Ex-president’s mysterious exit

South Africa’s security agencies have launched an investigation into how Marc Ravalomanana, the former president of Madagascar, left the country illegally.

He left without a passport and flew to Madagascar two weeks ago without the knowledge of the South African authorities.

He had been living in exile, hosted by South Africa, since being ousted in a coup in his country in 2009.

According to sources, he gave his VIP protection the slip while staying in a hotel in Pietermaritzburg and travelled back to Johannesburg, where he had been living for the past few years. He then flew in a private Cessna plane to Madagascar without proper travel documents on Sunday October 19. It is unclear how he managed to land in his country without documentation.

The following day his home in Antananarivo was surrounded by military police. Ravalomanana is being held at a military base 700km from the capital in the north of the country.

Commitments not kept
His spokesperson, Brian Currin, admitted that the former president left the country illegally, but said it was justified because neither the Southern African Development Community (SADC) nor Madagascar’s President Hery Rajaonarimampianina had kept to commitments that Ravalomanana would be allowed to go home. “Unless he forced his way back, there was no other way for him to return,” Currin said this week.

In 2012, an SA Airlink plane en route to Madagascar was forced to return to South Africa because Ravalomanana was on board.

Currin said Ravalomanana did not have a passport because it had expired and a new passport hadn’t been issued to him, despite a written commitment by the authorities in Madagascar 10 months ago.

Ravalomanana is also under investigation by the National Prosecuting Authority on charges relating to events in Madagascar. The investigation is still ongoing, an NPA spokesperson told the M&G. In 2012 a Malagasy rights group brought a complaint against him involving the shooting of protestors by Ravalomanana’s forces during the coup in 2009.

Aviation experts say to fly someone out of the country, even from a small private airfield, without the knowledge of any authorities, would be difficult but theoretically it can be done.

Guy Lietch, the editor of SA Flyer magazine, said any pilot who planned to fly across an international boundary had to submit a flight plan and state how many passengers were on board.

Airport authorities will check whether the correct procedures were followed and the correct general documentation signed and approved.

“To fly out without authorisation would mean flying literally under the radar and few pilots would risk their careers to do that,” Lietch said. Rumours circulated in the media in Madagascar that Ravalomanana flew back on a plane chartered by SADC but the organisation said in a statement last week it was unaware of his return.

Sources close to the department of international relations and co-operation say South Africa is happy that Ravalomanana is back in his country. But his surprising return now forces Rajaonarimampianina to deal with issues of reconciliation and of Ravalomanana’s conviction in absentia to 25 years hard labour for the deaths of protestors during the 2009 coup.

Fake passport
A senior government official said he used a fake passport and that home affairs had no record of him leaving the country. The international relations department refused to comment and the home affairs department said it had “no idea about that”.

Ivor Jenkins, of the political consultancy In Transformation Initiative, said Rajaonarimampianina would either have to pardon the former president or grant him amnesty so that the country could move forward and resolve its deep-seated political problems.

Jenkins was part of a delegation that included former deputy minister of international relations Ebrahim Ebrahim and veteran negotiator Roelf Meyer that visited Madagascar at the invitation of Rajaonarimampianina in August this year.

“Our advice to the president was to get all the former presidents around the table,” Jenkins said. “There is a coup in Madagascar roughly every eight years and the challenge is to break that cycle.”

The group then met Ravalomanana in Johannesburg where it became clear the former president believed he had huge support in his home country. That was probably what prompted him to make threatening statements on his return, Jenkins said.

The situation in Madagascar was still on a knife edge, Jenkins said, and Ravalomanana could be relieved that there wasn’t more violence on his return. A former coup leader, Andry Rajoelina, also still has widespread support in the country. – Additional reporting by staff reporters

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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