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Moroni, the capital of the Comoros

The Comoros islands belong to that part of the globe no one really worries about. They are distant from global main routes, have little or no strategic value, no valuable resources or raw materials and are substantially of no use to anybody. They live their history and their social and economic marginalization in the world's indifference. In Africa, to which they geographically belong to, the Comoros are not an exception: they are a poor country with a prestigious ranking (163rd out of the 187 poorest countries in the world). These islands in the Indian Ocean live off international subsidies and its former colonial power – France – that favored Mayotte's secession in 1974 does not deem the Comoros as strategically valuable anymore.

The Comoros host a small population (734.750 inhabitants as of 2010), 98% of which are muslim and are scattered on three islands (Ngazidja or Great Comoros where 52% of the population lives; Nzawani or Anjouan inhabited by 42% of the people and Mwali or Mohéli, the smallest island) with an overall high density of people per square kilometer. The high demographic rate (2.4%) combined with low life expectancy levels result in 52% of the population of the Comoros having less than 20 years of age. A social time bomb that often produces coups. To make statistics meaningful, since independence in July 1975 there have been at least 21 putsch attempts in the Comoros (with only Ecuador doing better in the same time span), a figure no one has paid adequate attention to.

The Denard school

The latest failed coup attempt has been on April 20 2013. The event was delivered with prominence by the media because an opposition party, the Ridja (Rassemblement pour un initiative de developpement avec la jeunesse avertie), and three NGO's have accused the French government for its alleged role in the putsch. Among the 15 people arrested, there was a French mercenary, two other frenchmen (a businessman and the sister of a Congolese mercenary), some french-comorians, other congolese and chadian mercenaries and some local counterparts.

The French mercenary was Patrick Klein, a man linked to now defunct soldier of fortune icon who died in 2007 and who used to live in South Africa Bob Denard. Klein had already attempted a coup in the Comoros in 1995. Together with him were a former colonel from the congolese army now in exile in France and alumni of the Saint Cyr military academy and a chadian colonel (also a Saint Cyr alumni).

bob denard
Bob Denard

Ridja's president Said Larifou would like to shed light on this latest episode in the hope that the French investigation identifies the instigators of the coup and unveils their goals. Larifou has little or no trust in the investigation carried out by the Comorian government. Nevertheless, there is little doubt that the coup d'état was conceived and organized in Paris. It is there that Klein had contacted, recruited and paid (from 10 to 20 thousand euros) his mercenaries. So there is a backer (still not known), some soldiers of fortune (all known) and an instigator (not clearly identified yet).

The suspicion, whether legitimate or not, is that the putsch was aimed at avoiding the quinquennial rotation of the presidency of the country to each of the three islands, as stated in a 2001 peace agreement that prefigured a “Unions of the Comoros” and greater autonomy for each island. This system, at least in the intentions of its proponents, should have granted a representative institutional structure (and it did do so for some time). Problems arose when in 2010 then president Ahmed Abdallah Sambi tried to extend his mandate beyond its constitutional deadline. Following negotiations between all major parties, on May 26 2011 Ikililou Dhoinine from the island of Mohéli was democratically elected president. Dhoinine's mandate expires in 2016, but maybe this detail – in a country where power is historically taken by force and rarely through elections – constituted the premise to speed up preparations for the umpteenth coup d'état.

The Abdallah dynasty

In its turbulent advance, the Comoros' political history has always encountered two main actors: the mercenaries (Bob Denard until 2007 and then his acolytes) and the Abdallah family. Besides from the soldiers of fortune who ventured into the capital Moroni in April 2013 to carry out the coup, there was the collaboration of at least 12 other military and political characters. In fact, it seems that even this latest coup attempt was undertaken by one of the several sons of now defunct president Ahmed Abdallah: Mahamoud.

