In the first coup attempt against President Ikililou Dhoinine since he arrived in power on May 26th 2011, about people suspected of plotting to destabilize the country have been arrested, the Comoran Press Agency, HZK-Presse, and La Gazette des Comores reported.
The three Indian Ocean islands that make up the Union of the Comoros – Anjouan, Moheli and Grande Comore – have experienced more than 20 coups or attempted coups since independence from France in 1975. The first occurred that very year when President Ahmed Abdallah was toppled in a coup assisted by French mercenary Colonel Bob Denard who also featured in several other subsequent power struggles, allegedly with the implicit support of the French state. Denard helped Abdallah take the presidency back in 1978. Abdallah then ruled for eleven years with Denard heading his 500-strong presidential guard.
A fourth island, Mayotte, which is geographically part of the Comoro islands, chose to remain politically a part of France in the 1975 referendum.
The alleged plotters in this latest attempt – again a group of mercenaries – were both Comoran nationals and “foreigners.” Comoran civilians and soldiers were put under arrest and “one of the civilians admitted receiving money to purchase weapons,” HZK-Presse reported.
Information on the coup attempt was limited and rumours rife including speculation on the arrest of some politicians suspected of complicity. Then President Dhoinine made a public statement saying that “this criminal plot” had been orchestrated by Chadians and DR Congolese with the help of Comorans, including members of the military. He appealed to the international community for “more cooperation and collaboration” to bring the plotters based outside the country to justice, blogger Al-hamdi Abdillah reported.
Fifteen people, both civilian and military, were brought before a court in Moroni on April 29th and remanded in custody. One of their lawyers, Mihidoiri Ali, denounced the lack of transparency since the outset saying the accused had been held in a military camp for nearly a week without the judicial authorities even being informed.
Prominent amongst the Comoran citizens arrested is Mahamoud Ahmed Abdallah, the son of former President Ahmed Abdallah who died in 1989. His family issued a communiqué expressing their “consternation,” “indignation” and their support for President Dhoinine. The presidency said the aim of the April 20th coup attempt was to “overthrow the democratically elected authorities and change the institutional framework by force” but also to put an end to the rotating presidency of the three islands of the archipelago – a system set up in 2002. This system was adopted to help bring an end to conflict between the three.
The Comoran people are among the poorest in Africa and are very dependent on foreign aid. Natural resources are in short supply and the islands’ chief exports – vanilla, cloves and perfume essence – are prone to price fluctuations. Remittances from Comorans living abroad are vital.
President Ikililou Dhoinine comes from Moheli (also known as Mwali), the smallest of the three islands. He was elected president of the Union of the Comoros for five years in December 2010. Prior to that he was vice-president alongside President Ahmed Abdallah Mohamed Sambi.
The opposition on Moheli which had been sceptical about whether there really had been a coup attempt or not, publically condemned it on April 26th after President Dhoinine had addressed the nation, confirming the news. The opposition CPA issued a communiqué denouncing “with vigour this destabilization attempt aimed at sowing disorder and creating chaos in our country.”
La Gazette des Comores pointed out that there were always those who do not believe in coup claims. Some assume that they are examples of the practice, very widely carried out in the past in Africa, whereby certain figures are accused in order to marginalize them and remove them from the political stage. Reference is often made to the case of the French “mercenaries” who were killed in Moheli in 2002, having allegedly landed there by mistake while heading for the main island in the archipelago, Grande Comore. It was never really known why they landed on the small island in the first place.