The year 2009 was a dramatic year for Madagascar. After the March 17 coup in which the young mayor of the capital, Andry Rajoelina (35), took power and forced President Marc Ravalomanana (60) into exile in South Africa, the country has undergone a continuous crisis. The crisis continued in 2010 and has major consequences for countries, people and, not least, for nature and the environment.
President Marc Ravalomanana was Madagascar’s richest man because he governed a large business empire built on dairy farming and food production across a wide range. He was accused of mingling his own business with the state’s economy. For public positions, he favored people from his group and from his own ethnic group, the marina. The coastal population has always regarded this inland group as privileged when it comes to the development of schools, health services and infrastructure.
All indications were that the president was safe after he was re-elected in December 2006 for another five years with 55 percent of the vote. So he was only halfway into his second presidential term when the coup happened. The president’s party had a majority in the National Assembly and Senate and in almost all the 1500 municipalities. An important exception was the capital, where the young mayor Andry Rajoelina swept Ravalomanana’s candidate and secured 63 percent of the vote. The mayor advocated dissatisfaction that had built up in the population. He was a well-known disc jockey and ran some advertising business in Antananarivo, but no one had thought of the possibility of him becoming the country’s de facto president.
Three events triggered the coup. First, Ravalomanana shut down the radio transmitter to Rajoelina because it had sent a speech that ex-President Didier Ratsiraka had kept from his exile in Paris. Second, it was known that the government had begun negotiations with the South Korean company Daewoo for the lease of a land area the size of half Belgium for 99 years for the production of maize to South Korea. Third, in January 2009, the president went on to purchase a luxury aircraft called “Air Force One” for $ 60 million.
It was impossible to come forward with criticism of the regime, also because of the president’s arrogant style of government, and people in Antananarivo began to demonstrate in the streets. Thousands joined in on Andry Rajoelina’s orange demonstration. On “Black Monday” January 26, the popular movement got out of control and set fire to both the president’s business and department stores and the national broadcast, then to other businesses as well.
February 7 turned “red Saturday”. Then Rajoelina and the political group he had created sent “the High Authority of the Transitional Government” (HAT), the crowd towards the presidential palace in the middle of the city. Here, the protesters were shot, and 31 people were killed and many injured. The movement had now received its martyrs.
The turning point came on March 8, when some colonels in the army made mutiny and took control of the weapons stock without caring about their generals. The defense minister was forced to step down. The following week, the militia marched toward the presidential palace outside the city where Ravalomanana resided. On the morning of March 17, the president gave power to the top generals. When the statement was read to Rajoelina in the presence of the church leaders, the UN representative and the US ambassador, he refused to accept the decision and “kidnapped” the generals. The generals were forced to give power to Andry Rajoelina.
Threatened by life, Ravalomanana had to flee to South Africa, where he still resides. The Constitutional Court approved the takeover of power and Rajoelina was appointed president. He immediately dissolved the Senate and National Assembly and has since ruled dictatorially by decrees.
The international community with the United Nations and the African Union (AU) at the forefront set up an international contact group to negotiate between the parties. In August, the three previously elected presidents Zafy, Ratsiraka, Ravalomanana and de facto President Rajoelina met for negotiations in the Mozambican capital Maputo. There, they signed an agreement on a “consensual and inclusive” solution to the conflict. This was subsequently extended with a supplementary agreement in Addis Ababa. According to this, all four political groups should get their hands on the wheel, with Rajoelina being the head of state and interim president, Zafy and Ravalomanana being represented with each co-president, and Ratsiraka getting the prime minister.
But when Rajoelina returned to Madagascar, he continued his one-sided rule. A new meeting in Maputo in early December was boycotted by Rajoelina. He then appointed a new prime minister and launched the idea of a new national assembly in the spring of 2010. At the time of writing, it was uncertain when this could be done.
The consequences of the crisis have been great. The tourism sector, which had 320,000 tourists in 2008, has collapsed. All major donors, the World Bank, EU, US and Norway, have frozen state-by-state aid. Only humanitarian and health care assistance has been maintained. Gross domestic product growth was 7 percent in 2008, but fell to 0.8 percent in 2009. It is estimated that the crisis has led to the loss of some 300,000 jobs, especially in the tourism and textile industries. Education reform, which was well on its way to modernizing and expanding primary school from five to seven years, has stopped.
Only France has maintained state-by-state assistance, and many believe that France has indirectly supported the coup maker to safeguard French economic and cultural interests. There are 25,000 French people living on the island, many of whom are engaged in business. While Ravalomanana worked to liberalize the economy and entered into agreements with Canada, Germany, China and others, Rajoelina has forged stronger ties with France. But France, too, officially supports a unifying solution to the conflict.
One of the most tragic is that the cessation of state aid has led to environmental crime in the national parks. Because tourism revenue from ecotourism collapsed, foresters lost their revenue. Harvesting of timber from the rain forest has led to rare species of animals, such as lemurs and chameleons, being threatened with extinction. Natural parks that are on UNESCO’s World Heritage List due to biodiversity are at risk of being destroyed due to valuable timber exports to China, without the government trying to stop it.
The human rights situation has also deteriorated. In a report published in January 2010, Amnesty International points out that there have been a number of violations of basic human rights under the coup regime: accidental political arrests, inhuman treatment, persistent attacks on journalists and the media, and even illegal killings. The Madagascar de facto authorities (HAT) have not brought such abuses to judicial review, giving the impression that they have been approved at the highest level.
Area: 587 041 km2 (20th largest)
Population: 19 million
Population density: 33 per km2
Urban population: 29 percent
Largest city: Antananarivo – approx. 1.7 million
GDP per capita: $ 488
Economic growth: 5 percent
HDI Position: 145