BY KHADIJA PATEL, 31 JULY 2012-ANALYSIS- So far, the Southern African Development Community's progress mediating in Madagascar has been painfully slow. And as the stalemate draws out, life in Madagascar,
which is already one of the world's most impoverished states, continues to worsen.
On Tuesday, the Southern African regional body (SADC) will release an update on exactly how far it's progressed in its mediation efforts in Madagascar.
Last week's much-trumpeted round of talks in the Seychelles appeared to have gone well. Political foes - namely the interim president Andry Rajoelina and former leader Marc Ravalomanana - met face-to-face to iron out their differences and eke out a compromise to set the scene for elections.
That one meeting was not sufficient to bridge the differences between the two parties, however. In a statement released afterward, the SADC said, "During the meeting, it was agreed that the two leaders should reconvene to conclude on the outstanding issues stemming from the implementation of the Roadmap, in order to report to the Ordinary Summit of the Heads of State and Government."
Those "outstanding issues", according to Department of International Relations and Co-Operation Deputy Director Clayson Monyela, related principally to the return of exiled leaders, the granting of amnesty, and agreeing on who will actually be allowed to stand for elections.
"The upcoming elections are a major focus of the discussions," Monyela says.
Until September last year, when the SADC-mediated transitional roadmap was signed, international mediation efforts had floundered. The SADC mediation has, in contrast, largely been successful. Despite ongoing political disputes, the implementation of the roadmap has gone reasonably smoothly.
And in April, a political amnesty law was enacted in Madagascar, although it remains controversial - it does not extend to Ravalomanana, who was convicted for murder in absentia in August 2010.
Yet, even as the SADC rightfully counts getting Rajoelina and Ravalomanana into one room as a success, the gains were scuppered by another of Ravalomanana's attempts to return home. This time it was his wife, Lalao Ravalomanana, who returned to the island on Friday, only to be forced by authorities to go on to Thailand.
In response, Ravalomanana is reported to have said of Rajoelina, "Once again the regime in Madagascar has proven that it cannot be trusted."
It remains to be seen how far Mrs Ravalomanana's excursion may set back the mediation, if at all. But as the political power play continues in Pretoria this week, life in Madagascar continues to worsen.
The World Bank, in an interim strategy note for this financial year (2012-2013), says, "Almost three years into the crisis, with most aid suspended, Madagascar is progressively sliding into greater fragility, with dramatic increases in poverty levels and worrisome deterioration in the overall governance environment. In health, education and food security, the state of affairs is already close to an emergency situation, as the public service delivery system is at risk of paralysis and humanitarian aid, bypassing public institutions, is showing its limitations."
Lova Rakotomalala, a Global Voices editor for the Francophone region, grew up in Madagascar and returned to France from his latest trip there just two weeks ago. He says a culture of insecurity now plagues life in Madagascar.
"People don't know the difference between the police and muggers," he says, adding that the deteriorating level of insecurity has been felt particularly acutely by students at the University of Antananarivo.
"Students are afraid to be there after dark, especially women," he says.
"I don't want to be overly pessimistic, but things are as bad as they could ever be.
"Many people have lost their jobs and are now working in the informal sector. The cost of living has also been fluctuating a lot, and even though the government tried to regulate prices, it is beyond their control."
In its latest report, The African Development Bank also stresses the effects of the political crisis on the standard of living of ordinary Malagasy people. "The weak performances of the nation's economy since the political crisis began have resulted in a sharp deterioration in standards of living. Budgetary constraints and a shortage of human resources have helped weaken even further basic social services and their ability to respond to the needs of the population," it says.
Rakotomalala says the combination of joblessness, rising insecurity and poor living standards have culminated in a number of strikes in the last two months. "Teachers, doctors and students have all gone on strike," he says. "I think the teachers are still on strike."
Social conditions, then, are ripe for another mass uprising in Madagascar, but Rakotomalala believes the Malagasy people just don't have the appetite for further upheaval. "I think right now there are more grounds for protests than ever before, but people are wary of more protests," he says. "Further protests mean the economy slows down even more, and people are just tired."
Crucially, he notes that Malagasy trust in the political spectacle has eroded significantly. "People don't trust the political leadership - both the opposition and those in power," he says. "The level of mistrust is not coming from nowhere. Four previous attempts at reconciliation have failed. People were hopeful of real change, but now it seems like change will be manipulated by one side or the other." He says people have become disillusioned with the mediation process and refuse to get their hopes up after the crucial face-to-face meeting in Seychelles last week. "People are saying, 'So what?'" he says.
"It's not political issues but social issues that are at the forefront of people's lives. "There's still a long way to go for the Malagasy people. Many believe that the simple solution to this is not allowing both the current and former political leadership contest the elections, but nobody knows if that is an option at the moment."
For Madagascar, then, the road to reconciliation remains long and hard.