Call to free Madagascar’s ex-president

International institutions such as the United Nations, Amnesty International and the International Committee of the Red Cross should put pressure on the government in Madagascar to release former president Marc Ravalomanana from forced house arrest, says his spokesperson.

South African human rights lawyer Brian Currin says Ravalomanana’s family is worried about the health of the 64-year-old Ravalomanana, who returned to his home country earlier this week after five years in exile in South Africa.

After speaking to supporters from the balcony of his home in the capital Antananarivo on Monday morning, heavily armed military police turned up and escorted him out of the building, according to local media.

It was not initially clear where he was being held, but it now emerges that he is at a state “resort” in the north of the country, says Currin.

Ravalomanana’s son, Tojo, alleges his father was kidnapped. But President Hery Rajaonarimampianina says Ravalomanana is being held for his own protection.

“They’ve said his family can come and visit him, but it is 700km from the capital across very difficult terrain and will take 15 hours to drive there,” said Currin.

“If his life is in danger, he can be protected in his own home,” he said.

Currin dismissed a statement from the African Union condemning Ravalomanana’s surprise return as “disingenuous”.

Dlamini-Zuma lashes out
AU chairperson Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma on Wednesday lashed out against Ravalomanana. She said in a statement that he had returned “without the knowledge of either the authorities in Madagascar or the Southern African Development Community (SADC)”. Dlamini-Zuma “firmly condemned” comments made by Ravalomanana upon his return.

“The chairperson of the commission considers that the questioning [by Ravalomanana] of the legitimacy of the Malagasy institutions, the result of free and democratic elections, recognised by the entire international community, including the AU and SADC, is an unacceptable provocation,” reads the statement.

According to the local online newspaper, Midi Madagascar, Ravalomanana said upon his return that “things should change” and that he was not prepared to wait for 2018 (when the next elections are scheduled).

Radio France International quoted Ravalomanana as saying: “I was in power, I was overthrown. I am back in Madagascar now and Malagasies know what they have to do.”

In her statement, released in French, Dlamini-Zuma called on Malagasies to “show restraint and responsibility” and “abstain from any actions that can compromise the gains made after a long and difficult transition”.

The statement makes no reference to Ravalomanana’s house arrest.

Negotiations over Ravalomanana’s return 
SADC had been facilitating the political process in Madagascar for a number of years and managed to convince political leaders to call elections without the main protagonists in the ongoing political crisis – coup leader Andry Rajoelina and Ravalomanana.

The elections on December 20 were won by former finance minister Rajaonarimampianina.

But Currin says the organisation reneged on its promise that Ravalomanana could return home after the elections.

He says he received no response from SADC or the government in Madagascar, despite numerous attempts to contact them in the past six months.

Currin facilitated a meeting between Ravalomanana and Rajaonarimampianina in May this year where both men agreed to a process of negotiation about Ravalomanana’s return, he says.

While in exile, Ravalomanana was sentenced to 25 years forced labour by a tribunal set up after the coup d’état of former DJ and Antananarivo mayor Rajoelina.

Piers Pigou, the Southern Africa programme director of the International Crisis Group, says SADC’s “reconciliation road map”, drawn up in 2011, does provide for Ravalomanana’s eventual return to the island, possible amnesty for the actors in the political crisis and reparations.

However, little progress was being made with the reconciliation process.

According to Pigou, who has done extensive research on the Madagascar crisis, the exiled former president’s return is the first major test for Rajaonarimampianina.

“Ravalomanana’s return will now catalyse a situation that has been stagnant,” he says.

“It has been the president’s concern for some time that Ravalomanana’s return could foster insecurity.”

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Liesl Louw-Vaudran
Liesl Louw-Vaudran
Liesl Louw-Vaudran is an independent journalist and Africa expert. She lived in Senegal for many years and has reported from over 20 African countries. She is a regular commentator on African issues in the local and international media. From 2002 to 2008 she was the Africa Editor at Media24 newspapers in South Africa and still contributes to newspapers such as the Mail&Guardian in Johannesburg. Liesl also works as a consultant for the Institute for Security Studies, notably as editor of the African Union Peace and Security Council Report.
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