10 A Canadian Gulliver Confronts an Arcane World (2009 – 2013)
Our motorcade of diplomatic vehicles, slightly ahead of schedule, drove slowly towards the Iavoloha presidential palace. My Japanese, South Korean and European Union counterparts, as well as a representative of the African Development Bank and I, each travelled in our respective cars. My chauffeur was Monsieur David driving his immaculately maintained vintage blue Peugeot. I always called on his services on frequent visits to Madagascar and its capital Antananarivo.
On this occasion we were on our way to a meeting with Madagascar’s president Andry Rajoelina. The palace is 15 kilometres south of Antananarivo located in hilly, forested terrain typical of the Madagascar highlands. We turned into the palace gates onto a long drive bordered by high baobab trees which, despite the attempt at splendour, looked desolate, their foliage at this time of year being only brown and scruffy tops of dead leaves. The immense white palace, a modern structure of North Korean design, dominated the end of the drive. The motorcade pulled into the palace courtyard. A grand outdoor staircase led to equally impressive doors and, entering, we saw on either side of the main entry hall, three-storey high vertical banners bearing the image of President Rajoelina.
Many Malagasies are descended from ocean-going Indonesian adventurers who settled the island centuries ago. French is the language of business here, but the Malagasy tongue has its roots in Sumatra and Java on the eastern edges of the Indian Ocean. The people have also been influenced by their centuries of contact with Arab and South Asian merchants who plied their trade with the island long before the arrival of Europeans in the sixteenth century. Madagascar is an African country with a difference.
The boyish, then 38-year-old president had been in tenuous charge of his country since early 2009. He was installed in office by a military coup that overthrew the elected president Marc Ravalomanana. Rajoelina, a successful media entrepreneur as well as past mayor of the capital, had rallied opposition to the Ravalomanana government, whose controversial free-market, but far from even-handed, economic measures, had not been good for some of Rajoelina’s growing businesses. His rise to power on a wave of well-orchestrated protests eventually backed by a strong military faction drew rapid international condemnation. Madagascar was suspended from the African Union, the South African Development Community (SADC) and La Francophonie. International assistance, including from the World Bank, was put on hold. From its outset, Rajoelina’s government was in quarantine. Many international partners, including the United States, Japan, South Korea, the European Union – and Canada – suspended full diplomatic relations with a view to pressuring Rajoelina to restore democracy.
The giant portraits in the palace, clearly meant to impress visitors with this man’s domination of Madagascar’s affairs, were at odds with his actual vulnerability. He was being pressed by the leaders of most of Madagascar’s international partners not only to yield power, but also to agree not to present himself as a candidate to lead a subsequent democratic administration – the restoration of which was a condition, among others, of return to full membership in the African Union.
When I joined External in 1990, I would not have considered it likely, some 25 years later, that I’d be making a diplomatic representation to the putative head of state of the remote island nation of Madagascar. The country of 25 million people with one of the world’s lowest per capita incomes (US$403 in 2015) did not then figure prominently as a Canadian foreign policy priority. Up until my frequent visits after 2009, my own view of the country was limited to seeing it as an isolated, ecologically unique domain, home of some evolutionarily distinct primates known as lemurs, and endangered rain forests. I was to learn how much more intriguing than I imagined, Madagascar really was.
My visits there were very much in pursuit of Canadian interests, the most important of those being the more than $7-billion investment managed by the Canadian company Sherritt International. The company’s Ambatovy nickel and cobalt mine and refinery were the product, at the time, of the largest single foreign investment in Madagascar.
Canada suspension of full diplomatic relations with Madagascar after the coup meant that the Canadian high commissioner in South Africa, who is normally accredited to Madagascar as a non-resident ambassador, would not present credentials to the highest Malagasy authorities or hold official meetings with them. However, under such circumstances, for practical purposes, a Canadian representative must be available in the region to carry out essential business, and for that purpose a “chargé d’affaires” is appointed. Shortly after my arrival in Pretoria, the Malagasy authorities were advised that I would perform that role.
