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Will Madagascar's Upcoming Elections Solve the Island's Crisis?

After multiple delays, the proposed organization for the presidential elections towards the end of October 2013 is suggesting a solution for the political stalemate in Madagascar. The four-year-long crisis that started with the military-driven takeover in 2009 has plunged the country into a deep political and financial crisis.

But the country has a history of repeated post-electoral crises, so is optimism for an exit to this latest crisis premature?

Even if many observers see a glimpse of the proverbial light at the end of the tunnel, the economic reconstruction efforts are still in tatters. In fact, the endemic poverty from which the Malagasy people suffer is not solely due to the current crisis, even if the economic indicators reveal that it has dramatically gotten worse in the last four years.

This two-parts series will present the causes and potential solutions to the downward spiral that is currently draining the country. In this first part, we will discuss the political crisis and the conditions for getting out of it. The second part will address the economic component and the possible solutions.

Elections and equitable access to information

The 2009 power struggle (Global Voices special coverage of the crisis can be found here) saw the country spiral into spurts of violence and protests, resulting in about 130 deaths since the start of the crisis.  A coup d'état followed in March 21, putting the country on hold while citizens wondered wearily about the fate of country. A military group put Andry Rajoelina in power during the transition period to govern the country until the next elections. The roots of the crisis are numerous but a combination of a growing inequality and the meddling of foreign power resulted in the removal of then-president Marc Ravalomanana who flew with his family to South Africa.

The 2013 elections will be the beginning of a crisis recovery, but not a cure-all. Many people find it hard to believe that elections will change the periodic crisis cycle, but they still hold the hope that the crisis will eventually end, like Sahondra Rabenarivo [fr], a lawyer and expert in international law based in Antananarivo, Madagascar:

Je rentre de la campagne où les élections n’ont aucune, alors aucune, résonance. Quand on n’évite pas de parler des affaires nationales, on s’en remet à Dieu pour résoudre les problèmes, tellement le sentiment d’impuissance face à l’énormité du problème met le citoyen à l’écart de tout pouvoir d’agir [..] Les élections de sortie de crise étaient censées être différentes : la liste électorale allait être revue en long et en large, mais qu’en est-il ? Où était la société civile ? [..] Il n’est pas encore trop tard mais il le sera bientôt. Les médias doivent ne pas laisser les uns et les autres occuper la place médiatique. Car pour y croire, il faut avoir confiance, et pour avoir confiance, il faut une démonstration crédible de progrès (carte d’électeur, bulletin final orienté vers la compréhension des électeurs et pas les préférences des politiques, accès égalitaire aux antennes nationales, abandon de prérogatives ministérielles)

I'm from the countryside where elections have no resonance. When we can't avoid talking about national affairs, we rely on God to solve problems. The sense of helplessness facing the enormity of the problem dismisses the citizen from any power to act […] The end-of-crisis elections were supposed to be different: the voters list would be reviewed extensively, but what about it? Where was the civil society? […] It's not too late but it will be soon. The media must not let one or the other occupy the media space. Because to believe in it, we must have trust, and to have trust, we need a credible demonstration of progress (voter card, final bulletin oriented toward understanding voters, not political preferences, equal access to national branches and abandonment of ministerial rights)
Vote d'un citoyen malgache via Andrimaso avec leur permission

A Malagasy citizen's vote. By Andrimaso, used with permission

Tsilavina Ralaindimby, the former Minister of Culture, agrees [fr] and advocates for equal access to media for all candidates:

Si le suffrage universel est sacré c’est parce que l’opinion exprimée par le choix du citoyen est sacrée. Mais comment avoir un véritable choix si on ne dispose pas de l’intégralité des informations ? Comment sera assuré l’accès équitable des candidats aux médias publics en particulier ? Sachant aujourd’ hui que les médias privés dominants sont ancrés à des candidats, les prix du temps d’antenne risquent d’y être prohibitifs.
Ne rêvons toutefois pas de conditions idéales et respectées. Nous avons empilé tellement de couches de complexités dans nos façons de penser et de faire qu’appliquer des idées justes et simples est devenu compliqué. Mais si ces diverses conditions sont remplies dans la majorité des lieux de vote et qu’au travers de leurs représentants dans les différentes régions, les candidats en compétition l’admettent, sont-ils d’accord pour signer un document commun où ils s’engagent à respecter les résultats et à donner une nouvelle chance à la démocratie à Madagascar ?

If universal suffrage is sacred, it's because the opinion expressed by the citizen's choice is sacred. But how can we make a real choice if we don't have all the information? How can we be assured that candidates have equal access to public media? Knowing today that the dominant private media are tied to candidates, the cost of air time is likely to be prohibitive there.
However, we're not dreaming about ideal and respected conditions. We have many layers of complexity in our ways of thinking and doing so that applying fair and simple ideas has become complicated. But if various conditions are met in most polling stations and through their representatives in the various regions, the competing candidates admit it—are they willing to sign a joint accord where they agree to respect the results and give Madagascar a new chance for democracy?

Hidden causes of the 2009 crisis

The frequency of political crises in Madagascar has increased at an alarming rate: 1975, 1991, 1996, 2002 and 2009. In the 2009 crisis, many experts studied the reasons that led to the country's irreversible spiral in the current impasse. A recent study published in the magazine, Les Afriques, explains “the deep secrets from the [last] Malagasy crisis.” The study argues that the big island's competing geo-political interests stirred up the coup d'état [fr] that overthrew Marc Ravaomanana. The authors detail the reasons why they assert that France supported the removal of Ravalomanana, the main reason being that Ravalomanana threatened French financial interests in the country, especially the exploitation of the already-established French oil concessions in the southern part of Madagascar.

