until 1527 when the Portuguese cartographer Diego Ribero depicted them. The first Europeans known to have visited the archipelago appears to have been Portuguese, sometime later in the 16th century. Sir James Lancaster, an Englishman, visited Grande Comore in 1591, but the dominant foreign influence in the islands remained Arabian until the 19th century. Mayotte was officially taken over by France in 1843, and the other three islands were placed under French protection in 1886.
In 1908, the islands were unified under a single administration (Colonie de Mayotte et dépendances) and placed under the authority of Madagascar’s French colonial Governor-General. Sultan Said Muhamed of Ndzwani abdicated in favor of French rule in 1909. The colony and protectorates were abolished in 1912, and the islands became a province of Madagascar’s colony. Despite Mayotte’s deputies voting for increased integration with France, an agreement was reached with France in 1973 for Comoros to become independent in 1978. A referendum was held on each of the four islands. Three voted for independence, while Mayotte voted no and is still administered by France. However, on July 6, 1975, the Comorian parliament passed a unilateral declaration of independence. Ahmed Abdallah declared the Comorian State’s independence and became its first president. The French acknowledged the new state.
- Capital City:
Total: 2,235 sq km
Land: 2,235 sq km
Water: 0 sq km
- Land boundaries:
The rainy season (November to May)
Volcanic islands, interiors vary from steep mountains to low hills
Mean elevation: NA
Elevation extremes: lowest point: Indian Ocean 0 m
Highest point: Karthala 2,360 m
- Natural resources:
- Land use:
Agricultural land: 84.4%
Arable land 46.7%; permanent crops 29.6%; permanent pasture 8.1%
Other: 14.2% (2011 est.)
- Irrigated land:
1.3 sq km (2012)
- Population – distribution:
The capital city of Maroni, located on the western side of the island of Grande Comore, is the country’s largest city; however, of the three islands that comprise Comoros, it is Anjouan that is the most densely populated
- Natural hazards:
Cyclones are possible during the rainy season (December to April);
Volcanic activity on Grand Comore
People and Society
Comoros’ population is a melange of Arabs, Persians, Indonesians, Africans, and Indians, and a much smaller number of Europeans that settled on the islands between the 8th and 19th centuries when they served as a regional trade hub. The Arab and Persian influence is most evident in the islands’ overwhelmingly Muslim majority – about 98% of Comorans are Sunni Muslims. The country is densely populated, averaging nearly 350 people per square mile, although this varies widely among the islands, with Anjouan being the most densely populated.
Given the large share of land dedicated to agriculture and Comoros’ growing population, the habitable land is becoming increasingly crowded. The combination of increasing population pressure on limited land and resources, widespread poverty, and poor job prospects motivates thousands of Comorans each year to attempt to illegally migrate using small fishing boats to the neighboring island of Mayotte, which is a French territory. The majority of legal Comoran migration to France came after Comoros’ independence from France in 1975, with the flow peaking in the mid-1980s.
At least 150,000 to 200,000 people of Comoran citizenship or descent live abroad, mainly in France, where they have gone seeking a better quality of life, job opportunities, higher education (Comoros has no universities), advanced health care, and to finance elaborate traditional wedding ceremonies (aada). Remittances from the diaspora are an economic mainstay, in 2013 representing approximately 25% of Comoros’ GDP and significantly more than the value of its exports of goods and services (only 15% of GDP). Grand Comore, Comoros’ most populous island, is both the primary source of emigrants and the main recipient of remittances. Most remittances are spent on private consumption, but this often goes toward luxury goods and the aada and does not contribute to economic development or poverty reduction. Although the majority of the diaspora is now French-born with more distant ties to Comoros, it is unclear whether they will sustain the current level of remittances.
808,080 (July 2017 est.)
