Madagascar: Ravalomanana return only issue unresolved

The only issue hindering a settlement of the crisis in Madagascar, according to Tomas Salomao, Executive Secretary of the Southern African Development Community (SADC), is the return to the island of Marc Ravalomanana, the president overthrown in the coup of March 2009.


Addressing a press briefing in Maputo, on the eve of a meeting of the SADC Council of Ministers, Salomao said that when Ravalomanana met on the Seycehelles on 25 July with the man who overthrew him, Andry Rajoelina, the issues separating them had been reduced to just two – Ravalomanana’s return, and whether the planned presidential and parliamentary elections should be held separately or simultaneously.

The meeting was organised because an extraordinary SADC summit, held in Luanda on 1 June, mandated the Troika of the SADC Organ on Defence and Security Cooperation to convene talks between Rajoelina and Ravalomanana in order to ensure implementation of the Road Map agreed by the Malagasy political parties last November.

After that meeting, the two rivals said they needed “time to reflect”, but by the time the second meeting on the Seychelles was held, on 8 August, the question of the elections had been solved. The Madagascar Independent Electoral Commission, a body supported by the United Nations, announced that presidential elections would be held in May 2013, and parliamentary elections in July.

Ravalomanana and Rajoelina declared they supported the decision by the electoral commission, “and so the electoral question is out of the way”, declared Salomao.

But no agreement has been reached on Ravalomanana’s return. Indeed, after the 8 August talks Rajoelina went so far as to state that Ravalomanana must be kept from returning to power “at all costs”.

He has threatened that Ravalomanana will be arrested as soon as he sets foot on the island. He was sentenced in absentia to life imprisonment with hard labour by a kangaroo court in Antananarivo after the 2009 coup. He was accused of responsibility for the deaths of 30 demonstrators in clashes, although in reality it was Rajoelina who was fighting to overthrow a democratically elected President.

Salomao said that SADC wanted “the unconditional return of Ravalomanana to Madagascar”, and the question of any criminal charges against him could be dealt with under Article 46 of the Road Map.

“If there is some matter before the courts”, Salomao said delicately, “his return does not eliminate the court proceedings”.

Salomao insisted that Rajoelina and Ravalomanana are not the only politicians in Madagascar, and that the other eight parties involved in negotiating the Road Map “must also be part of the process”.

A SADC consultative mission, led by South African Deputy Foreign Minister Marius Fransman, was in Madagascar on Sunday, and will report to a SADC troika meeting scheduled for Thursday night, on the eve of the heads of state summit.

But Fransmans’ brief statements after the mission’s visit do not coincide with Salomao’s optimism. He said the signatories to the Road Map have “different interpretations” of the Road Map articles on Ravalomanana’s “unconditional return”, and on the court proceedings.

Unexpectedly, the SADC leaders may find themselves faced with a border dispute between Malawi and Tanzania. Resorting to a treaty between the British and German colonial authorities of 1890, Malawi has staked a claim to the entire northern portion of Lake Niassa. Not surprisingly, Tanzania thinks that half of this part of the lake belongs to it.

The issue has become important because there are indications of significant oil and gas reserves under the lake. To Tanzania’s annoyance, Malawi’s late president Bingu wa Mutharika granted a British company, Surestream Petroleum, rights to explore the lake for hydrocarbons, and this is one area where Mutharika’s successor, Joyce Banda, has not reversed his policy.

Tanzania urged Malawi to halt the exploration, and the Malawian government refused. Patrick Kabambe, the principal secretary in the Malawian Foreign Ministry declared bluntly “We categorically put it to them that, as far as we are concerned, the entire lake belongs to Malawi”.

Salomao said that SADC recommends that the Tanzanian and Malawian authorities deal with the matter “with the necessary discretion, and then inform the public. This is happening”.

“The lake will always be there, you can’t move it”, said Salomao. “Malawi and Tanzania will always be neighbours and good sense should prevail”.

He urged the two governments to enter into dialogue to reach an understanding. “But if they can’t reach agreement, then the matter must go to the relevant international forum or court”, said Salomao, pointing out that bodies exist specifically to arbitrate on border issues, including rights over inland waters.

“Under no circumstances should the resort to force be regarded as an option”, Salomao stressed.

Post published in: Africa News
  1. lazarus

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *