04 May 2009
Madagascar: Seizure of Power
The seemingly unlikely rise to power of Andry Rajoelina, was triggered by contemporary international turbulence and instability, namely the global financial crisis and mounting apprehensions over food security. From Keesings.
By Keesing's World News Archive staff for Keesing's Worldwide
Violent anti-government protests erupted in Antananarivo (the capital) in late January when supporters of the city's mayor, Andry Rajoelina, took to the streets demanding the resignation of President Marc Ravalomanana and his cabinet. Tension had started to rise in mid-January when the government closed down Rajoelina's Viva television station. The mayor had been using the station to criticise Ravalomanana and to press for the resignation of ministers whom he accused of selling off Malagasy land to the South Korean company Daewoo. After a week of violence that left up to 100 dead, Rajoelina had announced that he was "in charge" of the country.
The first signs that Ravalomanana was losing his fight for power with Rajoelina became apparent on 10 March when Mamy Solofoniaina Ranaivoniarivo announced his resignation as minister of defence against the background of a mutiny in one of the army's strategic camps in Antananarivo. Ravalomanana eventually capitulated on 17 March when he confirmed his resignation as president and the transfer of his duties to "a military directorate." The military chiefs quickly endorsed Rajoelina as president of a transitional authority which would organise elections within 24 months. The High Constitutional Court endorsed Rajoelina as the country's transitional president on 18 March.
Despite Madagascar's long history of upheaval, the seemingly unlikely rise to power of Andry Rajoelina, was triggered by contemporary international turbulence and instability, namely the global financial crisis and mounting apprehensions over food security. President Ravalomanana, a millionaire and the owner of Tiko, Madagascar's largest food conglomerate, had made his way into politics through the city hall and, initially, he was very popular. Ravalomanana's efforts to shift the island into the global economy brought benefits for big business, and especially for the Tiko conglomerate, which traded in a multitude of consumables, including basic foodstuffs. As food prices began to rise dramatically in 2008, resentment against Tiko and Ravalomanana increased, especially when rumours began to circulate that the president owed some US$100 million in unpaid taxes, whilst 70 percent of the population were scraping by on less than US$2 a day.
Hostility rose to boiling point in early 2009 when it emerged that President Ravalomanana had agreed to lease a huge tract of farmland to Dawoo Logistics, to allow the company to grow corn to send back to South Korea. South Korea's long-term target was to import up to half of its corn requirement, therefore cutting its dependence on the US, Argentina and Brazil. The plan was the most high-profile of several smaller foreign agricultural investments in Africa. This new drive to outsource production was a sign of how many countries in Asia and the Middle East, including Saudi Arabia and the UAE, were desperately seeking food security after becoming unnerved by the sudden 2008 food price crisis, which saw record prices for staples and the imposition of export restrictions. Dawoo's plan was, however, particular controversial because it appeared that the South Korean company was expecting to pay nothing for the land - it was the revelation of this detail that proved to be the catalyst that turned a general dissatisfaction with the rule of President Ravalomanana into a relentless full-scale rebellion.
Rajoelina's political rise was meteoric: after making his fortune in advertising - he built the country's foremost billboard advertising operation - and marrying into Malagasy aristocracy, Rajoelina entered politics in December 2007, winning the contest for mayor of Antananarivo with ease. At only 34, Rajoelina was still six years too young for the presidency, according to the country's constitution.
Rajoelina's initial stand against Ravalomanana in January triggered a heavy-handed response when the army turned their guns on protesters. In response, Rajoelina adopted the modern Eastern European model of protest, co-ordinating peaceful, daily demonstrations against the "dictatorship" in the centre of the capital. The key turning point in the contest came in mid-March when young army officers sided with Rajoelina and backed his rebellion. Somewhat inevitably, once Ravalomanana had been forced out of Madagascar - starting a tour of African capitals in an effort to garner support - rumours began circulating that Rajoelina was a frontman for exiled former dictator, Didier Ratsiraka.
Reaction and outlook
Throughout the acrimonious two-month power struggle between Ravalomanana and Rajoelina, the president was adamant that he would not yield to the demands of the opposition. Ultimately, however, the tide of anti-government sentiment proved too strong for him, particularly after the army threw its considerable weight behind Rajoelina. On 16 March around 100 troops stormed the presidential palace in Antananarivo and also laid siege to the central bank. According to the army, the aim was to "hasten" the president's departure. The military action came days after Ravalomanana had offered to hold a referendum on his premiership, a move rejected outright by the opposition. Bowing to the army, and public pressure, Ravalomanana announced on national radio on March 17 that, after deep reflection, he had decided, voluntarily, to relinquish power to a military directorate. The military then handed transitional power to Rajoelina, who claimed that his was a victory of "true democracy" over dictatorship.