Ahmed Abderamane Abdallah, the family's patriarch, was elected president of the Comoros Republic in July 1975 and was defenestrated in a putsch only a month after his appointment by Bob Denard and the men lead by Ali Solih. Three years later another coup: this time Ali Solih succumbed and was killed by the mercenaries who brought Ahmed Abdallah back in power. Once again it was Bob Denard who was playing two roles in the same comedy: once in favor of Solih, then in support of Abdallah.

In October 1979 Ahmed Abdallah won presidential elections again, but – as has often happened in this part of the world – his mercenary supported democracy turned into a dictatorship. He founded a one party system in 1982 and, two years later, was re-elected thanks to this subterfuge. After surviving a coup attempt by the Republican Guards, on November 26 1989 Abdallah was killed in a putsch. Who was behind it? The answer is always the same: Bob Denard.

From that moment onwards, with the patriarch dead, his sons took over the political scene and its turbulent subversions. In 1992 the twins Abderemane and Sheikh are arrested for a failed coup attempt together with a half-brother. The Abdallah clan resurfaces in September 1995 together with Bob Denard in the attempt of overthrowing President Djohar and of freeing the two twins (whose death penalty had been commuted to life in prison). Mission accomplished.

It is then for another brother, Mahmoud, to try to overthrow the government together with Abderemane in 2000. Both are arrested and freed a few months later. And finally, in the latest episode of the saga in April 2013, it is once again Mahmoud – even though there is still a lack of evidence to support the strong suspicions – that tried his luck together with a bunch of mercenaries. Their aim was to get of rid Comoros' current president Ikililou Dhoinine, the army's chief of staffs Col. Yussouf Idjihadi and of another high ranking official, Col. Ibrahim Ahamada.

The Abdallah dynasty, even though at present far less than in the past, are economically relevant in the Comoros. They basically monopolize the country's import-export, have vast real estate properties and this might lead them to feel predestined to rule over the country, regardless of democracy and at all costs.

The family is extremely close and is made up of five brothers and four sisters (who are not involved in politics). In spite of them not being at the helm, the members of the Abdallah family still hold key positions in the Comoros. Sheikh is the military attaché of the Embassy in Paris. His twin brother Abderemane is an MP at the National Assembly and is in charge of the Foreign Affairs Committee. Another brother, Salim, that has not been involved in politics, presides over the board of directors of the Central Bank of the Comoros. The eldest brother, Nassuf, is an advisor to president Dhoinine. In the past, he has been deputy president of the National Assembly, ambassador to South Africa and counselor of late president Anjounan.

So why, since it seems that the current president and the members of the Abdallah family are in good terms, did Mahmoud try to remove him?

The implicit answer is that Mahmoud had strong links with former and now defunct president Mohamed Taki Abdulkarim. Successively his political star slowly eclipsed. He could have acted alone – with the support of people with ties to Taki – and in competition with his more politically competent brothers. Regardless of that, the Abdallah clan does feel destined to rule over the Comoros. And if Mahmoud lead the conspirators, the militarized system ruling over the clan lead his brothers to side with him and, after his arrest, to obtain his release.

fazul abdullah mohammed
Fazul Abdullah Mohammed

Evaluation mistake

A country hopping from one coup to the next, where the main income comes from coconuts, a lost corner of the world where democracy is a scarcely applied option, what place does it hold in globalization?

The answer goes by the name of Fazul Mohamed Abdallah, a Comorian terrorist and member of Al Qaeda involved in the attacks against the U.S. embassies in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam in 1998 who then transited into the Somali al Shabaab before being killed in 2011.

Why does a country with low public spirit, unbearable poverty levels (45% of the population lives below the poverty line and average yearly income is 750 USD) and where social injustice is rampant, create the conditions for the growth of individuals who have nothing to lose and who end up embracing the sole ideology – Islam in this specific case – providing pseudo-alibis to their behavior and an aim in life?

Regardless of their size, the Comoros have given their contribution to the instability of the world thanks to the lack of attention of the globe surrounding them.