Last week, the main rivals in the lingering political impasse in Madagascar, current leader, Andry Rajoelina and ousted president, Marc Ravalomana, reached an agreement, after wide-ranging talks in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. Under the agreement, according to Rajoelina, he would continue as president until elections next year. Similarly, instead of vice presidents, there would be co-presidents representing other political tendencies in the country. Rajoelina had come to power in the wake of a coup whch removed Marc Ravalomana in March, but the putsch had been condemned by the international community leading to the isolation of Madagascar and impacting very negatively on the nation’s tourism industry.
The ouster of Ravalomana by the military and the ascension of Rajoelina had been premised upon allegations that Ravaloomana was a corrupt tyrant who misappropriated public funds. However the coup led to the isolation of Madagascar from the African Union and in turn led to the freezing of international aid by many Western countries. Before the latest agreement in Addis, the two rivals and two former presidents, Didier Ratsiraka and Albert Zafy, had agreed in August to a 15-month transitional period, but until the recent agreement, the different parties had argued over the details of the deal. The political impasse had led to violence which claimed over 100 lives.
The political situation has always been very complex in this Indian Ocean island country and prior to the agreement in May, former president Ratsiraka had pulled out of the crisis talks, saying then, that it was not possible to hold peaceful elections or even constructive dialogue in the prevailing climate. At that point, even the United Nations was reporting significant progress in the talks to find a way to end the lingering instability that has clearly endangered both political and economic life on the island. Ratisraka was suspending participation in talks that had advanced then, because he wanted an amnesty for his supporters found guilty of politically-related crimes during the political crisis of 2002, which forced him into exile. He had also condemned the setup of a military council by thr transitional authority of Andry Rajoelina, without consultation with other political factions in the country.
What has been very clear in the wake of the crisis which erupted in January, has been the devastation of the nation’s tourism industry, which is one of the main foreign exchange earners. Hotel occupancy in the capital, Antananarivo is said to stand at less than 10% and in the provinces, many hotels have been forced to close down, laying off workers without pay. The Director of Madagascar’s National Tourism Office, Vola Raveloson, told the BBC, that “the impact of the crisis has been immediate. As soon as international tour operators saw the images of violence they cancelled all trips to Madagascar”. The contrast with the last few years could not be sharper, because tourism has flourished in Mdagascar before the current political crisis. In 2008, the industry netted $400millin, directly employed 25,000 people and 100,000, indirectly. In the same year, there were 378,000 foreign arrivals which was an increase of 25,000 on 2007.
Eric Koller, the head of Madagascar’s hotel and restaurant federation also said the crisis is “a catastrophe for hoteliers. Most hotels have reduced staff by 50%, and some have laid off all staff without pay” He added further that “eighty percent of hotels are closing and the provinces have been especially hit….The tourism industry train is enormous. It includes artisans who sell souvenirs to tourists, car hire companies, and even farmers and fishermen who sell food to the hotels”. Similarly, Edward Tucker-Brown, manager of a luxury camping company said “travel advice recommending against travel to Madagascar is having a profound impact. Salaries are falling, unemployment is rising and environmental monitoring and protection are being severely hampered”. In rural communities, many families rely on money from tourism to supplement earnings from vanilla farming and these are being wiped out by the general lull in the tourism industry.
This dire economic situation is the backdrop to the agreement concluded last week. While Rajoelina will stay in power till elections in November next year, he is however barred from standing in those elections. Many analysts of the Malagasy situation are optimistic that the agreement could go a long way in resolving the political situation. Ablasse Ouedraogo, the AU’s special representative, who mediated the talks, said the AU was confident that there would be a smooth implementation of the agreement. “In Madagascar, we have a regime which came to power by a coup d’etat. This is unacceptable. And the ultimate goal of the African Union as well as for the international community is to bring Madagascar to the constitutional order”, said Ouedraogo. A timeline was also unanimously agreed to hold elections in 2010. “Since we do have a road map now, we have to mobilize the entire international community for the organization of this election”, he further added.
The AU mediator believed that his organization did well in its mediation effort, adding that the AU will continue the support to achieve democracy in Madagascar. “The first support is to have a close follow up on the implementation of the charter adopted by the Malagasy politicians. And as soon as the transitional institutions are in place, we do believe that we are now in a normal situation, which will allow all the international community to intervene and to give appropriate support to Madagascar”. Ouedraogo underlined the fact that it has been a long-drawn out process. “We started the negotiations sometime in April and we got the agreement as well as the charter for the transition signed on the 9th of August and today we have…after one day meeting we have now the heads of all the institutions”.
The United Nations Secretary General, Ban Ki-Moon also welcomed the transitional process in Madadgascar, ahead of the elections scheduled for November 2010. However, the AU mediator, Ouedraogo said that with more goodwill the process would terminate satisfactorily, he nevertheless argued that “We will still put pressure on the people in power in Madagascar in such a way to make sure that we will not miss our target”. To ensure that the targets are not misse, Madagascar remains suspended from the African Union and the Southern African Development Community, both of which had condemned the coup whicvh brought Andry Rajoelina to power. There seems to be a basis for the guarded optimism about the effort to break the political logjam in Madadgascar.