The political situation in Madagascar is far from improving, after several unsuccessful attempts from national, regional and international mediators to resolve the political crisis during more than a year. This has overshadowed another worrying trend, which is clearly gendered: the crisis that affects not only political and civil rights, but also economic and social rights in the country.
HUMAN RIGHTS CRISIS
The cases of human rights violations have been much less publicised than the power struggles among the proponents of the political crisis, not only because such information is not of the kind that the authorities would like to publicise, but also because it has not attracted the attention of the international mediators involved in the protracted process for the resolution of the political crisis, nor that of the mainstream media.
Thus, very few local newspapers have reported on the ongoing campaign by human rights defenders for the immediate release of the so-called 'political detainees' who had been arrested by the police during the street demonstrations of September 2009 and had been waiting in vain for eighth months for their cases to be addressed. Among these are 13 women, who started a hunger strike together with male political detainees about one week ago to call for attention to their cases. Three of these women have reached a very critical stage (Madagascar Laza, 14 April 2010). While human rights defenders are mobilising locally and among the Malagasy diaspora to send as many letters as possible to the ministry of justice of the transitional government led by Andry Rajoelina to demand for the immediate release of these women, they also know from experience that the authorities are listening more to the voices of powerful outsiders than those of their own people.
This was clearly evidenced in the violence perpetrated by the armed forces against the workers of the COSMOS factory, which was closed down following the exclusion of Madagascar from the preferences under the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) as a result of the decision by the transitional government to ignore the threats of international sanctions. 2,000 workers were laid off when the COSMOS factory could no longer export its products to the US market, like hundreds of other factories in the export processing zones of the country. Instead of the support that it had promised to these workers, the transitional government instructed the armed forces to throw teargas at the hundreds of workers who came to the factory to get their severance pay to no avail (Midi Madagasikara, 21 April 2010). Most of these workers are women, who constitute more than 70 per cent of the labour force in the export processing zones.'
PLUS ÇA CHANGE, PLUS C'EST LA MÊME CHOSE?'
Meanwhile, the internal tensions within the High Transitional Authority (Haute Autorité de Transition (HAT)) are increasingly visible, along with the weakening of its alliance with the military - some of whom have recently been accused of a coup d'état. As happened with the thousands of retrenched workers who have been abandoned to a future of poverty and destitution, an increasing number of ordinary people who supported Andry Rajoelina have come to realise that all these internal struggles are not about their wellbeing and rights as citizens, or about the nation's interests. In this regard, civil society organisations have underscored that some members of the HAT have been able to buy brand-new cars and build big houses; those civil society organisations have also demanded for accountability from the transitional authorities for their governance of public resources (Madagascar Tribune, 7 April 2010). Thus, a small elite has greatly benefited from the political crisis, and the control of the state as a site of enrichment appears to be at the heart of current struggles among the proponents.
The latest development in relation to the political crisis is the leading role played by the presidents of France and South Africa in the design of an agreement between the current president of the HAT, Andry Rajoelina, and the former president, Marc Ravalomanana. While the content of this agreement is not yet known, there is every reason to believe that the control of the state's resources will implicitly remain the key item on the agenda of the discussions. Once again, human rights are likely to be sidelined, given the poor record of Andry Rajoelina and Marc Ravalomanana in relation to human rights. South African President Jacob Zuma is well-known among feminist and women's rights activists for the controversial issues around his election, and President Nicolas Sarkozy clearly demonstrated during his visit to China that he gives priority to economic interests over human rights. With respect to the political crisis in Madagascar, it comes as no surprise that he is getting involved in its resolution at a time when the French oil company Total is in competition with Chinese companies for oil exploitation in the country.
In an earlier article, I have expressed hope as a Malagasy citizen and women's rights activist that the political crisis in Madagascar could be an opportunity to transform unjust political, social and economic structures, and to build a new social contract based on human rights for all. Now, I am more convinced than ever that the sine qua non condition for this to happen is that we, the women of Madagascar, must fight for our rights and those of future generations.