Analysis: SA-brokered peace unravelling in Madagascar

By Simon Allison 8 May 2013

South Africa’s handling of the political crisis in Madagascar has been one of the few bright spots in our country’s recent diplomatic history. But the peace deal we negotiated is falling apart as both antagonists push their own narrow, ego-driven agendas. By SIMON ALLISON.

The recent history of Madagascar has been dominated by just two men. For a while, it was Marc Ravalomanana in the driving seat, until he was ousted in a coup by upstart rival Andriy Rajoelina four years ago. But even with Ravalomanana in exile in South Africa, the bitter relationship between the two men – and the political factions each represents – has defined the country, which has effectively been in limbo since the coup.

In the political stalemate, development in Madagascar has visibly declined. Sanctions imposed by the international community have crippled the economy, and the donors on which the country used to rely have halted aid until there’s some kind of resolution. The price of basic goods has increased dramatically, unemployment is up, and four-fifths of households live under the poverty threshold of $1.25 a day. The place is a mess.

But there should be reason for hope. After all their bickering – and with the political and economic pressure beginning to take its toll – Ravalomanana and Rajoelina finally agreed on a roadmap for peace, including elections. This was the result of painstaking shuttle diplomacy led by South Africa in the name of the Southern African Development Community.

As I wrote in January: “That there are presidential elections at all, and that neither Rajoelina nor Ravalomanana will be directly involved to disrupt proceedings, is a victory for SADC’s much-maligned ‘quiet diplomacy’.”

I might have spoken too soon. The breakthrough hinged on the two men’s agreement to step aside from politics, at least for this election scheduled for July. It was significant because it removed the personal animosity between the pair from the political equation. Unfortunately, both Ravalomanana and Rajoelina are making sure they are very much still a part of that equation.

Ravalomanana started it. He’s still in exile, and is unlikely to be allowed to return before the elections. But he found himself a useful surrogate: his wife. “As President Ravalomanana cannot stand in the presidential election, his wife is our natural candidate,” said a member of Ravalomanana’s party. “It should allow us to regain the power that was seized in an illegal manner.”

Brylyne Chitsunge, a spokeswoman for Ravalomanana (both of them, it seems) insisted that there was nothing wrong with this. She told the Daily Maverick that Lalao Ravalomanana was voted in unanimously by the party, and in Madagascar’s democracy anyone should be allowed to run. “Are we to say that when Hilary Clinton was secretary of state and married to Bill Clinton, that Bill Clinton was secretary of state? Or in Thailand, Thaksin Shinawatra’s sister is now the prime minister so should we say that it is just him who is actually the prime minister through his sister?”

Thailand was an unfortunate choice of example because that’s exactly what many analysts think: Yingluck Shinawatra, having shown little political interest prior to her brother’s exile, is ruling Thailand in his stead. And as much as Ravalomanana’s camp might emphasise that Lalao Ravalomanana is her own person and perfectly entitled to contest the election in her own right – which of course she is, legally – it’s hard to escape the feeling that this goes against spirit of the mediation roadmap.

Also, Ravalomanana’s camp must have known that Lalao’s candidacy would elicit some kind of reaction from Rajoelina – which, of course, it did (although Chitsunge argues that Rajoelina would have been unhappy with any candidate: “We could even have put Rajoelina’s dog in and he would complain.”).

When the list of presidential candidates was released this week, there was a shock inclusion. No, not Rajoelina’s wife, although that would have been quite something, but Rajoelina himself, in brazen violation of his previous commitment to withdraw from the race.

This is how Rajoelina explained himself: “I decided not to be a candidate to facilitate the process of ending the crisis in Madagascar and to enable my fellow Malagasy citizens to live happily. Unfortunately, others did not respect the commitments that they made (referring to Lalao’s candidacy)… This is not part of the compromise which was made. With the nomination of his wife, we can almost say that the former president himself is running. I could have done the same thing and nominate my wife and I am sure that she would have won. However national affairs are not a child’s play.”

So, it seems, we’re back to square one, with Rajoelina and at least one Ravalomanana remaining firmly involved in Madagascar’s political life. But the election will go ahead, according to the SADC chief mediator Joaquim Chissano, although he hardly sounds convinced that it will be a success. Admitting he feels “uneasy” about the recent development, he said “it is left to us to hope that there will not be any further irregularities”.

After four-and-a-half years in political limbo, Madagascar could do with a little more than hope. Unfortunately, it looks like neither Marc Ravalomanana nor Andriy Rajoelina can put aside their own egos for long enough to give them anything more substantial. DM

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Photo: Lalao Ravalomanana and Andre Rajoelina (Reuters)


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