After more than 20 coups or attempted coups, the archipelago of islands that make up Comoros are trying to consolidate political stability and use their picture-perfect beaches to climb out of poverty.
There are four major islands, as well as many smaller ones, in the country: Grande Comore; Moheli; Anjouan; and Mayotte. Mayotte, however, voted against independence and is still governed by France.
To add to the country's troubles, two of the four major islands, Anjouan and Moheli, declared unilateral independence in a violent conflict in 1997.
The descendants of Arab traders, Malay immigrants and African peoples contribute to the islands' complex ethnic mix.
Natural resources are in short supply and the islands' chief exports - vanilla, cloves and perfume essence - are prone to price fluctuations. Money sent home by Comorans living abroad is an important source of income.
President: Azali Assoumani
Former coup leader Azali Assoumani was declared winner of the May 2016 presidential election after violence and vote irregularities forced a partial re-run of the poll.
He succeeds outgoing President Ikililou Dhoinine after narrowly beating ruling party candidate Vice-President Mohamed Ali Soilihi by 41% of the vote to 39%.
A former army officer, Mr Assoumani first came to power in 1999, after ousting acting president Tadjiddine Ben Said Massonde in a military coup.
He won the election three years later, stepping down in 2006 at the end of his term to democratically hand over power to Ahmed Abdallah Sambi.
The presidency of the union rotates between three islands.
- The country votes in a referendum on 29 July 2018 which could change the current system - which sees power rotate every five years between the archipelago's three main islands - and enable the president to run for two fresh five year-terms. The vice president has denounced the referendum.
The Comoros authorities have a tight hold on the media in the country. Journalists risk arrest and detention, and newspapers have been suspended and radio stations put off the air over reports deemed offensive to the government.
Radio is the dominant medium. The national state-run network competes with regional services and private stations. There are also private newspaper papers. Most publish weekly; a feeble advertising market, poverty and poor distribution inhibit circulation.
Some key dates in the history of the Comoros:
1886 - Comoros become a French protectorate.
1974 - Three of the islands making up the Comoros vote for independence, but a fourth island, Mayotte, votes to stay with France. A year later, Comoros unilaterally declares independence, with Ahmed Abdallah as president. The same year, however, Abdallah is overthrown, ushering in decades of political unrest punctuated by coups.
1997 - The islands of Anjouan and Moheli declare independence from the Comoros. Troops from the island of Grande Comore land in Anjouan to try to prevent its secession, but are routed. The conflict lasts until 2001 when voters agree on a new constitution that will keep the three islands as one country, but will grant each greater autonomy. Tensions linger, however.
2003 - Leaders of semi-autonomous islands reach a power-sharing deal, paving the way for elections
2007 - The African Union sends troops to help keep the peace in June's elections after Anjouan president Mohamed Bacar refuses to stand down. The crisis escalates when Anjouan holds local elections in defiance of the federal government and the African Union. Mohamed Bacar is inaugurated as Anjouan's president. The African Union starts a navy blockade around the island. The following year, the separatists are defeated.
2009 - The island of Mayotte votes to fully integrate with France. The Comoros government, which lays claim to the island, terms the referendum null and void.
2009 - Yemenia Airways plane crashes off Comoros, killing all but one of 153 people on board. Comoran expatriates demonstrate in France after suggestions plane may have been faulty.
2013 - Comoros comes out on top in a survey of women's rights in 21 Arab League states. The poll by the Thomson Reuters Foundation surveyed 336 gender experts.