Le coup d’Etat d’Andry Rajoelina, le 18 mars 2009 à été qualifié comme étant un «french Coup», un coup-d’état orchestré par la France, selon les propos d’un diplomate européen à l’issue de la réunion du groupe international de contact sur Madagascar du 6 au 7 octobre 2009 à Antananarivo [..] La crise politique malgache depuis 2009 a donc été le résultat d’une mésentente entre la France et les U.S.A et les intérêts pétroliers sont au centre de cette querelle. Le plan énergétique américain et français, qui consiste à s’immiscer dans les affaires politiques, économiques et militaires des Etats pourvoyeurs de pétrole pour faire main basse sur cette dernière, n’est pas d’invention récente…

Andry Rajoelina's coup d'état on March 18, 2009 was characterized as a “French coup”, a coup d'état orchestrated by France, in the words of a European diplomat at the end of the International Contact Group on Madagascar's meeting on October 6 and 7, 2009 meeting in Antananarivo. […] Since 2009, the Malagasy political crisis has been the result of a disagreement between France and the United States; oil interests were at the core of this dispute. The U.S. and French energy plan (i.e., getting involved in the political, economic and military affairs of the states supplying oil, in order to get its hands on it) has been a well-known fact for a while […]

This argument was confirmed recently by former Malagasy president Didier Ratsiraka who stated during an interview [fr] on public television:

La France [m’] a demandé d'aider Andry Rajoelina à évincer Marc Ravalomanana [..]J'ai répondu, je ne suis pas en faveur des coups d’État” (….) On s'est mis d'accord que Marc Ravalomanana quitterait le pouvoir sans bain de sang.

France asked me to help Andry Rajoelina to push Marc Ravalomanana out [..] I said that I was not in favor of coup d'état [..] We agreed that evincing Marc Ravalomanana will have to happen without any violence.

Les Afriques magazine's statements on France's role are mainly based on Thomas Deltombe's March 2012 article in Le Monde Diplomatique to support his arguments. In this article, Deltombe explains that the French industrial holding group Bolloré, known for its aggressive acquisition policy in developing countries, and French oil Company Total were upset with  Ravalomanana's decisions to reallocate some preferential markets. Deltombe states [fr] that:

Les sujets de crispation franco-malgaches se multiplièrent tout au long de la présidence Ravalomanana. Le groupe Bolloré fut, dit-on, fort marri de se voir souffler la concession du port de Toamasina, privatisé en 2005, par un concurrent philippin. Quant à Total, il fallut une très forte pression de l’Elysée pour que le gouvernement malgache signe, en septembre 2008, une licence permettant à la multinationale française d’explorer les sables bitumineux de Bemolanga, à l’ouest de Madagascar [..] Si l’hypothèse d’un soutien français au coup d’Etat a la vie dure, c’est aussi que la France n’a jamais masqué sa proximité avec le président de la HAT Andry Rajoelina.

The Franco-Malagasy controversial topics have multiplied throughout Ravalomanana's presidency. The Bolloré group was, they say, very grieved to see the loss of the concession of the port of Toamasina, which was privatized in 2005 by a Filipino competitor. As for Total, the Elysée [The French presidency offices] placed a lot of pressure on the Malagasy government to sign, in September 2008, a license allowing the French multinational to explore Bemolanga's oil sands, located west of Madagascar. […] If the assumption of French support to the coup remains, it's also that France has never covered its proximity to the HAT [High Authority of the Transition] President, Andry Rajoelina.

Why does Madagascar attract so many conflicting financial interests that irreparably plunges it in repetitive crises? Les Afriques magazine notes that Madagascar is a country that has plenty of resources [fr] to get its population out of endemic poverty:

Madagascar est riche en ressources forestières et halieutiques. Ses 5000 km de littoral, composés des mangroves et récifs coralliens qui produisent chaque année un excédent biologique (des poissons, des crabes, des crevettes, des concombres de mer et des huîtres) supérieur à 300 000 tonnes. Les mangroves du Canal du Mozambique servent à la reproduction de crevette de qualité appelées «L’or rose de Madagascar ». son sous-sol regorge du pétrole lourd et léger, de quartz, de diamant, d’or, d’ilménite etc. [..] Madagascar dispose donc de tout pour décoller. Pourtant cette île est l’un des 12 pays les plus pauvres du monde, 80% de la population vit en deçà du seuil de pauvreté [..]  L’insécurité des biens et des personnes et maximale aussi bien dans les grandes villes que dans les zones reculés.

Madagascar is rich in forest and fishery resources. Its 5,000 km coastline, consisting of mangroves and coral reefs that produce an annual biological surplus (fish, crabs, shrimp, sea cucumbers and oysters) of over 300,000 tonnes. The mangroves in the Mozambique Canal that are used for breeding quality shrimp are called “the gold roses of Madagascar.” Its subsoil is full of light and heavy oil, quartz, diamond, gold, ilmenite, etc. […] Therefore, everything can be removed from Madagascar. But this island is one of the 12 poorest countries in the world—80 percent of the population lives below the poverty line. […] The insecurity of goods and people is higher in big cities than in remote areas.

The crisis recovery process will have to go through many obstacles and competing interests in order to form the foundation for a strong recovery. But time is also against the big island. The next leaders will have to find solutions in a very short period in respect of the country's fragile economic situation.

The second part of this analysis by observers of the Malagasy crisis will focus on the economic and social aspects.

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