Street scene in Antanarivo
Sweet Smell of Peace
When SADC stepped in to support peace efforts in Madagascar, its efforts were carried out in the local spirit of fihavanana, which emphasises the kinship and mutual respect between all Malagasy people.
Hugues Rotoarimanana’s business buys plants, herbs and other raw materials from around
Madagascar and turns them into essential oils. Cinnamon, cloves, ylang-ylang, and rare plants like
katrafay – which can only be found in Madagascar – are loaded into boilers so that their essence can
be extracted and used to infuse oils for the finished products sold to Rotoarimanana’s European
But in 2009, the then two-year-old business faced its greatest challenge: a political crisis that turned
Malagasy society upside down, disrupting the social and political order. Because of the instability in
the country, Rotoarimanana’s international investors pulled out of the business, leaving his
livelihood in jeopardy.
“We have had uprisings before, but 2009 wasvery different,” says Rotoarimanana.
“The coup wasreally a bad thing because first they ousted a democratically elected president, and second
they did it by force. We had families to feed but then suddenly no business. It was a disaster.”
It began after a dispute erupted between the then-president and an opposition leader, leading to a
period of intense conflict and confusion until the opposition took power unconstitutionally in March
2009. Many feared that Madagascar was on the brink of civil war.
“The politicians were really trying to instigate tensions amongst the population of Madagascar,”
says Mahamadou Ndriandry, President of the National Platform for Civil Society Organisations.
“A civil war has never happened here. Malagasy people are really close. You would only have a
civil war if there was extreme tension.”
In an attempt to return the region to peace and stability, international bodies, championed by SADC,
began to put pressure on the unconstitutional government.
“SADC has a set of processes and mechanisms to deal with situations that threaten the peace and
stability in the region,” says Jorge Cardoso, Director of the SADC Organ on Politics, Defence and
“It operates at the level of heads of states. There is a head of state that is nominated annually to
follow the political processes in our region. The peaceful resolution of conflicts is one of the main
premises to address situations that occur in our Member States,” says Cardoso.
The Organ was established through the Protocol on Politics, Defence and Security Cooperation in
2001. The protocol affirms SADC’s commitment to regional stability with the objective to “protect
the people and safeguard the development of the region against instability arising from the
breakdown of law and order”.
In March 2009, after the unconstitutional
takeover, SADC suspended the membership of
Madagascar. The African Union, the United
States and other parts of the international
community suspended their aid to Madagascar.
Three months later, the AU and the United
Nations halted their mediation efforts, citing a
lack of will on either side to seek reconciliation.
A week later, SADC dispatched former
Mozambican President Joaquim Chissano as
the leader of a team tasked with mediating a
peace process and creating a roadmap towards
solving the crisis.
“When Chissano came here, he came with the mindset of not only working with civil society
organisations, but also to listen to what has been done here on the ground, what is happening,” says
Rasolo Andre, a former diplomat and now a lecturer in Political Sociology at the University of
“It’s important because when they allowed the Malagasy people to take part in the decision making,
they enhanced the sustainability of the outcome. Also, they came here to facilitate the process. They
were involved as facilitators but leaving the Malagasy approach to take place at all times,” he adds.
The SADC intervention led to the establishment of a roadmap, which emphasised that peace needed
to be restored. This led to the creation of a national dialogue process which came to be called
mallgacho-malgache (Malagasy with the Malagasy). With SADC’s support, it eventually led to an
agreement that peaceful elections would take place in 2013 in which no former presidents could
The period of disruption ended when in December 2013, Hery Rajaonarimampianina was elected to
the presidency. The elections were declared free and fair by international observers. The following
month, Madagascar was reinstated as a SADC member, and international aid returned to the island.
Addressing the African Union Peace and Security Council, SADC’s Executive Secretary Dr
Stergomena Lawrence Tax said at the time: “SADC appeals to the African Union, the United
Nations and other similar bodies to welcome the positive steps that Madagascar has made through
the recent peaceful transparent and fair elections and to spare no effort at ensuring that democracy
and the rule of law are enhanced in Southern Africa.”
Andre attributes the success of the peace process in no small part to the concept of fihavanana.
Fihavanana originates from the Malagasy word havana, meaning kin, and emphasises the kinship of
all Malagasy people, and the “It was really good that SADC worked with the AU, because that gave
the Malagasy people confidence that they are not just this island, that they have sisters and brothers
and they are part of Africa,” says Andre, the former diplomat. “SADC was the door which led the
Malagasy people to understand that they live in the African continent and that they are not alone.”
With the next elections due to take place in 2018, the hope is that Madagascar will maintain its
stability in the future. For now, the peace brought about by the negotiations has allowed the
Malagasy people time to rebuild. Investors have gained confidence again to return to the private
For Rotoarimanana, peace allowed his business to regain its strength. Near Antananarivo, at the
plant of one of his suppliers, a pile of burnt cinnamon leaves a sweet smell wafting around the
premises – the boilers are once again producing the rare oils unique to Madagascar.
“When word of the national reconciliation started to spread, people felt safer,” says Rotoarimanana.
“It gave more confidence to the investors and business started to grow.” Adds the businessman,
“just one of my suppliers now provides work for a thousand people.”
The Protocol on Politics, Defence and Security Cooperation was signed in 2001 in recognition of the need for stability as a prerequisite for Southern Africa’s growth. This led to the formation of one of the most important parts of SADC, the Organ on Politics, Defence and Security. The Organ works with Member States to promote peace in the region and foster stability for current and future generations.
“SADC was the door, which led the Malagasy people to understand that they live in the African continent and that they are not alone.”
Hugues Rotoarimanana at one of his plants
Mahamadou Ndriandry says Malagasy society is very close
Jorge Cardoso, Director of the SADC Organ on Politics, Defence and Security
Rasolo Andre Former Malagasy first consul to Russia, now lecturer in Political Sociology at the University of Antananarivo