Chargés are entrusted with necessary business regarding their countries’ interests. Above all that means helping any of their citizens in distress. The “consular cases” which had come to the Canadian high commission’s attention in recent months threw some light on sinister facets of the Malagasy regime. A local businessman with dual Malagasy-Canadian citizenship had recently been released from jail. The authorities had accused him of being involved in a string of bombings around the capital in the aftermath of the 2009 coup. Little credible evidence had been made public, and there were suspicions that the explosions were orchestrated by the military to justify arrests of regime opponents. The businessman was married to a woman who had been a senior advisor to overthrown president Ravalomanana, and she had gone into hiding. Rather than the Malagasy-Canadian’s arrest being tied to a genuine accusation, it was, we suspected, a means to bring his spouse into the open.
Another Canadian working as the health and safety office of a Canadian company in Madagascar faced a different sort of jeopardy. In keeping with his role, he had been first on the scene of a fatality on the company job site. A local worker had been found dead in a secluded corner of an industrial plant near a series of pipes and conduits. Much to his surprise after reporting the accident, the health and safety manager was taken into custody and charged with murder. It turned out that members of the victim’s family had pressed a local judge to proceed with an investigation. The Canadian health and safety officer was put in a position of singular jeopardy for what appeared to be dubious motives.
Such cases brought to the Canadian high commission’s attention demonstrated that Malagasy authorities did not necessarily either abide by clear rules, or in many instances, have much regard for civil rights. These were two of the cases I had to manage, with the very capable assistance of local high commission employees with extensive experience in consular matters.
But Canada’s interests are not only restricted to assisting individual Canadians. Commercial interests are also at stake. In July 2011 my wife and I were in Ottawa for vacation, staying at my sister-in-law’s home and taking the time to reconnect with family and friends. I received an e-mail from High Commissioner Dion asking me to contact Andrew McAlister, a former Global Affairs colleague now working as an independent consultant, whose client base included Sherritt. I called him at his home in Ottawa and he told me about negative signals from the Rajoelina government suggesting that it was not prepared to provide Ambatovy with its expected operating licence which it needed to start operations. The mine and refinery were near completion, and the licence was needed to begin tests to ensure the two complexes and the connecting slurry pipeline would work according to specifications. The government had raised safety issues with regard to possible gas leaks at the refinery and several other questions. As these matters had previously been addressed in official government inspections, there was the suspicion among Ambatovy managers that the Rajoelina government was manoeuvring to obtain a concession from the company, possibly in the form of some payment to the authorities. McAlister asked if the Canadian high commission would be willing to join our counterparts from Japan and South Korea, whose own companies, Sumitomo and Korean Resources (Kores), had minority stakes in Ambatovy, to make a direct representation, or démarche, to the Malagasy authorities – and, if possible, to Rajoelina himself. As company president Mark Plamondon was himself returning from summer vacation in Alberta to be on site to deal with the situation, I agreed to shorten my vacation to undertake this appeal.
It’s a good day’s journey from Pretoria to Antananarivo. The South African Airways flight leaves at 10 a.m. and after a nearly four-hour crossing of the wide Mozambican Channel, the landscape of Madagascar opens below. On my first visit, I was struck by the massive rivers that flow westward from the highlands and, as I approached Tana, the cultivated fields which surround circular farm enclaves defined by wooden palisades. The road from Antananarivo’s airport offers a fascinating introduction to the capital region. Small shops and homes, many with steep tiled roofs with upswept Asiatic eaves, abut the narrow, two-lane paved artery. Then the vista opens as the road follows the top of a dike running through extensive rice paddies spread over a plateau whose limits are defined in the distance by a series of flat-topped hills. Sharing the road are large, wooden two-wheeled carts, some pulled by zebus, curved-horn oxen; others by barefoot men. As we started to climb a hill towards the summit of the city, I saw four men, two between cart poles, two pushing from behind, hauling a full load of bricks. At times the road becomes so narrow, there is barely room for two vehicles to pass. It then traverses a crowded open-air market before reaching Lake Anosy, the artificial reservoir around which many of Madagascar’s government buildings are located. The route continues up a narrow winding road to the hotel usually favoured by our staff from the high commission, La Varangue, only a stone’s throw from the in-town presidential palace, Ambohisorohitra. After landing at 3 p.m. and the more than hour-long drive from the airport, late afternoon shadows lengthen, especially in July, the height of the southern hemisphere winter, a dry season with cooler temperatures. As night falls, the streets grow dark with little public lighting. La Varangue’s award-winning restaurant offers a welcome retreat from the surrounding darkness.
