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IdentifierCreatedClassificationOrigin
07ANTANANARIVO715 2007-07-20 05:13:00 CONFIDENTIAL Embassy Antananarivo
Cable title:  

RAVALOMANANA'S CONTRADICTORY LEADERSHIP STYLE

Tags:   PGOV PINR PREL MA 
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FM AMEMBASSY ANTANANARIVO
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 0089
INFO RUCNSAD/SOUTHERN AFRICAN DEVELOPMENT COMMUNITY
RHHMUNA/HQ USPACOM HONOLULU HI
RHMFISS/CJTF HOA
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RUEAIIA/CIA WASHDC
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					  C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 05 ANTANANARIVO 000715 

SIPDIS

SIPDIS

DEPT FOR AF/E, INR/AA, AND INR/B
DEPT FOR INR/I RHUFF
PARIS FOR D'ELIA

E.O. 12958: DECL: 07/20/2017
TAGS: PGOV PINR PREL MA
SUBJECT: RAVALOMANANA'S CONTRADICTORY LEADERSHIP STYLE

REF: A. ANTANANARIVO 662

B. ANTANANARIVO 640

C. ANTANANARIVO 409

D. ANTANANARIVO 325

E. ANTANANARIVO 84

F. ANTANANARIVO 60

G. 06 ANTANANARIVO 1320

H. 06 ANTANANARIVO 1372

I. 06 ANTANANARIVO 1289

J. 06 ANTANANARIVO 278

Classified By: CHARGE D'AFFAIRES GEORGE N. SIBLEY FOR REASONS 1.4B,D



1. (C) SUMMARY: On December 3, 2006, Marc Ravalomanana won a
landslide reelection victory emerging ahead of 13 other
candidates with 55 per cent of the vote. His nearest rival
tallied less than 12 per cent. Coming five years after his
initial disputed victory had plunged the nation to the brink
of civil war, it was an open question how Ravalomanana would
respond to his decisive victory. Six months later the answer
is emerging, and it is complex. Ravalomanana has been
emboldened to take decisive and dramatic steps: he revised
the constitution and pushed it through a nationwide
referendum; he promulgated the Madagascar Action Plan (MAP)
as an ambitious path to transform Madagascar's economy and
governing culture; he has demanded accountability of the
government and its leaders. At the same time, rather than
growing more relaxed and comfortable in power, he appears
increasingly to see enemies around him, broaching little
dissent as he becomes more isolated and autocratic. He
continues to make little distinction between what benefits
the nation and what benefits his TIKO Corporation. His
critics - led by our French colleagues - focus on the latter
problems while his champions point to the former
accomplishments. This report attempts a balanced assessment
of Ravalomanana's leadership at the start of his second term
in office. END SUMMARY

"I'M THE BOSS"
- - - - - - -



2. (C) A born entrepreneur with a tendency to make snap
decisions, the President has been emboldened in taking
decisive action to show "he is the boss" following a free and
fair landslide victory in December 2006 elections (REF H).
Upon return from a business trip to China May 19, he famously
warned foreign diplomats to stay out of Madagascar's internal
affairs or risk expulsion. In a July 13 meeting with
senators, he reportedly said if the IMF disagrees with the
recent amnesty on tax penalties, "nothing prevents us from
discontinuing our cooperation." The IMF Resident
Representative confirmed to us this was all bluster; there is
no change in the Government of Madagascar's (GOM) policy with
regard to the Fund. Over the past several years,
Ravalomanana has repeatedly asserted the GOM "sovereignty" in
deciding how to implement donor assistance. At the same
time, some Presidency staffers tell us that his private
persona has "mellowed" in his second term, acting less
authoritarian in the office and exhibiting more patience in
listening to his advisors.



3. (C) Despite his landslide victory, Ravalomanana has grown
increasingly paranoid: taking substantial security
precautions, harping on Madagascar's sovereignty in public
statements, and issuing warnings to groups he finds
threatening, including journalists and diplomats (REF G).
Whether through paranoia or political canny, he sometimes
creates buffers to distance himself from unpopular decisions,
tasking GOM officials to implement and defend them. In May,
Ravalomanana left the Ministry of Interior to announce the
controversial decision that French priest Sylvain Ulfer would
be deported, while the President flew to Shanghai on business.