Rajoelina asserted that the actions of the coup were not illegal. However, regional and international reaction to the events was largely supportive of Ravalomanana, leading a number of commentators to question whether Rajoelina would be able to consolidate his power. After a meeting of the African Union Peace and Security Council (AUPSC) in Addis Ababa (the capital of Ethiopia) on 20 March, the chairperson of the AU commission, Jean Ping, underscored "the imperative for a rapid return to constitutional order". Ping stressed "the readiness of the AU to support an inclusive process for a return to constitutional order that would respect the constitution of Madagascar" and called on all member states and partners "to refrain from any action likely to reinforce the illegality in Madagascar". The AU had in recent times become increasingly intolerant of illegal seizures of power. In March 2008 the AU had dispatched 1,000 Tanzanian and Sudanese troops to the Comoros to attack the rebel island of Anjouan and remove Col Mohammed Bacar, the disputed president of the semi-autonomous island.
An extraordinary summit of the Southern African Development Community (SADC), the 15-country regional group which included Madagascar, on 30 March "condemned in the strongest terms the unconstitutional actions that have led to the illegal ousting of the democratically elected government of Madagascar and called for an immediate restoration of constitutional order in the country". The summit decided not to recognise Rajoelina as president "as his appointment did not only violate the constitution of Madagascar and democratic principles, but also violated the core principles and values of the SADC treaty." It suspended Madagascar from all of the SADC's institutions and organs and urged Rajoelina to vacate the office of the president as "a matter of urgency paving way for unconditional reinstatement of President Ravalomanana."
On March 20 the US state department condemned the process through which Ravalomanana was forced to resign and Rajoelina subsequently installed as the de facto head of state as "undemocratic and contrary to the rule of law". This series of events was "tantamount to a coup d'tat" and in view of these developments, the US would move to suspend all non-humanitarian assistance to Madagascar.
African and Indonesian settlers are believed to have first arrived on the island of Madagascar over 2000 years ago. The location of the island as a trade route between Africa and Asia resulted in the French East Indian Trading company establishing several French trading posts on the east of the island during the seventeenth century, and Madagascar was eventually annexed by the French in 1896.
A 1947 nationalist uprising, in which 90,000 were killed, eventually resulted in Madagascar gaining independence in 1960. In the early 1970s the military seized power, and in June 1975, Didier Ratsiraka came to power in a coup. The guiding principle of Ratsiraka's administration was the need for a socialist "revolution from above". Ratsiraka became the dominant figure in Malagasy politics, serving as effective military ruler in the 1970s and 1980s, voted out of office in 1993 on a wave of pro-democracy sentiment, only to be voted back in 1997.
Marc Ravalomanana, a member of the Merina ethnic group and a self-made millionaire, emerged on the political scene in November 1999 when he was elected as mayor of Antananarivo. During his time as mayor Ravalomanana was credited with cleaning up Antananarivo and he quickly gained unprecedented levels of public support, especially in urban Madagascar. In August 2001 he announced that he intended to challenge Ratsiraka in the forthcoming presidential elections.
The first round of the presidential contest, held on 16 December 2001, ended in a result that was so close that it remained in dispute at the end of the year. Official figures released by the High Constitutional Court in January 2002 gave Ravalomanana 46 percent of the vote, but Ratsiraka, who polled 40 percent, demanded a second round of voting. Ravalomanana, however, claimed he had won the contest in the first round and refused to participate in a second round. Ravalomanana had himself sworn in as president in February after his supporters had demonstrated in his favour and staged strikes which brought the economy to a halt. Ratsiraka initially tried to carry on as president from his power base in the eastern key seaport of Toamasina (Ratsiraka's home province). With the support of a number of provincial governors, Ratsiraka imposed a blockade on Antananarivo, but he gradually lost the support of the civil service, the church and, crucially, the army.
Attempts were made to mediate by various regional organisations, and eventually it was agreed to recount the votes from the first round of voting in December 2001. From this process, overseen by officials from Senegal, Ravalomanana was declared the winner of the contest by the High Constitutional Court on 29 April, with 51.5 percent of the vote. Ravalomanana finally had his self-declared presidency publicly legitimised on 6 May when he was sworn into office. Ravalomanana's legitimacy was given a massive boost on 26 June when the US officially recognised him as the legitimate president.
The seven month battle for the presidency was finally won on 5 July by Ravalomanana when Ratsiraka fled to the Seychelles, and then on to France. Ravalomanana's government gained control of the entire island a few days later after peacefully taking over Toamasina. Legislative elections, held on 15 December 2002, resulted in an emphatic victory for Ravalomanana's recently-formed party, I Love Madagascar (TIM), which won 103 of 160 seats. Ratsiraka's previously ruling Vanguard of the Malagasy Revolution (AREMA),won only three seats.
Presidential elections held on 3 December 2006, resulted in another victory for Ravalomanana, who won almost 55 percent of the vote. Ravalomanana's closest challengers were Jean Lahiniriko, a former speaker of the National Assembly, and Roland Ratsiraka, a nephew of Didier Ratsiraka, who together won almost 22 per cent of the vote. The country's main opposition figure, Pierrot Jocelyn Rajaonarivelo of AREMA, had in October been prevented by the authorities from returning to Madagascar from exile in France.
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