TRALAC - Trade Law Centre

Column: 'The truth as Madagascar goes downhill'

Sunday, 04 April 2010

Source: Nigeria Champion

Lagos - The political crisis in the Indian Ocean island of Madagascar has been rumbling on for more than a year. The genesis of the current problems may be traced to sometime in 2008, when opposition protesters, loyal to the former Mayor of Antananarivo, the national capital, started what turned out to be weeks and weeks of random rallies against the elected government of President Marc Ravalomanana, in an effort to bring it down. The leader of the protests happened to be one Andre Rajuoline, a thirty-three-year-old former disc jockey-turned-politician.

Both Ravalomanana and Rajuoline had fallen out while the latter was the Mayor of Antananarivo but, as the anti-government protests slowly began to turn violent, and as they picked up in pace and regularity, the president decided to act. His supporters began marshalling their own people out onto the streets, and Ravalomanana moved to oust Rajuoline from his mayoral job.

The confrontations did not end there. The anti-government protests gathered as much momentum as they increased in attendance. The protesters wanted the president, who received his first five-year mandate in 2001 against the backdrop of violent, daily demonstrations against the old order, to resign. They accused him of corruption and of putting the interests of foreign businesses ahead of those of the country. They said he was also guilty of nepotism and had ran out of ideas.

As the power tussle between the two men continued, either man started looking to the direction of the military. They, i.e. either civilian politician, knew that the backing of the generals, one way or the other, would tilt the struggle their way. But, at one point, it became clear to the president that the leadership of the army wanted him out, too. Radical changes he made to the top echelon of the military could not save the day. Fourteen months ago, the game was up for the elected president, as it were. Soldiers were being ordered by their superiors to stop confronting the demonstrators, and army commanders no longer took orders from their elected commander-in-chief. The protesters had begun to move, slowly and slowly, towards-the presidential palace. So, the president had to step down. The general he handed power over to rejected it, and instead, turned the reins of power over to Mr. Ravalomanana's archrival, Mr. Rajuoline.

It is not as if Madagascar and its people have been experiencing better times since the departure of their president, who now lives in voluntary exile in South Africa. On the contrary, the island" nation has plunge downhill, politically and economically, ever since.

Political wrangling have, no doubt, dominated the attention of the population; and whilst that is happening, donors and investors have been, surely, but, slowly, disengaging from the country.

Three months ago, for instance, the United States government, which ranks as one of the biggest suppliers of aid to Madagascar, suspended the country from its AGOA Agreement, i.e. a preferential trade deal that helped the island create a booming textile industry.

There is no political settlement in sight, and for that reason, Madagascar loses business randomly, so that tens of thousands of jobs are now at risk, Madagascar's textile factories are said to employ something in excess of 50,000 people, while as many as a hundred-thousand others depend on them for indirect employment.

But, soon, rather than later, many of these people will be out of a job, resulting from their country's suspension from the AGOA trade agreement, or the Africa Growth and Opportunity Act.

What steps, if any, is the military-backed government of Madagascar taking to remedy the situation? In answer, the national Minister of Economy and Industry told a reporter: "There are projects that we're proposing for people who've lost their jobs. There are agro-business projects, there is work in the public sector. There are all of these projects just waiting for people who've lost their jobs."

Despite those reassurances coming from the Rajuoline government, there are people who are less than convinced, "Where will the promised land for the agro-businesses come from?" one civil society leader asks.

Indeed, Madagascar's textile industry is worth more than 600 million United States Dollars a year. Factory owners and workers in the former French colony have called on their unelected president, Mr. Rajuoline, to hasten to reach an agreement with his political opponents, in order that their country may return to legitimate government. This, they say, could allow for the lifting of the suspension of Madagascar's participation in the AGOA project.

As they say, 'he that is down, fears no fall', as such, the country's already beleaguered factory owners and workers have little left to lose and are threatening to go on strike.

But, is their government listening? So far, Mr. Rajuoline and his military backers are not listening, it seems. They still have plans in place, despite domestic and international opposition, to conduct legislative elections in May. The opposition have said that, without reaching a political deal with all stakeholders, including the ousted President, Mr. Ravalomanana, there is no way the forth-coming polls will either be free or transparent. The international community, including the U.S., the European Union, (E.U), the African Union,( A.U), and SADEC [Southern Africa Development and Economic Commission), are not only in favour of reaching a solid political deal that will pave the way for the holding of a transparent and all-inclusive polls, but, they also support the opposition's demand for a power-sharing government.

As a matter of fact, an agreement to that effect had been reach between Mr. Rajuoline, Mr. Ravalomanana and the parties of the country's two other former presidents. That was towards the end of last year, when the two arch-enemies came out from weeks of negotiations, under the auspices of the A.U., to say that they were happy at the deal that allowed the parties to name nominees to occupy cabinet seats in a new transitional government, wherein Mr. Rajuoline would retain the job of "president", or leader of the interim government, while a senior member of Mr, Ravalomanana's party, and not the former president himself, would assume the new job of deputy interim leader.

What really transpired after the deal was notched up may be hard to explain. But, it appears that Mr. Rajuoline and his generals want back to their beds, slept over everything and awoke with a change of heart. Rajuoline attracted the ire of the international community, and particularly angered the Americans and the French, when he accused the opposition of insincerity, and said he "wanted a re-negotiated agreement". On three previous occasions, Madagascar's army-backed civilian leader had either reneged or stepped back from the edge of a deal with the political opposition.

So, the only plausible reason for his decision to renege on this one would be that he is afraid of losing out, in the event of a final political arrangement, which could involve internationally supervised elections.



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Click here to view a sector profile of Nigeria's bilateral trade with the United States, disaggregated by total exports and imports, AGOA exports and GSP exports.


Other regularly updated trade statistics on AGOA.info include: (click each link to view)

  • AGOA-Beneficiary Countries’ AGOA and GSP Trade Aggregates

  • AGOA Trade by Industry Sector

  • Apparel Trade under AGOA’s Wearing Apparel Provisions

  • Latest Apparel Quotas under AGOA

  • Bilateral Trade Data for all AGOA-eligible countries individually.