Calm after the Storm: For Decades, the Indian Ocean Island Nation of Madagascar Was One of the Poorest in Africa

African Business, December 2003 | Go to article overview

Calm after the Storm: For Decades, the Indian Ocean Island Nation of Madagascar Was One of the Poorest in Africa


Then a textile manufacturing and exporting explosion began to change everything. Just as the economy was reaching new highs, a political crisis practically shut down the nation. It is still counting the cost but the new man who emerged from the stand-off has promised even better growth in the future.

Madagascar's international renown was largely restricted to its distinctive flora and fauna prior to the 2002 political stalemate, which propelled the country into the world spotlight for all the wrong reasons.

A full scale civil war was only narrowly avoided, as a deal was reached to award the presidency to Marc Ravalomanana. A genuinely self-made man, he had already achieved remarkable success during his short tenure as mayor of Antananarivo and promised to be a new sort of Malagasy leader.

Yet the political impasse caused a great deal of harm to the country's rising economic reputation and rural poverty remains among the worst anywhere in Africa, so the new man faced a huge task.

The 2002 political crisis arose out of a number of complicated issues and centred around a straggle for power between Ravalomanana and incumbent Didier Ratsiraka. Following a first round of voting in the December 2001 Presidential election, Ravalomanana claimed to have secured enough votes to avoid entering a second round. Ratsiraka refused to budge, Ravalomanana organised a national strike and later declared himself President. After a recount, the High Constitutional Court declared Ravalomanana the victor.

Ratsiraka, supported by some provincial leaders refused to accept the verdict. At one stage, Madagascar had two presidents and two capitals. There was series of violent clashes which precipitated Ratsiraka flight to France. He has since been accused of embezzling $8m of government money just before he fled the country and has been sentenced to 10-years hard labour in his absence.

The Tiako-I-Madagasikara (I Love Madagascar: TIM) party of President Ravalomanana and Prime Minister Jacques Sylla is now considered to have a broad base of popular support, following its clear victory in the December 2002 legislative elections.

The TIM and a political ally, the National Solidarity party, secured 125 out of the 160 seats in parliament, while other parties which also participate in government won a further 30 seats. The former ruling party of Didier Ratsiraka, Association pour la renaissance de Madagascar (Arema) is divided and weak and it may take some time for concerted opposition to the TIM to emerge.

Civilian rule is yet to return to the entire country following the conflict and several provinces, whose governors backed Ratsiraka's secessionist struggle, remain under military control. Moreover, rumours of an invasion by Ratsiraka backed mercenaries have circulated in Antananarivo several times over the past year

The story of the President's rise to power contrasts sharply with the path taken by his predecessor. The track record of Ratsiraka, who took power after a coup in 1975, is similar to that of many African rulers of the same era. He initially pursued a policy of nationalisation and close government control of the economy but slow economic growth and rising debt appear to have triggered a U-turn in the mid-1980s when Ratsiraka became a born-again free marketer. Apart from a brief interlude in the mid-1990s, he continued to rule until the December 2001 election.

ROAD TO THE TOP

Ravalomanana owns the biggest Malagasy owned private company in the country, a dairy and oil products firm which he began from scratch as a young man and quickly built up. Following his success in the business world, Ravalomanana moved into politics in 1999 when he became mayor of the capital, Antananarivo. He was credited with a great deal of success in a short time, particularly in improving the physical appearance of the city. He then contested the December 2001 Presidential elections. …

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