Report / Africa 2 minutes

A Cosmetic End to Madagascar’s Crisis?

Madagascar’s recent elections marked an ostensible return to democracy, but unless the new government works hard to implement meaningful political, economic and social reforms, the prospect of further crisis is just a matter of time.

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Executive Summary

Madagascar is on the cusp of exiting a five-year political crisis compounded by economic disorder and international isolation. Presidential elections in late 2013 were endorsed as credible following the victory of Hery Rajaonarimampianina. The return to democracy paves the way for renewed international support. However, division entrenched by former President Marc Ravalomanana’s exile has polarised the country. The coup regime of Andry Rajoelina was characterised by socio-economic malaise, rampant corruption, institutional decay and the breakdown in the rule of law. The political system, which is the primary obstacle to sustained recovery, needs much more than a cosmetic makeover; fundamental reform is necessary. The African Union, Southern African Development Community and International Support Group for Madagascar must support Rajaonarimampianina’s efforts to balance political interests in a marked departure from the traditional winner-take-all approach; reform and strengthening of key democratic institutions; and reform and professionalisation of the security sector.

The elections were a major step forward, but they did nothing to resolve the underlying causes and impact of the 2009 coup. Laws and institutions matter less than personal relationships and zero-sum politics. The malleability of political alliances again came to the fore over the formation of the new government and the battle over control of the National Assembly, as independent parliamentarians gravitated toward whichever political bloc seemed closest to forming a dominant coalition. The military remains outside civilian control in one of the world’s most coup-prone countries. The political chasm between Ravalomanana and Rajoelina and their respective movements, which started the crisis, has not been bridged. Old divides remain, but are now surpassed and complicated by new mutating rivalries generated by the 2013 elections, both between political movements and within them.

Nonetheless, Madagascar is being reincorporated into the international fold, led by the African Union, which lifted its suspension shortly after the president’s inauguration in January 2014. The International Monetary Fund and World Bank have already reestablished ties, while others (notably the European Union and U.S.) have indicated that they will resume direct development assistance when a government is in place – a development that is imminent following the appointment of a new prime minister, Kolo Roger, on 11 April and the formation of a new administration on 18 April. The Southern African Development Community, which has been instrumental in chaperoning the political negotiations leading to elections, closed its liaison office in Antananarivo at the end of April, but should maintain an active presence.

Further development assistance is expected, but there is a risk that long-term political challenges will be swept aside by seemingly more pressing development concerns. Doing so would be a grave error, as structural and institutional weaknesses are the root cause of underdevelopment and cyclical political crises. A long-term development strategy that incorporates reconciliation and reform, as well as an emphasis on conflict prevention and peacebuilding, should be adopted. A post-election dispute in late 2001 and early 2002 almost triggered a civil war, and there have since been frequent military interventions in politics, including two failed coup attempts since the army brought Rajoelina to power in 2009. It would be a mistake to assume that the current government has sufficient foundations for lasting peace and stability or that elections ended the country’s fragility.

President Rajaonarimampianina faces immense challenges: establishing an inclusive government he can work with to reform the political system and culture; building institutional integrity; fostering national reconciliation; averting political misuse of the security services by addressing realistic professional demands; resuscitating development and service delivery; addressing a public health crisis (both in terms of food security and disease outbreaks); and restoring government control in the south, which is rife with bandits and weapons. Unless there is a fundamental transformation that addresses Madagascar’s structural challenges, the current period will be little more than the calm before the next inevitable storm.

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