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Madagascar: What Next, After Former President Is Denied Entry?

Former President Marc Ravalomanana attempted for the second time to return to Madagascar last Saturday 21 January, 2012. Malagasy citizens anxiously witnessed his attempt at returning home after three years in exile. But as reported by Niren Tolsi in the Mail and Guardian:

Ravalomanana's attempt to set foot on Malagasy soil was thwarted an hour before it was due to happen. According to the airline's security chief, the pilot had been informed by ground control at Ivato International Airport that it had been closed due to “security concerns”.

News filtering through suggested that large crowds — estimated between 20 000 and 30 000 — had gathered at Ivato in expectation of Ravalomanana. No one would say who had given the order to close the airport down, but Ravalomanana's aides suggested that it must have been an executive order from someone in the government of Andry Rajoelina (who had deposed Ravalomanana's democratically elected government in a 2009 coup).

Video of the attempted return uploaded by Jentilisa to YouTube on January 21:

Citoyenne Malgache, a local blogger reports emotionally on the bitter sweet feelings of his supporters [fr, mg] who came in great numbers to welcome him:

Et aujourd’hui quand tu es rentré chez toi le cœur triste de ne pas  avoir retrouvé celui que tu es venu accueillir,  tu te consoles : nous sommes venus nombreux, c’est notre victoire. Tu t’encourages : Andrasanay na amin’ny valo alina aza… Et tu sais que tu reviendras encore au prochain appel.
que deviendras-tu si tu te sens vaincu ? Tu n’es peut-être pas LE peuple mais tu en fais partie, et on n’a pas le droit de t’ignorer. Mais n’oublie pas que personne ne prendra soin de toi, sauf toi-même. Des gens se moqueront de toi : tsy ho avy eo izany ny dadanareo… Pour d’autres, tu n’es qu’objet d’analyse et de reportage. Certains se serviront sûrement de toi. Mais défends ton choix et assume le reste.

And today, you went back home with a heavy heart, you have not met who you came to welcome, but you [can] console yourself: we came numerous, that is our victory. You get courage: We will wait until 8 pm… And you know you will come back at the next call. What will you become if you feel vanquished? You may not be THE people, but you are part of it, and there is no right to ignore you. But do not forget that nobody will take care of you. Some will laugh at you : your father will not come… For others, you are a subject of analysis and reporting. Others will use you. But defend your choice and accept the rest.
Malagasy crowd at Ivato airport on January 21. Image by Jentilisa, used with permission.

Malagasy crowd at Ivato airport on January 21. Image by Jentilisa, used with permission.

Apparent dissent amongst Rajoelina's transitional government was pointed out by bloggers, as the Prime Minister and the Minister of Communications openly contradicted themselves regarding who issued the NOTAMs (‘Notices to Airmen'), the government or Rajoelina himself, or even if NOTAMs were issued, and whether Ravalomanana was going to be arrested, or not.

Prime Minister Omer Beriziky, a moderate politician, as interviewed on RFI [fr]:

Je peux vous assurer que le gouvernement, à aucun moment, n’avait donné l’ordre de fermer les aéroports à Madagascar. Le retour de l’ex-président était possible. Cependant, j’aurais souhaité que le retour de Marc Ravalomanana se fasse dans d’autres conditions. Je pensais qu’il était possible d’arriver à une solution consensuelle, c’est-à-dire que toutes les parties prenantes de la feuille de route puissent trouver ensemble une manière consensuelle de faire revenir le président dans sa patrie.

I can assure you that the government never ordered the closure of the airports in Madagascar. The return of the former president was possible. However, I would have preferred that he returns under different conditions. I thought it would be possible to come to a consensus, that all protagonists of the roadmap could find together a consensual way to return the president to his home country.
Crowd facing police forces in Madagascar by Mamysou. Used with permission.

Crowd facing police forces in Madagascar by Mamysou. Used with permission.

The transitional government did not have a coherent strategy to deal with the crisis, as summarized by VANF on his weekly column for Express de Madagascar [fr]:

Le ministre de la Défense dit s'en tenir au maintien de l'ordre, le chef de l'état-major mixte opérationnel (EMMO-Reg) d'Analamanga prétend appliquer un mandat d'arrêt contre Marc Ravalomanana, la ministre de la Justice préfère ne pas en rajouter, le Premier Ministre aurait assuré Marc Ravalomanana qu'il ne voyait aucun inconvénient à son retour à Madagascar.

The Defence Minister said he would ensure that order be maintained, the Chief of the Army in Analamanga pretends to use a warrant arrest against Ravalomanana, the Justice Minister stays mum [quiet], the Prime Minister would have assured Marc Ravalomanana that he saw no argument against his return to Madagascar.

Incredibly, the Minister of Communications, Rolly Mercia, denied that NOTAMs were ever issued [fr], despite evidence to the contrary. VANF adds [fr]:

Alors qu’il se répandait en interviews sur les médias pour déclarer qu’il n’y avait jamais eu de NOTAM, les copies des cinq NOTAM ordonnés par le P.T. lui- même étaient affichées sur le site internet de l’ASECNA, et partagées sur Twitter et Facebook. Grotesque ! Que faut-il en conclure : incohérence, incompétence ou stalinisme chronique ?