PRESIDENTIAL PRIORITY


--------------------------





4. (SBU) The President's sense of priority plays a driving
role in determining which government initiatives succeed or
flounder. GOM officials around the country scrambled to
organize a constitutional referendum April 4 in a matter of
weeks, while simple electoral reforms that civil society, the
international community, and opposition groups have
recommended for years have been consistently ignored.

ANTANANARI 00000715 002 OF 005





5. (C) A degree of passivity is a Malagasy characteristic,
but the President has no patience for personnel and projects
he deems to be moving "too slow" or not showing results.
Even conversations with the President need to be quick and
pointed, or he will lose attention and move to the next
topic. Although political pressure to perform in his first
term led to frequent cabinet shuffles, the GOM has seen very
little personnel change at the minister level in the past two
years (REF E). He has reportedly decided to "stop playing
the political game" in order to focus on progress, and the
ministers seem to be meeting his standards. By contrast,
underperforming regional chiefs have been replaced at an
impressive rate. Officials are more efficient when held
accountable, but GOM staff are often nervous about losing
their jobs. A workaholic, Ravalomanana has surrounded
himself with young, dynamic Malagasy trained abroad. Still,
his unconventional hours contribute to a high burn-out rate
on the Presidency staff.




6. (C) Although Ravalomanana's emphasis on results is often
beneficial, Millennium Challenge Account (MCA) Director Emma
Ralijohn recently landed in the crosshairs. Frustrated the
MCA was not producing results quickly enough by his
standards, the President tasked his Council of Ministers to
replace Ralijohn despite a direct letter from Millennium
Challenge Corporation (MCC) CEO Danilovich expressing
pleasure with her leadership and warnings the move could
constitute a breach of contract and set back the program.
In-country MCC staff believe his decision was influenced by
foreign advisors and regional chiefs wanting to dictate
changes in the use of MCC funds, which are not allowed under
the compact.

CROOKED OR FISCALLY LIBERAL?
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - -



7. (SBU) In an Independence Day speech delivered June 25,
President Ravalomanana announced the cancellation of all
penalties on tax, customs, and foreign currency repatriation
arrears before June 26, 2007 in order to encourage the
private sector to become current; the arrears themselves must
still be paid (REF A). While the amnesty benefits a number
of private businesses (at least 61 companies benefit from the
cancellation of customs penalties alone), the President's own
TIKO company stands to gain the most. TIKO has neglected to
pay the bulk of its customs duties since Ravalomanana came to
power in 2002; its arrears in VAT taxes for rice imports from
2004 alone amount to USD 10 million. This latest unilateral
decree -- made without consulting the IMF or his Minister of
Finance -- poses a larger question often raised by
Ravalomanana's economic initiatives: TIKO will benefit, but
is it at the expense of Madagascar's development or in
parallel?



8. (C) The drawn out battle with U.S. Seaboard Corporation
raises additional questions about President Ravalomanana and
TIKO (REF B). For several months, it appeared TIKO's new
wheat mill at the Tamatave Port would obtain a monopoly at
the expense of this U.S. investor. Only after aggressive and
consistent Embassy advocacy did President Ravalomanana
finally relent, approving a new lease for Seaboard's silos at
the port. It is unclear whether the President acknowledged
our arguments about transparency and a level playing field or
if he reluctantly acceded to avoid embarrassment. Whatever
the answer, the President's ambitious investment promotion
initiative appears to have a subtle caveat: invest in any
sector in Madagascar where TIKO is not present.

POLITICAL VS. ECONOMIC REFORMS
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - -



9. (U) Although Ravalomanana campaigned in 2001 on a platform
of political reform, Madagascar saw great economic reforms
but very few political changes during his first term. The
President has hung his hat on the Madagascar Action Plan
(MAP), an ambitious five-year roadmap for Madagascar's
development launched in late 2006 (REF K). Mentioned in
almost every one of his speeches, the MAP "Commitments" are
cited as the underlying justification for nearly every
government initiative.


