The newly appointed President of Madagascar, Andry Rajoelina, inaugurated on 19 January 2019, has acted quickly appointing his Prime Minister just three days after his inauguration, and a new, leaner Cabinet two days later. Prime Minister Christian Ntsay, reappointed on 22 January after resigning before the inauguration, announced Madagascar’s new Cabinet on 24 January. These appointments follow the historic December 2018 democratic election in the notoriously politically unstable island off Africa’s east coast. The 22-member Cabinet, including 21 ministers and a secretary of state, is leaner than the 30-strong team of the previous regime under then president, Hery Rajaonarimampianina. Amid crumbling public finances, a dire lack of infrastructure, and 75% of the country’s population living in extreme poverty, Rajoelina has attributed the downsizing to a need for austerity, with several ministries merging. These included the Ministry of Finance and the Ministry of the Economy and Spatial Planning; and the Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock and the Ministry for Agriculture and Fisheries (MAEP). The new Cabinet appointments mark a notable shift in Malagasy politics, but risks of instability and graft remain.
The Cabinet marks a transition in government, particularly as most of the new Cabinet reportedly comes from fields outside politics, including many technocrats who supported Rajoelina’s economic vision, the Emergence of Madagascar Initiative (IEM/Initiative Émergence Madagascar). Such appointments include Julio Rakotonirina as Minister of Public Health; Roger Rafanomezantsoa as Minister of Public Safety; Fidinarivo Ravokatra as the Minister of Mines and Strategic Resources; and Tianarivelo Razafimahefa, who was reappointed Minister of Interior and Decentralisation despite opposition allegations of fraud. Richard Randriamandranto, former advisor to Ntsay and previously head of research and strategy at the Common Markets for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA), was appointed Minister of Finance, and billionaire media tycoon Naina Andriatsitohaina as Minister of Foreign Affairs ‒ both considered close Rajoelina allies. Appointments to other strategic ministries also favoured allies, including Justice Minister, Jacques Randrianasolo, who served as Attorney-General (AG) at the Antananarivo Court of Appeal; while the new Minister of Defence is Major-General Léon Jean Richard Rakotonirina, who has been the Permanent Secretary of Defence and National Security (SPDSN) since 2017.
The inclusion of private sector players in government has been lauded by business stakeholders, with the new Cabinet, at first glance, a team of young, highly qualified technocrats from universities in the United States, France and Canada. Others have commended Rajoelina for including opposition members. Opposition leaders and parliamentarians selected include Vondrona Politika Miara dia Malagasy Miara Miainga (VPM-MMM) President Hajo Andrianainarivelo, as Minister of Spatial Planning and Public Works; husband of Green Party President Saraha Georget Rabeharisoa, Alexandre Georget, as Minister of the Environment; and Freedom Party President, Lalatiana Rakotondrazafy Andriatongarivo, as Minister of Communication and Culture. However, party members from the main opposition party, the Tiako I Madagasikara (TIM), led by former president Marc Ravalomanana, are strikingly absent, while Madagascar’s key ministries are in the hands of Rajoelina loyalists likely to be strongly influenced by his agenda. The appointment of Andriantsitohaina, who has supported Rajoelina throughout his recent political comeback, as Minister of Foreign Affairs, is a case in point. This could leave the regime susceptible to hidden agendas, abuse of power and corruption. The previous regime headed by Rajoelina, when he took power in a military coup in 2009, was notorious for widespread corruption and instability, and left Madagascar polarised with heightened political tensions. The Cabinet overhaul will do little to alleviate these tensions in the short term, and will no doubt be met with criticism from the opposition, with the exclusion of major opposition players likely to fuel tensions and dampen initial optimism about reconciliation. Combined with strong enmity between Rajoelina and Ravalomanana, this lack of representation could undermine the prospects of longer-term stability, with the future of Madagascar still hanging in the balance.