- Ethnic groups:
Antalote, Cafre, Makoa, Oimatsaha, Sakalava
Arabic (official), French (official), Shikomoro (official;
a blend of Swahili and Arabic) (Comorian)
Sunni Muslim 98%, other (including Shia Muslim, Roman Catholic, Jehovah’s Witness, Protestant) 2%
Ethnicity, Language, and Religion
The islands of Comoros share mostly African-Arab origins. One of the largest ethnic groups on the various islands of Comoros remains the Shirazi people. Most of the African Arabs are along the Swahili coastlines in Africa’s Great Lakes region. Some of these ethnic groups are also in other parts of the world, especially in the Arab world. African Arab is the dominant ethnic group in Comoros accounting for 86% of the total population. Malagasy is the major ethnic group in Madagascar. However, Comoros also have a significant number of people belonging to this ethnic group. Ismaili Indian is a sub-branch of Shia Muslims who received the name Ismaili from there following the teachings of Imam Ismaili ibn Jafar. Some of the smaller ethnic minorities in the country of Comoros include the Chinese, French, Dutch, British, and Portuguese
The most common language in Comoros is Comorian or Shikomori. It is a language related to Swahili, with four different variants (Shingazidja, Shimwali, Shinzwani, and Shimaore) being spoken on each of the four islands. Arabic and Latin scripts are both used, Arabic being the more widely used, and an official orthography has recently been developed for the Latin script. Arabic and French are also official languages, along with Comorian. Arabic is widely known as a second language, being the language of Quranic teaching. French is the administrative language and the language of all non-Quranic formal education.
Islam is followed by over 98 percent of nearly 800,000 Comorians, almost all of whom belong to the Shafi’i fiqh of Sunni Muslims. Following a 1999 military coup, the May 2000 constitution did not allow for freedom of religion. The new constitution of Comoros that was ratified in December 2001 did provide for “the equality of all concerning rights and duties without distinctions based on sex, origin, race, religion or belief”. The Article 41 of the new constitution also set up the Council of Ulemas (Islamic scholars) to assist the Government of Comoros in their decisions affecting the religious life in Comoros. Comoros’ constitution states that the “Islamic nature of the state” can not be changed, and makes Islamic law binding on all citizens of Comoros.
Education is officially compulsory for those between 6 and 16 years of age, but in practice, a large percentage of the country’s children receive little or no schooling. Instruction is provided by both traditional Islamic schools, in which the Qurʾān is studied, and state-run schools established by and patterned on the French system. The public school system, however, has been chronically underfunded. There is a university in Moroni. Nearly nine-tenths of the population can read and write Comorian, using Arabic script, though only about half of the population is literate in French, the language of government administration.
France established a system of primary and secondary schools based on the French model, which remains largely in place. The Comoran law requires all children to complete eight years of schooling between the ages of seven and fifteen. The system provides six years of primary education for students ages six to twelve, followed by seven years of secondary school. In recent years, enrollment has expanded greatly, particularly at the primary level. Improvement in educational facilities was funded in 1993 by loans from the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) and the African Development Bank. Despite the spread of education, adult literacy in 1993 has been estimated at no better than 50 percent.
primary education is mandatory for all children until the age of 14. It is, however, important to note that the government does not impose attendance. Boys are also given preference compared to girls. The formal entry age for primary education is six years and it takes a duration of six grades to complete. At the end of the sixth grade, students sit for the Diplôme de Fin d Études Élémentaires (DFEE) before proceeding to secondary school. Secondary school is divided into two levels. The first is the lower level made upgrade seven to ten. The other is the upper level made up of grades eleven to thirteen. Lower secondary education is called “college” while upper education is called “lycée.” At the end of grade ten, students sit for the Brevet d études de Premier Cycle (BEPC) and the Baccalauréat at the end of grade thirteen.
There is only one university in the country that offers higher learning. The university is located in the capital city of Moroni. Most students, however, prefer to pursue higher education abroad. This has in a large part led to a “brain drain” since very few university graduates are open to going back to the islands. There is also an option for post-secondary education that students can apply for. This is mainly in the form of business, health sciences, agricultural education training, and teacher training. These and other specialized courses are offered at the M’Vouni School for Higher Education which has been up and running since 1981.
