March 19, 2009

HARRISONBURG—Today in his weekly “Strategic Interests” column for the World Defense Review, Dr. J. Peter Pham, Director of the Nelson Institute for International and Public Affairs at James Madison University, examines Tuesday’s forced resignation of Madagascar’s President Marc Ravalomanana and his replacement by the dismissed mayor of the capital city of Antananarivo, Andry Nirina Rajoelina.

After reviewing the history of Madagascar’s uneven political progress since independence in 1960 as well as the more recent political tensions on the island nation off the east coast of Africa, Dr. Pham profiles the new leader, a former disc jockey with barely a year’s experience in political life, but a large following among the economically marginalized urban masses.

Dr. Pham outlines several general conclusions which might be drawn from this episode:

First, the international community needs to be alert to the tremendous pressure that the current global economic crisis places on financially fragile developing countries like those in Africa…Moreover, unlike past periods, those who find themselves marginalized are no longer suffering silently in remote villages. They are more likely to be congregated in urban centers like Antananarivo where they can be easily whipped into a frenzied mob by demagogues like Andry Rajoelina.

Second, mob rule is the form of government least likely to achieve positive outcomes, much less deliver the sustained economic growth that individual members of the mob in places like Madagascar so desperately need. To do grow their economies, countries must attract investment by being competitive… Madagascar will take years to recover from the damage which the mass demonstrations of recent months and the overthrow of the country’s democratically-elected head of state has wreaked on the island’s reputation, to say nothing of its investment climate.

Third, while the Malagasy themselves bear primary responsibility for the situation in which they now find themselves… Madagascar’s international partners are not without some responsibility.

Fourth, Madagascar’s international partners in general and the various agencies of the United States government in particular all need to reassess their analytical protocols and determine how it is they were largely ill-prepared for—if not altogether surprised by—the current crisis…

Finally, if democracy is to be promoted in Africa, then greater attention must be paid to the content and nuance of what is actually being advanced…[T]he democratic ideal that ought to be proposed to…African countries should include not only by representation, whereby those governing are chosen by the people in periodic free, fair, and transparent elections, but also constitutionalism. The mad mobs on the streets of Antananarivo are a sober reminder of just how far a road much of Africa has yet to travel.

To read the full text of the article, “ Madagascar’s March Madness,” click here.