Comores invasion

2008-03-03 00:00

This week’s invasion of Anjouan by African Union troops seems like a scene from a comic opera. During the rehearsal some disembarking soldiers reportedly dropped their weapons in the sea. The island’s runway was obstructed by luggage trolleys and the president is rumoured to have fled in disguise.

Since independence from France in 1975, the Comores have suffered continuous political instability. The number of coups and uprisings, at the latest count 20, is in inverse proportion to the country’s economic viability. It depends to a significant degree on remittances from emigrants.

It was hoped that the constitution of 2001, establishing a federal state, would encourage greater stability. Each of the three main islands has an elected president doubling as national vice-president and each in turn supplies the federal head of state. This would appear to accommodate a reasonable level of local political ambition. But the re-election of Anjouan’s President Mohamed Bacar in June 2007 was declared illegal by the federal president, Ahmed Sambi.

Non-violent defiance from an island of 30 000 people hardly seems to warrant such speedy, heavy-handed action, but there may be an undeclared agenda. Political uncertainty in a small Muslim country off the east African coast will inevitably sound alarm bells in Western intelligence agencies. France is thought to be involved with the invasion’s logistics.

South African president Thabo Mbeki has repeatedly voiced his opposition to the use of force and advocated a negotiated outcome. From an African perspective he is absolutely correct, but wider concerns have apparently prevailed.

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