One of the world’s poorest and smallest economies, Comoros is made up of three islands that are hampered by inadequate transportation links, a young and rapidly increasing population, and few natural resources. The low educational level of the labor force contributes to a subsistence level of economic activity and a heavy dependence on foreign grants and technical assistance. Agriculture, including fishing, hunting, and forestry, accounts for about 50% of GDP, employs a majority of the labor force, and provides most of the exports. Export income is heavily reliant on the three main crops of vanilla, cloves, and ylang-ylang (perfume essence); and Comoros’ export earnings are easily disrupted by disasters such as fires and extreme weather. Despite agriculture’s importance to the economy, the country imports roughly 70% of its food; rice, the main staple, and other dried vegetables account for more than 25% of imports. Remittances from about 300,000 Comorans contribute about 25% of the country’s GDP. France, Comoros’s colonial power, remains a key trading partner and bilateral donor.
There was an uptick in economic growth, from 2.2% in 2016 to 2.5% in 2017, caused primarily by an improvement in the electricity supply and an increase in emigrant remittances. Private consumption remained the main engine of growth on the demand side. Public investments were geared toward the rehabilitation of priority roads (for example, the road linking the airport to the city center) and private investment exhibited momentum, particularly with the implementation of two hotel rehabilitation and expansion projects.
Real GDP growth is projected to increase slightly to 3% on average during the 2018-2020 period as a result of emigrant remittances and private consumption. Remittances from emigrants are expected to benefit from the economic recovery in France where the vast majority of the Comorian diaspora lives. Although the business climate is not expected to improve significantly, a number of positive developments are anticipated in the private sector, like the arrival of Turkish Airways and, in the telecommunications sector, liberalization of the internet service provider market and construction of a second undersea cable landing station.
The volatility of external grant aid, low domestic revenue collection, and existing expenditure pressures risk worsening public debt. This is particularly true against the backdrop of a weak budget framework. Moreover, maintaining a stable energy supply is proving to be a major challenge. Although the energy supply has improved, government subsidization of electricity production may not be sustainable. Lastly, the current process of overhauling the system of rotating the presidency among the islands is being met with resistance and poses a major political risk.
- GDP (purchasing power parity):
$1.313 billion (2017 est.)
$1.285 billion (2016 est.)
$1.272 billion (2015 est.)
- GDP (official exchange rate):
$652 million (2017 est.)
- GDP – real growth rate:
2.5% (2017 est.)
2.2% (2016 est.)
1% (2015 est.)
- GDP – per capita (PPP):
$1,600 (2017 est.)
$1,600 (2016 est.)
$1,600 (2015 est.)
- Gross national saving:
16.4% of GDP (2017 est.)
13.6% of GDP (2016 est.)
17.8% of GDP (2015 est.)
- GDP – composition, by sector of origin:
services: 38.7% (2017 est.)
- Agriculture – products:
Vanilla, cloves, ylang-ylang (perfume essence), coconuts, bananas, cassava (manioc)
Vishing, tourism, perfume distillation
- Population below the poverty line:
44.8% (2004 est.)
Revenues: $148.6 million
Expenditures: $183.1 million (2017 est.)
The agricultural sector absorbs the vast majority of the population, contributes significantly to household revenues, and provides a significant proportion of the products consumed by the population, despite the importance of imported food products. According to estimates, around 80 % of agricultural production is intended mainly for self-consumption. The main imports are rice, meat, poultry, and wheat flour. Agriculture employs almost 80% of the labor force and covers nearly 90% of export revenues. Annuity products remain the major agricultural exports. Furthermore, for several years now, export revenues for main cash crops (vanilla, ylang-ylang, clove) have been declining due to competition in international markets. Yet, vanilla cultivation is slowly starting to take up again.