I had arranged to visit the Japanese embassy the following day, where I was to meet the Japanese ambassador, my South Korean counterpart from Pretoria, and representatives of Ambatovy, including staff from Sumitomo and Kores. The embassy is a modern building reflecting the elegant simplicity common to Japanese official architecture. I was greeted by the second secretary and ushered into the ambassador’s office. Ambassador Tetsuro Kawaguchi was an experienced diplomat. I had met him once previously and was struck by his excellent command of French and his facility as a raconteur. He was joined by his second-in-command, Shigeru Takuyasu, who, due to Japan’s cessation of full diplomatic relations with Madagascar while still having a resident ambassador, had become the chief interlocutor with the Malagasies on any business requiring high-level contact. Takuyasu would become a close ally over the next 18 months as the Malagasy political situation unfolded.
The purpose of the meeting was first to confirm that a démarche to the Malagasy government should be undertaken and then to agree on the nature of the message. Ambatovy president Plamondon and his government relations executive Juanita Montalvo were pleased with Japan’s, South Korea’s and Canada’s unanimous agreement to undertake the formal intervention.
Speaking to foreign government authorities on behalf of Canadian companies is not a routine matter. The Canadian Trade Commissioner Service (TCS), the network of Canadian trade commissioners in our embassies abroad, categorizes such interventions as “enhanced services” which go beyond the market intelligence, contact referrals and trouble-shooting that constitute trade commissioners’ “core services”. Nonetheless, with clients whose businesses have significant impact on, and will bring benefit to, the Canadian economy, embassies will try to reach foreign government decisionmakers at the highest level to help resolve outstanding issues. Ambatovy’s operation in Madagascar certainly qualified for enhanced service. At the same time, I recommended to my colleagues that the focus of our intervention should not strictly be on the interests of Sherritt, Mitsubishi and Kores, but rather on the impact the Rajoelina government’s actions was having on Madagascar’s international reputation and on its investment climate.
During the continuing delay in the authorization of the production permit, Rajoelina’s people had begun to show more of their hand. According to Montalvo, senior government officials had made blatantly clear that the cost for obtaining the permit would be $75 million. Ambatovy, on the other hand, was adamant that since the fiscal terms for building and operating the mine had been negotiated before the commencement of construction in conformity with the country’s own Loi de Grands Investissiments Minières (LGIM), the company had no intention of producing such a gratuitous payment. Although a Chinese firm had recently been granted an iron ore concession in northern Madagascar by tendering a $100 million payment to the Malagasy treasury, on terms unrelated to the LGIM, Ambatovy was not going to be drawn into that game.
What was now required was obtaining an audience with the palace to present our case. With his more extensive contacts, it fell on Takuyasu to seek the meeting.
Ambatovy was a corporate Gulliver held down by Lilliputian bonds. It was investing $6.6 billion in a major project that it couldn’t simply abandon when faced with an unjustifiable demand. At the same time, Rajoelina was not exactly impregnable. His country was suffering as the result of the international withdrawal of aid. Madagascar had been cut out of all its regional alliances and La Francophonie. Its economy was shrinking, and it needed foreign investment. Rajoelina’s authority was not based on any constitutional legitimacy, and it was not clear whether the business and military interests to which he seemed beholden would necessarily keep him in power. Paradoxically, a meeting with a diplomatic contingent from Japan, South Korean and Canada offered him some prestige and thereby some protection.
