Sekondi Accra

President Andry Rajoelina's government survived an attempted coup by a faction of the military on Novemeber 17, 2010. For a while, it was unclear whether the attack would succeed. It came during a referendum by which Rajoelina, a former mayor of Antanananarivo and disc jockey, was anticipating to claim greater legitimacy on his transitional government. Rajoelina himself came to power in a coup in 2009 with the support of protests which forced then President Marc Ravalomanana into exile. His party Haute Autorite de la Transition (HAT) has fairly broad public support and Rajoelina seemed set to claim endorsement from a 'yes' vote in the referendum. However, at least one of his opponents, former President Albert Zafy, appeared to support the coup against him.

International support to a return to constitutional rule is paramount. After Rajoelina withdrew from the Maputo-Addis Ababa deal negotiated with former presidents in 2009, donors did not rush to his support. Cognizant of the huge the risks for the Malagasy economy and the development advances made in recent years, they desired to bring it down slowly, continuing to release funds for previously approved programs.

By mid-2010 most of these facilities were already depleted and that is when Madagascar, the world's fourth-largest island, began to feel the residual effects of donars' refusal to approve new credits. The government's technocrats managed to sustain the basic stability of state finances and to provide core services. But the decrease in aid has delayed the development of new projects and threatens to undermine basic stability in the long term.

The textile industry, which employs more than 100,000 people in Antanananarivo, was weakened in January 2010 by the suspension of its priviledged access to the US market. Mass layoffs could endanger the living standards of many families and undermine support for Andry Rajoelina.

If the HAT can maintain positive momentum in the transisition process while also convincing some donors to continue their aid support, Madagascar may yet reach the planned mid-2011 date for elections envisaged by both the August 2010 inter-party agreement and a similar plan proposed by the Coordination Nationale des Organisations de la Societe Civile, an umbrella group of civil society organizations. Both plans helped to achieve successful legislative elections in March 2011 which will be followed by presidential elections in June 2011.

Rajoelina has pledged not to be a presidential candidate. France, accused by some Anglophone diplomats of supporting the HAT as a means of removing support for Rajoelina,persuaded Rajoelina that his best long term option was to stand aside in the hope of staging a victorious electorial return in four years. But will he have the same momentum and support that he seems to have now? Anyway, his decision not to run leaves the prospects for the 2011 poll completely open. The ousted former president Marc Ravalomanana remains a very contentious figure. The HAT has used court convictions in absentia to dissuade him from attempting to return to power.

Whoever wins will be confronted with a difficult task. Increased mineral production from Rio Tinto's "Ilmenite" mine at Taolagnaro and Sherritt's Ambatovy nickel project should increase the balance of payments. However, the economy remains weak and poverty is widespread. Two years of political instability have affected state finances and hurt the business sector. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) predicts that after a negative growth rate of 2% in 2010, economic growth will rebound in 2011 to 2.8%. The government expects inflation to remain at a level of close to 10% for the next year.

Finally, Madagascar - which separated from India 80 million to 100 million years ago before eventually settling off the southeastern coast of Africa - is in many ways an earth apart and a conservation hotspot. All that time in geographic isolation made the island a Darwinian playground, its animals and plants evolvong into forms utterly original. They include species as strang looking as the Pygmy Mouse Lemur - a chirping, palm-size mammal that may be the smallest primate on the planet - and as mysterious as the carnivorous Fossa, a catlike animal about thirty-inches long. Some 90% of the islands plants and 70 % of its animal are endemic, meaning they are found only in Madagascar and once they disappear, they are gone forever. Such losses seem far likelier because 80% of the islands vegetation has been cut down. A list of endangered species include the: Aye-Aye, Comet Moth, Conocephaline Katydid, Golden Mantella, Panther Chameleon, and Ploughshare Tortoise.


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Madagascar maintains an embassy in the United States at 2374 Massachusetts Avenue NW, Washington, DC 20008 (tel. 202-265-5525).
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