Friday, March 9, 2012

Madagascar: The Military's Demands May Lead to Uprisings

The military in Madagascar has, over the past few days, initiated protests to demand improved living conditions, including exemption of their salaries from tax and a reimbursement of taxes deducted from their salaries since 2005. The transitional authorities believe that the discontent is related to social conditions and political contestation.  However, the fear of possible political manipulation of the situation has forced the authorities to engage with the disgruntled soldiers and to make concessions.

After many hours of negotiations, the government agreed to reduce the tax from 25 per cent to 4 per cent for the military. They also agreed to reimburse taxes deducted from their salaries for the first two months of 2012. It is not clear whether an agreement has been reached on remaining demands. So far, it appears that the military officers have accepted the proposals made by the government.

The protests have come at a time when the country is facing serious challenges in the implementation of the SADC roadmap agreed by most of the domestic political actors to end the political crisis. A protest within the ranks of the army is therefore never a good sign and could become a threat to the regime since the relation between the transition government and the army hangs in a delicate balance. Even though some army leaders claim their independence, it is undeniable that the regime rests heavily on the top military officers to maintain control of the country.  

Against a backdrop of strikes for better working conditions, which have affected the education sector over the past few months, the question that emerges is whether the government's moves to grant the demands of the military may not draw other sectors in the country to protest. Health workers and other civil servants might join the fray and if the government is not able to meet their demands may be capable of leading to a popular uprising.  The challenge is that currently Madagascar does not have adequate resources to meet multiple demands. This is compounded by the fact that the United States still opposes resumption of foreign aid to the country unless the roadmap is implemented and leads to democratic reforms.