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Friday, 5 July, 2002, 17:00 GMT 18:00 UK
Madagascar's chance for change
Madagascan militiamen
The end of the fighting could near

The sudden departure of Didier Ratsiraka for the Seychelles could bring an end to seven months of political and military conflict which followed December's disputed presidential election.

Military defeats and growing diplomatic isolation have left former President Didier Ratsiraka with little immediate hope of resurrecting his political fortunes.

Already riding high after a series of military victories and recognition from France, President Marc Ravalomanana now has the opportunity to extend his rule to the whole island.

Didier Ratsiraka
Didier Ratsiraka has flown to Seychelles

Recent military successes by his forces have given him control of all but a few areas in Tamatave still loyal to Mr Ratsiraka.

News agencies report that even in Tamatave, pro-Ratsiraka militias have been deserting roadblocks.

Control over this final province might give him victory in the military struggle but Mr Ravalomanana would still be facing a major battle to bring about stability, reconciliation and economic reconstruction.

Hunger

The months of roadblocks, economic disruption and political violence have left the economy reeling.

Malnutrition has worsened, especially among children. The aid agency Care International has warned of a "creeping emergency" in the capital, Antananarivo.

This was Mr Ravalomanana's stronghold and was subjected to a blockade by Mr Ratsiraka's supporters, based on the coast.
Malagasy child
Many children are showing signs of malnutrition

Staple foods such as rice and cooking oil have been in short supply and salt has tripled in price.

The military successes of Mr Ravalomanana's forces have led to the dismantling of many of the roadblocks and the resumption of food and fuel deliveries.

But during the conflict, bridges were destroyed by pro-Ratsiraka militias and these will take time to repair or replace.

The same is true for power supplies.

Electricity pylons were destroyed in June, leaving many Antananarivo residents without power.

Unemployment

A longer-term problem is the high level of unemployment caused by the conflict. Over 150,000 workers in the private sector have lost their jobs.

In the textile industry, an important source of jobs and exports earnings, 90% of workers are unemployed.

Madagascan roadblock
Roadblocks have disrupted food and fuel supplies

Damage to the private sector has further impoverished poor families whose earnings from pulling rickshaws or washing clothes have shrunk.

In rural areas, the shortage of fuel and rising prices for the little petrol available has made it hard for farmers to market their produce.

Reconciliation?

Mr Ravalomanana will have to couple economic reconstruction with a drive for political and social reconciliation.

The bitterness of the divide between the two presidential combatants has created a huge gulf between their supporters.

It has also exacerbated community and ethnic differences.

Marc Ravalomanana had his main support base in the highland capital, Antananarivo. His background in business appealed to urban dwellers.

Merina woman
Heri feared attack because of her Merina origins

Didier Ratsiraka is from the less developed coastal region and enjoyed wider support in rural areas.

The coastal groups are of partly African descent, while the highland Merina owe more of their heritage to the Indonesians who migrated to the island 2,000 years ago.

New chapter

However, while some 70 people have been killed, the army has generally exercised restraint and the civil war, which had been predicted, was avoided.

Even when Mr Ravalomanana's forces began their advance - after six months of stalemate - they seized most areas without much resistance.

The reconciliation needed is generally between the political elites, who can be placated with job offers.

There were few reports of neighbour turning on neighbour - the sort of social conflict, whose wounds take far longer to heal.

This is the legacy left to the new government by the conflict between Mr Ravalomanana and Didier Ratsiraka.

If the departure of Mr Ratsiraka ends one chapter in this drama, it is by no means the end of the story for a country reeling from economic collapse and bitter political conflict.


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05 Jul 02 | Africa
01 Jul 02 | Africa
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