In a development that caught most Africa watchers by surprise, Madagascar is actually following the African road map for peace in the country. Can Africa solve the Malagasy crisis? The continent’s diplomats will be desperately hoping so after a year where they haven’t been trusted to solve anything else. By SIMON ALLISON.
There have been a few African road maps this year. There was the one in Cote D’Ivoire which was largely ignored by all parties who resolved the dispute through force of arms, with a bit of French military support for new President Alassane Ouattara. There was the one in Libya, which was desperately clung to by African leaders despite it being comprehensively overtaken by events on the ground. And then there is the South African-engineered one in Madagascar, which, despite expectations to the contrary, looks like it might just be working.
On Tuesday, coup leader and current Malagasy president Andry Rajoelina received a letter from his prime minister, General Albert Vitalis. “To allow you to take on this heavy task [of resolving the crisis] in all serenity, I have the honor to submit my resignation as well as that of the government I lead,” Vitalis wrote. Vitalis was following step one of the proposed road map to peace, which was to clear out Rajoelina’s government appointed in the wake of the coup to make way for a neutral, inclusive authority to oversee the transitional period. As envisaged by the road map, a new prime minister will be appointed on 1 November, while a new parliament should be in place by 17 November – all positions to be filled by consensus between the major parties.
Despite the good news, the road map hasn’t been followed to the letter. One of its major provisions was that Marc Ravalomanana, the president deposed in the coup, would be allowed to return to Madagascar from his South African exile without being arrested. Rajoelina has subsequently backtracked on this commitment, and Ravalomanana remains in exile.
Nonetheless, Madagascar’s progress is encouraging. And, if it works, it will be a much-needed triumph for South African and African diplomacy, which has taken something of a battering this year. Pilloried in the international community for their hands-off, non-condemnatory position on the problems in Cote D’Ivoire and Libya, their inclusive, long game approach to conflict resolution marginalised, both the county and the continent are looking for vindication in Madagascar.
Thanks to a complete lack of interest from the international community in the remote Indian Ocean island, Africa was allowed to solve the Malagasy problem by itself. Using highly-respected regional leaders such as Mozambique’s Joaquim Chissano as mediator, combined with the regional clout of South Africa and SADC, Africa slowly pushed and cajoled the key players into an agreement that was acceptable to all of them. Key to the approach was not taking sides; recognising that there isn’t a good guy and a bad guy, but that all parties represent sections of society which need to be included. Now they have the agreement, Africa is enforcing it themselves; just last week South Africa’s deputy minister for international relations and cooperation Marius Fransman flew to Madagascar to warn Rajoelina to keep his side of the deal. It’s an African solution to an African problem, and so far it’s working.
It’s tempting, given this apparent success, to look at Libya and Cote D’Ivoire and wonder: what if? What if the international community had not intervened so dramatically in both situations, and left them in Africa’s hands? After all, it’s not like either can be described as “resolved”. Two months after the fall of Tripoli, Libya’s rebels-turned-government are still fighting in pro-Gaddafi strongholds, Tuareg fighters are reportedly preparing for a counter-rebellion and rumours abound of human rights abuses committed against Libya’s black African population. And although Cote D’Ivoire has its rightful president, he is currently ruling by decree (just as Laurent Gbagbo did), and according to human rights organisations forces aligned to him are using their new power to settle scores with their old enemies. Is either “solution” viable in the long-term? Perhaps it would have been better to follow the African Union’s road maps to their conclusion in both instances. It’s a slow, plodding process, sure, and it raises huge ethical problems about rewarding abuse of power and corrupt leadership, but it’s also one that emphasises inclusivity and reconciliation over quick fixes.
Madagascar, therefore, is a crucial test case for African diplomacy. If it all goes right, it will be encouragement for the controversial African model of conflict resolution, which, for all its flaws, has remained remarkably consistent this year, and vindication of sorts for Africa’s beleagured diplomats. If it goes wrong, it will be proof for most that Africa’s diplomats are beleagured for a reason. DM
"A long habit of not thinking a thing wrong gives it a superficial appearance of being right and raises at first a formidable outcry in defence of custom. But the tumult soon subsides. Time makes more converts than reason." ~ Thomas Paine