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Bloggers React to Gunfights and Change in Government in Madagascar

On May 20, Antananarivo was the scene of deadly gunfights between 21 FIGN elements, the elite National Gendarmes Intervention Force (FIGN), and the soldiers of the governmental EMMOREG. As reported by Voice of America :

“Officials in Madagascar's capital say one person was killed and five others wounded when rival security forces exchanged gunfire Thursday.

Witnesses say shooting broke out when army and military police (gendarme) forces confronted members of an elite police unit that was reported to be protesting abuses by their superiors.

Military police Colonel Richard Ravalomanana said 21 members of the unit were involved in the clash and remained holed up in their barracks. He said the man killed was a military police officer.”

The FIGN had intended to protect an anti-Rajoelina rally, during which the HFM would be present. The day before the gunfights, the FIGN had called for people to come attend the rally, saying they would ensure manifestants’ safety.

Citoyenne Malgache was on the scene :

On regarde les mouvements des véhicules et on écoute les échanges de tir. On voit la voiture du FIS qui revient (un autre coup de feu pour intimider) avec une 4×4 et une ambulance, et remontent à Antanimora. Contrairement à celle de la Croix Rouge qui était déjà là, cette ambulance en question montera jusqu’au premier barrage (une personne importante à évacuer ? Serait-ce Lylison ? ) puis redescendre avec la 4×4.

De notre poste d’observation, on a vu la 4×4 s’arrêter au carrefour et les militaires qui étaient dedans sont descendus avec leurs armes à lacrymogène… pour disperser les gens, puisqu’apparemment ils craignaient surement une autre attaque à coup de briques. Je ne sais pas de quoi nous avions l’air sur notre poste d’observation, mais les malins, ils nous ont visés !
La bombe est tombée juste à côté, sur le balcon d’une maison dont les occupants ne s’attendaient sûrement pas à être enfumés ainsi. (cette maison n’est même pas au bord de la route).”

“We are watching the vehicles'movements and are listening to the exchanges of gunfire. The FIS's car comes back (with another shot to scare us) with another SUV and an ambulance, and they climb up to Antanimora. This ambulance, unlike the Red Cross one which was already on site, will only drive up to the first barricade before climbing down again with the SUV (an important person to evacuate? Would it be Lylison ? Note of the Author : Lylison is one of FIS's leaders.
From our observation post, we see the SUV stop at the crossroads and the soldiers got off with their teargas weapons…to disperse the crowd, because apparently they feared another bricks attack. I do not know what we looked like but they aimed at us!
The grenade fell right near by, on the balcony of a house whose owners probably did not expect to be so smoked out. (this house is not even situated along the road). “

Freshly arrived from the Global Voices Summit in Santiago, Avylavitra and Jentilisa report on the event.

Jentilisa thinks the mutiny was doomed.

“Hitako fa tsy nivonona ho amina tolona fifampiarovana mahery vaika ny mpandala ny ara-dalàna nanaraka ny HMF. Tsy tokony ho navela hiasa irery ireo mpitandro ny filaminana niaro ny mpitolona fa nampiana tosika avy taty ivelany. Mitoetra hatrany ilay tsy fananana rindran-damina tokony ho nanaovana izany.”

“I think the legalists allied to the HMF were not ready to use violent means. The military police who protected the manifestants should not have worked alone, but should have had outside support. Strategy to achieve this was lacking.”

Avylavitra took pictures.

The soldiers’ infighting was long in coming. The FIGN had found themselves at odds with Andry Rajoelina's Haute Autorite de la Transition (High Authority of Transition), the current de facto administration, which got in power last year, after a coup by Andry Rajoelina, supported by the FIS , routed elected President Marc Ravalomanana  out of the country. The FIGN's revendications were the disappearance of 500 million Malagasy ariary, financed by Marc Ravalomanana. This they argue was never redistributed. Another source of contention was the repression by the HAT of any public manifestation on any other space than the parking lot of Ravalomanana's looted and ravaged grocery store.

“The mutinous group argues that General Bruno Razafindrakoto failed to redistribute some 500 million Malagasy ariary allocated to their garrison by Marc Ravalomanana in 2009. They also claim that on May 5, the FIGN had called for the replacement of the transitional government by a “military committee” which would be open to all political parties.”

An investigation to determine the fate of the 500 million Malagasy ariary was promised but got nowhere.

To Ndimby, a blogger, the sources of the armed forces conflict are even deeper :

“Les manœuvres de Didier Ratsiraka, l’incompétence dans le domaine de l’armée de Marc Ravalomanana, le tout parachevé par les manœuvres de déstabilisation de Rajoelina pour pouvoir nourrir ses ambitions : nul n’est besoin de revenir sur tout ça…Face à une armée déjà fragilisée par des décennies de gestion artisanale par les politiciens, Rajoelina a introduit auprès de certains militaires les germes du sacrilège : faire croire à des officiers et des soldats qu’on pouvait désobéir et n’en faire qu’à sa tête, sous prétexte de prendre ses responsabilités ; enseigner à la classe politique que la manipulation de groupes militaires pour soutenir un combat politique était non seulement permis, mais en plus rentable. Dans ce cadre, aujourd’hui, la discipline est-elle toujours la force principale des armées ? Et les forces tiennent-elles depuis un an plus de l’ordre ou du désordre ? Comment expliquer tous ces actes délicteux auxquels des militaires sont rattachés ? Pourquoi le sinistrement célèbre FIS, sans existence juridique jusqu’à ce jour de l’aveu de son ancien chef le lieutenant-colonel Charles Randrianasoavina, n’est pas démantelé alors qu’en plus certains de ses membres sont associés à des faits bizarres pour des forces dites de l’ordre ? En vertu de quoi le civil Alain Ramaroson se promène-t-il avec autant de militaires sous ses ordres ?”

