Think Twice: Enough to Make Machiavelli Blush over Madagascar

by Joel Smythe, 19 July 2013


Big Wrongs Call for Big Lies

“Chapter 5 The Authoritarian Model” in the textbook “Understanding Politics: Ideas, Institutions and Issues” by Thomas M. Magstadt has a box on page 105 which summarizes Andry Rajoelina’s March 2009 coup d’état and his justification for seizing power.

In March 2009, Andry Rajoelina, who seized power after leading a military coup by junior army officers, was sworn in as Madagascar’s president. The South African Development Community (SADC) condemned “in the strongest terms the unconstitutional actions that had led to the illegal ousting of the democratically-elected president [Marc Ravalomanana]. … Rajoelina claimed that “true democracy” had triumphed over dictatorship and promised to abide by “the principles of good government.”

Big wrongs call for big lies, like calling what happened in Madagascar “true democracy” or trashing the constitution in the name of “good government.”  It is enough to make Machiavelli blush.

Rajoelina’s coup has been very successful: he ousted the elected president, got international approval via the Southern African Development Community (SADC) Roadmap to appoint all members of government, to appoint all members of both chambers of ‘parliament’, and to remain in power until a democratically elected president is sworn into office.  Rajoelina did away with all vestiges of democracy in Madagascar and is still in power more than four years after the coup with good prospects for continuing in power indefinitely.  If elections get put off until after the 2013-2014 rainy season, as seems likely, then Rajoelina will have been in power for longer than a full 5-year presidential term.

Rajoelina is now trying to get his rule legitimized through an election that the international community would certify as free and fair.  Despite the African Union’s principle that those who carry out coups d’état should not be allowed to participate in subsequent elections, Rajoelina convinced SADC to provide for the possibility of his candidature in the SADC Roadmap.

SADC changed its mind about Andry Rajoelina and Marc Ravalomanana being candidates after Rajoelina would not allow Ravalomanana back in the country.  In December 2012 Marc Ravalomanana agreed to not be a candidate for president and Rajoelina did the same in January 2013.  Lalao Ravalomanana, wife of Marc, presented her papers to be a candidate for President on 25 April 2013.  But then Rajoelina on 2 May proclaimed “with this candidacy of his wife, one can say that it’s the former head of state [Ravalomanana] himself who is presenting himself in the elections”.  With that as justification, Rajoelina presented his own candidacy, surprising all of Madagascar when he was accepted as a candidate by the Special Electoral Court (CES) on 3 May despite having filed his papers after the deadline.  He explained later, “To my great surprise, I learned that the former president [Ravalomanana] presented himself in the presidential election through his wife.  There is also the former president Didier Ratsiraka, who submitted his candidacy.  And so I said to myself that it’s a free election that should be transparent and why shouldn’t I also present my candidacy?”  Using Rajoelina’s logic, Xiomara Castro is the same as Manuel Zelaya and Hillary Clinton the same as Bill.  Once again, a big lie to justify a big wrong.

On 2 July, “The government decided that all electoral campaigns in all its forms are suspended until new order”.  But Rajoelina did not consider that the moratorium applied to him.  On 6 July in Mahajanga he campaigned by inaugurating a hospital (the 5th he has inaugurated that were all apparently constructed using some of the $ 100 million from the Chinese mining company WISCO) and declaring free medical consultations and births for a month at government expense.  “If It Is Not Campaigning, By God It Sure Looks Like It” was the title of the Madagascar Tribune.  “Andry Rajoelina Campaigning in Mahajanga,” proclaimed Midi-Madagasikara. Since then, the appointed pro-Rajoelina head of Analamanga region has condemned the campaigning of another candidate, Hajo Andriananainarivelo.  Clearly, Rajoelina is trying to use his power as president to illegally influence the election in his favor in the hopes that no one will call his bluff.


Rajoelina campaigning in Mahajanga on 6 July 2013, 4 days after the government banned campaigning “in all its forms”.


