So, you’re the leader of a UN member nation. You’re invited to the UN general assembly in New York. And that can be fun – you might get the chance to join the 20-minute long scrum of leaders assembled to shake Obama’s hand after his speech. But you might get stuck listening to Qaddafi’s 96-minute rant. All the good stuff happens in the hallways anyway. You might find yourself asking, “Why did I come in the first place?”
Legitimation. There’s only a very few things you need to be a nation – territorial integrity is nice, but not mandatory; a flag’s a good idea, but easy enough to design and sew; you can always rent a military. But you’re not a nation unless other nations recognize you as such. Ask Somaliland – they’ve managed to put together a reasonably functional economy and government in a very difficult neighborhood, but they aren’t recognized by their set of peers.
So that helps explain why Andry Rajeolina has come to the UN in force. My Malagasy blogger friends tell me that there’s a group of about 20 Malagasy officials and media, eager to proclaim Rajeolina’s legitimation by the general assembly. But that process isn’t going to smoothly…
First, a quick refresher on Malagasy politics. Marc Ravalomanana was elected president of Madagascar in 2006. (He’s been in office since 2002, when he took power after a disputed election.) He’s done some questionable things in office, including cracking down on independent media, spending state money on a private jet and putting forward a plan to lease a huge chunk of the country’s agricultural land to Daewoo. (See my previous posts on the topic.) In December of last year, Ravalomanana shut down the television station owned by Andry Rajeolina, the mayor of Antananarivo. This move was widely condemned and sparked a political battle between the two. With some popular and army backing, Rajeolina took control of the country in early February of this year, and has been seeking legitimation ever since. And since then, things in Madagascar have been complicated.
The plan must have looked so good on paper. Come to the UN, give an address, shake some hands and bask in the bright light of legitimation. But there have been a few stumbles. At a meeting of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, the US representative Douglas Griffiths demanded that the governments of Madagascar and Guinea step down and hold elections. This isn’t exactly a controversial stance – it’s what the African Union demanded a few days back – but it’s really nice to see the Obama administration standing up for democratic and constitutional processes on the continent.
This statement might have triggered today’s odd events… or, perhaps, non-events. Rajeolina was slated to address the General Assembly today. He was bumped from the program, without explanation. Voice of Americareports: “Madagascar’s self-proclaimed leader Andry Rajoelina was supposed to speak, but failed to address the assembly as scheduled Thursday morning. Mr. Rajoelina’s government has been rejected by regional leaders in southern Africa, Southern African Development Community, and by the African Union.” It’s possible that he’ll speak later – orange.mg (a news portal run by the international mobile operator) reports that he was simply rescheduled to appear after the Israeli president.
My friends following #madagascar on Twitter are having good fun watching this story, and have been demanding the UN explain whether or not Rajeolina will speak. But this is only part of the Malagasy story this week. On Tuesday, Rajeolina addressed a UN climate change event via a taped video message. Malagasy blogger Rabelazao thought the speech sounded familiar and discovered that a large section had been cribbed from a speech by Jean Asselborn, the Vice-Premier Ministre of Luxembourg in 2007. His investigation is here, though it’s written up in Malagasy – I’m trusting my GV Madagascar friends for their translation and interpretation.
It’s possible that UN-speak is simply so predictable and boring that it’s possible to accidently reproduce 300 words of another man’s speech. And the UN may well let Rajeolina speak – after all, no one even threw a shoe at Qaddafi. But for a week that was supposed to legitimate a Malagasy coup, things haven’t gone very well for Rajeolina. A giant hat tip to my Malagasy friends for following a story that’s going to be virtually invisible in mainstream media – if you guys don’t keep these politicians honest, who will?
Followup, September 28, 2009 – Andry Rajeolina wasn’t allowed to speak at the UN assembly. The events on Friday were confused and chaotic, but they involved a protest by the DRCongo government on behalf of SADC, and a hasty, poorly understood floor vote. It probably wasn’t the UN at its best, and as observers have pointed out, not all coup leaders were prevented from speaking at the UN… but I’m pleased to see AU and SADC taking a stand against governments that don’t have a clear mandate consolidating power and legitimacy.