California State University, Long Beach
Inside CSULB Logo

Marcus’ Madagascar Mission

Published: December 18, 2013

International Studies’ Richard Marcus brings an insider’s savvy to the politics of the island nation of Madagascar and its upcoming elections in his book The Politics of Institutional Change in Madagascar’s Third Republic, due at the year’s end.

The former French colony has been in political crisis since the military ousted then-President Marc Ravalomanana and installed Antananarivo Mayor Andry Rajoelina in March 2009. Poverty has increased since, social sectors such as education and health care have deteriorated, infrastructure has weakened, and governance problems have been exacerbated.

Marcus had been working on a book comparing Madagascar’s water sector to Kenya’s.

“When the government of Madagascar was overthrown in 2009, the Ministry of Water and much policy was essentially vacated, putting my research into turmoil and dating my community-level data overnight,” said Marcus, a member of the university since 2006. “As a result of the tumult, I wrote an entirely different book, The Politics of Institutional Change in Madagascar’s Third Republic.”

The book “details the rise of the institutions of the Third Republic (1992-2010), how they formed, and why they looked like models for democratic change before turning to consider, institution by institution, how the institutions themselves have been manipulated in plain sight by leaders looking to champion their own political networks,” he said. “Democratic theory tends to focus on how we consolidate democracy. We as political scientists tend to focus on the replicability of democratic activity like elections. In Madagascar there has been little effort to look beyond a legislature brought in by careful elections but producing legislation serving individuals, the ways in which inchoate political parties distort institutional outcomes and the potential for institutionalization, the weakness of civil society to offer opportunities for popular engagement or even the transmission of information across levels, or the use of donor funder decentralization programs to build a Ministry of the Interior and Decentralization that in actuality served as a powerful and rapid proxy for leadership centralization.”

The Madagascar constitution which ought to knit together the island nation actually impedes it, Marcus believes.

“The final chapter of the book points to this pattern of inefficiency. This is a pattern that goes back before independence from the French,” he said. “The focus of this book is the republic founded in 1992. By 2010, there was a new republic and a new constitution. It made things much worse in the sense that not only does the new constitution strengthen the president even more but it is confusing. It obfuscates the main thing constitutions are supposed to do which is to distinguish between local and national government.”

Years of difficult international negotiations have culminated into a first round of presidential elections that were held Oct. 25. A second and decisive round of presidential and legislative elections are scheduled for Dec. 20.

“I think elections are really going to happen this time in Madagascar and of course I am just delighted because it is so important to Madagascar’s recovery. But can elections bring a sea change? My conclusion is, unfortunately, no,” he said. “Madagascar has returned to its pattern of government as usual. Elections are important in that they bring stability, bring an end to a crisis for a profoundly exhausted Malagasy populace, and bring about a sense of normalcy. However, the field of candidates makes clear that political networks continue to vie for power within the context of sophisticated democratic institutions. With one interim exception, Madagascar’s constitution has been changed by each president since the country’s independence in 1960. The constancy is that it gives tremendous and sweeping power to the president. I see the new leader benefiting from constitutional, democratic norms that allow him to work to his network’s benefit. It doesn’t embed democracy. It doesn’t recruit new political platforms or bring in the things we want to see that strengthen a government.”

The elections are not likely to produce significant violence but will be problematic, Marcus predicts.

“The two major protagonists are both barred from running for the presidency,” he explained. “What began as more than 100 candidates was boiled down to 33. Of those, none has a national profile. We should expect a highly split election. In the first round, no one person got a majority of votes. It will make the second round in December hugely important. Voters will then look at the two surviving candidates and ask themselves if either one is someone they can rally around. There is a second, more procedural, question as well. This will be Madagascar’s first election using a single ballot system. It has always been a multi-ballot system where each candidate produces sheets of paper for a voter to put in an election box. The single ballot is an important improvement but is likely to create confusion; public education on voting procedures has been very scant in a poor, predominantly rural country.”

The seal of Madagascar

Marcus wears many hats in Madagascar. From 2008-12 he was the World Bank’s lead researcher for governance on a number of projects, serving as primary author of its seminal Madagascar Governance and Development Review. He also served as a member of the Social Science Research Council Conflict Prevention and Peace Forum/United Nations Department of Political Affairs support team, presenting its findings to the Southern African Development Community peace talks lead team in Maputo.

“The World Bank had nearly a $1 billion portfolio in Madagascar when the Ravalomanana government was overthrown in 2009,” Marcus said. “The World Bank’s and other donors supported key sectors in the Madagascar government. Most of this donor funding was frozen in 2009. My job was to lead the unpacking of the impact of the political changes down the value chain of key sectors.

The state is not failing in Madagascar, Marcus stated. “We aren’t looking at the next Somalia.” It is, however, unraveling. “The government has focused its attention on key sectors—predominantly sectors such as where there are rents. Mining and forestry leap to mind. As a result, some sectors that had seen important progress, such as education and health care, have suffered from a recession of not just state funding but state capacity to effectively govern.”

Marcus is now learning his sixth language, though he demurs, saying he “speaks English poorly and every other language worse.”

“I always tell my students how absolutely critical it is to learn languages to grow as an intercultural citizen and to be prepared for a job almost anywhere in our global economy.”

Marcus has also worked in Kenya, The Democratic Republic of the Congo, Tanzania, Uganda, Israel and the U.S., and has studied in France and Ecuador. He received his B.A. from New York University, his M.A. from UCLA, his Ph.D. from the University of Florida, and completed dual postdoctorates in Globalization and Environmental Studies at Yale University. He is now Associate Professor and Director of The Global Studies Institute and the International Studies Program at CSULB.