In addition to big lies, another way that Rajoelina fits the mold of authoritarian rulers is by using jail and bullets to instill fear in those who oppose his illegal rule.  Most of the opposition leaders were arrested at some time during the crisis and many spent months in jail for opposing Rajoelina.  Those arrested include Mamy Rakotoarivelo, Manandafy Rakotonirina, Ihanta Randriamandranto, Stanislas Zafilahy, Raymond Ranjeva, Henri Randrianjatovo, Mamisoa Rakotomandimbindraibe, Raymond Rakotozandry, Lanto Rabenatoandro, Naika Eliane, Raharinaivo Andrianatoandro, Edouard Tsarahame, Valisoa Rafanomezantsoa, and Fetison Andrianirina.  Three of these were head of the Ravalomanana Mouvance at the time of their arrest. Some, after their time in prison, gave up being political leaders.  On several occasions, when the security forces could not get the people they were after, they went after family members, putting them in jail as a means of intimidating the people they were really after.  Patrick Zakariasy was recently sentenced to 2 years in jail for alleging that someone close to Rajoelina was involved in rosewood trafficking.

In addition to detaining the leaders of demonstrations against his regime, Rajoelina’s security forces have used live bullets on multiple occasions to repress demonstrations, leaving many dead and wounded.  Human rights violations by the security forces, whether they be the killing of a taxi driver in Antananarivo or the burning of villages in southern Madagascar, have been criticized by Amnesty International, but the perpetrators go unpunished.  The latest demonstration that was prevented by Rajoelina’s security forces was on 13 July 2013.

Church leaders and journalists have not been spared.  The president of Madagascar’s largest protestant church was detained on 17 March 2009.  The person who is now Rajoelina’s Minister of Communication termed pastors “Ku Klux Klan” in January 2010; a few months later one of them, Pastor Ranaivo Rivoarison, was shot and mortally wounded. (Similarly, Rajoelina’s presidency was implicated in a protest at which the head of the UN in Madagascar was labeled a prostitute on 22 May 2013).  Journalists Lalatiana Rakotondrazafy and Fidel Razarapiera were recently sentenced to 6 months in jail.  Many radio and television stations shut down by the Rajoelina regime remain off the air.  Meanwhile, the Minister of Communication is reportedly getting ready to shut down another.

What Does the International Community Want for Madagascar?

It is clear that Rajoelina is trying to perpetuate his rule by getting himself legitimized through elections approved by the international community.  What is less clear is just what the international community really wants for Madagascar.

Officially, the members of the international community want a return to constitutional order via free and fair elections and complete application of the SADC Roadmap.  Closer examination, however, raises questions about the international community’s sincerity.

An Election to be Declared Free and Fair without Respect for Human Rights

In December 2011, the European Union wrote to Rajoelina detailing what Madagascar would have to do to get EU “political and financial support” for the transitional government and upcoming elections.  The commitments that the EU required of Madagascar did not include many provisions in the SADC Roadmap such as the unconditional return of exiles, the freeing of political prisoners, the cessation of politically-motivated court proceedings against the de facto regime’s opponents, and respect for fundamental freedoms.  The EU provided funding for the election in accordance with the agreement that it had made and Rajoelina refrained from implementing those Roadmap articles that were not required to secure funding.

The Peace and Security Council of the African Union acknowledged on 28 May 2013 that “some provisions of the Roadmap have not been implemented.”

Some provisions of the Roadmap have not been implemented, while others have been implemented only partially. These relate in particular to the neutral, inclusive and consensual nature of the Transition process, confidence-building and national reconciliation, including respect for fundamental freedoms, the granting of amnesty and unconditional return to the country of all political exiles, as well as support by the international community to the implementation of the Roadmap.

In their ‘Prospectus’ of February 2013, a group of Malagasy religious leaders known as HMF said that Articles 16-20 in the SADC Roadmap were put in the Roadmap as “bait” to get Rajoelina’s opponents to sign the Roadmap, but that there was not any real intention for those articles to actually be implemented.  Those who made compromises to sign the Roadmap have reason to feel deceived as they see the international community not putting pressure on Andry Rajoelina to implement those parts of the Roadmap that he does not want to implement, or worse, actively colluding with Rajoelina to make sure that political exiles do not return as required by Article 20.

