Madagascar's Back on Track - Destination Unknown
Madagascar's Back on Track - Destination Unknown
Report 156 / Africa

Madagascar: Ending the Crisis

Madagascar has been in crisis since the bloody upheavals in early 2009. Several rounds of mediation under the auspices of the African Union (AU) and others have not unlocked the stalemate.


Madagascar has been in crisis since the bloody upheavals in early 2009. Several rounds of mediation under the auspices of the African Union (AU) and others have not unlocked the stalemate. Despite the signing of several documents, negotiations have stalled, mainly due to the refusal of the Rajoelina government to implement the power sharing agreed in Maputo in August. While violence has been kept at bay since the Rajoelina regime took power in March 2009, its legitimacy is questioned both internally and externally, and a dire economic environment weighs heavily on an already impoverished population. To avoid further escalation, the mediation should cease trying to broker a new transitional power-sharing deal but instead aim for agreement on the consensual writing of a constitution and the organisation of early elections under international supervision.

From January to March 2009, Andry Rajoelina, the then mayor of the capital, Antananarivo, assembled several tens of thousands in the streets demanding the resignation of Marc Ravalomanana’s government.  He forged an alliance of convenience with the political opposition and parts of civil society, leading to mass rallies which degenerated into violent riots in which at least 70 people died.  Rajoelina organised a parallel government – the “High Authority of the Transition” (HAT) -- on 7 February and asked his supporters to take the presidential palace. Thirty people died as the security forces opened fire on the crowd.

Mediation attempts by the churches and the UN failed because both protagonists played a game of political brinkmanship. Demonstrations continued, coupled with targeted arrests and repression by the security forces, until a military camp mutinied and allied itself with Rajoelina. As the tide turned, Ravalomanana yielded power on 17 March 2009 to a military directorate of three senior generals, who immediately transferred their authority to Rajoelina.  The AU and others condemned this unconstitutional take-over of the government.

Power-sharing agreements signed in Maputo in August and Addis Ababa in November offered opportunities to promote a consensual transition by uniting in one government the four political movements represented by Rajoelina, Ravalomanana and two former presidents, Didier Ratsiraka and Albert Zafy. But even though he signed, Rajoelina and his entourage have blocked implementation of the accords, reserved all senior positions in the transitional authority for themselves and threatened to organise elections unilaterally.  

Similarly, the lack of political will to compromise of the other protagonists, who are more concerned about securing the spoils of power than finding a solution in the national interest, has made genuine power sharing virtually impossible.  This attitude of the political elite has been at the root of the other political crises (1972, 1991 and 2002) that have shaken Madagascar since independence. Its members have each time maintained their power networks, making eventual recurrence inevitable.

To break this cycle and to end the crisis, a new constitution and new elections are the only realistic option. Madagascar needs to restore legitimate institutions and then launch administrative reforms. The mediation team’s priority, therefore, should be the negotiation of an agreement between the four political movements that allows rapid drafting of a new constitution, a referendum on that document, free and fair elections and clarification of the terms of amnesty agreed in Maputo. 

The organisation of elections cannot be turned over solely to the HAT.  The four movements should agree that the constitutional referendum and the elections will be organised and supervised by a joint AU/UN mission. During the transition period, the activities of the HAT should be reduced to that of a caretaker government. Any member of the HAT who wishes to stand in the elections should first resign, as was agreed in Maputo. Andry Rajoelina would be entitled to stay in office and, as negotiated in Maputo, would be able to contest the elections. This would meet the wishes of both the HAT, which insists on rapid organisation of elections, and of the other three movements, which want impartial control of the electoral process. It would also make bickering over ministerial posts redundant and avoid an over-long transition.

For this solution to work, the AU and UN should appoint a joint envoy mandated to supervise the drafting of a new constitution and organisation of a constitutional referendum and general elections. An AU/UN police mission should be formed and put under the envoy’s responsibility, charged to work closely with the Malagasy security forces to secure the electoral process.  The international community, already represented in a contact group, needs to remain engaged, and its guarantor role should be enshrined in the political accord.

Nairobi/Brussels, 18 March 2010

Op-Ed / Africa

Madagascar's Back on Track - Destination Unknown

Madagascar, one of the world’s poorest countries, has been mired in political crisis, since 2009, when 34-year-old former radio disc jockey Andry Rajoelina toppled President Marc Ravalomanana in a military coup d’état.

Social and economic conditions are dire. Investment and aid have been cut off. Poverty is on the rise. Insecurity and lawlessness prevail, and in the south dozens of civilians have been killed by heavily armed bandits.  Compounding the deteriorating humanitarian situation, swarms of locusts now threaten 13 million farmers’ livelihood, as well as food security for all Malagasies. 

There is, however, a ray of hope. Presidential elections, which have been scheduled and re-scheduled repeatedly since the coup, are now slated to take place on 25 October (with a run-off before Christmas if no candidate receives more than 50 per cent of the vote). Campaigning officially commenced last week. An internationally recognised free and fair election is key to ending Madagascar’s isolation, bringing back foreign investment and aid, and offering a pathway out of the current economic abyss. 

That’s the best-case scenario; the country does not have a good democratic track record. In September 2011, an election roadmap brokered by the regional Southern African Development Community (SADC) was followed by an uncertain and tentative sixteen-month transitional power sharing arrangement. It did not resolve political deadlock between Ravalomana (living in exile in South Africa) and the transition leader, Rajoelina.

Earlier this year, the political winds looked promising. Both men agreed to withdraw from the presidential race in a good-faith agreement brokered by the international community to defuse the tense political situation. In a matter of weeks, both reneged. Ravalomanana put forward his wife, Lalao, in his stead, violating the agreement’s spirit if not the letter. Rajoelina broke it more directly, announcing that he would be a candidate himself. Another former president, Didier Ratsiraka,, also threw his hat in the ring. 

Remarkably, the electoral court accepted their candidacies, despite all three failing to comply with eligibility criteria. Outraged, the international community refused to finance the vote and threatened sanctions if the three did not withdraw; they refused. An impasse ensued, with the politicians playing self-interested games while Madagascar slumped deeper into stagnation. 

Recent developments have generated renewed momentum. A reconstituted electoral court ruled on 17 August that all three candidates (along with several others) did not qualify and would be excluded. The decision took domestic and international actors by surprise, but unlocked withheld finances and opened the way for the first legitimate elections in over two decades.

But uncertainty remains, exacerbated by several bomb blasts in the capital Antananarivo during September. The disqualifying of popular candidates like Ravalomana and Rajoelina has heightened tensions. Current regime insiders also have much to lose from surrendering power. Former presidents are invariably pushed into exile and it remains to be seen whether the outgoing government will continue to have a stake in the political system. With many uncertainties, it seems unlikely the regime will bow out graciously. 

But in a country where the cynics are nearly always vindicated, there is still cause for optimism. Both the camps of Ravalomanana and Rajoelina have identified proxy candidates. While Rajoelina has tapped several regime insiders, Ravalomanana’s movement will be represented by Dr. Jean Louis Robinson, who served in his cabinet and worked closely with the World Health Organization. There are 31 other candidates, of varying quality. 

If elections proceed peacefully and the Malagasy people and the international community deem the process and outcome credible, the country may have some real hope for recovery. If a return to electoral manipulation is allowed, the crisis will continue and some violence will be likely.

This outcome is not inevitable, but Madagascar’s politicians need to stop playing games and focus on national interests. Only then can the crisis end and the real work of dealing with locusts, bandits, and crippling poverty begin. 

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