Global Voices

Madagascar Struggles to Control Domestic Instability

Student clash in Madagascar. Photo: r1_lita/flickr

Following the deaths of around a hundred people in southern Madagascar in clashes between zebu cattle rustlers (“dahalo”) and farmers, the government has decided to take special security measures to restore order. The violence is a symptom of the growing political instability in Madagascar that is affecting urban centers as well as rural communities.

People’s Justice in the South

Thefts and armed attacks are a recurring problem in Madagascar and have been growing more and more frequent since the political crisis in 2009. To overcome this problem, a national counter-instability plan [fr] was formally introduced in April 2012. The government has now mobilized the armed forces in the capital as well as in areas particularly affected by cattle theft.

However, initial attempts at stabilizing the southern region were far from successful. As Alain Rajaonarivony explains [fr]:

The military campaign carried out against the dahalo in the bush of the great south in June and July 2012 was a disaster. Not only were they more familiar with the local terrain, the dahalo were also just as well equipped as the government forces – and the lack of helicopters was sorely felt by the latter. The government forces were especially noted not for their combat ability but for their atrocities, when they burnt villages that could serve as support bases for the dahalo.

Under the Radar: the Crisis in Madagascar

Rally against Andry Rajoelina's installation
Rally against Andry Rajoelina’s installation. Photo: r1_lita/flickr.

Isolated for around 80 million years, the island of Madagascar is home to hundreds of animals and plants that exist nowhere else in the world. A biodiversity hotspot of exotic fauna and flora, the Indian Ocean island is often likened to paradise. Yet Madagascar continues to be rocked severe economic and political crises – problems that remain largely unnoticed by Western audiences.

Ever since the 2009 ouster of its democratically elected president Marc Ravalomanana, Madagascar has been paralyzed by a political stalemate that has brought the already impoverished island of 20 million people to the brink of economic collapse. Although progress made in recent reconciliation talks has led to Western donors to gradually resume development aid, the road back to democracy promises to be a rocky one.

The political upheavals began after dissident army officers took power in what was regarded by the international community as a coup d’état. Officially, President Ravalomanana stepped down following violent street protests led by opposition leader Andry Rajoelina – a self-made dairy tycoon – and handed power to the military which in turn transferred its authority to Rajoelina. This prompted Rajoelina to declare himself as president of the “High Transitional Authority” (HAT) and consolidate a tight grip on the country’s politics. Ravalomanana, by contrast, fled into self-imposed exile in South Africa and was prevented twice from returning to Madagascar where he was sentenced in absentia to life imprisonment for allegedly ordering the killing of protestors.

Last Night a DJ Stole My Life…

Only one of Madagascar's many plagues, courtesy of William Warby/ flickr

Almost a year and a half after protests led to a coup removing elected president Marc Ravalomanana from power, the island state of Madagascar remains in political deadlock. The current rule of Andry Rajoelina, a young man born into a well-off family who rose to prominence as a disc jockey, remains paralyzed and isolated. Formal development is reeling, with hundreds of millions of much-needed aid dollars frozen by donors.

As a consequence of the illegitimate removal of an acting head of state, governments around the world declared Madagascar a pariah state. The Obama administration suspended Madagascar from the Africa Growth and Opportunities Act in December 2009, which resulted in the suspension of the country’s trade benefits. The African Union, the EU and the South African Development Committee all followed suit, quickly forcing punitive sanctions upon the country, thereby devastating the country’s already feeble industrial sector. With hundreds of thousands of jobs lost, a humanitarian crisis now seems an imminent threat.