Madagascar’s Young President Faces Old Problems

Can Madascar's president improve one of Africa's poorest economies?

Madagascar’s new president, Andry Rajoelina, may have garnered popularity hosting parties in the small African island nation but he now faces a whole different task: turning around the economic fortunes of one of the continent’s most impoverished nations.

At 44, Rajoelina has completed a remarkable feat, returning to the limelight in 2018 before turning the tables on his previous challenger, former President Marc Ravalomanana, who was ousted by the military in 2009. Rajoelina was given the reins of power by the military in 2009, but he and Ravalomanana were barred from re-election in 2013.

Rajoelina is set to be sworn in on January 19, following his December 2018 victory in a runoff vote, with the poor state of the country’s economy—a top producer of vanilla—coming into focus. The World Bank said in its Global Economic Prospects 2019 report released this year that Madagascar’s economy will contract by 0.2% this year, after nominal growth of 0.1% in 2018.

Uncertain access to electricity, low productivity and an impoverished populace will weigh heavily on Rajoelina. He has promised reforms, and experts say he has to act quickly.

According to Country Economy reports, the Malagasy national debt stood at about 38.3% in 2016, while the United Nations’ Human Development Index ranks Madagascar 161 out of 189 countries.

“Rajoelina has promised to lower the price of fuel, electricity and rice, the main staple of Madagascar, but has yet to provide specific details,” says Andrew James, an expert on Madagascar. “Rajoelina identifies key pillars of growth to be agribusiness, mining, tourism and affordable power.”

After he was confirmed as winner of the election by the Malagasy Constitutional Court, Rajoelina spoke of unity. “I’m the president of all the Malagasy,” he said in early January, as his party celebrated victory. “Now let’s get to work for Madagascar.”