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Monday, 29 July, 2002, 17:09 GMT 18:09 UK
Madagascar aid pledges total $2.3bn
Marc Ravalomanana
President Marc Ravalomanana came to power following months of conflict
Madagascar has been promised $2.3bn (1.5bn) by international donors to help it rebuild an economy shattered by a six-month tug of war over the presidency.

According to the World Bank - which with the 15-member European Union, Japan and the US attended a donor conference in Paris - the first $1.4bn will be delivered by the end of 2002, with the rest arriving in grants and loans over the next four years.

Even that amount does not quite reach the $1.5bn-$2bn that Prime Minister Jacques Sylla says is needed by the end of the year simply to ensure employment and feed the 15 million-strong Malagasy population.

Even so, Mr Sylla was jubilant after the conference. "A page has been turned," he told reporters.

Time for reform

France, the former colonial power and Madagascar's biggest trading partner, promised $150m, with the US contributing another $100m.

But half the money is coming directly from the European Commission and the World Bank.

The pledges followed Mr Sylla's presentation of a recovery plan stressing poverty and malnutrition first, and then legal reforms and private sector development.

As part of the ongoing reforms, civil service salaries are to leap tenfold, in the hope of reducing the temptation of corruption.

Split down the middle

Madagascar's problems predate the argument over the presidency which split the country, isolating the capital Antananarivo from the island state's five other provinces.

Despite the arrival in the past decade of a number of textile companies assembling garments for Western markets, Madagascar was already one of the world's poorest countries.

But matters took a sharp turn for the worse late last year when a presidential election - between long-term incumbent and former dictator Didier Ratsiraka and millionaire businessman Marc Ravalomanana - produced an apparently inconclusive result.

Mr Ravalomanana insisted the result had been fixed, a claim supported some months later by the island's highest court.

But Mr Ratsiraka refused to give up power and forces loyal to him blockaded Antananarivo, Mr Ravalomanana's main base of support.

Flattened

The resulting standoff ravaged Madagascar's economy, not least because most of the textile plants are near the capital and rely on transport to the coast for export.

It outlasted two attempts by the Organisation for African Unity, now the African Union, to broker a settlement, the first of which produced a deal which Mr Ratsiraka promptly ditched.

Now, though, and despite Mr Ratsiraka's decision to flee, the AU - as it has become - is refusing to recognise Mr Ravalomanana.

Many observers believe this is partly because the old guard of African leaders who still dominate the grouping fear for their own futures should Mr Ratsiraka's downfall be seen as a precedent.

See also:

26 Jul 02 | Business
24 Jul 02 | Business
05 Jul 02 | Africa
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