We follow ousted President Marc Ravalomanana as he tries to win back power amid political intrigue and foreign interest.
Editor’s note: This film is no longer available to view online.
“Madagascar is an island and I thought we don’t have any enemy from abroad. The result is this coup.”
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In 2009, Marc Ravalomanana, the democratically elected president of Madagascar, was deposed from power and forced into exile, following violent clashes and a coup d’etat that left more than 100 people dead and the African island nation in turmoil.
Coup leader Andry Rajoelina, a former radio DJ and business magnate, became president of Madagascar’s High Transitional Authority. Since then, income inequality, poverty and malnutrition have increased in Madagascar.
From his exile in South Africa, Ravalomanana is determined to regain power by peaceful means and to return to his country. But the road back to his country and to democracy is a minefield of political intrigue and international economic interests.
And there are more than political ideals at stake.
The French are widely believed to have backed the coup. The former colonial power is just one of the countries that has socio-economic interests in the African island nation, and which seems to secretly but actively support the new regime.
According to Peter Mann, one of Ravalomanana’s advisers, the former president challenged France’s hold on Madagascar in a number of ways: “He began to open the economy to non-French interests. He changed the constitution so that Malagasy children should learn to speak English as a third language. He joined the Southern African Development Community (SADC) and began to open the economy to global participation. All of these were signals to France that the party was over. So what we know is that the coup was French-inspired and the non-negotiable French position is that Ravalomanana will not return to Madagascar.”
Danish filmmaker Lotte Mik-Meyer has documented Ravalomanana’s struggle for democracy over the course of five years, with unique access to the diplomatic power play – and to Ravalomanana himself.
‘Return of a President’ tells the inside story of the coup d’etat that ousted a popularly elected president and his commitment to peacefully restore democracy in Madagascar.
“The most important thing for me is the aspiration of democracy. Democracy burns in my heart,” Ravalomanana says.
The most important thing for me is the aspiration of democracy. Democracy burns in my heart.
Since the coup, Ravalomanana has taken part in international negotiations mediated by the Southern African Development Community. With the coup leaders, SADC drafted a roadmap for restoring political order in Madagascar. But, between drafts, the camp of Andry Rajoelina had removed a key clause of the roadmap – Ravalomanana’s right to return.
“We cannot sign it if they don’t allow us to go back to Madagascar,” Ravalomanana tells his advisers.
In 2011, the Rajoelina government had successfully blocked Ravalomanana’s initial attempt to return – he and his entourage were turned away at the airport in Johannesburg.
In 2012, after relentless lobbying, Ravalomanana is granted the right to return; but once over Madagascan airspace, passengers are informed that all airports in the country have been closed. The plane is forced to turn back to South Africa.
During a ramp-up to the 2013 presidential elections in Madagascar, SADC attempted to ease tensions and requested that both Ravalomanana and Rajoelina both abstain from running. On December 10, 2012, Ravalomanana announced he would not participate and encouraged Rajoelina to follow suit.
Rajoelina complied, but when Ravalomanana’s wife, Lalao, submitted her candidacy several months later, he resubmitted his, declaring that Marc Ravalomanana had been looking to govern by proxy, through his wife.
In August 2013, a special electoral court invalidated the candidacy of Lalao Ravalomanana, as well as her chief competitors Rajoelina and former president Didier Ratsiraka. TGV candidate Hery Rajaonarimampianina was elected president in January 2014, defeating Jean-Louis Robinson, the candidate aligned with Marc Ravalomanana’s camp.
In October 2014, Ravalomanana secretly returned to Madagascar. He was arrested and sentenced to lifelong hard labour for abuse of power.
Ravalomanana’s sentence was lifted and he was freed from six months of house arrest in May 2015. He quickly reinstated broadcasts at his MBS radio station, announced the re-opening of the TIKO business group and was re-elected president of the TIM political party (Tiako I Madagasikara), or ‘I Love Madagascar’.
Marc Ravalomanana is preparing to run for president again in 2018. He is working on improving relations with France. Meanwhile, his wife, Lalao, was elected as first female mayor of the capital, Antananarivo.