ANTANANARI 00000715 003 OF 005




10. (C) In addition, the President kicked off his second term
with a constitutional referendum (REF D) purportedly meant to
accelerate Madagascar's development by increasing government
efficiency, promoting decentralization, and integrating into
the international community. Opposition figures predictably
called the changes a presidential power grab. Post questions
why Ravalomanana undertook the enormous effort of holding a
nationwide referendum for a bevy of seemingly minor changes
-- some negative, many positive -- whose long-term impact is
still unclear. The most significant change, eliminating the
provincial layer of government administration to reduce
bureaucracy and decentralize authority, will take two years
to phase in. Ravalomanana has started holding Council of
Minister meetings at the regional level to "take the
government to the people" and conducting capacity-building
training to empower local authorities. The President of the
National Assembly recently called changes to hold
parliamentarians more accountable "very beneficial" by
creating real debate and cutting costs. Changes removing the
explicit reference to the secular nature of the state are
troubling to a degree given the President's strong
affiliation with the Protestant Church and open mistrust of
Muslims. But it is too soon to tell whether constitutional
changes will have any impact on presidential power, as
critics allege.



11. (C) In terms of political reform, the outdated electoral
code continues to be an area of disappointment. Despite
consistent lobbying from the international community,
election observers, civil society, and opposition parties to
adopt electoral reforms, including a single ballot and an
independent electoral commission, the President has not
budged. While the GOM argued in 2006 there was not enough
time to adopt the measures before the presidential election,
it appears the President continues to have no interest in
addressing a technical issue that plays in his favor, even
when it would silence his critics. On the other hand, the
President recently expressed interest in reforming
Madagascar's unsophisticated political party system. Calling
the country's over 100 parties "inactive and inefficient" in
comparison with a two-party system like that of the United
States, the President pledged to meet with Madagascar's
political leaders to "professionalize" the system.

LOOKING ABROAD FOR INSPIRATION
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -



12. (C) The President continues to surround himself with a
stable of foreign advisors on economic and governance issues
from the U.S., Australia, Germany, Norway, and Mauritius --
fodder for critics who accuse him of not trusting his own
people. His closest foreign advisor is indisputably Dean
Williams, an Australian Harvard professor specializing in
leadership. Some observers note Williams, like Ravalomanana,
has a big ego and can be abrupt at times, perhaps a reason
they work well together. The presidential advisors'
influence has contributed to a sustained GOM focus on good
governance and anti-corruption efforts, willingness to
address human rights issues such as prison conditions, and
the creation of the National Leadership Institute to empower
up-and-coming Malagasy leaders.

A MAN OF THE PEOPLE
- - - - - - - - - - -



13. (C) Although Ravalomanana is one of the wealthiest
businessmen in Madagascar, he continues to portray himself as
"a man of the people." Those who know him well say he has
stayed true to his humble origins. The President continues
to speak with a folk accent and use peasant slang. He likes
to be unpredictable, changing his domestic schedule
frequently and arriving places unannounced. When traveling
in the provinces, he infuriates his bodyguards by mingling
with people in stores and restaurants. He also conducts a
five-minute radio show on Sunday evenings to address current
events. While all of this plays well with his peasant base
in an overwhelmingly rural country, Malagasy intellectuals
criticize his lack of sophistication.

PERCEIVED BIAS AGAINST THE COAST
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -



14. (C) Because of the long-standing tension between people

ANTANANARI 00000715 004 OF 005


living along the coasts, the "cotier," and the highlanders of
the central plateau, it has been a truism of Malagasy
politics that the President and Prime Minister should have
different origins. Ravalomanana's naming a fellow highlander
-- General Charles Rabemananjara -- as Prime Minister was one
of his boldest moves after the election. Surprisingly, it
was accepted at the time by most as a move away from ethnic
division and towards meritocracy. Since then, however, as
more-and-more highlanders are given government appointments,
Ravalomanana's government is seen as ethnically imbalanced.
The cotier often accuse the President of funneling
development funds to the central highlands from which he
hails while ignoring the coasts. Opposition politicians
periodically fan the flames of ethnic tension to bolster
their support base, most notably in December's presidential
campaign and in recent protests along the coast over
blackouts and university conditions (REF C). Post believes
this is just the latest manifestation of politicians
exploiting perceived "tribal rivalry" that extends back
several generations. The President has pledged to win over
the "cotier" through a number of major infrastructure
projects along the coast, some already completed.

