The history of Comoros is strewn with coups and attempted coups and, more recently, the temporary secession of two of the three islands. In an effort to end this, the constitution was amended at the end of the 2001, giving each of the islands its own autonomous government with its own president, and changing the country’s name to Union of Comoros. In March 2002, the outgoing president, Col. Assoumani Azali, was elected president of the new union.
Thanks to his coup experience, Col. Azali knows the importance of the news media in his country. This was demonstrated on the morning of 14 June when, in the middle of trial of strength with the president of the newly-created regional government of Grande Comore island, Col. Azali suddenly deployed troops around a number of public buildings in the capital, Moroni, including the national radio station. No official explanation was ever given but it was clear that he feared an increase in the power of the regional governments at the expense of his own.
The power struggle between Col. Azali and Grande Comore’s regional president, Abdou Soulé Elbak, caused the situation to deteriorate further several weeks later when, on 28 August, there were clashes between the army and around 100 of President Elbak’s supporters. In the course of these incidents, Ibrahim Youssouf, a cameraman for Radio France Outremer (RFO), was manhandled by five soldiers, his camera was damaged and his cassette was seized. He filed a complaint accusing them of assault and battery, and restriction of press freedom.
The only positive development in this politically turbulent year came in the middle of the electoral campaign in February. This was the release of Izdine Abdou Salam, a journalist with Radio Karthala, who had been arrested in November 2001 after staging a debate on constitutional reform in which the government’s proposals were fiercely criticised by several participants.