12 February 2014

Madagascar: Tough Challenges Ahead for Madagascar's New President

Photo: Sascha Grabow
Antananarivo, Madagascar

For five years Madagascar was paralyzed by a political crisis. New president Hery Rajaonarimampianina says he wants to reestablish the rule of law and fight corruption. This will be a tough task.

In front of the children's hospital Tsaralana in the capital Antananarivo, people wait in the shade of a wall as the sun blazes down. Inside pediatrician Heritiana Randrianjafinimpanana puts a stethoscope to the chest of a 9 year-old boy. His mother says he's been feeling weak for two months and sometimes he can hardly stand up. The boy shyly looks down at the floor.

It is not until the doctor asks him to step on the scales, that it becomes clear what the boy is suffering from. He weighs less than 20 kilograms (44 pounds), a clear sign of malnutrition.

Dr Randrianjafinimpanana says cases of malnutrition rose under the transition government

It's a problem that increased sharply under the transitional government (2009 - 2013), the doctor told DW. "During the transition period, there were far more deaths than usual, and more fatal illnesses, he said. In his view, extreme poverty is the main cause. "I expect the new government to think first and foremost about people's living conditions," he said.

'Change of course'

About half the 22 million inhabitants of Madagascar have lived on less than one US dollar (73 euro cents) a day since foreign investors turned their backs on the island, following a coup in 2009. After Andry Rajoelina seized power from President Marc Ravalamonana, western governments cut their aid. The fight between supporters of archenemies Rajoelina and Ravalomana brought the country to a standstill and cost more than 130 lives. Tourists stayed away from the Indian Ocean island.

It was only some five years after the coup that the two sides agreed to hold fresh elections. Ravalomanana went into exile in South Africa and Rajoelina declared he would not run for president. Instead his finance minister, Hery Rajaonarimampianina, became the Rajoelina camp's candidate - and won the election. But should a member of the former coup regime now be the one to lead the country? Of course there were difficulties during the transition period, President Rajaonarimampianina said in an interview with DW. "But that time is now over. And the fact that we are again showing respect for the constitution is evidence that we are changing course."

Is Rajoelina planning a comeback?

That respect could be seen as judges in long red robes entered the constitutional court in Antananarivo. Every chair was occupied. The ceremony was to announce the official results of the parliamentary elections which were held last December together with the presidential poll.

But what the judges then proclaimed was not necessarily good news for the process of political change in the country. 49 parliamentarians, the majority, are members of Rajoelina's party. That means he could become prime minister in the government of his former finance minister. In the courtroom there are murmurings of "the Russian option," a reference to the fact that, in 2008, Russian president Vladimir Putin smoothed the way for his friend Dmitri Medvedev to assume the highest office while he became prime minister. Four years later, Putin was president again.

President Rajaonarimampianina has vowed to fight corruption

Despite this, the European Union's foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton conveyed her congratulations on a successful parliamentary election. However, it is clear that the EU does not want to see coup leader Rajoelina back in power. The message from Brussels is one of approval for the declared intention of the new president to break with the past.

Such a break would also mean finally getting to grips with corruption in Madagascar. For example, with the mafia-like trade with rare types of wood such as tulipwood. The new president says he wants to put an end to smuggling and protect the island's unique natural diversity. But this could prove difficult. The country's elite have long profited from illegal trade. "It is true that the level of corruption in Madagascar is worryingly high," President Rajaonarimampianina told DW. "That is why I will fight a merciless battle against it."

Hoping for a stronger state

Louisette Vohangy Malala is among those hoping for a stronger state. She lives a few kilometers outside the capital and, like most Malagasy, makes her living from agriculture. In the small field she owns, she has dug holes in the red earth into which she presses cassava seedlings. The proceeds from the harvest supplement her inadequate earnings as a fruit trader. Malala is hoping the new government will ensure greater security and a stronger police presence. "In the last few years, people were able to steal from my field without being punished," she said.

Some of the seedlings Malala planted a few weeks earlier have grown shoots and green leaves can be seen. If all goes well, she can harvest the cassava in a year's time. Whether Madagascar will then have a stable government which will restore wealth and security in the country is less certain.

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