A dry run for the presidential election occurred when Rajoelina held a referendum on a new constitution in November 2010.  The new constitution lowered the age required to be a candidate for president and eliminated English as an official language.  In the run-up to the referendum, Rajoelina did not allow people to campaign for a No vote.  Many of those who did try to oppose the referendum were arrested and jailed.  A civil society group, the KMF-CNOE, proclaimed the referendum “the worst election” that it had ever observed.  The international community has complained some about the referendum but the French ambassador declared in December 2010 that “the referendum is a political fact to be considered.”  After that the international community has mostly kept silent and the 2010 constitution went on to became the legal baseline for the SADC Roadmap and upcoming elections.

In June 2009, Marc Ravalomanana asked the US ambassador to Madagascar for assistance to return to Madagascar as president.  “The ambassador responded that it would be nice if the political and security situation in Madagascar permitted Ravalomanana to resume his previous role, as that would be the quickest way to re-establish « constitutional order. »” But the ambassador refused to help Ravalomanana return, saying that his return would risk “potentially re-igniting political passions.”  But if political passions are undesirable, then Madagascar should not have elections because political passions are some of what democracy is all about.

An “Open Letter to the Members of the International Contact Group for Madagascar” dated 25 June 2013 made a point and asked a question.

When the people in power do not face serious opposition, elections tend to be smoother than when they are hotly contested.  Are smooth elections at the expense of democracy what the international community wants for Madagascar?

The next day, at the meeting of the International Contact Group for Madagascar held in Addis Ababa, SADC mediator Joaquim Chissano presented a report that stated in part:

SADC, the AU and the International Community as a whole should: … Consider applying robust targeted sanctions against all Malagasy political leaders, including members of the Special Electoral Court, undermining the smooth running of the electoral process and full implementation of the Roadmap.

Using this logic, any candidate or political leader who seriously challenges the powers at be, igniting political passions in the process, should be subjected to “robust targeted sanctions” for “undermining the smooth running of the electoral process.”

Related to this, in his Bastille Day speech, French ambassador François Goldblatt said,

Madagascar merits a modern programmatic vision, encompassing the political, economic, social, and cultural fields, and not a display of bad reasons for which those who have reigned a day must continue, for eternity, to impose their person or their dynasty.

By use of the word ‘dynasty’, the ambassador would seem to be referring to the candidacy of Lalao Ravalomanana, for whom France announced sanctions on 10 June 2013.  If so, it would seem inappropriate for France to be trying to influence the choice for president of the Malagasy people.  It was not for France to say that a son of George Herbert Walker Bush should not run for president of the United States, just as it is not for France or any other country to say that Xiomara Castro should not be running for president of Honduras. Besides, in a democracy a candidate is not imposed – it is the people who choose.   But the ambassador’s view is not surprising given that France’s top diplomat for Africa indicated in May 2009 that France might support a candidate for President of Madagascar, saying that if it were to do so, France would support a candidature “as discretely as possible.”

Lalao Ravalomanana’s candidacy represents for many Malagasy citizens the best prospect the country has for getting out from under the yoke of France.  The longer the crisis endures, the more people see the hand of France as supporting Andry Rajoelina and trying to arrange things in Madagascar for the benefit of France’s political and business interests.  France’s provision of diplomatic protection to Rajoelina while the coup d’état was in progress, France’s continued military support for Rajoelina’s security forces despite their implication in serious human rights violations, the French ambassador’s public opposition to full implementation of the SADC Roadmap, and France’s lead in announcing sanctions against Lalao Ravalomanana, only serve to reinforce the view for many that France is part of the problem rather than the solution.

The Open Letter to the International Contact Group also asked “Will the election in Madagascar be free and fair if the international community persists in trying to force Lalao Ravalomanana out of the race?”  Does Mrs. Ravalomanana not have a right to be a candidate for elected office in her country?