Confirmation of the meeting took several days while Tukuyasu worked his contacts in the foreign ministry and president’s office. When it did come, it was late on a Thursday evening, for a meeting the following morning at the president’s in-town palace. The building was at most a five-minute walk from my hotel, but to make an impression, we organized a diplomatic motorcade that descended through one-way streets to Lake Anosy and then remounted the hill by another road, crossed the palace square, and was then admitted through the palace’s security gate. We were escorted to a large formal chamber to the right of the palace’s main lobby. Company representatives had been summoned by the president’s office for a later meeting and were already seated in an anteroom.
The youthful president of the Haute Autorité de la Transition (HAT, High Authority of the Transition), as his government was called, was seated with Finance Minister Héry Rajaonarimampianina and the presidential office’s chief of protocol. Our three-country delegation sat in chairs at right angles to the president. We had agreed that Takuyusu and I would speak for the delegation.
“Thank you, your excellency,” I said, “for having received us today. The fact that you have given us this meeting is, we hope, an indication of the importance of this matter for you and your government. We regret that we must express our uneasiness with respect to the absence of authorization for the company Ambatovy to start production. In North America we have the expression; ‘You don’t move the goalposts after the beginning of the game.’ From our perspective that is exactly what is happening here.
“As of today, it has been six weeks since Ambatovy fulfilled all the technical, economic and environmental requirements of the laws and regulations that Madagascar demands. And your minister responsible has certified that. Suddenly, there comes a new demand for another review that didn’t previously exist in the approval process. Ambatovy believed that it possessed the certificates required under the Law of Large Mining Investments. Suddenly, after an investment of $6.6 billion, the requisite certificate was withheld.
“Mister President, we believe that you have the interests and aspirations of the Malagasy people at heart. The Ambatovy project is delivering and will deliver to the people of Madagascar jobs, business contracts and government revenues that will increase Madagascar’s prosperity.
“If you will further permit me, excellency, the decision to withdraw Ambatovy’s authorization to proceed with its project will have a major impact on your country’s investment climate. Already there are companies who appear uneasy about risking their money here.”
Rajoelina listened politely through this admittedly stern presentation, a little less nuanced than I would have been able to make in English, but still reflecting the gravity with which we viewed the matter. My Japanese colleague intervened somewhat more smoothly to make a similar case for the need of a stable regulatory climate to attract investment. The meeting lasted less than half an hour; Rajoelina thanked us and agreed to take our views under consideration. We departed, after a few pleasantries.
We had agreed to meet Plamondon and his Ambatovy team in a small board room in the La Varangue Hotel following their own audience with Rajoelina. When they appeared after another half-hour, they looked relieved, but not elated. Rajoelina had agreed to provide the company with its required permit to start operations. There were conditions. It was a six-month, temporary permit, although renewable indefinitely. Rajoelina had saved face but, unfortunately for the company, left the door open to further harassment down the road. For now, though, our efforts could be taken as a victory. Acknowledging that this was only a temporary win, I was still sufficiently satisfied and immediately transmitted the results by Blackberry to High Commissioner Dion in Pretoria. Later that day I watched the waters of the Mozambican Channel on my flight back to Pretoria. I deemed our intervention had been work well done. But it was only one step in a struggle with Rajoelina that was bound to continue.
On November 17, 2010, senior officers at an army base near Tana’s international airport said they had seized control of the facility and were calling on other regiments to rise in opposition to the government. Within less than 24 hours, troops loyal to Rajoelina had retaken the base, and the poorly planned uprising was suppressed. Nonetheless, the would-be coup served to underline the continuing illegitimacy of the government and increased pressure on both the regime and various international mediators who were trying to find a way out of the ongoing “crise”, to which the situation was now universally referred. By late 2011, the Southern African Development Community (SADC) had negotiated a significant step forward in getting Rajoelina to sign on to most elements of a “road map” toward restoration of democracy. Among other measures, Rajoelina had appointed to a newly designed Congress, deputies and senators representing a broad cross-section of many of the larger political parties, or mouvances, and had further appointed a prime minister who had their broad support, in what was now called, not the HAT, but the Government of Consensus. What remained outstanding were agreements to call elections; ensure that they were free and fair; provide amnesty for political opponents; and, most difficult of all, accept that neither Rajoelina nor his arch-rival Ravalolamana would present themselves as candidates for the presidency.
