SADC Can Afford to Play a Waiting Game

SADC has little to gain by reacting strongly to Malagasy President Andry Rajoelina’s defiant rejection of its insistence that he allow his exiled opponents back home.

It can afford to wait patiently while pressure mounts on Rajoelina from elsewhere, satisfied that he will have to make the first move – as he did after ousting President Marc Ravalomanana with military backing in 2009.

For more than a year, he effectively ignored SADC. But the UN and the EU had followed the African Union (AU) and SADC in refusing to recognise his government, thus depriving him of much of the donor aid that provided more than half his predecessor’s national budget.

With his membership of the UN suspended, the World Bank no longer does business with Madagascar, cutting Rajoelina off from any meaningful line of international credit. He recognised that SADC, rather than the Francophone community, offered a route back into global society and in late 2010 began seriously engaging the SADC appointed facilitator, former Mozambican President Joachim Chissano.

With Chissano he has coupled an obvious talent for brinkmanship with an appreciation that SADC believes it has little direct leverage over him: Madagascar lives in relative isolation from the mainland, and its economy – unlike Zimbabwe’s – does little business with SADC.

It has been clear for some months that Chissano has been unable to manoeuvre his way around SADC’s central difference with Rajoelina: SADC wants free and fair elections; Rajoelina and his security chiefs want elections quickly and without the inconvenience of the political formations supporting his three immediate – elected – predecessors, Mouvance Ravalomanana, Mouvance (Didier) Ratsiraka and Mouvance (Albert) Zafy.

On 12 June SADC cut through the diplomatic niceties and insisted that “Malagasy people in exile for political reasons … be allowed to return to the country unconditionally including Mr Marc Ravalomanana”. Ravalomanana was singled out because, a week earlier at a pre-summit positioning meeting in Botswana, he made it clear that SADC would be on shaky legal ground endorsing an election in which an unelected incumbent had effectively selected his opponents. When Rajoelina objected at the 11-12 June 2011 Sandton summit that Ravalomanana had been convicted in abstentia of treason, the assembled presidents bluntly told him to arrange an amnesty or a pardon.

Rajoelina flew home, “met with his allies”, and had his security chiefs announce they would arrest Ravalomanana should he return.

In doing this he has over-estimated both SADC’s willingness to compromise further – diplomats in Pretoria acknowledge chronic “Madagascar-fatigue” – and the Francophone community’s willingness to publicly champion his cause.

While Paris continues to provide some aid and French diplomats have advised Rajoelina on limiting the effects of isolation (see SAR Vol 29 No 14), France’s recent African exploits in the Ivory Coast and Libya have left it sensitive to the idea of openly endorsing defiance of a formally constituted regional authority. Within hours of the public refusal to allow Ravalomanana back, Euro-MPs were advocating the imposition of mandatory EU and UN Security Council sanctions on Madagascar. In the polarised Security Council climate following Nato’s abuse of the Libyan no-fly zone resolution this would require strong AU endorsement to carry, but even the possibility would hurt. This is also true of solo EU action.

For its part, SADC can afford to wait Rajoelina out: Chissano and chief negotiator Leonardo Simao have been asked by pro-Rajoelina minority parties for further discussions in Antananarivo and can be expected there soon. But their principals have spoken, so the pair can no longer compromise in the face of Rajoelina’s brinkmanship. With Europe preparing to turn up the heat on Rajoelina, SADC will be content to wait until Rajoelina is ready to concede.

On Madagascar meanwhile, the security forces’ support for Rajoelina has never been unconditional. The generals do not want Ravalomanana back, but Rajoelina has offered them little since taking power other than tight budgets and international isolation. At some stage they will begin considering an alternative.