Malagasy leader’s stunt may hurt talks

2012-07-28 16:25

Deposed president secretly sends wife back home

While Malagasy leaders were in talks in the picturesque Seychelles this week, deposed president Marc Ravalomanana secretly sent his wife back to Madagascar.

President Jacob Zuma convened a meeting with Ravalomanana and the Malagasy leader who deposed him, Andry Rajoelina, to try to find a way out of the impasse that has gripped the island nation since 2009.

In tranquil surroundings, both leaders agreed to consider withdrawing from the presidential race when the next presidential election comes around.

“They are both considering sacrificing themselves to bring stability and peace to the country. If they don’t, the country may descend into full civil war,” a key member of the negotiating team told City Press.

The meeting at Seychelles’ Desroches Island Resort, where suites cost up to R120 000 a night, was the first time the two leaders have met privately since the 2009 coup.

According to those who attended, they met for more than two hours in a one-on-one meeting.

Deputy International Relations Minister Marius Fransman is the special envoy appointed by the Southern African Development Community (SADC) to find a solution to the crisis.

Agreement on this matter is urgent because the next SADC summit is due in August, and he and Zuma want to take a clear agreement by the two Malagasy leaders to present to heads of state.

After the SADC summit in Maputo, the chairpersonship of the SADC troika responsible for peace and security moves to Tanzania, and Zuma would like to have something to show for South Africa’s term at the helm, government officials say.

At issue, Fransman said, is the safe return of Ravalomanana to Madagascar from South Africa, where he is currently in exile.

Ravalomanana was found guilty of ordering troops to shoot at protesters and will face a jail sentence if he returns to Antananarivo.

Rajoelina will need to approve a special amnesty for Ravalomanana to protect him from prosecution.

The date of the next election is also a bone of contention.

Rajoelina wants an election to take place as soon as possible to legitimise his governance, while Ravalomanana wants it to be delayed so that he has time to re-establish his political base after being away for so long.

But his latest action – sending his wife back without informing anyone – threatens the goodwill that has been built up, South African government officials say.

“It takes us back to what he did in January and brings an awkwardness to the discussion,” said a member of the negotiation delegation.

In January Ravalomanana, his wife and a clutch of journalists tried to return to Madagascar, but his plane was not allowed to land when Rajoelina’s people heard he was in the aircraft.

His wife, Lalao Ravalomanana, was detained on arrival in Antananarivo and then put back on a plane to Bangkok, Thailand.
Her attempt to return irritated the South African negotiation team.

Said one: “Rajoelina already has the strength of popular support in this, while Rava is more unreasonable. During the negotiations, he was changing his mind every day.

“If he behaves this way now, how will he be when he’s back home?”

Rajoelina’s office warned that the trip by Ravalomanana’s wife could derail negotiations.

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