Madagascar in crisis again

A plague of locusts is sweeping over the troubled Indian Ocean island state of Madagascar. But this is nothing compared with the destruction being caused by the country’s politicians.

Last week they plunged the country into yet another crisis by impeaching President Hery Rajaonarimampianina.

He was only elected at the end of 2013 in a poll which everyone hoped had brought an end to the protracted crisis which was sparked by the toppling of the last elected president, Marc Ravalomanana in a coup in March 2009.

Yet, within 18 months, Rajaonarimampianina went from election victory to impeachment last Tuesday by an overwhelming majority of MPs, 121 of the 151 in parliament.

Why? The president’s opponents reportedly accused him of violating Madagascar’s constitution and the secular nature of the state by giving speeches in churches.

That hardly seems sufficient reason to plunge into crisis a country facing far more pressing problems than the comparatively esoteric question of the separation of church and state.

Diplomats posted to Antananarivo acknowledge that President Hery has struggled to solve pressing social issues of poverty, disease and crime.

Yet he appeared to be doing a reasonable job in a difficult situation. He was navigating his way around the persistent problem presented by Ravalomanana who had remained exiled in South Africa since the coup, prevented from returning by Andry Rajoelina, who had ousted him, and then President Hery.

Ravalomanana eventually flew in under the radar last year and popped up on the balcony of his home in the capital, denouncing President Hery to the media. President Hery had him arrested and imprisoned far away in the north of the island.

But then under pressure from foreign powers, including South Africa, President Hery allowed him to return in December to house arrest in the capital, to participate in a national reconciliation dialogue he had launched. And then recently he was freed completely.

Rajoelina had chosen President Hery as a tame, proxy candidate to stand for him in the 2013 elections, which he himself was barred from contesting. But once elected, President Hery became his own man and so fell out with Rajoelina.

President Hery was deserted by his own party in parliament. So he had established an alliance with Ravalomanana. But now it appears that Ravalomanana stabbed him in the back by entering into an unholy alliance with Rajoelina to muster the two-thirds majority needed to impeach President Hery.

Piers Pigou, Southern African head of the International Crisis Group, agrees it is hard to fathom exactly what is motivating the Malagasy politicians.

On the one hand he sees very petty motivations, noting that one of the reasons even President Hery’s own party had deserted him in parliament, was that he blocked moves by MPs to vote themselves each a 4X4 vehicle.

But he also says that MPs might have been genuinely concerned that President Hery was about to dissolve parliament, as he had apparently hinted a few weeks ago, for persistently blocking his desperately need recovery programme for Madagascar.

Either way, Pigou says, the Malagasy politicians have plunged the country into a new crisis and do not seem to be acting in the wider interests of Madagascar.

President Hery has challenged his impeachment, which will be reviewed by the Constitutional Court.

If it upholds parliament’s decision, the constitution requires President Hery to call for new national elections, but those would be highly disruptive, when the country is already about to hold them at local level.

Pigou fears that the army, which helped Rajoelina topple Ravalomanana, might step into the breach again.

This does indeed look in the end like a case of fickle, venal – and reckless – Malagasy politicians acting purely in their own interests.

The international community which has been patiently trying to steer the country in the direction of its own good for six years must be muttering “A plague on all your houses”. – IOL

June 2015
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