JIRAMA: A LOST OPPORTUNITY
- - - - - - - - - - - - - -



15. (C) A perplexing failure of the Ravalomanana
administration is the ongoing underperformance of the state
power and water utility, JIRAMA. Countless restructuring
plans have been proffered, and advice and financing promised
by the World Bank, France, and European Union. Given coastal
grievances over blackouts and the impact on development, Post
would have assumed fixing JIRAMA would be a top priority.
And yet the latest plan is apparently stalled in the Council
of Ministers awaiting approval. Perhaps the JIRAMA problem
is so complex and costly as to be beyond the President's
political will to remedy. Whatever the reason, JIRAMA is an
easy target for political opponents and a major obstacle to
MAP goals.

RELATIONSHIP WITH THE FRENCH
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - -



16. (C) Ravalomanana's prickly relationship with the French
dates back to 2002 when they supported his opponent Didier
Ratsiraka in the political stand-off that brought the country
to the brink of civil war. Although the bilateral
relationship is on pragmatic footing (France is the top
foreign investor in Madagascar), there continues to be great
distrust on both sides. Heavily influenced by opposition
figures, French Ambassador Alain Le Roy is not inclined to
give the GOM the benefit of the doubt. The confidential May
2007 EU Chiefs of Mission Report Le Roy largely drafted
criticizes the "solitary and authoritarian" president and
describes a "deteriorating political situation" characterized
by authoritarianism, economic conflicts of interest, a grave
energy crisis and the incarceration of opposition figures.
Ravalomanana, in turn, codified his desire to distance
Madagascar from historical French influence in the
constitutional referendum by adopting English as an official
language and stipulating future presidents must be born of
both a Malagasy mother and father. He is said to have
decided against French companies in several public tenders.
At the same time, several of his ministers and Presidency
staff remain close to the French, and the French
road-building company COLAS continues to hold the largest
infrastructure contract in the country.

PSYCHOLOGY: CRITICAL FRIENDS ARE ENEMIES


--------------------------





17. (C) Ravalomanana has achieved his success against
enormous odds. Starting selling dairy products from the back
of a bicycle, he grew one of the largest corporations in
Madagascar. His humble origins and lack of education have
made him a perpetual outsider among highland aristocracy.
His short stature contributes to something of his "Napoleon
Complex" as he strives to prove himself against all comers.
This allows him to take bold action unthinkable to most
Malagasy, but it also means that he is always seeing the
world through a prism of conflict. It is not possible to
give a tough message "as a friend" because that message
defines the bearer as an enemy. This occasionally reaches

ANTANANARI 00000715 005 OF 005


the extreme where Ravalomanana sees plots where none may
exist, and we wonder how many of the reported "assassination
attempts" over the past couple of years were nothing of the
kind. At least one of the would-be "assassins" has been
released from jail because the evidence did not support the
charge and the most recent assassination "conspirator" has
been released on bail while awaiting trial. In addition,
Ravalomanana's frenetic energy and short attention span have
led some observers to wonder if he might be suffering from
some kind of attention deficit disorder. As a result, in
meetings with Ravalomanana, we limit our priority topics of
discussion and try to make our points quickly and early in
the meeting. That Ravalomanana almost never has a note taker
present adds to the imperative that important issues be
addressed to him early and forcefully.



18. (C) COMMENT: In the course of Ravalomanana's two terms,
Post has seen a greater sense of accountability within the
GOM, increasing decentralization, steady economic growth, a
new focus on anti-corruption and good governance issues, and
a greater willingness to integrate into the international
community. At the same time, Ravalomanana's rhetoric too
often does not match his action. He preaches the devolution
of power and responsibility, but frequently the government
comes to a standstill awaiting a Presidential decision, and
his intolerance of error can paralyze even his senior
ministers. He has urged the nation to empower women, then
has done nothing to expand their role in the senior levels of
his own government. He preaches against corruption, but
cannot see that actions benefiting TIKO may not always be in
the national interest. Legally Ravalomanana may run for one
more reelection, but he has hinted that he will not do so.
He told Ambassador McGee, in private, "I will not be one of
those African strong men." Perhaps he will not run, but we
would be surprised if he did not change his mind. If so, and
he wins again, he will have spent 15 years as elected
president. If the negative trends strengthen and come to
dominate in the years ahead, we may yet come to view him as
"just another African strong man." Today, however, we would
still describe Ravalomanana - on balance - as a bold leader
bringing Madagascar into the modern world. END COMMENT.

SIBLEY