New deal could unblock aid pipeline

The new deal signed by Madagascar's feuding political rivals is reason for "cautious optimism", but 15 months is a long time to wait for fresh elections and the bigger prize of donor re-engagement.



Madagascar's main political parties signed a power-sharing deal on 9 August in Maputo, capital of Mozambique, stating their commitment to work towards an interim government, put an end to months of political violence and hold fresh elections within 15 months. Former heads of state Didier Ratsiraka and Albert Zaphy were also signatories to the document.



"The transition will be neutral, inclusive, peaceful and consensual, with the aim of organizing regular and transparent elections, and setting up stable and democratic institutions," the accord said.



A long time coming



The political standoff between Andry Rajoelina, former mayor of Madagascar’s capital, Antananarivo, and ousted President Marc Ravalomanana, began in January 2009 and culminated in what the international community condemned as a "coup-style" change of leadership.



Previous mediation attempts had failed to bring the feuding parties closer to an accommodation while the economy and governance structures crumbled and international pressure mounted.



The latest talks, led by former Mozambican president Joaquim Chissano under the auspices of the African Union (AU), included representatives from the United Nations, the Southern African Development Community (SADC) and the International Organization of the Francophonie, were widely welcomed as a breakthrough.



"We are very encouraged by the statements made by the political leaders following the negotiations," Xavier Leus, Resident Coordinator of the United Nations System in Madagascar, told IRIN.



The accord provides for a period of political transition, including amnesty for former leaders, but details of the agreement remain unclear and the modalities of how power will be shared among the parties are still to be worked out. An interim authority with a president, vice president, prime minister, three deputy prime ministers and a cabinet of 28 ministers is to be in place by September 2009.



"All progress towards [reconciliation] is positive and the UN should support these initiatives in all its work," Leus said. "We now have to closely monitor the situation and see if the agreement will truly hold: the proof of the pudding is in the eating."



Much at stake



Making the accord work will take goodwill and patience. Chissano noted that the international community could only recognize Madagascar's government after fresh polls had been held. Leus commented that "15 months is a very long time to wait."



Impoverished Madagascar can hardly afford it. The country has been suspended from regional bodies like the AU and SADC, and donors were quick to cease all non-humanitarian aid when the crisis erupted in early 2009.



Even humanitarian aid has been less than generous: commitments have been received for just over 50 percent of the $US22 million the humanitarian community in Madagascar needs to assist in the recovery from flooding and cyclones at the beginning of 2009, and the ongoing drought in the south of the island.



Before the crisis the US, one of the main donor countries, spent over $110 million per year on development on the Indian Ocean Island "but we had to stop all funding to or through the HAT [Higher Transitional Authority - Rajoelina's self-appointed administration]," Rodney Ford, public affairs officer at the US embassy in Madagascar, told IRIN.



"We are now in a wait-and-see mode and are watching the implementation phase [of the agreement] to see what happens."



Rajoelina’s HAT failed to convince the European Union (EU) that Madagascar had made progress towards constitutional order and fresh polls when he met with EU officials in Brussels on 6 July, hoping to thaw some $880 million in frozen aid. The EU "failed to note any satisfactory proposals from the Malagasy side", a statement said, dashing any prospect of renewed engagement and aid.



However, the EU said it would re-examine its position pending a consensual agreement between Madagascar's feuding political parties, "which allows a return to constitutional order".



tdm/he