Marc Ravalomanana, the former president of Madagascar, said he will return to the country on Feb. 19 to help prepare for elections after two years in exile, as the government vowed to arrest him.
“I know the risks facing my return but I cannot allow them to get in the way of us restoring democracy,” Ravalomanana told reporters today in Johannesburg, South Africa. “I am prepared to listen to anyone. I am prepared to talk with anyone,” he said, holding up what he said were airline tickets.
Ravalomanana has been in exile in South Africa since being ousted by Andry Rajoelina, the former mayor of Antananarivo, the capital of the Indian Ocean island nation, and the military in 2009. The coup led to Madagascar being suspended from the Southern African Development Community and African Union, and donors to stop the aid that made up two-thirds of state revenue.
SADC negotiators proposed this month that Rajoelina stay as president of an interim administration until elections to be held before November. They said Ravalomanana should only return once security is ensured. Ravalomanana was last year sentenced in absentia to life imprisonment with hard labor for a February 2009 shooting by guards that killed protesters marching on the presidency.
The government promised to arrest him on his arrival.
“He will be arrested without any hesitation as soon as he touches the ground,” Alain Ramaroson, the head of the state’s defense commission, said by phone from Antananarivo, after Ravalomanana’s announcement. “An arrest warrant was issued. He is only coming back to stir up trouble.”
Last Roll of Dice
Ravalomanana’s announcement is “a brave decision, but also a last ditch attempt” at political relevance, said Thomas Wilson, an Africa analyst with London-based Control Risks.
“He realizes he’s been out of the country for 20 months and this is a last roll of the dice to force greater action from the international community,” Wilson said in an interview in Johannesburg.
The government planned to tighten security across the country to prepare for his possible return, Madagascar’s presidency said yesterday.
The state will “ask him a lot of questions” about illegal activities if he arrives in the country, Hyppolite Ramaroson, the minister of foreign affairs, said by phone.
Ravalomanana was also sentenced in 2009 to four years in prison and fined $70 million for alleged abuse of office involving the purchase of a presidential jet. Himself a former mayor of Antananarivo, Ravalomanana was one of the richest people in the country, owning Tiko, which started as a dairy and expanded into media interests, food processing and construction.
He took power from Didier Ratsiraka in 2002, following a seven-month standoff after a disputed election.
Ravalomanana said he remained Madagascar’s president, as he had handed over powers to the military without stepping down. Elections planned for this year may be delayed, he said.
Madagascar, with a $9 billion economy, is the world’s largest vanilla grower, while oil, nickel and titanium deposits have also attracted investor interest.