Comoros was frequented by travelers from Africa, Madagascar, Indonesia, and Arabia before the first Europeans encountered the islands. Arabic influence has been the strongest.

France colonized Mayotte in 1843 and by 1904 had annexed the remainder of the archipelago. In a 1974 referendum, 95% of the population voted for independence. The exception was Mayotte, which, with its Christian majority, voted against joining the other mainly Islamic islands in independence. Today it remains a French overseas territory.

The remaining Comoros Islands declared themselves independent on July 6, 1975, with Ahmed Abdallah as president. A month after independence, he was overthrown by Justice Minister Ali Soilih. This was only the beginning of Comoros's chronic instability: the country has gone through more than 20 coups since independence and has experienced several attempts at secession. Orchestrating at least four of these coups was a group of white mercenaries known as Les Affreux (The Terrible Ones), and their notorious leader, Frenchman “Colonel” Bob Denard. Denard fled Comoros in 1989, when 3,000 French soldiers were sent after him.

Two Comoros Islands Attempt Secession

The island of Anjouan declared independence on Aug. 3, 1997, after months of protests and clashes with security forces. The secessionists wanted a return to French rule, contending that independence from France has brought economic disaster and political chaos. Mohéli, the smallest island, also seceded. But France refused to support the secession of either island. In Sept. 1997, President Mohamed Taki's forces attempted to retake Anjouan but failed.

In 1999, Col. Azali Assoumani led a coup, overthrowing interim president Tadjidine. He promised interim military rule would end in a year, a pledge the Organization of African Unity would continue to remind him of. After years of aborted peace talks, a new constitution was approved in March 2002, and the three islands were reunited. Each island elected its own president, and in May a federal president was elected from Grande Comoro, former military coup leader Azali. In Feb. 2003, a coup against Azali was thwarted.

Newly Independent Islands Elect a Federal President

A power-sharing agreement signed in Dec. 2003 gave the individual islands semiautonomous status and led to elections for a national assembly in 2004. In 2006, Ahmed Abdallah Sambi, an Islamic religious leader, was elected federal president.

The African Union sent troops to Anjouan in May 2007 ahead of June's elections, which were held despite an order against them by the central government. Mohamed Bacar won the election and declared himself president, a move called illegal by the central government. The AU called for new elections in October and froze the assets of Bacar and other government officials. In March 2008, troops from the African Union and the Comoran army invaded Anjouan and deposed Bacar.

The country's second round of presidential elections in December 2010 saw Ikililou Dhoinine win with 61.1% of the vote, with turnout at 52.8%. He took office in May 2011