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Madagascar's Political Crisis: How SADC Saved the Day?

Since Andry Rajoelina's de facto coup in 2009, SADC has taken the lead in mediating Madagascar's political crisis. This year will finally see elections.
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SADC's Madagascar mediation main players. From left to right: Tomaz Salomão (executive secretary of SADC), former Mozambican president Joachim Chissano, President Jacob Zuma of South Africa, President Jakaya Kikwete of Tanzania. Photo by GovernmentZA.

Since March 2009, when President Marc Ravalomanana of Madagascar was ousted in a de facto coup by his political rival Andry Rajoelina, the Southern Africa Development Community (SADC) has had a difficult path to chart.

Following the overthrow, SADC recognised that Madagascar was reliant on external development assistance and foreign investment, and that economic normalisation could only occur when the international community declared the country constitutionally rehabilitated. In arbitrating in the political dispute, therefore, SADC has tried to stay true to its principle of condemning unconstitutionality whilst also engineering a democratic process satisfactory to interested parties, both nationally and internationally.

SADC’s combative start

Madagascar was a relative latecomer to membership of SADC, joining in 2005 as part of then-president Ravalomanana’s economic diversification strategy and his efforts to foster relations with Madagascar’s Anglophone neighbours on the mainland – SADC being predominantly English-speaking. Membership was not enthusiastically supported by all the political and commercial elite, particularly amongst the Merina ethnic group who see their Polynesian ancestry as distinguishing them culturally from mainland Africans.

Nevertheless, following the coup, SADC took the lead in mediating a solution. The regional body initially took a robust line. It followed the African Union in suspending Madagascar’s membership, and explicitly supported Ravalomanana as the elected, constitutional head of state. The executive secretary of SADC, Tomaz Salomão, called on Rajoelina “to vacate the office of the president as a matter of urgency, paving the way for the unconditional reinstatement of President Ravalomanana”.

Furthermore, SADC threatened sanctions and even discussed, albeit quietly, a potential military intervention by its standby brigade, SADCBRIG. Although highly unlikely and logistically probably impossible, Rajoelina used the threat of it to launch a vociferous nationalistic repudiation of SADC aggression and signalled his intention to withdraw Madagascar from the regional organisation.

Tentative talks

Finding itself increasingly diplomatically isolated amidst the less combative responses from other international actors, SADC backed down. Salomão, SADC’s Mozambican executive secretary, appointed his ex-boss, the former Mozambican president Joaquim Chissano, to try to mediate a political consensus for new elections.

Chissano’s appointment went a long way towards calming the relationship between the SADC and Rajoelina’s unilaterally established provisional government, the High Transitional Authority (HAT). Rajoelina was more comfortable negotiating with Chissano, partly thanks to his international stature, but due to the fact Chissano had also once been head of a non-Anglophone member of SADC. Even so, SADC blocked Rajoelina from assuming the trappings of sovereign authority and speaking for Madagascar before the General Assembly.

However, other commitments eventually forced Chissano to take a more peripheral role, allowing fellow negotiator Leonardo Simão to take over as SADC special envoy. Significantly (between Salomão, Chissano and Simão), the three most public external actors were now all Mozambican.

Throughout 2010, the positions of Rajoelina, Ravalomanana and SADC became entrenched. Rajoelina, in particular, sensed that although superficially united, the disparate parts of the international community (through incapacity, economic and political disinterest or lack of will) were incrementally acceding to his agenda.

His strategy of obstructing and stalling was seemingly rewarded in January 2011 when Simão announced a radically redrawn roadmap to end the crisis. He still proposed a consensual transition leading to elections, but recognised Rajoelina as president with the authority to appoint ministers including the prime minister. Furthermore, Rajoelina was granted the right to stand in future presidential elections – with the proviso he stand down as interim president 60 days before the poll. Most saliently, however was the prohibition of Ravalomanana’s return from exile until “a favourable political and security climate” was in place.

The right to return, and the choice to run

SADC had thus seemingly switched from uncompromising support of Ravalomanana’s constitutional legitimacy to an advocacy of consensus, acquiescing to Rajoelina’s increasingly unchallenged exercise of authority. Yet Rajoelina still maintained his strategy of intransigence, controversially reappointing his close ally, Albert Camille Vital, as prime minister rather than a more palatable compromise candidate, and suggesting a timetable that had little regard for SADC’s conditions. Rajoelina’s obstinacy ruffled the feathers of the Mozambican mediation team.

There was also a period of vigorous lobbying of key African mediators on the part of Ravalomanana as well as former Malagasy presidents, Didier Ratsiraka and Albert Zafy. In particular, South Africa’s President Jacob Zuma used his influence to dilute revisions to the roadmap.

On June 13, 2012, SADC announced that the roadmap would stand, but with one vital modification. The exiled former presidents (including Ravalomanana) should be allowed unconditionally to return to Madagascar and participate in electoral politics. Rajoelina, supported by the army, rejected this new plan. He warned that, should he return, Ravalomanana would face imprisonment for the murder of protesters during the last days of his presidency – crimes for which he had already been convicted.

The influence of President Zuma became more pronounced as a new deal was hammered out and signed by representatives of nearly all the key political parties, stipulating the unconditional return of, and amnesty for, Ravalomanana and the formation of an interim cabinet in the run-up to elections. After inconclusive meetings between Rajoelina and Ravalomanana in the Seychelles, SADC leaders met in Maputo in August 2012 where they endorsed the calendar proposed by the UN and the Independent Electoral Commission for the Transition.

In late 2012, with Zuma preoccupied by domestic politics, President Jakaya Kikwete of Tanzania took over the role of lead mediator. Unencumbered by having offered sanctuary to one of the protagonists (as Zuma had Ravalomanana), Kikwete urged a ‘neither…nor’ solution whereby Ravalomanana and Rajoelina would both agree not to stand in elections scheduled for May 2013.

In December 2012, with Rajoelina having already implied that he would not stand if Ravalomanana reciprocated, the latter called his bluff and announced that he would not run. In January 2013, Rajoelina acquiesced, saying he too would not stand but “sacrifice himself for the sake of the Malagasy people”.

Southern comfort?

Unlike the Zimbabwean case, for which SADC has long been criticised by sections of the international community for prevarication, SADC’s role in Madagascar reads positively. With the exception of the January 2011 roadmap, SADC remained true to the principle of constitutionality, consistently spelling out that Rajoelina would not be allowed to benefit from a de facto coup.

Furthermore, the regional organisation arguably showed itself to be greater than the sum of its parts, with Mozambique and Tanzania taking leading roles as well as its most powerful member South Africa. However, with successive rounds of polling looming in July and September, the political impasse in Madagascar is far from fully resolved.

Negotiating Ravalomanana’s return to Madagascar remains the most contentious issue that SADC faces. In particular, Rajoelina could seek to exploit his own presence on the ground to promote a proxy candidate in the presidential poll and his party in the parliamentary election. If Rajoelina seeks to manipulate government from behind the scenes, in preparation for a comeback in 2018, SADC’s Malagasy headache could be far from over.

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