Prosecutors in Madagascar said Thursday they had foiled an attempt to assassinate President Andry Rajoelina and made several arrests.
“Several foreign and Madagascar nationals were arrested on Tuesday, July 20, as part of an investigation into an attack on state security,” prosecutor Berthine Razafiarivony said in a statement released overnight.
There was “a plan to eliminate and neutralise various Madagascan figures, including the head of state,” Razafiarivony said.
“At this stage of the investigation, which is ongoing, the prosecutor-general’s office assures we will shed light in on this case,” she added.
Two French nationals are among those who were arrested on Tuesday, diplomatic sources told AFP.
The two are reputedly retired military officers, according to the Taratra, a local news agency operation to the communications ministry.
During the country’s Independence Day celebrations on June 26, the gendarmerie announced they had foiled an assassination attempt on their boss, General Richard Ravalomanana, who is also Rajoelina’s right-hand man.
Rajoelina, 47, first seized power in March 2009 from Marc Ravalomanana with the backing of the military.
He won the last vote in December 2018, beating his main rival and predecessor Ravalomanana in an election beset by allegations of fraud.
Stretching across 587,000 square kilometres (nearly 227,000 square miles), Madagascar is the world’s fourth largest island, bigger than Spain or Thailand in size.
The country is world-renowned for its unique wildlife and vanilla but has a long history of coups and unrest since gaining independence from France in 1960.
– ‘DJ’ Rajoelina –
Rajoelina made his mark in events management and media before bursting on to the political scene in 2007. He earned the nickname of “Disc Jockey,” a reference to the parties he used to host in the capital Antananarivo.
After becoming the city’s mayor, he used his own Viva broadcasting channel to help generate a national following, putting himself forward as the leading opponent to Ravalomanana.
In 2009, he came to power as leader of the “High Transitional Authority” and pushed through a constitutional change that, among other things, lowered the minimum age for presidential candidates from 40 to 35, thus making him eligible to bid for the top job.
Under international pressure, Rajoelina did not contest the 2013 election and instead backed his victorious former finance minister, Hery Rajaonarimampianina.
The two quickly fell out, however. In 2016, Rajoelina vowed to win back office at the ballot box, achieving his goal in December 2018 after hotly-contested elections in which he hosted lavish rallies with performance artists and fireworks.
Rajoelina has portrayed himself as a champion of the poor and sees business as the key to easing poverty, although critics say his plans are often wild or lack substance.
Madagascar is heavily dependent on foreign aid, and nine out of 10 people live on less than $2 a day. The country has virtually been under a lockdown since the Covid-19 pandemic hit last year and its southern region is in the grips of a famine.
In April 2020, the president was the front man for the launch of a locally-made herbal drink called Covid-Organics that he claimed would prevent and cure coronavirus.
The drink was massively promoted in Madagascar and sent to other African countries in a sales pitch, despite warnings by the UN’s World Health Organization (WHO) about proclaimed cures that have no scientific validation.