/ 18 September 2018

SADC’s problem child is going to the polls

The military is the second pillar in securing the presidency in Madagascar.
The military is the second pillar in securing the presidency in Madagascar.


Hery Rajaonarimampianina, Madagascar’s president since January 25 2014, has stepped down, in line with the Constitution, to seek a second term in the November 2018 elections.

One of his last defiant acts was to attempt to block the candidacy of the two former presidents, Andry Nirina Rajoelina (2009-2014) and Marc Ravalomanana (2002-2009), citing the tenuous article 25 (4) of the African Union’s Charter on Democracy, Elections and Governance protocol that prohibits “anyone who has participated in the unconstitutional change of government”.

The High Constitutional Court overruled this.

Rajaonarimampianina’s act was a curious one because, in 2013, when the Southern African Development Community (SADC) barred Rajoelina and Ravalomanana from contesting, each put up a proxy candidate, and it was Rajaonarimampianina, supported by Rajoelina, who triumphed. Confronted with a common challenge, ever so briefly, Rajoelina and Ravalomanana found common cause, with their legal teams collaborating, until they forced Rajaonarimampianina to back down.

Among the 46 presidential candidates who have registered are the three former presidents, popularly known as the “accountant” (Rajaonarimampianina), the “DJ” (Rajoelina) and the “milkman” (Ravalomanana) referring to the previous occupations of each. Even when Rajaonarimampianinawas Rajoelina’s protégé, today, each of the three represents divisive characters, leading ideologically and deeply opposed constituencies.

What then are the perceived challenges for a country placed under SADC sanctions as a result of a political crisis between March 2009 and October 2014?

There are at least two underlying dimensions to the political stability and presidency of Madagascar whose congruence, if absent, results in the chaos that has been characteristic of political succession on the island in the past.

The first dimension is that, based on the stated and existing French interests, the president of Madagascar serves at the pleasure of Paris. History and empirical evidence has demonstrated this to be the case

To this end, Madagascar is an important satellite centre for Francophone policy and includes control of the neighbouring islands of Mayotte and Réunion. As a consequence, Paris has designated Antananarivo as one of eight key centres for investment. The others include Berlin, Rabat, London, Rome, Washington, Dakar and Madrid.

There is a large French population, numbering more than 25 000 citizens, spread throughout the three islands. Paris has also created a French triangular security umbrella, which includes a deep sea-harbour capable of taking in submarine vessels and an aviation runway alongside the Ivato International Airport in Antananarivo. French state-owned and private sector investments represent more than 140 major monopoly cartels as well as more than 500 small- to medium-scale businesses. These have effectively crowded out local participation.

When Ravalomanana replaced former Admiral Didier Ratsiraka (1975-1993 and 1997-2002) he attempted to banish the French, their culture and business operations from the island. This was particularly evident after he won the second term in 2006. But, even with its embassy closed and Ravalomanana openly working through Rajoelina, by March 2009, the military walked into Ravalomanana’s office and “at gunpoint” ordered him to hand over power.

The military is the second pillar in securing the presidency in Madagascar. In the contemporary era, working with highly confidential, diplomatic cables that became available to the public in November 2010 through Julian Assange’s WikiLeaks, the uncompromising French position was clear until proxies amenable to their interests were restored in office.

The local French residents mounted a spirited and successful“Anyone but Ravalomanana” campaign.

The role of the military in Madagascar’s politics emerges from a review, considering the situation since 1972: “On 18 May 1972, Philibert Tsiranana was forced to hand over power to General Gabriel Ramanantsoa; on 5 February 1975, Ramanantsoa gives full powers to Richard Ratsimandrava, who is assassinated within days on 11 February 1975. 

“During the night of 11 to 12 February 1975 the executive military led by General Gilles Andriamahazo takes power until 15 June 1975, when they elect Admiral Didier Ratsiraka as head of the state; on 31 October 1991 Ratsiraka loses the power struggle with the transitional prime minister, Guy Willy Razanamasy. 

“Following a series of strikes and daily demonstrations the National Guard opens fire on the crowds and an estimated 100 people are killed; Ratsiraka agrees to a referendum and elections in 1992-93; on 27 March 1993, Albert Zafy wins election but soon ran into trouble leading to his impeachment by the National Assembly; on 9 February 1997, retired admiral and former president Ratsiraka returns from exile in France and resumes power; in late 2001 Ratsiraka refuses to concede; the disputed elections result in a near civil war during which the military then switch sides. 

“On 22 February 2002, former mayor Marc Ravalomanana self-proclaims his presidency and in May 2002, Ratsiraka flees, for the second time, to exile in France. On 17 March 2009, following further rotaka protests and scores of fatalities from live firing by the armed forces, Ravalomanana is forced to hand over power before fleeing to exile in South Africa, fearing for his life.” 

The military, nominally, “immediately hands over” power to Rajoelina who self-declares himself president on 21 March 2009. 

In conclusion, SADC was, unwittingly, invited as a buffer between Ravalomanana’s administration in its fight with Paris and became part of the failure to dislodge French interests from the islands.

The factors identified above must coalesce around some consensus to result in a caretaker domestic presidency in Antananarivo for Madagascar’s artificial stability to be maintained.

Professor Martin R Rupiya is at the Institute for African Renaissance Studies at Unisa