Easier Said Than Done
On the elusive quest for political stability in Madagascar
Last Friday (June 5, 2015), the U.S. State Department issued a short and stern press statement: “We call on all parties to resolve the current political impasse with respect for the rule of law and through national dialogue in order to maintain the political stability needed to grow the economy, attract investment, create employment and improve the lives of the Malagasy people.”
On the face of it, the statement looks simple and straight-forward. But a more careful reading reveals a complicated trinity: trying to concurrently maintain political stability, engage in a national dialogue (or reconcilliation), and uphold the rule of law is not an easy task. It is easier said than done. Indeed, recent events have demonstrated the difficulty (not to say, impossibility) of simultaneously sustaining those three core soa toavina (values) that define the Rajaonarimampianina doctrine. I would venture to say that, under the prevailing conditions, to obtain any two, we need to forgo the third one. But, which one of these critical values can we afford to neglect at this point? It looks like we may have quite a trilemma in our hands — with a potentially tough choice to make.
The press statement also highlights the complicated linkage between political stability and economic performance. From the experience of the last six years (or even 55 years), we know that political turmoils discourage the business community from undertaking long term investment, engaging in multi-year planning, and creating permanent jobs. While instability can generate short term gains for some opportunistic individuals, it generally means poor performance for overall economy. At the same time, poor economic performance (e.g., low growth, high unemployment, high inflation, mediocre service provision by the public sector) tends to exacerbate political instability. Opposition politicians take advantage of the lack of positive results to demonstrate the incompetence of the current regime and to shake its foundation. This can be especially disruptive within a socially tense or politically charged environment.
So here is what, I think, is currently the situation in Madagascar. Due to chronic political instability, investors have refrained from making substantial investment and donors have withheld the bulk of their support. Because of lack of investment and official development assistance, the Malagasy economy has failed to improve or to take-off. People are getting impatient with the sluggish pace of reforms and the poor economic performance. Opportunist and disgruntled politicians are taking advantage of this widespread frustration to discredit (and even sabotage or provoke) the increasingly vulnerable and unpopular regime. In the presence of weak and heavily politicized institutions, this generates even more political instability, which in turn further discourages investment, and so on. It looks as if we have a classic case of Catch-22 in our hands.
Like it or not, Madagascar is now stuck in a paradoxical and problematic situation — a trilemma combined with a Catch 22 — for which there does not seem to be an obvious solution. We have to come up with the appropriate set of solutions to break this self-perpetuating cycle of political instability and poor economic performance. We also need to find ways to simultaneously sustain political stability, rule of law, and national reconcilliation. Of course, it is easier to write these in a press statement or in a blog post than to actually make them happen. But I am confident that if we put our differences and our egos aside, we might be able to work together to achieve all that, and even more. As the U.S. State Department concludes: “The welfare of the Malagasy people should be everyone’s first priority.” It really is a shame that we need the Americans to remind us what our priority should be.