30 May 2014

Madagascar: Emerging From the Woods

Photo: Swazi Media Commentary
Teachers and other workers protested in Swaziland , appealing for an international asset freeze against King Mswati III (file photo).

Madagascar's new President, Hery Rajaonarimampianina, is working tooth and nail to get his country back into the comity of nations after the 2009 coup that led to a five-year political deadlock was aggravated by international isolation.

The efforts appear to be paying off after he set to work following his electoral victory on January 3, 2014. He won the December 2013 runoff presidential poll against Jean Louis Robinson.

Governance Vision

Rajaonarimampianina, 55, an economist and chartered accountant, says his priorities include national solidarity and reconciliation. He has promised to maintain subsidy on fuel to prevent inflation while his tourism target is 500,000 arrivals in two years' time. The new leader has pledged to boost rural infrastructure in order to ensure agricultural production and food security.

He is also offering free primary school education and intends to create mobile hospitals in remote zones. Finance Minister, Lantoniaina Rasoloelison, forecasts that the economy could grow by 3 per cent this year and hit 12 per cent in five years' time. The World Bank, on the other hand, talks of a 3.7 per cent economic expansion this year and 4 per cent in 2015.

Diplomatic Offensive

President Hery Rajaonarimampianina was in the US last March to seek the support of the world's biggest aid institutions, hoping to revive support for his impoverished country. While in America, Rajaonarimampianina also met executives of ExxonMobil and other oil companies, hoping to attract their investments.

World Bank, IMF Support

The visit of the new President to Washington was thus crucial, with major donors waiting for the International Monetary Fund, IMF, to give its green light before resuming aid. The fund has officially recognised the new government. Following the trip, the World Bank and the European Union last March announced they will resume financial support to Madagascar.

Prompted by the peaceful election of President Hery Rajaonarimampianina earlier this year, the IMF restored ties with Madagascar for the first time since 2009.

From April 23 to May 6, 2014, an IMF mission visited Antananarivo and reached agreement on a programme under which the country can access 47.4 million US Dollars (about FCFA 23 billion). The mission noted with satisfaction that the authorities were able to maintain macroeconomic and financial stability during the difficult period of economic disruption.

Many big donors are likely to take a cue from the IMF. External financing made up 40 per cent of Madagascar's budget until donors withdrew aid after rebel troops in March 2009 stormed the presidential palace and later installed former disc jockey, Andry Rajoelina, as Transitional Head of State.

UN Scribe's Imminent Visit

The United Nations Secretary General, Ban Ki-moon, is set to visit Madagascar at a date to be determined, becoming only the second UN chief to travel to the island nation after Kofi Annan in March 2006. The trip will be a significant diplomatic opening for Madagascar. The invitation was extended by President Hery Rajaonarimampianina during his visit to the US last March.

US Contacts, AGOA Eligibility

The United States last month promised to evaluate the restoration of bilateral relations with Madagascar, including the country's eligibility for trade benefits under the African Growth and Opportunity Act, AGOA. The American Chargé d'Affaires in Antananarivo, Eric Wong, also expressed confidence that as Madagascar's progress continued, a new US Ambassador will be sent to the country for the first time since 2010.

Similarly, the US Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs, Ambassador Robert Jackson, recently visited Madagascar and participated in the International Contact Group for Madagascar meeting. He was the most senior American official to visit the country since 2010. Since then, senior delegations from Madagascar have travelled to Washington for talks with key international financial institutions. Before the crisis, the US was one of the largest bilateral donors to Madagascar.

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