While he went from interview to interview in the media to declare that there never were any NOTAMs, copies of the five NOTAMs ordered by the president himself were posted on the ASECNA website, shared on Twitter and Facebook. Ridiculous! What should one conclude: incoherence, incompetence or chronic stanilism?

On Twitter, some users deny that Madagascar skies were completely closed, and suggest that Ravalomanana's plane would have been able to land at Morondava airport, nevertheless where there was no welcoming crowd, and the president would have been easily apprehended:

@hdleague: Alors, il est incorrecte de dire que R8 était interdit de revenir à Mada. Il était permit d'aterrir à Morondava pour être arrêter. #M21112

@hdleague: It is incorrect to state that Ravalomanana was prohibited to return to Madagascar. He was permitted to land in Morondava to be arrested. #M21112

On ‘Madagate', Jeannot Ramambazafy [fr] acknowledges Ravalomanana's right to enter Madagascar, but also defends Malagasy rights to judge Ravalomanana, who was condemned for allegedly ordering his presidential guard to fire on demonstrators in February 2009:

Ainsi, s'il a été demandé au pilote -qui a refusé- d'aller atterrir à Morondava, c'était pour mettre en application cette note et pour sécuriser l'intégrité physique même de Marc Ravalomanana qui a, bien sûr, le droit de rentrer, mais… Au nom de l'indépendance de la Justice malgache, le mandat d'arrêt émis à l'encontre de Ravalomanana, depuis 2009, sera exécuté.

The reason why the pilot – who refused – was asked to land in Morondava was to apply the law and to ensure the physical security of Marc Ravalomanana, who evidently, has the right to return, but… in the name of the independence of Malagasy justice, the arrest warrant issued against Ravalomanana since 2009, will be used.

Marc Harmelle [fr], a commenter on Fijery blog, expresses doubts on Ravalomanana's motives:

je m’interroge ce soir quand a ses motivations de convoquer une telle foule ; est ce pour avoir un bouclier humain ou est ce par pure folie des grandeurs souci d’etre acclamé , ovationné par un peuple misérable ? La première solution est dégueulasse et lâche , la seconde démontre que ces 3 ans ne l’ont pas mûris *Dernièrement a mon sens rentrer discrètement en se remettant entre les mains de la justice aurait été judicieux ; il était impossible de lui refuser ce retour , impossible de le malmener et je gage qu’il n’aurait au pire fait que quelques jours de geôle ; la pression internationale et nationale aurait pu pleinement s’exercer et quelle aura politique !!!

I wonder tonight what his motivations were to call such a crowd; was it to get himself a human shield or pure delusions of greatness, to receive an ovation from miserable people? The first hypothesis is disgusting and cowardly, the second would demonstrate that three years have not matured him. In my opinion, coming home discreetly and putting himself in the hands of justice would have been judicious; it would be impossible to refuse him this return, impossible to torture him, and I bet he would have only spent a few days in jail, in the worst case; the international and national pressure would have applied and what a political aura it would have lent him!!!

Rovahiga‘s post title ‘Rajoelina marque contre son camp’ (Rajoelina shoots himself in the foot) suggests that Ravalomanana's entry denial was a loss for Rajoelina's camp.

The US Embassy, which has been actively following the events on Twitter, disavowed a CNN reporting story that hinted that the US did not agree with Ravalomanana's return:

@USMadagascar: US regrets the circulation of a story by CNN that incorrectly reflects our official position on the return of Ravalomanana to #Madagascar

Fijery [fr] doubts of any real repercussions after Saturday's debacle, especially coming from the international community, which has failed to advance the concrete applications of the roadmap to bring peace to Madagascar:

ce retour en plein ciel à quelques miles d’Antananarivo devant des journalistes internationaux ridiculise, si besoin était encore, un régime hâtif marqué par l’amateurisme. [...] En parallèle, cette décision montre à la Communauté internationale à quel point Andry Rajoelina et la clique qui l’entoure sont peu désireux de réconciliation et d’apaisement. Ceci étant dit, je ne crois pas que cela aura beaucoup d’impact. Quand on a vu avec quel empressement l’ambassadeur de l’ Union européenne et le Coordonateur des Nations unies sont allés se défroquer devant Monsieur Rajoelina, sans tenir compte des violations de la démocratie et des droits de l’homme, on peut se dire raisonnablement que ce n’est pas un dérapage de plus qui va émouvoir la communauté internationale, prête à gober les couleuvres hâtives.

The inflight U-turn a few miles from Antananarivo in front of international journalists ridicules, if more ridicule were needed, a transitional government marked by amateurism. [...] This decision demonstrates to the international community how little Andry Rajoelina and his clique actually want reconciliation and appeasement. This said, I do not think this last event will have much impact. When we saw how eagerly the European Ambassador and the United Nations coordinator renounced themselves in front of Mr Rajoelina, without holding into account the many violations of democracy and human rights, we can reasonably say that another derailment will fail to move the international community, ready to swallow any dubious HAT lies.

Since Saturday, Malagasy protagonists have been urgently summoned in Johannesburg [fr] today to meet with the SADC (Southern African Development Community). Madagascar's transitional Prime Minister, Omer Beriziky, has been reported as attending.

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