Comorian agriculture remains characterized by intercropping systems which fall into two sub-categories: the association of highly consumed food crops between themselves or with remains from logging operations, and the association of cash crops with some food crops or with remains from logging operations. Pure crops are very rare and relate only to coconut, clove, vanilla, and ylang-ylang as well as market gardening. There is great diversity, with exceptional production conditions which allow fresh fruit supply all year round. The two kinds of cereal grown in Comoros are rice and corn; production for both of them is weak. Their productivity is low owing to poor varieties, degraded, very steep, and non-fed soils on which they grow, and too rudimentary and unsuitable agricultural techniques. The four main legumes grown in Comoros are pigeon peas (Cajanus cajan), mung beans (Phaseolus mungo), cowpeas (Vigna unguiculata), and groundnuts (Arachis hypogaea).
Despite the potential of Comorian agriculture, food production is still inadequate to meet the people’s needs on the island. Comoros import large quantities of cereals. Weaknesses in Comorian agriculture are due to relatively low and nonconducive producer prices, limited presence of public or private technical services in agricultural holdings, weak access to credits, unsuitable loan conditions, and an insecure land tenure system. The fisheries sector offers major assets for the Comorian economic growth. The country has a maritime zone estimated to be more than 160 000 km², covering 900 km² of the continental shelf and 427 km of coastline.
Due to increasing competition for meat and poultry imports, the livestock sector is slow to develop in Comoros. The development of the livestock sector is also hampered by the lack of agro-pastoral space. In Comoros, animals are kept either directly by their owners, or left in the care of keepers or other people. Animals in Comoros mainly include ruminants (cattle, goats, and sheep) and poultry. There is a total number of 25 800 poultry, according to the 2004 agricultural census. There is slightly more chicken (51%). However, for 5 years, much progress has been achieved, particularly in ruminant farming, which offers a number of advantages in the development of dairy products and in attempts to produce livestock feed. Dairy production per bovine animal could be increased from 2 to 8 liters and up to more than 10 liters per day.
Banking and Finance
The financial system in Comoros comprises eight financial institutions engaged in deposit-taking from and lending to the general public. These institutions consist of four commercial banks(the Development Bank of Comoros (BDC); the Federal Bank of Commerce (BFC); the Bank for Industry and Commerce(BIC), a subsidiary of BNP-Paribas; and the Exim Bank Comoros Ltd (Exim Bank), a subsidiary of Exim Bank Tanzania,
) and three microfinance institutions, as well as the SNPSF. Large international money transfer agencies (e.g. Western Union) are present in Comoros and act indirectly through partnerships with the banks or licensed microfinance networks. These agencies are complemented by a local money transfer and exchange entity, the Maison Comorienne de Transfert des Valeurs (MCTV). Other features of the financial system – such as insurance, pensions, and capital markets – do not exist.
The National Company of Post and Financial Services (SNPSF), is the former National Savings Bank of SNPT. In addition to these traditional banking institutions, networks of mutual savings banks and credit (Meck and Sanduk) have been developed. These funds provide local banking services for the rural and urban unbanked populations. The Mutual Savings and Credit of Comoros (Meck) which are the Savings and Credit component of the Project Support to Economic Grass Roots Initiatives are funded by the State and the International Fund for Agricultural Development.
The financial sector in Comoros is shallow, underdeveloped, and mildly concentrated. Financial institution assets amounted to just over 47 percent of GDP in 2015. These assets are principally held domestically, with net foreign asset holdings insignificant and limited to transactional needs. Domestic assets consist mainly of loans to the private sector and deposits at the central bank, with the latter being well in excess of prudential requirements (a minimum of 15 percent of deposits). High liquidity levels reflect underdeveloped financial markets that constrain investment opportunities, as interbank financial markets are nonexistent. Lending by financial institutions to the public sector is limited. The three largest financial institutions in Comoros control about 57 percent of total sector assets.
