Madagascar's crisis, one year on
Madagascar's crisis, one year on
Madagascar's Back on Track - Destination Unknown
Madagascar's Back on Track - Destination Unknown
Op-Ed / Africa

Madagascar's crisis, one year on

Madagascar’s ongoing crisis continues to defy definition. Some call Andry Rajoelina’s taking power in March 2009 a popular uprising. Others say this was a military-supported coup, pure and simple. The legitimacy of the new regime remains in question both internally and externally, and peace agreements mediated by the international community lie in tatters.

About the only thing everyone seems to agree on is that the street protests and violence that killed over a hundred people a year ago signalled not the end of instability, but the beginning.

From January to March 2009, Rajoelina, the then mayor of the capital, Antananarivo, assembled several tens of thousands in the streets demanding the resignation of President Marc Ravalomanana’s government. Mass rallies degenerated into massive looting in which at least 70 people died. In response to what he perceived as a lack of concessions by the president, Rajoelina organised the “High Authority of the Transition” (HAT) and asked his supporters to take the presidential palace. 30 people died as the security forces opened fire on the crowd.

Mediation attempts by the churches and the UN failed as 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 unconstitutionally on 17 March 2009 to a military directorate of three senior generals, who immediately transferred their authority -- equally unconstitutionally -- to the mayor.

After the bloody upheavals of early 2009, many months of mediation under the auspices of the African Union (AU) and others could not unlock the stalemate. The key agreements -- the Maputo Accords of August 2009 between the four political movements represented by Rajoelina, Ravalomanana and two other former presidents, Didier Ratsiraka and Albert Zafy -- sits, like other deals, signed but unimplemented. In February the AU gave an ultimatum to the Rajoelina regime to implement the agreement but it refused to budge resulting in targeted sanctions against the president and 108 of his collaborators on 17 March. The HAT has since recommended that the government retaliates against the opposition by preventing them from leaving Madagascar and freezing their assets.

Today, about a year since the change of power, nothing is resolved, and dire economic straits are stressing the population to its limits.

Interlocutors need to rethink. Past power-sharing accords may seem to present a credible foundation for a transition addressing the underlying problems of the country. But the lack of political will to compromise by the parties, who appear more concerned about grabbing economic opportunities than finding a solution in the national interest, has made genuine power sharing impossible.

To avoid further violent escalation, the mediation needs to take a radically different direction. Forget dead-end power-sharing deals. The priority should be the negotiation of a political agreement between the four movements that allows in the shortest possible time the drafting of a new constitution, a referendum on that document, and free and fair presidential and legislative elections.

Of course, organising elections cannot be the responsibility of any one party. All four movements need to accept that the constitutional referendum and the elections will be organised and supervised by a joint African Union/United Nations mission. In the meantime, the HAT should assume the role of a caretaker government and its members who wish to stand in the elections should first resign.

This course of action would meet the wishes of both the HAT, which insists on rapid organisation of elections, and those of the other three movements, which do not want HAT in charge of the electoral process. It would also make bickering over ministerial posts redundant and avoid an overly long transition in which political elites would continue to share out the spoils at the expense of legitimacy.

For this solution to work, however, the AU and the UN will need to appoint a joint envoy mandated to supervise the full process of drafting a new constitution and organising a constitutional referendum and general elections. An AU/UN police mission will need to be formed and put under his responsibility, charged to work closely with the Malagasy security forces to secure the electoral process and ensure the forces’ neutrality. The international community, already represented in a contact group, needs to remain engaged, and its guarantor role should be enshrined in the political accord. It should also be ready to impose sanctions on those who block the process.

It is not impossible to imagine such a constellation of internal and external support for this shift in direction. It may take a bit of political effort regionally, true, but it is also probably the only approach that will help this island nation once and for all break the cycle of violent crisis it has suffered from for decades.
 

Contributors

Former Deputy Director, Africa Program
Former Analyst, Southern Africa
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. 

Contributors

Former Deputy Director, Africa Program
Former Analyst, Southern Africa

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