192-Part Guide To The World: The Comoros

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The Independent Travel

Official name

Official name

The Federal Republic of the Comoros.

Language

French and Arabic are the official languages. The native tongue, Comorian, is coloured by 1,000 years of maritime trade and is a melting-pot of Arabic, Swahili, Portuguese, Indian, Persian and French.

Population

An estimated 500,000.

Size

The archipelago covers 719 sq mi of land in total. Ngazidja is the largest of the islands at 442 sq mi; Mwali, at just 81 sq mi, is the smallest. Altogether the country is less than a 10th the size of Belgium.

National dish

There are plenty of seafood and rice-based dishes with spiced sauces. Barbecued goat meat is also very popular.

Best monument

The islands are probably best known for their natural beauty. Mount Karthala, on Ngazidja, is the largest active volcano in the world, with a crater one mile in diameter.

Most famous citizen

Few, though if you insist, I might point to the former president, Ahmed Abdullah, who was in power when the Comoro islands declared independence from France in 1974. A year later he was ousted from government, but regained control in 1978. As president he restored Islam as the official religion of the islands and re-established diplomatic relations with France. He later placed a ban on political parties and employed mercenaries to put down any opposition. He was shot dead at his home in 1989, most likely by one of his own men.

Best moment in history

The rediscovery of the coelacanth, the four-hundred-million-year-old "living fossil" fish, which was thought to have died out with the dinosaurs, until, in 1938, a specimen was caught off the African coast. Since then many more have turned up in Comorian waters. Local fishermen accidentally catch several every year.

Worst moment in history

The political instability following independence from France. Since 1975 there have been as many as 18 coups or attempted coups. The latest took place in April 1999 when the army deposed the government and took control of the country. This comes on top of a situation where both Nzwani and Mwali have been trying to declare independence from the republic.

Essential accessory

If you fancy seizing power, a squad of about 50 mercenaries should do the trick.

What not to do

Celebrate yet another coup with a plate of barbecued coelacanth.

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