Into this mix now stepped La Francophonie, which during its summit in Switzerland from October 22 to 24, 2010, committed to send a mission to Madagascar to see if it could contribute to resolution of “la crise”. Canada’s ambassador to La Francophonie was Philippe Beaulne, who was also our ambassador to Romania. I was to meet him in Tana to provide a briefing on the situation and participate in several of the delegation meetings. The Francophonie mission took place from March 4 to 9, 2012 and included meetings with the South African embassy, which was guiding the SADC mediation process; other relevant missions including France and the European Union; the Malagasy foreign ministry; and most importantly the prime minister of the consensus, Omer Beriziky, and President Rajoelina.
La Francophonie’s role and purpose may sometimes seem abstract or even obscure to many Canadians. But its mission was intended to play a role in moving Madagascar back towards democratic norms. Still, it was surprising to me how La Francophonie’s role was being deeply misconstrued in some quarters. During the mission, I had my own meetings with both the chargés of the United States and the United Kingdom. Both made the surprising assertion that the Francophonie mission was part of a scheme by France to undermine the SADC road map and open the way to acceptance by the international community of inadequately organized and effectively sham elections. Underlying this perspective was the suspicion that Rajoelina’s coup had been backed by the French, and that French business interests were benefiting through a close relationship with the president and his circle. It was true the French embassy throughout most of the crisis had pulled its punches in refraining from criticizing the regime too harshly. French relations with Ravalomanana had been fractious, and Ravalomanana had expelled the French ambassador of the time, leaving a real sense of rancour in the relationship. However, with the defeat of President Sarkozy and the ascendance of President François Hollande, the French embassy in Madagascar had become increasingly aligned with its EU partners, South Africa and SADC, the United States and Canada.
I stressed to both the US and UK chargés that they misunderstood both the role of the Francophonie and its present mission. Canada, I noted, was an important and influential member of the Francophonie and neither we nor other members were in Madagascar to support a phony solution to “la crise”. The presence of the delegation was fulfilment of the promise made by Francophonie ministers at the last summit to send a mission to assess how well the road map was being implemented. In fact, that promise blocked a premature proposal by France to “re-integrate” Madagascar as a Francophonie member based on partial progress toward democratic restoration. The full participation of France on the current mission meant that it had accepted both Ravalomanana’s right to return and an amnesty for his supporters.
Perhaps my US and UK counterparts were not convinced. But for me it was a lesson in how honest efforts can at times be deeply misunderstood. It also made clear the importance of effective communication and dialogue.
The Francophonie visit proved a success. The delegation assessed that there was sufficient goodwill among the relevant Malagasy parties to move toward resolution of “la crise” through new elections. And they offered La Francophonie’s assistance in organizing them.
These positive developments were leading to decisions by many countries to resume their official relations with the Malagasy government. The UK, Australia, Mauritius and Japan announced that they were prepared to present their diplomatic credentials under new ambassadors. The South Koreans, who like Canada were managing their relations from their embassy in Pretoria, were eager to learn what Canada’s stance would be. Although the high commission was recommending to headquarters a review of Canada’s position and the possibility that the high commissioner would present credentials in Tana, we had not yet received positive instructions in that regard. In the meantime, more pressing for us was the appointment of an honorary consul in Madagascar who would be able to attend more expeditiously to consular matters than our remote high commission team based in Pretoria could.
Of course, the decision for Canada relative to re-establishment of relations was not only predicated upon Madagascar’s compliance with the “road map” but also to the security of Canadian investments, including Ambatovy. Senior management at Ambatovy believed that its interests would better be protected by a fulltime diplomatic presence in Tana. There was the alternate view that withholding full diplomatic recognition would continue to exert pressure on a government that was eager to be legitimized. And the only course for re-establishing legitimacy was through elections. An elected, constitutional government might also be more constrained by law in its actions towards investors.
