ITS so sad. After decades of economic mismanagement and periodic political crises,Madagascar,one of the world’s poorest countries,looked set for sustained development and a return to the (relative) prosperity it once knew in the 1960s. Since President Marc Ravalomanana came to power in 2002,the former French colony in the Indian Ocean had enjoyed average economic growth of 5 per cent a year,a booming tourist industry,rising foreign investment and stability. Now it has been plunged back into political turmoil with all that entails for its still fragile economy.
On January 26th long-simmering social and political tempers boiled over into an outbreak of rioting,looting and burning in Antananarivo,the country’s capital,as tens of thousands took to the streets,egged on by their young firebrand mayor and opposition leader,Andry Rajoelina. They have been protesting against rising food prices and the perceived autocratic behaviour of their president,owner of Tiko,the islands biggest food conglomerate.
After a week of violence that left up to 100 dead,the 34-year-old Mr Rajoelina,a self-made business tycoon and former disc jockey,announced that he was now in charge of the country. Accusing Mr Ravalomanana of squandering public money and of threatening the country’s young democracy,he demanded the president step down by February 7th or face
impeachment by the Constitutional Court.
At one point,it looked as if Mr Rajoelina,who has been in politics for barely a year,might have overplayed his hand. Few heeded his call for renewed protests and strikes on February 2nd. But on the next day his supporters’ ire was reignited when the government announced his summary dismissal for allegedly failing to carry out his duties as mayor. Hundreds of demonstrators again took to the streets in protest against what the mayor claims to be an invalid decision.
Ironically,the last time Madagascar saw protests like this was when Mr Ravalomanana,then (like Mr Rajoelina) the capital’s mayor,called on the Malagasy people to back democracy,after a disputed presidential election. On that occasion Mr Ravalomanana claimed (almost certainly rightly) to have won the contest. After six months of demonstrations,Mr Ravalomanana declared himself president and set up a new government.
Leaders at this weeks African Union summit in Addis Ababa,the Ethiopian capital,ever anxious about threats to their own legitimacy,roundly condemned Mr Rajoelinas attempted putsch. Last year Guinea and Mauritania were both suspended from the 53-member organisation after successful coups. Addressing the meeting,Ban Ki-moon,the UN secretary-general,said he was deeply concerned by the violence in Madagascar,which is embarrassingly due to play host to the organisations next summit,in July.
Whatever happens now,Madagascars 20m people,most of whom survive on less than $1 a day,are bound to suffer. Foreign investors and tourists will both be deterred by the political instability and risk of violence. Standard and Poor’s,a credit-rating agency,has downgraded its outlook for the island from stable to negative. Poor Madagascar,indeed.
© The Economist Newspaper Limited 2009