Malagasy President Marc Ravalomanana has just stepped down and handed power over to the army. Why, after being re-elected for a second term two years ago, does this Malagasy politician find himself walking out the back door? Rewind to the start of the crisis...Colette Braeckman, a specialist on African politics, published this interview with Malagasy writer Jean-Luc Raharimanana, author of l'Arbre anthropophage (The Man-eating Tree), on her blog.
"After installing his own companies … a lot of people were displaced"
What led to blame being placed on the president?
In the coastal regions he'd lost all respect after he reformed property tax. Under the pretext of making it easier to buy property, the president allowed a lot of expropriation. Before, there were two systems in place: the traditional law and the modern law. The former worked by villagers sharing an understanding; although people didn't legally register their lands, everyone knew who owned what. The previous president Didier Ratsiraka had already started seizing lands that contained precious stones and handing them over to private businesses. But while the previous government allowed both systems to exist side by side, Ravalomanana cracked down hard. Throwing out the traditional system showed he was after land. After installing his own companies in the rice fields, a lot of people were displaced and moved to Ambatandrazaka, the rice producing region. The Daewoo affair (when an area half the size of Belgium was given to a South Korean company) was the result of pushing a certain logic to the extreme... Indeed, it created 50,000 jobs, but when you're only getting paid between 20 and 50 euros a month, is that really progress?
Why was the capital hostile towards the president?
In the centre of Tananarive (Antananarivo) town, people had their homes taken away in order to build wide avenues. Yes there was some compensation for them, and non-negotiable amounts set by the authorities. But they were mishandled. Many of Andry Rajoelina's supporters now are people from those areas, upset with having been displaced and stopped from having their own informal economy.
But at the start, Ravalomanana embodied a certain progress...
That's very true. However he was slow to put things into practice: in 2002 when he wasn't yet president and there were many demonstrations going on, he said that he would lead a ‘pacification', a ‘boar hunt' against his adversaries. In our country, the wild boar is an impure animal. The effect was that the president created his own media empire, closing down radio stations where opponents were free to express themselves, and replacing them with his own.
When did the opposition really start to speak out?
Problems started when the president replaced basic foodstuffs with products from his own companies. People said ‘everything we eat, everything we drink, it comes from him, while we become increasingly poorer...'. He then moved on to rice with the aim of increasing the price, which he did through exporting it. When the islanders could no longer afford it, he asked the World Bank for help and began importing Pakistani rice, which is poor quality and smells like chemicals. The people wanted their rice back, but that rice was on its way elsewhere, sold to foreigners.
We also saw the return of a practice that dates back to colonial times. ‘The right to harvest' was a rule that meant the indigenous people had to get the authorisation of the colonial power to collect and sell products from the land, like rice or vanilla. The idea was to formalise the entire agriculture sector so that the state could garner more taxes. The problem was that the only people who supported the idea were those close to the president!
Who is his rival, Andry Rajoelina?
He's also a businessman who launched his career at a very young age in setting up businesses in advertising. At the beginning there was a commercial rivalry between the two men and at one point the president had some of Andry Rajoelina's billboards taken down. That's why the latter got into politics. The two men are quite alike; they're both American-style liberals who turned against former president Ratsiraka (who was forced out and fled to France...) You have to remember that in a country like Madagascar there's no ‘regular' kind of liberalism. It can come in the most brutal form..."
Colette Braeckman is releasing the book "Vers la deuxième indépendance du Congo" ('Towards Congo's second independence') this week.