The depth of the financial sector in Comoros is comparable to that of low-income SSA, but it lags behind frontier SSA countries in this respect. The financial system is also fragile, with vulnerabilities related to accelerating non-performing loans, lagging provisioning, the troubles of SNPSF, and also problems related to financial contract enforcement. Fostering the development of the financial system in these circumstances will be challenging, more so in the current difficult macroeconomic environment.
Manufacturing and Industries
industrial activities are responsible for only a tiny portion of Comoran economic activity—about 5 percent of GDP in 1994. Principal industries are those that involve processing cash crops for export: preparing vanilla and distilling ylang-ylang into perfume essence. These activities were once controlled almost entirely by French companies, but as they closed unprofitable plantations, individual farmers set up many small, inefficient distilleries. Comorans also produce handicrafts for export. Other industries are small and geared to internal markets: sawmills, printing, carpentry, and the production of shoes, plastics, yogurt, handicrafts (such as the jewelry exchanged as part of the grand marriage), and small fishing boats.
Comoros Energy Potential
The potential for wind power in Comoros is low. Measurements indicate that wind speeds rarely go above 3 m/s, the average required to drive a wind generator. For instance, two wind turbines set up in Ngazidja in 1985 (one on the eastern coast at Mtsangadju ya Dimani and the other on the northern coast at Wella) to drive groundwater pumps have not provided the volumes of water originally estimated.
Geothermal The potential for Comoros to meet all its energy demands from geothermal sources is high. The key indicator of a potentially exploitable geothermal system on Grande Comore is the presence of a rift system associated with the active volcano. This geological structure along with other measurements, including surface thermal discharges and a geophysical survey, suggest that an active geothermal system is present. Currently, the three islands: Grand Comore, Moheli, and Anjouan, are being mapped by the Australian Sinclair Knight Merz (SKM) and New Zealand-based Gafo Energy. If successful, Gafo will operate the power installations. The recent analysis by engineers from KenGen, the Kenyan national utility, indicates that both the Karthala and La Grille volcanoes on Grand Comore have great geothermal potential, with reservoir temperatures taken at both sites of up to 300o C, at depths of 2,000 m and deeper. But more data is required to determine the dimensions of both the geothermal reservoir and the heat source and the potential to develop it for power generation (Houmadi & Chaheire, 2015).
Solar has great potential on these islands since they experience an average of 5.0 kW/m2 or 2,880 hrs/yr of sunshine. There are a number of solar installations at domestic and commercial levels. For instance, the World Bank supported a local energy company called ENERCOM to implement about 100 installations on the three islands. There are also a number of hotels implementing solar as a means of reducing their ecological footprint.
- Electricity access:
population without electricity: 200,000
electrification – total population: 69%
electrification – urban areas: 89%
electrification – rural areas: 62% (2013)
- Electricity – production:
54 million kWh (2015 est.)
- Electricity – consumption:
50.22 million kWh (2015 est.)
- Electricity – exports:
0 million kWh (2015 est.)
- Electricity – imports:
0 billion kWh (2015 est.)
- Electricity – installed generating capacity:
26,000 kW (2015 est.)
- Electricity – from fossil fuels:
96.2% of total installed capacity (2015 est.)
- Electricity – from nuclear fuels:
0% of total installed capacity (2015 est.)
- Telephones – fixed lines:
total subscriptions: 13,049
subscriptions per 100 inhabitants: 2 (July 2016 est.)
- Telephones – mobile cellular:
subscriptions per 100 inhabitants: 56 (July 2016 est.)
- Internet country code:
percent of the population: 7.9% (July 2016 est.)
Comoros is a collection of four islands off the African coast, on the eastern side, situated between historic Mozambique and Madagascar, in the Indian Ocean. Although the country is sparsely populated, it is also one of the lesser known countries of Africa. Considering Africa is majorly unexplored still, we shall discuss and find out what Comoros has to offer! The place oscillates between history and biodiversity in the true sense of the term. Comoros Islands made up of Ngazidja (Grande Comoro), Mwali (Moheli), Nzwani (Anjouan) and Mayotte, the oldest of the islands.