But these considerations became secondary when the next shoe dropped in Rajoelina’s campaign to extract concessions from Ambatovy. Nearly a year after his government had granted the company a temporary permit, it once again pushed the firm back into uncertain territory. The “indefinitely” renewable permit had not been renewed, and the government was now choosing to reinterpret its own laws to extract additional revenues. It was time once again to return to Tana to regroup with our partners to respond to this latest development. 
When Rajoelina’s government began to reinterpret its own laws, there were serious repercussions that went beyond mining projects’ internal viability. Under the LGIM, the government imposed a two-per-cent royalty on revenues generated from the sales of ore. Of this royalty 0.6 per cent was dispensed directly to the commune, or municipality, in which the ore is mined. The remaining 1.3 per cent went to the central treasury. However, if the ore is refined in Madagascar, the royalty was cut in half, and only one per cent was imposed as a tax on the product. However, according to the government’s new interpretation, the 50-per-cent royalty reduction only applied to the portion of the royalty paid to the commune. Thus, the municipality would receive the anticipated 0.3 per cent royalty from sales. But the central treasury’s share would be unreduced, meaning the mine would be paying a royalty 60 per cent higher than planned.
In addition to this unexpected burden, the treasury was withholding reimbursements of value-added-tax paid by mining exporters to their Malagasy suppliers. Value-added tax is intended to be fully borne by final purchasers, and as it cascades through the system from original producers to ultimate buyers, the portion paid by intermediaries is refunded to them. However, where a good is sold for export, the sales tax is not collected from the buyer, and the exporter is entitled to a reimbursement in the same manners as all its suppliers. This sum was being withheld by the treasury.
Ambatovy was a project almost entirely financed by debt. Its financiers included nine commercial banks plus the government-backed African Development Bank, Export Development Canada, Export-Import Bank of Korea, Japan Bank of International Cooperation and the European Investment Bank. Since the changes imposed by the Malagasy government would have a negative impact on the mine’s revenues, they also affected its ability to pay its debts. And since the loans had been made based on assumptions related to the original tax framework, the creditors had become concerned.
We convened in the offices of the European Union to consider a new démarche. We needed to make clear to the president that the proposed reinterpretation of the LGIM would undermine the financial framework that had allowed the Ambatovy project to go ahead. It was in no one’s interest that the company be put in a position where it was forced to default on its debts. It certainly was not in Madagascar’s interests that international lending institutions would see the country as a serious risk for future investment.
This was the main message we had to deliver when we drove down the avenue of the leafless baobabs toward the Ivaoloha palace that July morning in 2012. Having seen to our surprise the grandiose banners bearing Rajoelina’s photographic portrait, we were ushered into an adjacent hall where once again Rajoelina was joined by his finance minister and several other officials. This was hardly the relatively placid encounter we had enjoyed on our previous démarche a year before. Our greater number did not apparently make our case more compelling. For most of the meeting Rajoelina ceded the floor to Minister Héry (given the length of his surname, the use of his given name was generally accepted). Héry expounded at length on his interpretation of the royalty law and on the Malagasy people’s efforts to win just recompense for the exploitation of their resources. All governments need revenues, and resource royalties for the extraction of finite resources are a just and appropriate source. For developing countries with limited capacity to generate income and consumption taxes, royalties are always a tempting source. However, the terms of financing the Ambatovy project and the income that would be shared with government had been agreed when the project was initiated. Trying to change those terms when the project was about to get underway was folly. Projects which in time succeed and surpass revenue expectations can anticipate pressures from government to share more of the revenues. To try to impose new terms at the outset hampers a project’s success and scares away future investors.
Yet Héry and Rajoelina appeared untroubled. We won no clear commitment by the end of the meeting that they were willing to withdraw the proposed new tax framework. Ambatovy’s operating licence was once more in abeyance. And shortly thereafter, adding to the company’s predicament, Ambatovy received once again – and this time in a formal letter – the request for a $75 million payment, this time characterized as a deposit to an environmental protection fund, to mitigate against any industrial accidents. Ambatovy pointed out that the company was already obliged to keep aside three months of expenditures amounting to $90 million to cover such accidents and was further required to hold insurance of $150 million during the start-up and $250 million during the operations phases of the project.
