Mercenary despot of the Comoros

The French mercenary Bob Denard overthrew the government of the Comoros four times: in 1975, 1978, 1989, and 1995.

Moroni in the Comoros
Radosław Botev, CC BY 3.0 PL, via Wikimedia Commons

The Comoros islands, off the eastern coast of Africa, have seen Swahili settlers (three thousand years ago), Austronesian settlers (one and a half thousand years ago), Shirazi slave traders (six hundred years ago), Arabs (five hundred years ago), the Portuguese (also five hundred years ago), and then the French (four hundred years ago). By 1912 all four of the islands were under French colonial control.

France, like all colonial nations, exploited the land’s resources and did little to improve the lot of the locals. In 1973 the French government agreed to independence for Comoros, beginning in five years. The residents of the islands had other ideas about that delay, and in 1975 unilaterally declared themselves an independent nation. France – or at least one Frenchman – had other ideas.

Ahmed Abdallah was the Chief Minister of the Comoros prior to independence and so became its first president… for about a month. Jacques Foccart, for many years the French government’s primary advisor and puppet-master for Africa, allegedly ordered a mercenary named Bob Denard to intervene. Abdallah was deposed in a Denard-orchestrated coup in August 1975.

The next president, Said Mohamed Jaffar, was much more sympathetic towards France. For all of 153 days, until the third president Ali Soilih took over. Soilih turned out to be too left-leaning for France, so in 1978 another coup removed him from office. And who ran that second coup? Bob Denard again, this time working with the man that he had previously deposed, former president Ahmed Abdallah.

When Abdallah reclaimed the presidency he appointed Denard to lead his presidential guard. Denard built a significant power base in the Comoros, becoming something of the power behind the throne.

Fast forward to 1989, and Abdallah was shot to death in yet another coup. While Denard was also wounded in the attack, it was widely rumoured that he was behind the coup himself because Abdallah had threatened to remove him from his position. Denard would later go on trial for murdering Abdallah, although he was acquitted due to a lack of evidence.

Abdallah was succeeded by Said Mohamed Djohar, a supreme court justice (and the half brother of Ali Soilih, the third president). This didn’t sit well with Denard, who executed his fourth and final Comoros coup in 1995. But by now the French government had had enough of the mercenary, and sent a team in to arrest Denard and bring him back to France.

Denard spent the rest of his life in and out of court being tried for his many actions in Comoros and elsewhere. He died in 2007.

[Thanks to Today I Learned]

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