By Timo Shihepo
Southern African Development Community (SADC) new member, Comoros, is still seized by a political crisis despite the African Union’s intervention, and SADC’s willingness to help the island nation.
On September 11, the African Union High Representative, Ramtane Lamamra travelled to Comoros to help set up a meeting aimed at bringing about a dialogue between the government led by President Azali Assoumani, and members of the opposition.
The dialogue is necessary to restore peace in the small island nation after Assoumani plunged it into crisis in April when he suspended the Constitutional Court, the highest court in the country, sparking opposition protests.
On July 30, Comoros passed a referendum to revise the nation’s constitution. Among other changes, the referendum extended presidential term limits and abolished a power-sharing system that had rotated the presidency every five years between the main islands of Grand Comore, Anjouan and Moheli.
Since the referendum, which was boycotted by the opposition, Assoumani has moved to consolidate power by arresting and issuing warrants for prominent opponents such as former vice president Jaffar Ahmed Said Hassani, Deputy Chief of Staff of the Army Colonel Ibrahim Salim, the general secretary of Juwa Party, Ahmed Hassane El Barwane, spokesman for the party Dr Ahmed Abdou Chakour and Milano Henri Alphonse, treasurer of the party and of course former President Ahmed Abdallah Sambi. Last month, state prosecutor Mohamed Abdoua announced the arrest of five people, including Hassani's brother and the writer Said Ahmed Said Tourqui.
In an effort to restore peace, the Africa Union then sent Lamamra to initiate talks between the two parties. They had initially agreed but two weeks later, the talks have been called off.
The government has said it will not back down nor bow down to pressure to revise the decisions of the referendum. It says the old constitution is “ancient history”. The opposition is very disappointed by the intransigence of the government.
In a press statement, the opposition party said they have suspended talks with the government as the two parties have reached a stalemate.
“As of today (September 26th), we have decided to suspend the dialogue with the government. This suspension is linked to the fact that the government has shown no willingness to respect the appeasement points reached with the AU. We, therefore, refuse to sit and talk alone with the government without the presence of representatives of the AU or the SADC at the dialogue,” Aboubakar Aboud, spokesperson for Juwa Party said.
Though welcoming the inter-Comorian dialogue, Aboud, the spokesperson said reiterated the importance of proper representation of all parties including civil societies and the importance of freeing political prisoners.
New SADC chairperson, Dr Hage Geingob had earlier told The Southern Times that it was now the responsibility of the regional body to lend out a helping hand to the island nation. However, it is not yet clear whether SADC has sent anyone to Comoros, yet.
“The violations of the Constitution combined with numerous violations of individual liberties by a corrupt judiciary and an army serving a dictator, seriously questions the legitimacy of Colonel Azali as the president of our country.”