Potentially a holiday paradise with picture-postcard beaches, the Comoros islands are trying to consolidate political stability amid tensions between semi-autonomous islands and the central government.
A history of political violence has left the Comoros desperately poor. At times, the country has teetered on the brink of disintegration.
The three Indian Ocean islands have experienced more than 20 coups or attempted coups, beginning just weeks after independence from France in 1975 when President Ahmed Abdallah was toppled in a coup assisted by French mercenary Colonel Bob Denard. Colonel Denard featured in several power struggles over the years.
To add to the country's troubles, the islands of Anjouan and Moheli declared unilateral independence in a violent conflict in 1997.
In an effort to bring the breakaway islands back into the fold, Moheli, Anjouan and the largest island, Grande Comore, were granted greater autonomy under a 2001 constitution.
The Union of the Comoros retained control of security and financial matters.
The people of the Comoros are among the poorest in Africa and are heavily dependent on foreign aid.
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.
The descendants of Arab traders, Malay immigrants and African peoples contribute to the islands' complex ethnic mix.