Comoros shores are laden with fine sand and fringed by palm trees, typical of an untouched beach paradise with unrivaled opportunities to see diverse sea life. Inland are quaint towns and cultural discoveries, plus beautiful mountains, lakes, and vegetation that unfold each step of the way. From stunning rock formations shaped and reshaped by the volcanic Mount Karthala to the diving bays, laid-back villages, and the distinct Arabian glamor of Moroni, Comoros will never run out of pleasant surprises.
Place of Attraction
Grande Comore; The largest of the islands, Grande Comore is also home to the nation’s capital, Moroni, which exudes an intoxicating Arabian charm. Best known for the Vendredi Mosque and excellent beaches, the island is also home to Mount Karthala and Comoros’ second reserve, Coelacanth Marine Park. Divers will find Trou du Prophéte in the Misamiouli area particularly spellbinding
Anjouan; The locals call it Ndzouani, and this Comorian island is the stuff that fantasies are made of. Anjouan is nicknamed “The Pearl of the Comoros” because of its Robinson Crusoe qualities. If you want remote, unspoiled, and gorgeous, you’ll find it here. You’ll find old Arab plantations and the scent of cloves and ylang-ylang on every breeze. You’ll find the locals hard-working and intensely proud of their little island. Travel up into the highlands for cooler air and to watch the mists roll across the rainforests.
Moheli; This place is a favorite when it comes to biodiversity and natural ecosystems. Moheli amongst all the islands is renowned for its diverse wildlife. One can spot turtles at the beaches here, amongst other endemic bird species. Parc Marin de Mohéli is a protected area and is home to a variety of animals, reptiles alike. Itsamia, a village in Moheli, a sea turtle nesting site, attracts tourists over different parts of the world. At this forest one can get to see, the iconic largest fruit-bat in the world.
Mount Karthala; The largest active volcano in the world is Mount Karthala located on Grande Comore. It stands at just over 2300 meters and has consistently erupted every 11 years since the beginning of the 19th century. The last eruption was in 2005 and lasted 14 days! The volcano did quite a bit of damage in 2005, but the country has recovered nicely. You’ll love the bizarre yet spectacular landscape that the lava creates and it makes the hiking rather unique. You can climb to the volcano’s rim, but be warned, it’s a difficult two-day trek.
The first human inhabitants of the Comoro Islands are thought to have been Polynesian and Melanesian settlers, Malays and Indonesians, traveling by boat. These people arrived no later than the sixth century AD, the date of the earliest known archaeological site, found on Nzwani, although settlement beginning as early as the first century has been postulated. The earliest inhabitants of the islands were probably Bantu-speaking Africans the earliest evidence of the settlement of the islands dates from the sixth century. Traces of this original culture have blended with successive waves of African, Arab and Malagasy. Shirazi immigrants appear to have arrived sometime after the tenth century A.D. The islands of Comoros were populated by a succession of peoples from the coast of Africa, the Arabian Peninsula and the Persian Gulf, the Malay Archipelago, and Madagascar. Bantu-speaking settlers reached the islands as a part of the greater Bantu expansion that took place in Africa throughout the first millennium.
According to pre-Islamic mythology, a jinni (spirit) dropped a jewel, which formed a great circular inferno. This became the Karthala volcano, which created the island of Grande Comoro. Development of Comoros was divided into phases. The earliest reliably recorded phase is the Dembeni phase (ninth to tenth centuries), during which each island maintained a single, central village. From the eleventh to the fifteenth centuries, trade with the island of Madagascar and merchants from the Middle East flourished, smaller villages emerged, and existing towns expanded. Many Comorians can trace their genealogies to ancestors from Yemen, mainly Hadhramaut, and Oman.