I wish I could describe our visit to the Ivaoloha palace as the crucial intervention that convinced Rajoelina to relent in his efforts to squeeze more money from Ambatovy. Unfortunately, the silence following that intervention offered no evidence that we had had an effect. But Rajoelina eventually did yield. Amabatovy was the largest single investment in a country desperate for development. Madagascar needed international support for the coming elections and the EU countries, which would help finance them, were also among the project’s biggest financial backers. Whatever were the considerations that went into the decision, some months after the démarche, Amabatovy received the permit to proceed under the original taxation terms. Before I left my southern African assignment, Ambatovy was still fighting the government over the VAT issue, but the mine and the refinery had started production.
It was a celebratory occasion when I visited Madagascar in March 2013. During the previous two years, the high commission had worked to recruit and then win approval from Madagascar authorities for the appointment of an honorary consul. The candidate we found was a joint Malagasy and Canadian citizen, Maggie Leong, who held a Canadian degree in transport economics, had once worked for Aéroports de Montréal and who had returned to Madagascar where she helped her parents operate an inland resort hotel. I was accompanied by Jean Sénécal, the chief mission administrative officer, and Monique Kemp and Cathy Bruno, the consular staff. Our principal objective was to introduce Leong to senior contacts in Tana and hold a cocktail reception in her honour. The reception was at the Hotel Colbert on the palace square, a popular destination for business and government travellers as well as many of the capital’s elite. We were pleased to have in attendance the Malagasy’s government’s chief protocol officer, senior officials of the foreign ministry, as well as the many diplomatic contacts with whom I had worked so closely for nearly four years. As the evening wound down after I said good-bye to our guests, the high commission staff and Leong repaired to the balcony off the reception hall and enjoyed some quiet conversation in the late summer air.
“La crise” was not over. The elections had not yet been held. Full diplomatic relations had not been restored. Yet Canada’s relations with Madagascar were on a better footing and we were on the path to providing more ample support to our consular and commercial interests in the country. There was a sense of accomplishment and the feeling that we had indeed started to open the door on what was going to be a better chapter in Canada-Malagasy relations. Bilateral relations lie at the heart of the diplomatic profession and though the phrase sounds abstract, its content is not. Behind it are people: Malagasies and Canadians trying to make better lives for themselves and each other.
When completing a predetermined foreign assignment, diplomats are usually aware that, just as they jumped into the waters mid-stream, so do they leave. They have contributed to, and sometimes completed, some important tasks. But often these affairs continue, only partly resolved, or sometimes, regrettably, further confounded.
After leaving Madagascar, I was able to watch as most of my work there continued to progress. The Canadians falsely implicated in the suspicious bombings were allowed to leave. The health and safety inspector under investigation was safely back in Canada. Successful democratic elections were indeed held, and although Canada did not provide any electoral assistance, the endorsement of the vote by independent electoral observers did allow high commissioner Gaston Barban to present his credentials. Ambatovy went into full production and generally performed well, despite skirmishes with a new, democratically elected regime, headed by former finance minister and president, Héry Rajaonarimampianina.
Pocket World in Figures, 2018 edition, The Economist, The Economist Newspaper Ltd., 2017 ↑
In the interests of privacy and to protect the identities of those involved, neither names nor specific details of these cases are divulged here. ↑
As translated from French in my notes. ↑
Although certainly the largest, Sherritt’s Amabtovy mine and refinery were not the only facilities in Madagascar with Canadian links. On the far southern tip of Madagascar at Fort Dauphin is QMM. Originally standing for Quebec Madagascar Mines and Minerals, the ilmenite mine was acquired by the British-Australian company, Rio Tinto, but some of its personnel continued to be Canadian. The ore, a combination of titanium and iron, comes from a surface deposit that is essentially scraped away and milled before being shipped to a refinery in Sorel, Quebec. QMM was also being caught by the regime’s efforts to generate more revenues. ↑
In the subsequent election, arch-rivals Rajoelina and Ravalolamana finally confronted each other at the polls. Rajoelina emerged the victor, his transformation from militarily installed consul to elected president at last complete. ↑