Didier Ratsiraka's manoeuvering, Marc Ravalomanana's incompetent handing of the armed forces, all this topped with Rajoelina's acts of destabilization to nourish his ambitions : it is not helpful to rehash all this again…To an army already weakened by decades of artisanal management by politicians, Rajoelina has introduced amongst some soldiers sacrilegeous seeds : convincing officers and soldiers that one can disobey and follow one's own wants only, under the pretext of taking one's responsibilities; teaching the political class that manipulating military groups to support a political struggle was not only allowed, but also beneficial. In this context, today, is discipline still the main strength of the armed forces? Are the armed forces orderly or disorderly? How to explain all misdeeds committed by soldiers? What are the reasons the infamous FIS, until today without judicial existence, as acknowledged by its former chief, the lieutenant colonel Charles Randrianasoavina, has not been dismantled, while some of its members are associated with bizarre acts for groups called to establish the order? Why can the civilian Alain Ramaroson walk around with so many soldiers at his beck and call?

This clash between religious leaders and the army was predictable. Protestant Ravalomanana had taken care of Protestant churches during his presidency and many had resented this privilege, viewing that separation of State and church had been violated. There is no better illustration for this than the surprising scene of a mass being held in proximity of the FIGN barracks while gunshots were being exchanged, and supporters’ cheering in the background.

The consequences of the gunfights on the scheduled second talk of negotiations in Pretoria are still unclear. Rajoelina's HAT did not waste time in pointing fingers to Ravalomanana :

“The events witnessed in the capital are proof of former president Marc Ravalomanana's desire to escalate the situation,” said a statement issued by Rajoelina's office. “Marc Ravalomanana is attempting to sow civil strife,” the statement said.

AFP

Former Mozambican president, Joachim Chissano, who is facilitating the Pretoria talks, was not spared :

“The statement from Rajoelina's office also accused former Mozambican president Joaquim Chissano, the chief foreign mediator in the Madagascan crisis, of serving Ravalomanana's interests.
Several mediation attempts have already failed but Chissano has proposed a new round of talks in Pretoria with Rajoelina, Ravalomanana and two other former presidents.
Ravalomanana has already expressed his willingness to resume negotiations but Friday's statement by Rajoelina's office was unequivocal, accusing Chissano of “meddling” in the island's affairs.”

AFP

Three days after the fighting, Andry Rajoelina has dissolved yet another government and reformed a new one, with the military holding some of the posts.

“Madagascar strongman Andry Rajoelina reshuffled his government on Monday, adding five more military men, in the latest move in Indian Ocean island's protracted political crisis.

Rajoelina, who grabbed power in an army-backed coup in March 2009, appointed generals as head of the armed forces and police, with military men also taking the health, fishing and environment ministries.

Prime Minister Camille Vital, a retired general, remains at the top of the government.”

Another victim of the fighting is freedom of speech. Consistently during this crisis, radio stations have been closed, journalists harassed.

Last Friday was not an exception : Radio Fahazavana, a radio sympathetic to the ousted Ravalomanana and belonging to Reformed Protestant churches, has been closed down. Radio Fahazavana's journalists have been arrested. A week before, Radio Frequence Plus had been savagely attacked by people in civilian clothes and the opposition leaders it was interviewing have been arrested and are still languishing in jail. The Newspapers La Gazette de la Grande Ile's offices were attacked.

The Committee to Protect Journalists protests :

“We condemn this brutal raid on radio station Fréquence Plus,” said Africa Program Coordinator Tom Rhodes. “For too long, Malagasy journalists have been the victims of political feuds. The government must clarify who was behind this raid and compensate the station for all damages.””

Once again investigations have been promised, and accountability demanded.
The simple Antananarivo citizen has been living since December 2008 in mayhem and chaos. As Mpakavato, a blogger testifies:

“Mampalahelo ny zavatra miseho satria ny Malagasy samy Malagasy no mifamono. Noho ny fitiavan-tena sy voninahitra. Anjaranao ny miheritreritra!! Mbola mipetraka ho baraingo hoan'ny rehetra ny ampitso sy ny hoaviny Firenena. Mbola hisy indray ve ny fifampitifirana? Manao ahoana ny mety ho fidangan'ny vidim-piainana? Marim-pototra ve ny vaovao voaray? Maro ireo tsaho miparitaka,iza no Marina? Mihorohoro sy mandry ivoho ny antsy ny mponina eto Iarivo.”

“It is sad that Malagasies kill each other. For selfishness and power greed. The future for all of us and the Malagasy nation is in jeopardy. Will there be more gunfights? How high will cost of living get? Can one believe the news spread? There are so many rumors, what to believe? Terror and anxiety are the lot of Antananarivo.  “

The final tally of dead has been revised up since. Among them, Yvon Ranaivo Arison, a Pastor of the Reformed Church (FJKM) who was shot in muddy circumstances (reportedly shot in the back), and buried on May 25, attracting a large crowd of mourners. Jentilisa posts pictures .

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