Madagascar offers lessons for troubled states
MADAGASCAR’s December 20 elections are a victory for multilateral diplomacy led by the Southern African Development Community (Sadc) backed by political and economic sanctions imposed by democracies, including France, the US, the African Union and the United Nations, with the endorsement of China.
This diverse coalition pressed persistently for an end to a protracted political crisis in one of the world’s poorest states, and their progress may yield lessons for resolving chronic and costly civil conflicts elsewhere in Africa and around the world.
A 2009 coup against a democratically elected leader prompted this forceful nonviolent intervention to support a return to democratically elected government. This included fresh elections subject to unrestricted monitoring by the international community and responsible nongovernmental organisations, including our organisations, the Electoral Institute for Sustainable Democracy in Africa (Eisa) and the Carter Centre.
The elections were a necessary but insufficient step in breaking the cycle of winner-take-all elections that have bred repression and economic deprivation throughout Madagascar. Comprehensive international engagement must be sustained: first, to ensure the completion of a credible tabulation of results for the presidential and legislative races; second, to hold all parties accountable to their promises to respect and abide by the certified results; and, perhaps most important, to press for and reward the country’s first meaningful postelection process of national inclusion and reconciliation, a fitting tribute to Nelson Mandela.
Madagascar has been ruled for too long by strong men unconstrained by strong democratic institutions, typical of many impoverished conflict-prone countries. In the case of Madagascar’s latest coup, Sadc finally refused to recognise the new government. It launched a complex multilateral effort to implement an agreed "road map" to restore constitutional rule and the easing of sanctions. This process was skillfully negotiated by Sadc’s mediator, former Mozambican president Joaquim Chissano, and has brought Madagascar its greatest opportunity for economic and political success since independence from France in 1960.
The country’s challenges are daunting, despite fabulous untapped natural resources. The world’s fourth-biggest island, nearly the size of France, Madagascar is no longer the fantasy wildlife paradise portrayed in the 2005 Disney cartoon film of the same name. About 90% of that ancient Garden of Eden has been scarred by slash-and-burn farming and greedy plantations. A spike in poaching since 2009 threatens the extinction of rare redwoods and lemurs and other primates. Yet what remains of the rainforest still contains more than 15,000 plant species found nowhere else.
Reducing the suffering of Madagascar’s 22-million people, 90% of whom survive on less than $2 a day, should be everyone’s overriding concern.
Sadc’s democratic road map must be extended with broad international support to end this slow-burning humanitarian crisis and help Madagascar return to its pre-2009 growth rate of 7%, which has since tumbled to less than 1%.
Lifting economic sanctions and encouraging the resumption of huge foreign investment, including but not limited to the mining sector, should be a priority.
But these policy changes must come with conditions.
First, all parties and leaders must accept the electoral results, if deemed credible by impartial outside observers, and restrict all challenges to the process of judicial review they pledged to support at the start of the campaign.
Second, there must be a verifiable end to the country’s sordid postelection practice whereby the winner takes all, typically seizing the loser’s assets and forcing him into indefinite exile, jailing him and his supporters or worse — all this while the loser’s allies back home plot unconstitutional moves to depose the incumbent.
Third must be guarantees, open to international monitoring, that the army will stay out of politics.
Finally the new government must engage in open, transparent negotiations with its foreign partners to reach agreed development goals in all sectors of the economy with the support of socially responsible corporations.
Madagascar’s African and international partners should regard electoral success as the start of a long process not only to help relieve the suffering of the Malagasy people but to test techniques of collective engagement that might eventually help other troubled states.
• Uteem is a former president of Mauritius; Kadima is executive director of Eisa; and Stremlau is vice-president of the Carter Centre. They led a joint mission to observe Madagascar’s national elections.