African business, politics and lifestyle
Madagascar: How bad can it get?
In a worst case scenario, tanks in Antananarivo could lead to battles between the police and the presidential guard — who remain loyal to President Marc Ravalomanana — against mutinous troops and members of the military police.
The mutineers insist they have no plans to attack the presidential palace, that they are not taking orders from opposition leader Andry Rajoelina, and that they are only responding to public calls to restore law and order.
Rumours have been rife in the city all week that Ravalomanana might call in hundreds of mercenaries, perhaps from South Africa, to defend him now that parts of the armed forces no longer listen to him. The mutineers said they had deployed tanks specifically to “intercept” any private mercenary forces that tried to enter the capital.
If that happened, fighting could break out and civilians would almost certainly be caught in the crossfire. The U.S. Embassy is encouraging its diplomats and citizens to leave while they can.
If the public ignore the president’s call to confront the dissident troops, and the mutineers stick to their pledge not to attack his palace and topple him at gunpoint, the stand-off is likely to continue. A crisis in 2002 over disputed election results rumbled on for eight months. The United Nations, African Union and others have been pushing for a resumption of face-to-face talks between the two men, but as the crisis deepens that prospect is receding.
Meanwhile, The crisis has already hammered Madagascar’s previously booming $390 million-a-year tourism sector. Tour operators say a stand-off will lead to the entire year being a write-off, and any escalation of the violence could hit visitor arrivals for years to come.
Major foreign investors, which include Total, Rio Tinto and Sherritt International, have so far not been affected, since their operations are well outside the capital. But civil war or a protracted stalemate, would be sure to make them re-evaluate their investment plans.