Every Friday, as the great midday prayer approaches, time lengthens in Moroni. Men in white qamis fill the streets and converge on the fifteen mosques in the capital of the Comoros. The morning of Friday January 19 was even quieter than usual, waiting for what was to come. After two days of riots against the re-election of President Azali Assoumani, declared winner of the presidential election in the first round, the five opposition candidates called for a massive demonstration after the prayer.

“We appeal to the entire population of our cities to make Friday a national day of protection and denunciation of the electoral masquerade,” wrote the United Front of the opposition, an organization largely composed of members of the Comorian diaspora in France. As in previous days, from dawn, the Comorian army and police were deployed at key points in the capital to repress possible gatherings. When announcing the provisional results on Tuesday, government spokesperson Houmed Msaidie told Le Monde that the authorities “would not do any favors to the troublemakers.”

This Friday morning, Ibrahim Ahmed, a retiree, feared the escalation: “It’s already serious, there has been one death, we are not used to that in the Comoros, it will raise tempers. » This detractor of the president says he boycotted the vote because, according to him, “the chips were already cast”. But the promised conflagration did not take place. The opposition candidates showed themselves no more than their supporters. The police were content to watch the men return from the mosque on foot and observe the reckless traders putting up their iron curtains to reopen their grocery stores.

Ministers holed up at home

However, is this the end of the revolt against Azali Assoumani’s third term? Young demonstrators met in two outlying neighborhoods of Moroni suggest that the leaders of the movement received sums of money to stop the protests.

Sitting in front of a military pickup, Ali Attoumani observes the soldiers near the central market of Volo-Volo. “Today, if there was no gathering, it is because of the death of the young man,” he explains. The day before, a teenager died while the police used live ammunition. Six other seriously injured people are in the emergency room of El-Maarouf hospital in Moroni, in addition to a police officer. “Young people are tired, they’re scared,” he says.

Despite the lull, tension remains palpable in Moroni. The remains of melted tar, in many places, are reminiscent of the barricades erected the day before. The telephone network still experiences regular outages. The president, who has made no public statement since Wednesday, and his ministers remained silent, mostly holed up at home.

The current de-escalation is also the result of a discreet international effort launched by the African Union (AU). After deploying observers who initially judged the election to be “generally satisfactory”, the continental organization was surprised by the figures from the Independent National Electoral Commission (CENI). This in fact announced an overall participation rate of 16.3%. A particularly low figure, although the CENI had first announced that participation had exceeded 60% and which reinforces fears of manipulation of the vote.

France’s “concern”

In a particularly uncomfortable position because it is led by Azali Assoumani until February, the AU still approached the five opposition candidates through its observers in Moroni.

“International mediation would be the acceptable approach for us and for our archipelago,” said Mr. Mzimba, director of strategy for the opposition Juwa party, referring to the possible participation of South Africa in this mediation. Pretoria, which is part of the Southern African Development Community (SADC), has not commented on the matter. But President Assoumani, who had planned to visit South Africa from Sunday after attending the inauguration of Congolese President Félix Tshisekedi on Saturday, canceled his visit to Pretoria. His arrival in Kinshasa was not confirmed Friday evening.

Other international partners are alarmed by the tensions in the streets of Moroni. France said it was following the current situation “with attention” and expressed “its concern about the tensions and violence of recent days”, calling on “Comorian actors to exercise restraint and dialogue”. The European Union “notes with concern accusations of malfunctions, irregularities and electoral fraud” and says it is concerned “by reports of violence […] which reportedly left at least one dead and six injured.” The United States calls on Comoros to “seize the opportunity to ensure transparency in the electoral process.”

According to the provisional timetable, the Supreme Court must announce the final results of the vote no later than January 30. Three opposition candidates have already planned to file an appeal with the institution, all of whose members were appointed by Azali Assoumani.