Among the earliest accounts of East Africa, the works of Al-Masudi describe early Islamic trade routes, and how the coast and islands were frequently visited by Muslims including Persian and Arab merchants and sailors in search of coral, ambergris, ivory, tortoiseshell, gold, and slaves. They also brought Islam to the people of the Zanj including Comoros. As the importance of Comoros grew along the East African coast, both small and large mosques were constructed. Despite its distance from the coast, Comoros is situated along the Swahili Coast in East Africa. It was a major hub of trade and an important location in a network of trading towns that included Kilwa, in present-day Tanzania, Sofala (an outlet for Zimbabwean gold), in Mozambique, and Mombasa in Kenya.
According to legend, after hearing about Islam in 632, islanders sent an emissary, Mtswa-Mwindza, to Mecca—but by the time he arrived, the Muslim Prophet Muhammad had died. Nonetheless, after visiting Mecca, he returned to Ngazidja and gradually converted his islanders to Islam. Omani sailors referred to the Comoros as the Perfume Islands in 933. Al-works Masudi’s are among the earliest accounts of East Africa, describing early Islamic trade routes and how the coast and islands were frequently visited by Muslims, including Persian and Arab merchants and sailors in search of coral, ambergris, ivory, tortoiseshell, gold, and slaves. They also brought Islam to the Zanj, including the Comoros. As the Comoros’ importance grew along the East African coast, small and large mosques were built.
The Comoros are part of the Swahili cultural and economic complex, and the islands became a major trade hub and an important location in a network of trading towns that included Kilwa in modern-day Tanzania, Sofala in Mozambique (an outlet for Zimbabwean gold), and Mombasa in Kenya. The Portuguese arrived in the Indian Ocean at the end of the 15th century, with Vasco da Gama’s second fleet making the first Portuguese visit to the islands in 1503. For much of the 16th century, the islands supplied provisions to the Portuguese fort at Mozambique, and while the Portuguese crown made no formal attempt to take possession, a number of Portuguese traders settled.
By the end of the 16th century, local rulers had begun to push back, and with the support of Omani Sultan Saif bin Sultan, they had begun to defeat the Dutch and Portuguese. Said bin Sultan, his successor, expanded Omani Arab influence in the region by relocating his administration to nearby Zanzibar, which came under Omani control. Nonetheless, the Comoros retained their independence, and while the three smaller islands remained politically united, the largest island, Ngazidja, was divided into a number of autonomous kingdoms (ntsi). When Europeans became interested in the Comoros, the islanders were well positioned to capitalize on their needs, initially supplying ships on the route to India, particularly the English, and later, slaves to the plantation islands in the Mascarenes.
Portuguese explorers first visited the archipelago in 1503. The islands provided provisions to the Portuguese fort at Mozambique throughout the 16th century. Said bin Sultan increased Omani Arab influence in the region, moving his administration to nearby Zanzibar, which came under Omani rule. Nevertheless, Comoros remained independent, and although the three smaller islands were usually politically unified, the largest island, Ngazidja, was divided into a number of autonomous kingdoms. By the time Europeans showed interest in Comoros, the Islanders were well placed to take advantage of their needs, initially supplying ships of the route to India and, later, slaves to the plantation islands in the Mascarenes.
Over the centuries, the Comoro Islands have been settled by a succession of diverse groups from the coast of Africa, the Persian Gulf, Southeast Asia, and Madagascar. Portuguese explorers first visited the archipelago in 1505. Apart from a visit by the French Parmenter brothers in 1529, for much of the 16th century the only Europeans to visit the islands were Portuguese; British and Dutch ships began arriving around the start of the 17th century and the island of Ndzwani soon became a major supply point on the route to the East. Ndzwani was generally ruled by a single sultan, who occasionally attempted to extend his authority to Mayotte and Mwali; Ngazidja was more fragmented, on occasion being divided into as many as 12 small kingdoms.
The Englishman Sir James Lancaster visited Grande Colmore about 1591, but the dominant foreign influence in the islands remained Arabian until the 19th century. In 1793, Malagasy warriors from Madagascar first started raiding the islands for slaves. On Comoros, it was estimated in 1865 that as much as 40% of the population consisted of slaves. France first established colonial rule in Comoros in 1841. The first French colonists landed in Mayotte, and Andriantsoly (also known as Andrian Tsouli, the Sakalava Dia-Ntsoli, the Sakalava of Boina, and the Malagasy King of Mayotte) signed the Treaty of April 1841, which ceded the island to the French authorities.
