MADAGASCAR: Will AU sanctions be a "wake-up call"?

News and Press Release
Originally published
JOHANNESBURG, 18 March 2010 (IRIN) - True to its word, the African Union (AU) has announced the imposition of sanctions against Madagascar's "de facto authorities" - exactly a year after Andry Rajoelina, backed by the military, ousted former President Marc Ravalomanana.

The AU set a deadline in February, and warned that it would target Rajoelina's government - known as the Higher Transitional Authority - if it failed to implement an agreed power-sharing deal that would create a transitional coalition with Madagascar's four rival political parties.

"Starting from 17 March 2010", the bloc would impose "a travel ban against all members of the institutions set up by the de facto authorities born out of the unconstitutional change [of government], and all other individual members of the Rajoelina camp whose actions impede the AU and SADC [Southern African Development Community] efforts to restore constitutional order," said an AU Peace and Security Council communiqué.

The AU said it would also freeze the financial assets of all those "impeding the AU and SADC efforts to restore constitutional order", and pressed for the further diplomatic isolation of Malagasy authorities in non-African international organizations, such as the UN. The AU and the SADC both suspended Madagascar's membership in 2009.

The decision affects Rajoelina and 108 others, including senior military officials, advisers and judges. The Higher Transitional Authority does not conform to Madagascar's constitution and is largely unrecognized by the international community.

Rajoelina publicly renounced the internationally mediated power-sharing and coalition agreements in December 2009, refusing to share power with the three other political factions, each represented by a former president - Marc Ravalomanana, Didier Ratsiraka and Albert Zafy - and bickering over top government posts.

"I hope that these targeted sanctions will spur Andry Rajoelina into cooperating with the international community, and that they serve as a wake-up call," Ravalomanana commented in a statement on 17 March.

Beyond sanctions and reconciliation

Richard Marcus, Director of the International Studies Programme at California State University in the US, said it was uncertain whether sanctions and the international community's push for reconciliation would have the desired effect of breaking the political deadlock.

"We shouldn't ignore the erosion of trust between leaders, and recent Malagasy history. Ravalomanana and Ratsiraka did not share power in 2002 [when a disputed election led to months of violence]. Why, in the perspective of some, should he [Rajoelina]?"

"Everyone in Madagascar and in the international community wants to see an end to the crisis. The question the international community should be asking is: 'Do they [the four political leaders], in sum, represent the people of Madagascar?' It is far from clear that the four combined are representative."

Marcus said the mediation efforts were ignoring large influential groups in Madagascar, like significant regional leaders, a powerful private sector, civil society, entrenched church groups, a largely ethnically based aristocracy, and disparate military factions. "None of the four individually can deliver these groups, and it is far from clear that the four together can."