Madagascar is renowned as ‘the country of rumours’ and rumours are certainly rife as the prolonged political crisis seems to be edging towards some sort of climax. Thousands of opposition supporters are out in the streets of the capital, Antananarivo, again today where they are being addressed by opposition leader and former mayor of the city, Andry Rajoelina, who has been demanding that President Ravalomanana resign. This is the first time in a week that Rajoelina has appeared publicly for fear of arrest, hiding at one point in the French Embassy, and then in unknown locations in the city. He is today claiming to have toppled the President, but the government refutes this, saying that the President is still in place and is preparing for a national conference between the two sides with the help of church leaders. In fact this was scheduled to start on Thursday, but didn’t go ahead as Rajoelina refused to attend.
The situation became even more unstable a few days ago as the army replaced their own chief of staff and declared they would no longer take orders from the government but would protect the interests of the people, though it was not clear whether or not a coup was being contemplated. The US Ambassador believed the army to be divided and feared the country was on the verge of civil war. On Wednesday he advised his citizens to consider leaving the country.
Meanwhile people are trying to go about their daily lives – they have to make a living, and keep feeding their families, but it is so hard living through the uncertainty of the situation, not knowing what the outcome will be nor when or where violence may flare up. This political stand- off is having a devastating effect on the country: lives have been lost and public buildings, shops and homes looted or burned. Tourists are canceling their holidays and foreign investors are having second thoughts. Much else is being lost to the country too, like the national radio archives that were destroyed when the station was burned down; not to mention damage to the democratic process, and trust between fellow Malagasy. Protest can be healthy, but at some point there must be dialogue and reconciliation, or there will be no future. The country needs leaders on both sides to show restraint and not lead their supporters down a route of no return.
I’m due to be traveling to the south of Madagascar for a translation workshop at the end of April, but I’m not buying my ticket just yet….