SADC’s Madagascar road map to hell

2011-04-02 00:00

THE island of Madagascar is seemingly doomed forever to be on the margins. Geographically isolated and politically marginalised, the struggle of the Malagasy people against exploitation never manages to catch the world's attention for quite long enough to make a difference.

In 2009, the democratically elected president, Marc Ravalomanana, was overthrown in a coup led by a former disc jockey, Andry Rajoelina, to the ostensible outrage of the world. The United Nations (UN), the African Union (AU), and the Southern African Development Community (SADC) all refused to recognise the new administration and immediately suspended Madagascar's membership of world bodies.

Targeted economic and travel sanctions against Rajoelina and his ministers were advocated by the AU and resisted by the United States (U.S.). Zimbabwean president Robert Mugabe, the target of similar "smart" sanctions by the U.S. that are opposed by the AU, will have been amused.

Since then, Rajoelina has led the world a merry dance that must be inspirational for any rogue state wanting to thumb its nose at international law and supranational organisations.

The jig is to wear down the UN, SADC, and the AU by promising to co-operate but then dragging your heels. String them along, and if your country is a relatively unimportant sideshow to start with, something more dramatic and pressing will soon distract their attention. Like Tunisia, Egypt and Libya, maybe.

Successive schemes for internationally monitored elections, for transitional administrations and for unity governments have been floated, flouted and eventually thrown away. In the meanwhile, Rajoelina, who successfully exploited populist sentiments against his predecessor Marc Ravalomanana, has become increasingly entrenched and authoritarian.

As time has passed, cracks have opened up in the disparate groupings that, in theory, wanted to see a restoration of the status quo. The French, narked by Ravalomanana's chumminess with the United States in a country that they consider to be integral to Francophone influence, are pallying up to Rajoelina.

The United Nations, contrary to its own regulations, invited Rajoelina, as head of state, to a climate-change conference, although the African delegates denied him the opportunity to speak. And now the AU, which has its hands full with the uprisings in North Africa, as well as the continuing seeping sores of Zimbabwe and the Democratic Republic of Congo, is struggling to retain its focus.

Matters are complicated by the fact that although Rajoelina is far worse, the deposed Ravalomanana is unfortunately not quite the poster boy for democracy and economic upliftment of the masses that he paints himself to be. He has done his share of shooting demonstrators, closing down opposition media and using the state to advance his business interests. This week, the SADC troika, the leaders of South Africa, Botswana and Zambia, meet to discuss the proposed SADC road map for Madagascar. It is likely that they will endorse a plan that has been boycotted by the three biggest Malagasy opposition groups and amounts to a complete repudiation of the AU's own earlier accords — repeatedly flouted by Rajoelina — which charters a transitional process.

The road map will confer upon Rajoelina exactly the international legitimacy that so far has been denied him and will put him in pole position to consolidate his hold on power. It is a profoundly undemocratic document, a road map to hell, and a legitimation by SADC of the use of extra-constitutional means to gain power.

While the road map, for the time being, rids the SADC of a time-consuming and energy-sapping problem, it will ultimately cause the continent far more problems than it solves because it puts a legal seal of approval on coup d'états. That's a dangerous precedent on a continent with still fragile democracies.

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