Map Courtesy CIA World Factbook
The Union of Comoros (until 2002 the Islamic Federal Republic of the Comoros) is principally a three-island country in southern Africa, situated at the northern end of the Mozambique Channel in the Indian Ocean, between northern Madagascar and northern Mozambique. The country consists of three volcanic islands: Grande Comore, Moheli and Anjouan, while the nearby island of Mayotte is claimed by Comoros but declined independence from France. The country's territory also encompasses many smaller islands. Its name was adopted from the word al-Khamar, meaning 'island of small moon,' as seen depicted on its flag. Over the centuries, the islands of Comoros were invaded by a succession of diverse groups from the coast of Africa, the Persian Gulf, Indonesia, and Madagascar. Portuguese explorers visited the archipelago in 1505.
Between 1841 and 1912, France established colonial rule and placed the islands under the administration of the governor general of Madagascar. Later, French settlers, French-owned companies, and wealthy Arab merchants established a plantation-based economy that now uses about one-third of the land for export crops. Agreement was reached with France in 1973 for Comoros to become independent in 1978. On July 6, 1975, however, the Comorian parliament passed a resolution declaring independence. The deputies of Mayotte, which stayed under French control, abstained. In two referendums, in December 1974 and February 1976, the population of Mayotte voted against independence from France (by 63.8% and 99.4% respectively).
In 1997, the islands of Anjouan and Moheli declared their independence from Comoros. A subsequent attempt by the government to reestablish control over the rebellious islands by force failed, and presently the African Union is brokering negotiations to effect a reconciliation.