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Last Updated: Thursday, 31 July, 2003, 10:35 GMT 11:35 UK
Madagascar brings back pre-colonial currency
Marc Ravalomanana
Mr Ravalomanana has popular support despite the protests
Madagascar's President Marc Ravalomanana has decided to ditch the country's currency in a move aimed at further distancing itself from the era of French colonial rule.

The Malagasy franc is to be replaced with the island state's pre-colonial Ariary on Thursday.

President Ravalomanana hopes the move will help Madagascar forge new international relationships.

While at home, voters' minds could be swayed by the incorporation of an election campaign logo belonging to his party, TIM, into the design of one of the new notes.

Not deliberate

However, rather than boosting TIM's popularity, the new notes seem to have upset the Malagasy people.

Taxi drivers are concerned that it will be more difficult to find small change for their customers since the 2,000 Ariary - about $1.5 or 1- will be the smallest note available.

But more disconcerting to most is the design of the 10,000 Ariary which depicts people working on a new road.

The reconstruction of the country's infrastructure is one of the party's priorities, and as a consequence the note has been widely criticised.

Objectors see the new note's design as a sign of the all-consuming power of the president.

The Central Bank however has responded by saying that the note was designed even before elections last December.

The new Ariary will buy five Malagasy francs and will be made up of smaller units called Iraimbilanja.

The old Malagasy franc will remain legal tender until 30 November this year and will be exchangeable until 2009.

International links

President Ravalomanana, a successful businessman, claimed victory in Madagascar's December 2001 general election, and came to power six months later after a tense power struggle with former leader Didier Ratsiraka.

President Ravalomanana promised to use his entrepreneurial flair to fight poverty and unemployment on the island, where average earnings per head are estimated at $260 a year.

Since taking power, he has also been keen to reduce the influence of France which remains strong in Madagascar, 43 years after the island broke free from colonial rule and gained independence as a republic.

Madagascar recently resumed closer links with other African nations after it was re-admitted into the Africa Union (AU) earlier this month.

Its return came more than two years after it was suspended from the AU because the union felt political changes in the country had been undemocratic and unconstitutional.

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