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Sunday, 28 April, 2002, 14:06 GMT 15:06 UK
Madagascar's road to ruin
Fuel tankers stuck in Tamatave
Fuel tankers are stuck in Tamatave
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By Alastair Leithead
BBC correspondent in Tamatave, Madagascar
line

Sitting by their hotel pool, eating in the town's few good restaurants or nipping down to the supermarket for cigarettes - it's easy to spot the Ratsiraka government in Madagascar's east coast port of Tamatave.

They still have the four-by-four and, it seems, the money.

But they do not have an office, their vast civil service staff or a safe place to stay in the capital Antananarivo.

They are a government in exile.

The ministries are in the capital and are controlled by Marc Ravalomanana's cabinet.

Administrative power is in the hands of the opposition presidential candidate - and he would probably run the country were it not for the blockade that splits Madagascar and has isolated the capital Antananarivo.

Roadblock

Heavily armed soldiers under the control of the pro-Ratsiraka governor of Tamatave, Samuel Lahady, guard the roadblock at Brickaville on the road between capital and coast.

scene near roadblock
The road from the coast to Antananarivo is blocked
They tried taking metal bridges apart and blowing up one made of concrete, but now they have settled for a metal container which has been welded to a bridge to block the road.

This is the only route from the capital to the main port.

No fuel or raw materials for the factories can get through - and that explains why the Madagascar economy is in such an appalling mess.

The closest I could get to the bridge was a military checkpoint about a kilometre up the road, out of view.

The request was simple - to have a look at the blockade and then be on my way.

The answer from the military was just as simple - no.

In fact, it was 'leave now or we will take your recording equipment, or arrest you, or shoot you' - depending on which of the soldiers you asked.

They were from different regiments from all over the country and had different ideas about what the rules were.

Some were willing to accept bribes, others not.

Danger

The scene near the roadblock was incredible.

Hundreds of people were dashing backwards and forwards carrying oversized bundles on their heads, bringing container-loads of goods from one side of the blockade to the other by hand and loading up lorries so their goods could finish the journey.

While trying to negotiate with the soldiers I met Ivan, who had just made it past the blockade.

He was bringing container-loads of biblical literature through, and had hired 70 people to carry the magazines in bundles across the bridge.

"There's a really narrow path over the bridge with the container on one side and a huge drop on the other - it's really precarious," he said.

He was paying 1,000 Malagasy francs (16 US cents) per person per trip to run the one-kilometre gauntlet.

All the lorries trying to get through had been turned back that day - much as I was sent packing.

The movement of goods is worth a lot of money to a few people.

Antananarivo cut off

The reason the blockade has been in place for the last two months has been to put a stranglehold on the capital - starve it of fuel and destroy it economically.

The move appears to be working well.

Didier Ratsiraka
Ratsiraka: Refusing to lift blockade of capital
But it is also an insurance policy for the Ratsiraka government.

Some have had their homes in the capital destroyed by Ravalomanana supporters, and with the force of change swinging against Mr Ratsiraka they are in a difficult position.

It was one of the clearest points in the Dakar accord: "All blockades must be lifted".

But it has not happened.

In fact, the agreement signed in Senegal is hardly worth the paper it is written on.

It may have proven the two men could talk face to face, but the promises cannot be kept.

The devil is in the detail and the details are too complicated, too far-reaching and can be interpreted in so many different ways, that it now seems impossible that it can work.

The country is descending into further chaos and it honestly seems as if the situation is no further on than it was in February.

Threat to secede

The governor here in Tamatave, along with other provincial governors, has promised to secede and split the country into as many as six separate independent states if the recount of the vote goes against Mr Ratsiraka.

But the real concern is violence.

At least 35 people have died, and the real figure is probably even higher.

The only thing that stopped the violence was the deal that was made, and if that falls apart the crisis could deepen further.

Mr Ratsiraka's government may be stuck for things to do in their seaside retreat in Tamatave, but it seems they have the country's future in their hands.

See also:

28 Apr 02 | Africa
Madagascar deal under threat
23 Apr 02 | Africa
Madagascar governors stand firm
22 Apr 02 | Africa
Madagascar recount begins
18 Apr 02 | Africa
Madagascar rivals sign peace deal
17 Apr 02 | Africa
Madagascar court annuls election
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