/ 18 March 2010

AU imposes sanctions on Madagascar

The African Union (AU) has imposed sanctions on Madagascar’s President, Andry Rajoelina, and 108 other people in the Indian Ocean island who have backed Africa’s youngest leader since he seized power a year ago.

The AU said in February it would impose targeted sanctions if there was no progress by March 16 on forming a new government with the three main opposition groups to restore constitutional order as soon as possible.

Some analysts said the sanctions were largely symbolic and would have little impact on Rajoelina’s rule, as long as influential military allies continued to back him.

“The sanctions consist of a refusal to grant visas, the freezing of assets, including their financial assets in foreign banks, and diplomatic isolation,” said Ramtane Lamamra, the AU Commissioner for Peace and Security.

Others targeted included government officials, senior military officers who have backed the president, and key supporters who are seen as obstacles to a negotiated solution to the crisis.

“I hope the sanctions will have the effect of nurturing wisdom among the parties and the realisation that the solution has to be based on consensus,” said Lamamra.

The AU said it will now send a request to the United Nations asking it to recognise the punitive measures.

‘Wake-up call’
Rajoelina and three former presidents agreed a power-sharing deal in Mozambique last year but disagreements over top government posts scuppered progress. The accord was then revived at talks in Ethiopia, only to flounder for the same reasons.

The European Union, which has suspended aid worth hundreds of millions of dollars, is also mulling sanctions.

Rajoelina has said the sanctions would hit the people of Madagascar most, while analysts said there would be little impact on the already struggling economy from the AU measures.

“It is a purely political gesture and will probably have no impact whatsoever on the government,” said Edward George of the London-based Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU).

Former president Marc Ravalomanana handed over power to senior military leaders exactly a year ago after weeks of violent protests against his increasingly authoritarian rule.

The top brass then named Rajoelina leader of the world’s fourth-largest island, which is increasingly eyed by major foreign companies for its oil, nickel, cobalt, uranium and gold.

Ravalomanana, a self-made millionaire who remains exiled in South Africa, implored Rajoelina to resume talks.

“I hope that these targeted sanctions will spur Andry Rajoelina into cooperating with the international community and that they serve as a wake-up call,” he said in a statement. — Reuters