Comoros served as a way station for merchants sailing to the Far East and India until the opening of the Suez Canal significantly reduced traffic passing through the Mozambique Channel. The native commodities exported by Comoros were coconuts, cattle, and tortoiseshell. Both the British and the French turned their attention to the Comoros islands in the middle of the 19th century. The French finally acquired the islands through a cunning mixture of strategies, including the policy of ‘divide and conquer’, checkbook politics and a serendipitous affair between a sultana and a French trader that was put to good use by the French, who kept control of the islands, quelling unrest and the occasional uprising. William Sunley, a planter and British Consul from 1848–1866, was an influence on Anjouan.
French settlers, French-owned companies, and wealthy Arab merchants established a plantation-based economy that used about one-third of the land for export crops. After its annexation, France converted Mayotte into a sugar plantation colony. The other islands were soon transformed as well, and the major crops of ylang-ylang, vanilla, coffee, cocoa beans, and sisal were introduced. In 1886 Said Ali bin Said Omar, Sultan of Bamboo signed an agreement with the French government that allowed France to establish a protectorate over the entire island of Ngazidja (Grande Comore); protectorates were also established over Ndzwani (Anjouan), and Mwali (Mohéli island in French) the same year. Résidents were posted on the three islands.
On 9 April 1908, France declared the protectorates and Mayotte a single colony, Mayotte and dependencies. On 25 July 1912, it was annexed to Madagascar as a province of that colony. From 16 June 1940 – 1942 the colonial administration remained loyal to Vichy France (from 1942, under Free French), but 25 September 1942 – 13 October 1946 they were, like Madagascar, under British occupation. 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. The 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. Ahmed Abdallah proclaimed the independence of the Comorian State and became its first president. The French recognised the new state.
In 1978, president Ali Soilih, who had a firm anti-French line, was killed and Ahmed Abdallah came to power. Under the reign of Abdallah, Denard was commander of the Presidential Guard (PG) and de facto ruler of the country. He was trained, supported and funded by the white regimes in South Africa (SA) and Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) in return for permission to set up a secret listening post on the islands. South-African agents kept an ear on the important ANC bases in Lusaka and Dar es Salaam and watched the war in Mozambique, in which SA played an active role. Comoros was also used for the evasion of arms sanctions.
When in 1981 François Mitterrand was elected president Denard lost the support of the French intelligence service, but he managed to strengthen the link between SA and Comoros. Besides the military, Denard established his own company SOGECOM, for both the security and construction, and seemed to profit by the arrangement. Between 1985 and 1987 the relationship of the PG with the local Comorians became worse. On September 28, 1995, Bob Denard and a group of mercenaries took over the Comoros islands in a coup (named operation Kaskari by the mercenaries) against President Djohar. On October 3, 1995, the airports at Iconi and Haha ya and the French Embassy in Moroni were secured. By 3:00 p.m. the next day Bob Denard and his mercenaries had surrendered.
In March 1996, following presidential elections, Mohamed Taki Abdoulkarim, a member of the civilian government that Denard had tried to set up in October 1995, became president. On 23 November 1996, Ethiopian Airlines Flight 961 crashed near a beach on the island after it was hijacked and ran out of fuel killing 125 people and leaving 50 survivors. In May 2006, Ahmed Abdallah Sambi was elected from the island of Anjouan to be the president of the Union of Comoros. He is a well-respected Sunni cleric who studied in the Sudan, Iran and Saudi Arabia. He is respectfully called “Ayatollah” by his supporters but is considered, and is a moderate Islamist. He has been quoted as stating that Comoros is not ready to become an Islamic state, nor shall the veil be forced upon any women in Comoros.