Madagascar's Back on Track - Destination Unknown
Madagascar's Back on Track - Destination Unknown
Op-Ed / Africa 3 minutes

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.


Former Deputy Director, Africa Program
Former Analyst, Southern Africa

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