Madagascar: Rajoelina “overwhelmed” by the crisis

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Madagascar is mired in political crisis. After the resignation of Defense Minister, the army, Wednesday, named a new Chief of Staff, Edmond Rasolofomohandry. A day before being named Chief of Staff, Rasolofomohandry had given the Malagasy authorities a 72 hour ultimatum to find a solution to the problem. However, Andry Rajoelina, opposition leader, shattered all hopes when he announced Wednesday that he would boycott talks intended to end the political quagmire, Thursday.

To better understand the political situation, interviewed, Elia Ravelomanantsoa, one of the presidential candidates during the 2006 elections and a former collaborator of Andry Rajoelina. She talks about why negotiations have failed and how the population can help bring this crisis to an end.

How true are claims that the situation has worsened since the election of Marc Ravalomanana in 2006?

Elia Ravelomanantsoa: The situation, in fact, got worse during the 2006 elections. During the elections, candidates asked for the electoral code to be changed. Among other demands was the implementation of the single ballot rule to avoid fraud. But as it turned out, the candidates, including myself, received the voters’ list only 24 hours before the elections. From there, the opposition parties decided to express their disagreement with the electoral process by not offering more candidates. That is how the mayor of Antananarivo, Andry Rajoelina, got elected into office as an independent candidate. The situation has also worsened because the opposition and the civil society were deprived of the right to express their opinions on both television and radio.

What do you think of the relatively new opposition leader, Andry Rajoelina?

Elia Ravelomanantsoa: I worked with him when he became mayor of Antananarivo, as part of a triumvirate. We worked tirelessly to help a young mayor who was struggling to cope with political attacks during his first nine months in office. Another issue was that the Antananarivo town council had been downgraded in terms of budget allocation, protocol ranking… and Andry Rajoelina’s plan to help the capital was highly commendable. It is in this light that the television network, VIVA, was developed. It was a way for the council to directly involve the population in its development plans. When the TV station was shut down, I backed the democratic principle of giving people the necessary tools to express themselves. Freedom of expression must be respected. Initially, I did not disapprove of Andry Rajoelina’s actions, however, with regard to the protests, I think that even Mr. Rajoelina himself did not expect such response. He is overwhelmed by the scale of the movement, but he has hardened his offensive for reasons best known to himself. In fact, the general feeling is that this demonstration is unorganized and lacks structure.

So he haboured no such ambitions when he became mayor of Antananarivo?

Elia Ravelomanantsoa: Absolutely not. His ambitions were not on a national level. He saw himself propelled into the forefront of an expression of frustration from several quarters: on social grounds, increased poverty, declining purchasing power, the increasing gap between the disadvantaged and rich with a monopoly on whole swathes of the economy.

Marc Ravalomanana fired into a crowd last February. Did he not sign his political death warrant?

Elia Ravelomanantsoa: It’s a point of no return. The Malagasy people are peaceful. This is a nation of consensus. Their demonstration is a call to dialogue. It means they want to express themselves not to be repressed. And as this repression, organized by the army or interposed mercenaries, grows in strength the people may be made to keep quiet but they will cease to endorse the legitimacy of that power.

Does this military repression favour Marc Ravalomanana for the next elections in 2011?

Elia Ravelomanantsoa: For the moment, I think it is a one-day-at-a-time affair. He is pressed by two priorities: to see to the successful organisation of the African Union summit scheduled for July and the Francophonie summit in 2010, both earmarked to take place in Antananarivo. He is not concerned with electoral issues. There is also the fact that, as an entrepreneur, he has very important economic interests in the country.

We saw people looting “Tiko” stores belonging to Marc Ravalomanana during the protests led by Andry Rajoelina…

Elia Ravelomanantsoa: I think that, beyond the purely material aspect, people wish to react against the ongoing oppression. We are faced with a population that comprises 60% young people who refuse all forms of oppression without dialogue, in an age of technological advancement.

Do you think that there is an emergence of political consciousness among young people?

Elia Ravelomanantsoa: A political consciousness has been awakened (…) I stayed away fom the protests. I believe we need to intellectualise in times of crisis and encourage dialogue at all levels, gender issues for example. Being a woman politician and also part of a trans-generational group allows me to assemble ideas directed at encouraging dialogue to aid reconciliation. Young people should participate in politics (…) become part of a political structure (…) with social projects and shared visions. Andry Rajoelina’s biggest problem is the lack of a carefully planned social movement. It happened so fast that nobody had enough time to structure anything with the right projections. That is why the situation has got out of hand.

The social movement is diminishing. Do you think it will disappear?

Elia Ravelomanantsoa: In my opinion, it won’t. Whatever the case, this movement will remain latent. Most political parties are built around Marc Ravalomanana. But the President has only frustrated public opinion. We often speak of cyclical crisis in Madagascar. You know, we have had some protracted unrests, some lasting for 9 months. Just when one thinks that a social unrest is out of steam in Madagascar… This unrest can only be stopped if negotiations lead to something. February 7 proved that point. Just when we thought that the demonstrations were finally over the crowd got together again on Saturday!

What can Madagascar do to get out of the economic doldrums?

Elia Ravelomanantsoa: The country must enhance micro-credit. Young people are becoming aware of the limitations of big business. These young people are seeking to become employers. It will be essential to leverage “micro-entrepreneurship” and vocational training. From a social point of view, young mothers must be accompanied. There are many single parents in Madagascar. The country suffers from a lack of suitable social structures. In the past there were community based laws, but now mothers have to really fend for themselves, alone.

In your opinion, why have the negotiations have they failed?

Elia Ravelomanantsoa: It is due to the lack of will. Both sides have failed. Now, to look more closely at how things are evolving. When the president says he wants to negotiate and at the same time exercises repression through threats or arrests … it gives another dimension to the conflict making negotiations fail automatically. On the other hand, it is difficult for two unequal structures to negotiate. What I mean is that on one hand we have a state apparatus and, on the other, the assembly of several movements that are not necessarily homogeneous. This could be the second reason for the failure of negotiations. The third reason is the lack of vision in the negotiations. It is not just about two people sitting around table to agree on issues. The question is; what issues should be negotiated? I think that all this comes from a lack of communication and also from the fact that the population is still excluded from these negotiations.

You think the UN’s role has not been successful in these talks …

Elia Ravelomanantsoa: It has not been conclusive so far. Perhaps the United Nations should go deeper, instead of reducing itself to the same policies they applied in Mauritania or elsewhere. We must dig deeper into the causes and evils of this crisis because it is not just about a conflict of two egos…

Also read: Ultimatums, Legitimacy and Uncertainty

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