On the 26thof May, Azali Assoumani assumed the presidency of Comoros. The oath of office came two months after a controversial election on 24 March where many allege the process of being fraudulent. Violence erupted post-election and Assoumani vowed to take “appeasement measures” to respond to the accusations of fraud.
As an army officer, Assoumani first took the presidency in a military coup in 1999. He then won an election three years later but stepped down in 2006 at the end of his term in a democratic transition of power. He then returned and won the election in 2016. The presidency is supposed to rotate between the three islands of Comoros every five years, but a contentious 29 July 2018 referendum allowed Assoumani to run for a second term. He then called for an early election in 2018. Assoumani has pledged to make Comoros an “emerging economy” by 2030 by prioritizing oil exploration.
- 1886: Comoros becomes a French protectorate.
- 1974: Three of the islands vote for independence; the island of Mayotte votes to stay with France.
- 1975: Comoros unilaterally declare independence one year later; more than 20 coups or attempted coups have plagued the country since independence.
- 1997: The islands of Anjouan and Moheli declare independence from the Comoros; conflict erupts and lasts until 2001.
- 2001: A new constitution is approved that maintains the three islands as one country but each with greater autonomy.
- 2007: The African Union sends troops to quell violence after then Anjouan President Mohamed Bacar refuses to stand down; Anjouan holds local elections in an effort to secede, but the African Union imposes a navy blockade and the secessionists are defeated a year later.
- 2009: The island of Mayotte votes to fully integrate with France. The Comoros government does not recognize the referendum and still lays claim to the island.
“Not at all credible”
Assoumani ran against 12 opponents, but the Supreme Court barred some of his challengers including former President Ahmed Abdallah Sambi, who is accused of corruption. Around 300,000 people of 800,000 population voted in the election. The electoral body CENI reported that Assoumani won 60.77% of the vote while the runner up, Ahamada Mahamoudou, received 14.62%. With more than 50% of the vote, Assoumani avoided a second-round election scheduled for 21 April.
The campaign was not drama-free as Assoumani claims to have survived an assassination attempt on Anjouan island. The island was the site last year of a brief armed insurrection after the referendum allowing Assoumani to run for a second presidential term. Assoumani’s campaign director Houmed Msaidie told The East African that on the 7thof March just where Assoumani’s convoy passed people had “left explosives at the top of a mountain to cause an avalanche when it exploded”. Maddie claims Assoumani’s car stopped in time preventing any injuries and that fuses were found at the scene. The opposition maintains that the incident was “not at all credible”.
Irregularities and violence
Opposition candidates say the vote was plagued by irregularities including the exclusion of independent monitors and the marking of ballot papers before the opening of the polls. The African Union, the Common Market of Eastern and Southern Africa, and the African Standby Forces of the East all concluded that there were sufficient irregularities in the process to question the credibility of the election. The government denied any wrongdoing.
Soihili Mohamed, the head of the Union of the Opposition group and a former deputy president, told journalists that the fraudulent election amounted to a “coup d’etat” and called for public “resistance”. Protests, violence and a government crackdown quickly ensued. A firefight broke out near the military base on Moroni island and at least three people were killed. The twelve opponents in the election announced the formation of a National Transition Council to be chaired by one of the presidential candidates, former armed forces chief of staff Mohamed Soilihi. Soilihi was quickly arrested. The disorder is coming from the army,” presidential spokesman Mougni Baraka told The East African.
An economic springboard
On the campaign trail Assoumani spoke of the potential of oil and gas for Comoros, saying “if we have a united country, this oil can be a springboard for the country’s economy” and “if we do not have people who can exploit it for the benefit of the population, it is useless.” Not coincidently, in May the government announced its first 3D seismic survey to determine whether there really is oil and gas off the shores of the country. This comes seven years after the first oil and gas exploration permits were granted by the government. The survey will be performed by Discovery Exploration, a partner of the British company Tullow Oil, which was first awarded an exploration permit in 2014.
A coup-prone country and an increasingly authoritarian leader do not bode well for a weak economy that relies only on exports of vanilla, foreign aid and remittances, and ranks as one of the 25 poorest countries in the world. However, the discovery of oil and gas does not hold any promise to bring more political stability nor economic benefits for the people of Comoros if the history of its neighbours is any indication.
Image: UNAMID / Albert Gonzalez Farran (link)