Welcome home, Madagascar!

By Simon Allison 30 January 2014

After five years of diplomatic isolation, and economic stagnation, Madagascar has finally sorted out its politics (with a bit of help from SADC). Its reward? A warm welcome back into the African Union fold. By SIMON ALLISON.

Any introduction of Madagascar’s new president must come with a pronunciation guide. His full name is Hery Martial Rajaonarimampianina Rakotoarimanana – the longest name, by quite some distance, of any serving head of state – but he goes by President Rajaonarimampianina, which makes things only marginally easier.

If you ever need to address him, or talk about him on the radio (been there, got it wrong), this is how it’s done (with thanks to GlobalPost for breaking it down): RAH-DJAW-NAH-RI-MAM-PEE-AH-NEE-N, the emphasis on the ‘PEE’. The final ‘a’ is silent. His first name, Hery, also drops the last syllable to become just ‘HAIR’.

Rajaonarimampianina hasn’t been in office long – less than a week – but already he’s been busy. So busy, in fact, that he didn’t have time to cobble together his own inauguration address, choosing instead to copy one delivered a few years ago by Nicholas Sarkozy (helpfully, one of his staffers did quick CTRL+R to replace all mentions of France in the text with Madagascar).

“I ask my friends who have accompanied me here to leave me free, free to go to others, to the one who has never been my friend, who has never belonged in our camp, to our political family who sometimes fought us. Because when it comes to France, there are no more camps,” said Sarkozy in 2007.

“I ask my friends who have accompanied me here to leave me free, free to go to others, to the one who has never been my friend, who has never belonged in our camp, to our political family who sometimes fought us. Because when it comes to Madagascar, there are no more camps,” said Rajaonarimampianina in 2014, albeit with considerably less panache (for French speakers, here’s a YouTube mash-up of the two uncannily similar speeches).

Never mind, Rajaonarimampianina has more important things to worry about: specifically, how to get Madagascar back on its feet after five years of a political crisis which destroyed the country’s already fragile, aid-dependent economy.

Rajaonarimampianina, winner of compromise elections orchestrated by the Southern African Development Community, is the first step towards a solution to the crisis. Although he is no political neutral, seen as a proxy for former President Andriy Rajoelina (who precipitated the crisis by unseating President Marc Ravalomanana in a coup in 2009), he is still a fresh start, and – unlike Rajoelina – he carries a legitimate mandate from the people.

The second step on Madagascar’s long road to recovery came on Monday, at the African Union summit in Addis Ababa, where Madagascar’s suspension from the continental body was formally lifted. Justifying their decision, the AU’s Peace and Security Council referenced the country’s “inclusive, credible and legitimate” elections and the completion of the transition process and the restoration of constitutional order”.

Welcome home, Madagascar. You are no longer a pariah state.

This has its advantages. For a start, all sanctions against Malagasy leaders have been lifted, meaning they are all now free to travel and to move money around. If anyone has been hoarding their ill-gotten gains, they’re safe now. More significantly, the AU seal of approval is a message to donors that they can resume propping up the Malagasy economy, which pre-2009 relied on aid money for up to 40% of the government budget.

Right now, the economy needs all the help it can get. “Most people know the island as the home for lemurs, but few know that it is home to 22 million people – with 20 million living on less than $2 per day,” observed analysts Jason Pack and Brian Klaas, writing together in the Huffington Post. “For most, life has deteriorated sharply since the 2009 coup. While politicians prospered, people suffered.”

Pack and Klaas question the AU’s glowing endorsement of Madagascar’s elections, pointing out that the entire election process was compromised by a complete lack of transparency. “In Africa and around the developing world, election-day rigging is amateur hour. International observers easily detect ballot box stuffing. Other forms of pre-election manipulation, however, remain shrouded in an opportunistic cloud, allowing strongmen to do their dirty work and get away with it. Let’s be clear: this is not to say that Madagascar’s election was stolen. We don’t know if it was, because there was so little transparency surrounding critical aspects of democratic fairness.”

The analysts also worry about Rajaonarimampianina’s relationship with former President Rajoelina. Already, there are mutterings that Rajoelina would like to take over the position of Prime Minister (a move known in political science circles as ‘doing a Putin’). Should this happen, it’s likely to again inflame tensions with Ravolamanana’s camp and undo all the progress made so far. On the other hand, should Rajaonarimampianina choose to deny Rajoelina, he could choose to use his still-considerable influence (especially over the armed forces) to destabilise the new administration.

There are, in other words, still plenty of hurdles for Madagascar to overcome before it can properly begin to reverse the decline of the last five years. No wonder Rajaonarimampianina hasn’t got time to write his own speeches. DM

Read more:

  • Madagascar’s Radio DJ President Jockeys for Power on Huffington Post
  • African Union welcomes Madagascar back after power handover on Reuters

Photo: Hery Rajaonarimampianina (C) is congratulated after he was declared Madagascar’s president-elect by the electoral court in Antananarivo January 17, 2014. Madagascar’s electoral court declared the former finance minister as the president-elect on Friday despite allegations by his defeated rival Jean Louis Robinson that the December run-off vote was rigged. REUTERS/John Friedrich Rabenandro


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