Profile: Marc Ravalomanana

Self-made dairy tycoon has failed to transfer his success to the island’s economy.

Madagascan President Marc Ravalomanana
Ravalomanana made his fortune building up his dairy business into a food empire [AFP]

Marc Ravalomanana won the Madagascan presidency in 2001 on the back of a wave of popular support, unseating Didier Ratsiraka, the president for 25 years, from power.

A self-made dairy tycoon, he started his working life producing yoghurt that he sold on the streets of the capital Antananarivo. He soon secured a World Bank loan, with the help of the Protestant church, to set up his first factory.

However, Ravalomanana was largely unknown in Madagascar until he became mayor of Antananarivo in 1999, but the close ties he forged with influential churches helped him on his way to victory in presidential polls in 2001.

But Ravalomanana was unable to move into the presidential palace until the following year as his predecessor tried desperately to hang on to power.

Once in office the religious backing slipped away amid economic troubles in the Indian Ocean island nation, but he was still able to secure a second term in 2006 and win a constitutional referendum in 2007.

Political stability

His supporters lauded him for maintaining political stability in the country, but critics complained that the timid businessman became increasingly remote and inaccessible over the years.

Though one of Madagascar’s richest men – his TIKO food empire was at one stage the largest non-foreign owned firm on the island – Ravalomanana has been less successful as the country’s president than he was as a businessman.

A major setback came in 2003 when he eliminated taxes on several commodities to encourage domestic consumption and industrial growth.

The programme collapsed causing a 66-per cent currency depreciation in 2004, huge budget deficits and trade imbalances.

Ravalomanana was also accused of giving away mineral rights and other assets, most notably with an agreement to lease vast swathes of farmland to the South Korean industrial giant Daewoo.

In 2007, Andry Rajoelina became mayor of Antananarivo and began to attack Ravalomanana as dictatorial, taking advantage of popular discontent among the poor who make up nearly 70 per cent of the population.

A little over 12 months later, with troops occupying the presidential offices in the capital Antananarivo, Ravalomanana announced he was stepping down and handing power to a group of military leaders.

“This decision was very difficult and very hard, but it had to be made. We need calm and peace to develop our country,” he told the nation in a radio address.

Source: Al Jazeera, News Agencies

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