Tuesday, March 17, 2009

A coup? Mounting trouble in Madagascar

In a follow-up to this story from February, it looks like we have a full-blown coup in Madagascar.

It appears that opposition fighters led by 34-year-old ousted Antananarivo mayor and former disc jockey Andry Rajoelina have stormed a presidential palace, virtually forcing President Marc Ravalomanana out of power. He remains holed up in his grand residence and refuses to resign, hinting he may fight to the death.

The perceived corruption involved with the president's grand deal to lease a huge chunk of Madagascar's arable lands to Daewoo in order to facilitate South Korea's food security may have been the spark that has led to the president's downfall (there had already been a considerable powder keg of dissent, especially with the ousted mayor).

For it's part, Daewoo Logistics said last month that implementation of the plan has been put on hold. Meanwhile, the turmoil and bloodshed (at least 135 have been killed) has been a huge blow to the $390 million-a-year tourism industry that is focused on the island's unique flora and fauna.

UPDATE (following morning):
President Ravalomanana resigned Tuesday local time. He asked navy Admiral Hyppolite Ramaroson to form a military government, but he refused. Instead Madagascar's military chiefs have given the "charismatic" Rajoelina full powers. According to Reuters, some Western powers have threatened to "cut aid to anyone coming to power by force."

We'll have to see what happens in light of these events. Will Rajoelina hold elections? Will his new government honor the Daewoo deal, renegotiate it, or scrap it altogether? Will there be turmoil or will calm finally return to this once peaceful island nation that's home to the lemurs?

Frankly, the Philippines' Joseph Estrada alone is an excellent example of why charismatic media personalities don't always make for the best leaders (I guess California under Reagan and Schwarzenegger might be further examples; or Iowa under Gopher). I will have to look into Rajoelina's background a bit to see if he's up to the task.

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