It is difficult to find anyone in Madagascar who thinks that the sanctions levelled on it by the Southern African Development Community (SADC), the EU and the US are justified. The official version of events is that there was no coup, merely a transfer of power that ousted a corrupt and unpopular president who was eroding the country’s democracy. Sanctions, therefore, are simply misguided and unfair.
The people of Antananarivo are weary of both the sanctions and the transitional government, and are clearly annoyed that ultimately they will have to pay the price for a dispute that was largely a conf lict among the country’s elite. In June, Madagascar celebrated its 50th year of independence from France without any major incidents, but there were small, silent protests in the form of people breaking with tradition and refusing to display flags from their homes.
For the president of the transitional government, Andry Rajoelina, it seems that little can be done until fresh elections are held. He has tried on several occasions to broker a deal that would remove the sanctions, but each time talks collapsed after demands were made for his resignation. Commenting on the sanctions, Mr Rajoelina begins diplomatically by thanking the SADC for trying to resolve the political crisis and says he will continue to work with it for a solution. He adds that there is agreement that elections should be held as soon as possible and on several other facets of the transition.
In a surprising gambit that is widely believed to have been made in the hope of ending the sanctions, Mr Rajoelina announced in May that he would not stand in the upcoming elections (a point he emphasised a number of times during his interview with fDi). He says it was a decision he made by himself, without any influence from the army. However, the move did not have the effect he had hoped, but at the very least it should eventually give the country a new government. Still, Mr Rajoelina has no illusions about the coming months. He fully recognises that they will be difficult for the country, but he believes that Madagascar is headed in the right direction.
While careful not to mention Madagascar’s previous president, Marc Ravalomanana, he says: “Since the days of the first republic [in 1958] until today, the Malagasy people have always hoped for a change for the better. This hope gave way to despair because there was nothing that had changed in their lives. “So when you talk about the current situation in the country, it is true that it is difficult, but this is part of the reform process. We are on the path to reform and this is the first time that the one in power will not run in the next presidential election. This has always been a problem in Madagascar and in Africa, because those in power always want to stay [in power]. Madagascar is not Africa, but there are still some practices here that we have inherited. But this will allow us to make the necessary reforms to the constitution, such as that the president will only be allowed to have two terms in office.” When Mr Rajoelina looks back at the events preceding the toppling of the previous government, for him there were three turning points.
There is a political problem, but there are investors who are active in [Madagascar] and believe in its future
The first was Mr Ravalomanana’s decision to purchase a $60m private jet with public funds. The second was a controversial deal with South Korean natural-resource development company Daewoo Logistics that would have allowed the firm to produce corn and palm oil across 1.3 million hectares of Malagasy land, almost half the farmland in the country. Lastly there was the tragic incident in which presidential palace guards opened fire on demonstrators, killing 28 people.
After power was granted to him by the army, Mr Rajoelina suspended parliament and annulled the Daewoo deal. He then made plans for a referendum on the country’s constitution in August, which recently has been delayed again, and general elections in November 2010. Elections are unlikely to take place without a vote on the constitution. Further problems came in the shape of clashes in the streets of capital city Antananarivo in May, incidents that Mr Rajoelina discredited as a failed attempt by certain factions to instigate a popular uprising. He says: “I wouldn’t even call it violence. We are not violent or rebellious people and it should be noted that there was no popular support for [the uprising].”
Uncertainty and worries over stability give investors allergic reactions, but Mr Rajoelina dismisses the notion that Madagascar’s governmental issues should deter foreign investors. Nor does he accept that the termination of the Daewoo deal means that the country is not open for foreign business. He points out that China has recently become more active in the country’s minerals and timber industries, and that there are many investment opportunities in tourism, infrastructure and, despite the Daewoo controversy, agriculture. When it comes to tourism, many members of Mr Rajoelina’s government look longingly at nearby countries such as Mauritius, and ask why smaller places are so far ahead of them in tourism, when only a few decades ago it was Madagascar that was considered to be more developed.
Mr Rajoelina says: “There is a risk in any investment. Of course things can go wrong. But it is a question of confidence and conscience. There are still plenty of foreigners who come and invest in Madagascar. They see the opportunities. You can see for yourself that there is not a civil war here. Life is more or less normal. There is a political problem and old politicians want to return to power, but there are investors who are active in the country and believe in its future. “In regards to Daewoo, you have to respect the law. In our constitution it is clearly stated that our land is not for sale. So this was a fundamental problem. You cannot go above the law. The land is sacred for us. So we are not against foreign investment, but it must be within the law. There must be a tender process. It is not logical for investors to come to Madagascar to take our natural resources when there is no return for our population.”
Watch and wait
Unfortunately, Mr Rajoelina’s words might not be enough to convince investors, and many will still want to wait and see what happens after the transitional government is replaced. Much will depend on the outcome of the legislative and presidential elections, which are scheduled for September and November, respectively. A long delay in the vote on the constitution would almost certainly push these votes back and make Madagascar’s situation increasingly difficult. Nonetheless, Mr Rajoelina is determined to push forward and have the elections on time. He says: “Concerning the elections, the most important thing is neutrality. Elections in the past have been merely symbolic because it was the state that organised them. If you were in opposition during these elections your campaign would be difficult. This time we have taken measures to stop this. All candidates will be represented throughout the country, and an independent commission will organise the vote.” Perhaps most importantly when it comes to the prospect of sanctions being lifted, international observers will be present and in a supervisory role, something Mr Rajoelina has said he is certain will allay concerns about the election’s fairness.
Rumours have also been circulating that Mr Rajoelina’s wife, Mialy, will stand in the presidential election. While this has not been confirmed or denied by either of them, Mr Rajoelina did drop a hint as to her intentions. He says: “We never respond to rumours because one finds that if it is a lie there is no point in responding. But my wife is very busy in social work. She is there to support me, but not to take my place. This isn’t our plan and we have never discussed it. However, in my opinion, I think that if she runs she will be elected.”