President: Ikililou Dhoinine (2011)
Total area: 838 sq mi (2,170 sq km)
Population (2014 est.): 766,865 (growth rate: 1.87%); birth rate: 29.0549/1000; infant mortality rate: 65.31/1000; life expectancy: 63.48
Capital and largest city (2011 est.): Moroni (on Grande Comoro), 54,000
Monetary unit: Franc
The Comoros Islands—Grande Comoro (Ngazidja), Anjouan, Mohéli, and Mayotte (which is not part of the country and retains ties to France)—constitute an archipelago of volcanic origin in the Indian Ocean, 190 mi off the coast of Mozambique.
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.