Comoros: Country and Foreign Investment
History, Population, Language and Culture
This page was last updated on 5 August 2019.
The Comoro Islands were inhabited, albeit sparsely, by East Africans sometime in the first millennium BCE. In the Middle Ages, Austronesian sailors who had settled in nearby Madagascar made the short onward trip to the Comoros. From around the 15th century, Shirazi Persian slave traders brought slaves and Islam over from the mainland.
The Comoros was a key staging post on maritime trading routes between Africa, the Middle East, India and South East Asia. A prosperous area with Swahili culture was formed by alliances between the Comoros and the east African islands of Zanzibar, Pemba and Lamu and the corresponding coastal towns, which exported slaves, ivory and other goods to Arabia and India.
France established a colony in Mayotte in 1843 and protectorates over the other islands in 1886 These were constituted as a single administrative unit under the authority of the governor-general of Madagascar in 1908. In 1912 the colony of Mayotte and its dependencies became a province of the colony of Madagascar, then also under French rule. Following World War Two, the islands were detached as an administrative area of Madagascar and became an overseas territory of France.
At a referendum organized by the French government in 1974, the Comorans voted overwhelmingly in favour of independence, which was declared in the following year. However, France retained sovereignty over Mayotte.
The political history of the Comoros has been rather turbulent in the meantime, with power changing hands a number of times as a result of coups. In 1997, demands for increased autonomy on the islands of Anjouan and Moheli led to the breakup of the federal Islamic republic. In 2001, the government reformed as the Union of the Comoros under a new constitution which gave each of the three islands more autonomy than had been enjoyed previously.
The island country continues its present form of confederal government albeit with minor changes approved in a 2009 referendum. In the most recent presidential election, held in March 2019, incumbent President Azali Assoumani secured more than 60% of the vote and was therefore elected for a second consecutive term.
The population of approximately 850,000 (July 2019 est.) is a diverse ethnic mixture of African, Arabian and South Asian origin. The overwhelming majority of the population (about 98%) is Sunni Muslim. The three official languages are French, Arabic and Comorian (Shikomoro), a Bantu language that is similar to Swahili and is spoken by almost the entire population. French is the language of business. Moroni is the federal capital and largest city in the Comoros, with a population of about 43,000 in 2019.