By Guyson Nanagayi – Antananarivo – (AFP)- Hippolyte Ramaroson missed his big chance to speak on the world stage at the United Nations because of the crisis in Madagascar that has increasingly isolated the huge island nation.
But as Madagascar’s foreign minister, the former military heavyweight is a key figure in behind-the-scenes haggling to reconcile his government, which is under international sanctions, and the leaders he is accused of helping to overthrow.
The SADC and African Union suspended Madagascar. Only humanitarian aid is now arriving and the economy – particularly the crucial textile industry – has been hit by the United States stopping trade privileges this year.
Madagascar was the only country not to speak at the UN General Assembly. Ramaroson accuses Southern African powers of using “UN subterfuge” to block him, though he insists he chose not to speak, rather than being stopped.
In an an interview with AFP, Ramaroson, said “It was out of respect for the United Nations. Madagascar does not want to give the image that we are street fighters inside the General Assembly.
Last year Southern African Development Community (SADC) nations forced a vote to stop transitional president Andry Rajoelina, a 36-year-old former disc jockey and mayor of Antananarivo, from speaking at the United Nations.
Relations between Rajoelina and the SADC and other international bodies have become increasingly strained over his role in forcing President Marc Ravalomanana to stand down in March 2009, with military blessing.
Unemployment has shot up and UN agencies say that child malnutrition is spreading.
Ravalomanana has called a constitutional reform referendum for November, local elections for December and legislative and presidential elections for 2011. The international community says his efforts are not “inclusive” enough however.
“People in Madagascar are fed up with the SADC,” said Ramaroson, who was a vice admiral in the military. “I am more of a strategist and what SADC did to Madagascar is in my strategic line.”
The foreign minister also said Madagascar could go it alone despite the growing hardship.
“Since 2008, Madagascar has not had a dollar from the World Bank or International Monetary Fund. The big economists and financiers predicted that in May or June 2009 there would be bankruptcy.
“But now we are September 2010 and we are still paying our public workers, not like some neighbours who ask for aid to pay their civil servants,” Ramaroson said. “We are paying for our embassies abroad and servicing our debt.”
The government has ordered a 40% cut in spending, the minister said, so no more big sports utility trucks or Mercedes for ministers. “We have told them no, no no.”
“It is our way of telling people, this is what you have to do in Madagascar. Not wasting the billions of dollars that we have had and then stealing it.”
Mediators have been pressing the transitional government to reach accord with Ravalomanana and two other former presidents, Albert Zafy and Didier Ratsiraka.
The foreign minister has tough words for them and Ravalomanana, who is now in exile in South Africa and was recently sentenced to life hard labour in absentia by a Madagascar court for his alleged role in the killing of protesters just before his overthrow.
“In 40 years the IMF and World Bank wasted billions of dollars in our country,” he said. “Where have those billions of dollars gone?”
“These people were in power for 40 years and Madagascar has just become poorer.”
With diplomats saying that violence is still possible in Madagascar, the international community is gathering for a new diplomatic offensive. UN officials confirmed comments by Ramaroson that a UN office could open in the Madagascar capital next year to nudge reconciliation efforts.