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France has won kudos for its military intervention in Mali, silencing many critics of its “meddling” in African affairs, who have had to admit it saved the day.
President François Hollande insisted after his election last year that the bad old neo-colonial days of France interfering in African affairs purely in its own interests were over.
So it is dismaying that France is still interfering in the political crisis in the Indian Ocean island of Madagascar, contradicting the Southern African Development Community (SADC), which is charged with resolving the crisis.
France has never concealed its preference for current leader Andry Rajoelina over Marc Ravalomanana, the twice-elected president Rajoelina toppled in a military coup in March 2009, and forced into exile in South Africa.
But one might have expected France to be satisfied now that both men have recently agreed to SADC’s entreaties not to run for president in elections later this year. This so-called “ni-ni” option was, after all, France’s idea.
Yet on Friday, France’s ambassador to Madagascar, Francois Goldblatt, was at it again, publicly declaring it would be a good idea for Ravalomanana to remain in exile in South Africa until after the elections.
This remark annoyed most governments, including South Africa and other SADC governments, diplomats said, as it directly countered the SADC’s own position that Ravalomanana must be allowed to return to Madagascar “unconditionally”.
Rajoelina has been blocking Ravalomanana’s return for years. But when Ravalomanana agreed not to stand for president, that ought to have removed any threat he posed.
Ravalomanana evidently believed that the SADC ensuring his right to return was a quid pro quo for his agreement not to run for president.
Ravalomanana insists he still has the right to go home to participate in the presidential and legislative elections, even if not as a presidential candidate. This is related to charges brought against him by Malagasy citizens that he was responsible for his presidential guards shooting demonstrators against his government.
The court’s decision has thrown the ball into the SADC’s court, as has the French ambassador’s provocative remark – and the recent antics of Rajoelina.
There are dark rumblings on the island that he may tell the SADC to go to hell – as he has often done before – and run for president anyway.
And diplomats in Madagascar fear Rajoelina may be on the verge of badly destabilising the fragile multiparty, transitional government by firing Prime Minister Omer Beriziky, an opposition representative. That is because Beriziky is opposing Rajoelina’s plans to reverse the sequence of the elections, holding the legislative poll first and the presidential vote second.
That would allow him to stay in office longer, use his total control of state resources to ensure his party wins the parliamentary poll, and thus pave the way for its candidate to be elected president.
The electoral authority Cenit and the international community have also rejected Rajoelina’s proposal, although they agreed last week to postpone the presidential and parliamentary elections by two months, for acceptable technical reasons, without changing the sequence.
Rajoelina “threw his toys out the cot” on TV on Friday, berating Beriziky, Cenit and the international community, diplomats said.
“He’s in a sour mood and the atmosphere is tense and nasty. He’s capable of anything,” one diplomat added, saying SADC governments were also growing increasingly concerned about how Rajoelina was monopolising state media to conduct his party’s election campaign.
This contradicted the SADC road map’s requirement for state media to remain politically neutral through the transition.
“SADC can’t duck this issue for much longer,” one diplomat said, adding that sanctions were becoming an increasingly likely option.
But whether the SADC has the guts to stand up to Rajoelina remains doubtful.
Leonardo Simao, assistant to the SADC’s Madagascar envoy Joaquim Chissano, is evidently wavering, saying the SADC will first have to assess the security implications before approving Ravalomanana’s return.
Some diplomats suspect Tanzanian President Jakaya Kikwete feels the same.
For its own credibility and autonomy, though, the SADC needs to resist interference and insist Rajoelina stick to the SADC’s own road map in every way, including allowing Ravalomanana to go home.