Forced Exile, Threats, and Extortion as Means to Block a Candidate for President

Article 20 of the SADC Roadmap states in part, “The High Transition Authorities (HTA) shall allow all Malagasy citizens in exile for political reasons to return to the country unconditionally, including Mr Marc Ravalomanana.”  But each time Ravalomanana has tried to return, Rajoelina and his military backers have blocked the attempt. On 21 January 2012, Rajoelina arranged for the plane Ravalomanana and his wife Lalao were on to be turned around mid-flight. Most recently, Marc Ravalomanana was prevented from returning on 3 July 2013, because, as RFI put it, “the Malagasy authorities, notably the current transitional president Andry Rajoelina, are still opposed to his return.”

France, for its part, is also opposed to Marc Ravalomanana’s return (at least before elections).  The new French ambassador made this clear to the public within minutes after presenting his credentials to Andry Rajoelina on 23 January 2013 and two days after French President François Hollande discussed the Madagascar crisis with Tanzanian President and SADC Troika Chairman Jakaya Kikwete in Paris.  “A complete convergence of views” was how President Hollande summed up his discussions with President Kikwete about the crisis in Madagascar.  Ambassador Goldblatt reiterated France’s opposition to Ravalomanana’s return on 31 January, thus making very clear France’s opposition to full implementation of the SADC Roadmap.

In addition to the attempted return on 21 January 2012 with her husband, Lalao Ravalomanana tried to return on 4 February 2012 but was prevented from boarding the plane in Johannesburg.  Then, on 27 July 2012, she arrived in Antananarivo along with her daughter-in-law Guergena.  Here is how the US State Department described what happened.

Mrs. Ravalomanana attempted to return on July 27, along with her daughter-in-law Guergena. The plane landed without incident, but authorities detained the two women at the Antananarivo airport. Security personnel physically forced them onto the next flight, reportedly injuring Guergena in the process.

SADC appeared to support Mrs. Ravalomanana’s forced expulsion when it put out a statement on 28 July 2012 that contained the following.

5. [The Southern African Development Community (SADC)

Ministerial Committee of the Organ (MCO)] Troika has noted, with dismay, the surreptitious attempt by Mrs. Ravalomanana to enter Madagascar in contravention of the current engagements with the Troika and Government of Transition as the issue surrounding the return of H.E. Mr Ravalomanana and his family (including his wife) is still being negotiated and to be included as part of the final agreement started in the Seychelles.

6. The MCO further strongly condemns this action which is not in tandem with the letter and spirit of the current negotiations.

Thus SADC condemned Lalao Ravalomanana for attempting to return to her country and not Andry Rajoelina for expelling her manu-militari.  It appears that SADC did not intend for Article 20 of the SADC Roadmap to be implemented and endorsed forced exile as means to prevent its implementation.

In March 2013, with her mother in the hospital in Antananarivo, Ms. Ravalomanana asked to be able to return to Madagascar to see her mother.  Before she was allowed to return to her country, President Kikwete of Tanzania in his capacity of Chairman of the SADC Troika, collaborated with Andry Rajoelina to require Mrs. Ravalomanana and her husband to sign an agreement (he actually signed both for himself and for her) that included the following points.

While in Madagascar she [Lalao Ravalomanana] will be free to communicate and meet with anyone but must refrain from making political statements and organize political rallies.  This could inflame the situation.

5. Madam Lalao Ravalomanana’s duration of the stay and departure will be determined by circumstances and condition of her sick mother in Madagascar.

That duration of former’s first lady stay in Madagascar will be premised upon the following circumstances and conditions:

n  The state of health of the former first lady’s mother; as mentioned in point 5; and certified by medical experts in the institution where she is being attended.

n  Compliance to the conditions of the agreement.

This agreement is basically extortion in the form “sign here, or else you may never see your mother alive again.”  It puts President Kikwete in the position of going against the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (“Everyone has the right … to return to his country”; “Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression” – there have been no problems with public order related to Mrs. Ravalomanana being a candidate that could justifiably be used to restrict her rights under the Universal Declaration).  The restrictions placed on Mrs. Ravalomanana’s rights in effect make her a second-class citizen in her own country; this has been described as international approval for apartheid in Madagascar. The agreement also puts President Kikwete in the position of violating Article 20 of the SADC Roadmap by placing conditions on Mrs. Ravalomanana’s return.

Nouvelle image (4)

This photograph, of SADC mediator Joaquim Chissano bending over Lalao Ravalomanana’s mother at her bedside on 12 July 2013, has caused some to suggest that he was evaluating her health to see if SADC would still allow Lalao Ravalomanana to remain in Madagascar or else give a green light to Rajoelina to have her expelled from her country once again.

After Mrs. Ravalomanana filed her papers to be a candidate for president on 25 April 2013, president Chissano told the press on 2 May 2013, as to the “eligibility or ineligibility of [Lalao Ravalomanana’s] presidential candidature, … it is a matter to be seen by the Special Electoral Court.”

In ruling Lalao Ravalomanana’s candidature acceptable on 3 May 2013, the CES recognized that forced exile was not a legitimate reason for preventing a person from being a candidate for elected office and acknowledged that she was prevented from returning to Madagascar on several occasions against her will.

President Chissano, in his report for the International Contact Group for Madagascar (ICG-M) meeting of 26 June 2013, explained the position of the Ravalomanana Mouvance as follows.

The Mouvance Ravalomanana insisted … that the candidature of Lalao Ravalomanana was perfectly legal and complied with all relevant laws of Madagascar. Furthermore, they stressed that Mme. Lalao was not bound by the agreement signed by Ravalomanana and Rajoelina, with the assistance of the Chairman of the SADC Troika, for her return to Madagascar for humanitarian reasons, with a clause interdicting her from participating in political activities; they say she never signed such agreement.  They also argue that she was kept out of country against her will and that when she once tried to come back she was deported by the authorities. Therefore, they argue, she should be retained in the approved list of candidatures.

In his report, President Chissano does not present any counter argument as to why Mrs. Ravalomanana should not be considered an approved candidate or how it is that SADC’s view of the matter changed between 2 May when he said it was up to the CES to decide, and 10 May, the day SADC put out a communiqué saying SADC “expressed grave concern on the decision of the Special Electoral Court to endorse illegitimate candidatures for the forthcoming Presidential elections in violation of the Malagasy Constitution and the Electoral Law” and called on Rajoelina, Didier Ratsiraka, and Lalao Ravalomanana to withdraw their candidatures.  In between, the CES ruling came out on 3 May and that evening Rajoelina flew to Tanzania for a red-carpet reception and photo-op session with Tanzanian President Jakaya Kikwete.  Then France announced on 6 May its “deception” that the CES had accepted the candidatures of Rajoelina, Didier Ratsiraka, and Lalao Ravalomanana.

 Nouvelle image (5)

Andry Rajoelina and Tanzanian President Jakaya Kikwete, 3 May 2013

The assumption is that SADC (and all the other international groups that have called Mrs. Ravalomanana’s candidacy “illegitimate” or “illegal” and called on her to withdraw her candidacy) considers Mrs. Ravalomanana to have violated the 6 month residency requirement because her expulsion on 27 July 2012 at the hands of Rajoelina’s security forces did not leave her in the country long enough to satisfy the residency requirement by the time of filing.

On 26 June 2013, the ICG-M, acting on President Chissano’s report, termed Mrs. Ravalomanana’s candidacy, as well as those of Andry Rajoelina and Didier Ratsiraka, “illegal” and urged “the illegal presidential candidates to withdraw their candidatures for the sake of peace and stability in Madagascar”.  “The Group encouraged the international community to consider applying robust, targeted sanctions against all Malagasy stakeholders undermining the smooth running of the electoral process and the full implementation of the Roadmap. Those sanctions could include travel ban and freezing of assets of those leaders, their relatives, collaborators and close business partners.”

(Note that the ICG-M is not threatening sanctions against non-Malagasy people who are undermining the full implementation of the Roadmap.  Also note that while the ICG-M has said that there are illegal candidates other than Rajoelina, Lalao Ravalomanana, and Didier Ratsiraka, the ICG-M has not named them, but is nevertheless threatening them and their families with sanctions unless they withdraw.)

The ICG-M requirement that the three candidates withdraw is nothing short of extortion in the form “do this or else we will go after you, your family members, your collaborators, and your business partners.”  On 13 July 2013, President Chissano gave the three “illegal” candidates until the end of July to withdraw their candidatures or face sanctions.  President Chissano’s 31 July deadline was formalized as part of a 7-Point Plan put out by the African Union on 16 July. The EU and South Africa have expressed support for the 7-Point Plan.

Similar tactics have worked before. In March 2009, soldiers loyal to Andry Rajoelina took over Ambohitsorohitra palace “to hasten Ravalomanana’s departure” and Rajoelina and his insurrectional ‘justice minister’ threatened to have Ravalomanana arrested.  These were some of the “threats and pressures that pushed Ravalomanana to do what he did” that a diplomat later described as having been part of the coup d’état.  Nevertheless, after he was ousted, the international community proclaimed that Ravalomanana “really did resign” and in so doing gave up his right to be president. The situation now is very similar: the ends (resignation in 2009, withdrawal in 2013) justify the means (threats in both cases).  If Lalao Ravalomanana yields to the threats of the international community and withdraws her candidacy, they will say she did so voluntarily, as already specified in the 7-Point Plan.

France, via Ambassador Goldblatt’s Bastille Day speech, defended France’s imposition of travel sanctions against Lalao Ravalomanana essentially by saying that France’s position is consistent with the positions of SADC, the European Union, African Union, Organisation Internationale de la Francophonie, United Nations, and the International Contact Group for Madagascar.

None of these organizations has provided explanation as to how it is that they consider forced exile to be a legitimate reason for preventing a person from being a candidate for elected office in Madagascar or how it is that they feel justified in promoting threats and extortion to force people to withdraw their candidacies.  Other than simply filing to be a candidate for elected office in her country and exercizing her right to freedom of speech, none has said what it is that Lalao Ravalomanana has done wrong to merit sanctions against her and her family.

The EU representative in Madagascar has been quoted as saying that in order to hold an election in 2013, that it might be OK to cheat a little on the law that says that elections can’t be held in the rainy season.  It boggles the mind as to why for the EU it would be OK to be flexible with respect to the law about the timing of the election, but imperative for forced exile to be maintained as a legitimate reason to make a person’s candidacy illegal.

In his speech on 14 July, the French Ambassador invoked Machiavelli, saying that some see France acting as Machiavelli, but he defended France as acting on “universal principles of justice, promise, and hope”: “ils ont cru lire Machiavel, là où seuls les principes universels de justice, de promesse et d’espoir venaient de s’exprimer.”

But just because France says it is acting in terms of principles of universal justice does not make it so. Just because international organizations support forced exile does not make it right.  Just because international organizations find it appropriate to use threats and extortion to get people to withdraw their candidatures does not mean justice for Madagascar will be done or peace will prevail.  It is enough to make Machiavelli blush.

Who Cares About Madagascar?

In the 2010 edition of Dr. Magstadt’s book, the box on Madagascar (p. 125) is different in two respects from the box in the 2011 edition (p. 105).  In the earlier version, the title is “Spotlight on Madagascar” and the illustration is a photograph of Rajoelina on his inauguration day, complete with his power paraphernalia. In the 2011 edition, the title has been changed to “Who Cares About Madagascar?” and the illustration is a map of Madagascar as if to encourage students to learn more about the country.

An answer to Dr. Magstadt’s question comes at the end of an article titled “Madagascar: Villagers Accuse the Army of Abuses” that came out on 12 July 2013. The article describes how Rajoelina’s security forces burned numerous villages in southern Madagascar in 2012.  A UN-led investigation was supposed to have been launched but has never gotten off the ground.  “A foreign diplomat close to the matter affirmed that « Madagascar is not a priority on the international scene. If a member of the Security Council of the United Nations does not push the issue, nothing is going to happen. The truth is no one cares. »”

To quote Phil Collins, “it’s another day for you and me in paradise.”  The International Community would do well to think twice about continuing to use threats and extortion to force Lalao Ravalomanana to “voluntarily” withdraw her candidacy.


Joel Smythe


Publié le 21 juillet 2013, dans Françafrique, France, Madagasikara - Crise, et tagué , , , , . Bookmarquez ce permalien. 2 Commentaires.

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