In the year that the world first became embroiled in the fight against an unforgiving and seemingly inescapable virus, a president and a country in Africa took to the fore to make waves, in what some say was a rather unfortunate episode of the early days of earth surviving COVID-19.
President Andry Rajoelina, president of the Indian Ocean-based Madagascar, made the headlines across the world after Rajoelina announced that experts in his country have found a cure to the coronavirus that was first detected at the end of 2019 in Wuhan, China. At the time, Africa was only beginning to wake up to its own portion of the global crisis.
“Tests have been carried out – two people have now been cured by this treatment,” President Rajoelina said on April 20, 2020. He even pitched the ‘cure’ as a panacea that ‘gives results in seven days’. But within a matter of three months, the curative capacity of COVID Organics, the herbal formula, had been adjudged non-existent by Africa’s Center for Disease Control, the WHO, and even Nigeria which said it was no better than a ‘cough-suppressant’.
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That was not the world’s introduction to Rajoelina. In 2009, Rajoelina, then 35, became Africa’s and the world’s youngest leader of a government. This feat, on a continent with infamous leaders who are twice or more the median age in their countries, raised eyebrows and hopes of a renaissance for one of the poorest nations in the world. Rajoelina’s first time as president was in the period between 2009 and 2014.
This first term itself was preceded by a power crisis that many have said presented an opportunity for the young to prove his mettle. Since gaining independence from France in 1960, the island nation has been dogged by political instability stemming from coups and violent unrest.
After becoming mayor of the country’s capital and most populous city Antananarivo at 31, Rajoelina set himself directly against the government of Marc Ravalomanana who had been in power since 2002. Rajoelina won the mayoral elections marketing himself as a young progressive channeling the aspirations of a youthful but destitute population. This obviously worked but Rajoelina was far from your everyday Malagasy youth.
He was born in the highland city of Antsirabe into a wealthy in 1974. His father was a former soldier in the French Army. Perhaps, an idea of how wealthy they were can be picked easily from the fact that he was privately educated, and after he earned his high school certificate, Rajoelina refused to enroll in college but rather open an events management company in 1993 that brought together foreign and Malagasy artists for huge events. The company, Show Business, organized Live which became an annual music festival for well over a decade attracting tens of thousands of attendants.
Rajoelina would play as a DJ in clubs and at other venues in the mid-1990s. Apart from this, he would promote club events that only boosted his profile and that of his company. By the time he launched Viva Radio in Antananarivo, Rajoelina had cemented his place as one of the biggest movers on the entertainment scene in Madagascar even though he was well under 30. And then, he married into an equally wealthy family.
Rajoelina married teenage sweetheart Mialy Razakandisa in 2000. This was after he had set up his Madagascar first digital printing company called Injet in 1999. Rajoelina’s in-laws sold to him Domapub, a billboard advertising business they owned in Antananarivo, making the future president the most important Malagasy in the outdoor advertising business. But the business moves did not end there because, in 2001, Rajoelina bought the well-established Ravinala television and radio stations and named them Viva.
Perhaps, the success of his business enterprises bolstered the confidence of the man who was described as shy by early acquaintances. What success at a young age also did was help him put across to a desperate young population that he was the beautiful possibility a gerontocratic leadership hindered. When he created the political party Tanora Malagasy Vonona, or Young Malagasies Determine, in 2007, the ground had already been laid for popular appreciation and support. He beat the incumbent mayor with 63% of the votes.
But the intrigue that brought Rajoelina to power in 2009 was the result of foresight with which he has to be credited. He was not simply a confident young man with a popular following but he also saw and tapped into growing anti-government sentiments in Antananarivo spreading to other parts of the country.
It is safe to assume that his ambition meant he had to make the country ungovernable for Ravalomanana. But was Rajoelina, now the country’s most powerful mayor, also trying to pay back the government for a 2003 incident in which major billboards installed by Rajoelina’s advertising outlet were ordered to come down? Was this more than politics but also personal?
Either way, Ravalomanana’s missteps proved costly. The more he tried to shut down businesses owned by Rajoelina after 2007, the wider the young mayor’s support grew. In January 2009, Rajoelina declared he was “in charge of the country’s affairs” since, according to Rajoelina, Ravalomanana had shirked his responsibilities. The mayor then called for the president to resign with immediate effect.
In February, about 30 anti-government protesters were killed as they marched towards the presidential palace. All this while, Rajoelina had been appointed by leaders of the months-long protest president of what was known as the High Transitional Authority. They deferred to Rajoelina, the moral and political responsibilities of a Malagasy president. After the presidential palace shooting, Ravalomanana’s end was written on the wall.
The Malagasy army was forced to choose sides and they chose Rajoelina’s. This was even after Ravalomanana had called for a national referendum that was not agreed to by Rajoelina. The president was forced to resign and handed over to army who in turn appointed Rajoelina as the country’s president in March 2009. This unprecedented climb to power was challenged in the Supreme Court but justices believed Rajoelina’s appointment was legitimate.
In 2013, a new general election was organized for which Rajoelina sat out. One of the reasons for his decision was that Rajoelina had not yet attained 40, the legal age to run for the presidency. He thus supported the Minister of Finance during his transitional presidency, Hery Rajaonarimampianina, who beat Jean-Louis Robinson from Ravalomanana’s party.
Rajaonarimampianina would eventually fall out with Rajoelina. The former minister stood for reelection in 2018, at the same time as Rajoelina and former president Ravalomanana. It was the election that brought Rajoelina to his current term.