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Wednesday, 24 July, 2002, 20:44 GMT 21:44 UK
Madagascar leader rolls his sleeves up
Madagascar President Marc Ravalomanana
Ravalomanana still lacks the African Union's support

Madagascar is at a turning point in its history.

Seven months after the presidential election the resulting political crisis is over: a people's revolution unseated the old regime and its president, and now it is up to the new head of state, an energetic businessman turned politician, to bring the country back on track.

Marc Ravalomanana faces quite a challenge, with the island's economy left in tatters by the blockades erected by former president Didier Ratsiraka's supporters to isolate the capital from its port.

America recognises my power in this country and I hope to work with them

Marc Ravalomanana
But Marc Ravalomanana is stoical about the challenge ahead of him: his government is going to Paris this week to try to win financial support from international donors like the World Bank, and from countries grouped together as the "Friends of Madagascar."

The president accepts the people brought him to power and can easily remove him if he fails to keep his promises.


"First of all we have to stop this corruption and fight off corruption. That is why I decided to increase the salary of the cabinet ministers," he said in a BBC interview.

"If we can stop this corruption I am sure this country will run well. You see, Madagascar is a rich country, we have a lot of resources from the ground and from the sea."

Many of the ministers he has put in place are technocrats experienced in the civil service or business, but not in politics. Those who are experienced date back to the former regime.

And there are 35 of them, which implies giving out jobs to satisfy a lot of different political loyalties.

It is not going to be easy to learn how to run a country while also courting political support, but Marc Ravalomanana has incredible energy and is brimming with ideas.

France has had the biggest influence over Madagascar for many years, but this entrepreneur-cum-president is looking elsewhere.

"We have a long history with the French so I don't like to stop this, but with America, they recognise my power in this country and I hope to work with them. I am sure we will work well with both, as well as with China and Africa and elsewhere. I am open to all countries," he said.

But the relationship with Africa is still somewhat strained - the old Organisation of African Unity suspended Madagascar's membership and as yet the newly formed African Union (AU) has refused to allow the country back into the fold.

With or without the AU?

With Senegal's President Wade accepting the new regime, discussions over the "Red Island" threaten to expose a rift in the AU as it refuses to welcome a president elected through a true show of democracy, despite an unquestioning acceptance of other countries with a far more chequered electoral record.

So is being excluded from the AU a problem for the new president?

"Sometimes yes, because we do not want to separate the African Union, but for the economical situation it is not a big problem as now we can rebuild our country. It would be good to work together with the African Union though," he added.

The other question is what to do with his predecessor, Didier Ratsiraka, and his supporters who remain in the country.

Former President Didier Ratsiraka
Ravalomanana wants Ratsiraka arrested

"We respect the law in Madagascar... We will set up a commission to arrest him," said President Ravalomanana.

Mr Ratsiraka is accused of encouraging violence during the power struggle and of failing to stop official coruption during his time in office.

The former prime minister is still under house arrest, and other supporters have also been rounded up.

"Judges in Madagascar are very good and they have to do their job and follow exactly the process of law in Madagascar."

Human rights groups are keen to follow the process, but President Ravalomanana is convinced there will be no widespread witch hunt.

Didier Ratsiraka's former palace is well guarded and it is respected as his private property. A good sign.

"It has been a long struggle. I didn't expect to have this problem during six or seven months when I went to the election in December, but this is life, and now everything is OK. There are many things changing in this country and for me I feel the mentality of Malagasy people is to change."

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24 Jul 02 | Business
22 Jul 02 | Africa
08 Jul 02 | Africa
09 Jul 02 | Country profiles
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