Ramaphosa’s quiet diplomacy in Madagascar

South African and SADC efforts to stabilise Madagascar raise hopes for regional influence in DRC’s political crisis.

Thanks to the efforts of South African President Cyril Ramaphosa, together with others in the international community, Madagascar’s political conflict has largely stabilised in recent weeks.

Ramaphosa, the Southern African Development Community’s (SADC) chairperson, has been working behind the scenes to help resolve the situation. If presidential elections planned for November proceed smoothly and all main political leaders are allowed to participate, this could be seen as a significant contribution by South Africa during its year as chair.

SADC will have to support the process in Madagascar going forward. It also still has several other crises on its plate, including those in Lesotho and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).

Ramaphosa didn’t make much of his attempts to persuade President Hery Rajaonarimampianina to bury the hatchet with his two predecessors and foes Marc Ravalomanana and Andry Rajoelina. South Africa’s foreign minister Lindiwe Sisulu’s visit to Rajaonarimampianina on 1 June in Antananarivo was also not widely publicised. But these efforts showed that South Africa values stability in the island state.

SADC needs to continue helping Madagascar, which has huge natural resources but is still very poor

Together with players like the African Union (AU) special envoy to Madagascar, those close to the events say South Africa made a difference in calming the situation. A key issue was to convince Rajaonarimampianina to accept inclusive elections in late 2018 and allow his two main rivals to run as candidates.

Earlier this year protests broke out following the adoption of an electoral law that would have excluded both Rajoelina and Ravalomanana. After weeks of sit-ins and calls for Rajaonarimampianina to step down, the Constitutional Court on 25 May ruled that the government be disbanded and a consensus prime minister be appointed. To a large extent this defused some of the opposition’s major grievances.

International pressure from South Africa, SADC, the AU and others, as well as the fact that the army didn’t take sides in the conflict against the protestors, contributed to ending the stand-off. During August, candidates are expected to sign up for the presidential race. The first round of elections will take place on 7 November, with a possible second round on 19 December.

The political rivalry dates back to the 2009 coup d’état by Rajoelina, in which many, including Ravalomanana, a rich businessman, lost their property and businesses. Contrary to what was stipulated in a 2012 SADC roadmap for the country, compensation was never paid out. A national reconciliation process, also part of the roadmap, never materialised.

International pressure from SA, SADC, the AU and others helped end the stand-off in Madagascar

Going forward, SADC member states will have to help Madagascar – a country with huge natural resources but still very poor. Many observers say SADC dropped the ball after imposing a compromise solution in 2013 and didn’t play its role as guarantor of the roadmap. This led to disillusionment in Madagascar over the regional body’s role. The SADC mediator, former Mozambican president Joaquim Chissano, is also not popular among some protagonists in the crisis.  

In many ways supporting Madagascar also means financial aid, not just mediation. South Africa in 2013 financed the elections to the tune of $17 million. Countries such as France, Norway and Japan also helped Madagascar to hold the polls and probably will again.

Apart from Madagascar, two other issues were also on SADC’s agenda at its last summit of the Organ on Politics, Defence and Security Cooperation in Angola on 24 April – the situations in Lesotho and the DRC. Angola currently heads the organ.

The SADC secretariat and the organ deployed the SADC Preventive Mission in Lesotho in December 2017. During a visit to the country in February the usually circumspect SADC Executive Secretary Stergomena Lawrence Tax said the SADC roadmap, particularly the reforms and national dialogue, had stalled. Recently the United Nations Peacebuilding Fund pledged financial aid, which might help Lesotho start its long-delayed national dialogue.

Behind closed doors, some SADC member states are worried about the DRC polls

South Africa is part of the mission in Lesotho, but took a step back after Ramaphosa, then deputy president, negotiated the country’s mid-2017 transition and elections. Ramaphosa last month nominated former deputy chief justice Dikgang Moseneke to represent him in Lesotho.

Last on the list of crises on SADC’s agenda is the conflict in the DRC. SADC said at its last summit that it was confident that President Joseph Kabila would stick to his word and hold elections in December. It even opened an office in Kinshasa in April and sent a ‘pre-election goodwill mission’ to the country this week.

Behind closed doors, however, some SADC member states are worried about the polls. They have urged Kabila not to stand again, given that his two constitutional terms in power expired at the end of 2016.

Activists and opposition leaders from the DRC continue to call on South Africa to take a stronger position on ensuring free and fair elections and that Kabila doesn't stand again. In the past decade, South Africa was often accused of being too close to Kabila and of condoning election irregularities in 2011. Now there is a chance to change that.

Quiet diplomacy in the Mbeki era was code for protecting an unpopular leader. Perhaps for Ramaphosa it will mean quietly fixing things? Certainly in Madagascar his preventive diplomacy has helped to discourage the incumbent from clinging to power through undemocratic manoeuvring.

Liesl Louw-Vaudran, ISS Consultant

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Picture: GCIS/Flickr

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