Madagascar frees Ravalomanana after ex-president cracks, recognises regime; other African leaders haven't been so lucky

Former president spent just six months under house arrest; some have done nearly 20 years.

MADAGASCAR President Hery Rajaonarimampianina said Saturday he was ending the house arrest of his predecessor Marc Ravalomanana as part of the Indian Ocean island’s peace process.

The announcement came in a speech at a national reconciliation meeting organised by the nation’s churches after the president said Ravalomanana had recognised “the legitimacy of the current government”.

Ravalomanana, who was ousted in a 2009 coup, has been under house arrest in the northern town of Antsiranana (also known as Diego Suarez) since returning from exile in South Africa in October 2014.

National reconciliation is one of the main points of a roadmap brokered by the southern African regional bloc SADC, and signed by the feuding parties in 2011 to end political crises that have long plagued the country.

Former finance minister Rajaonarimampianina became president in elections held in 2013. 

That vote was designed to resolve chronic instability that brought international isolation and wrecked the Malagasy economy.

House arrest generally sees movement and communication restricted, and is a “safe” option as opposed to outright arrest of those authorities feel are a threat to their administrations.

In other instances it is a measure employed to send a political message to the subject, such as the corralling of Uganda opposition leader Kizza Besigye by president Yoweri Museveni in 2011.

The list of former African leaders who have found themselves under house arrest is lengthy. The continent generally leaves former leaders alone if they leave quietly and keep a low profile, but many have been just unlucky, or unsuccessful in keeping under the radar.

Besigye (effectively he is still under “house arrest”) and Ravalomanana both got off lightly.

Among the longest stays is former Chadian dictatator Hissene Habre, who spent eight years under house arrest since 2005 in Senegal, where he fled after being deposed in 1990.

“Africa’s Pinochet”

Once dubbed “Africa’s Pinochet” (a comparison to Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet who ruled between 1973 and 1990), he was arrested in 2013 and faces a special tribunal to stand trial for torture, war crimes and crimes against humanity—the first African leader tried for major crimes on “home” soil.

Algeria’s Ahmed Ben Bella, the country’s first president, spent 14 years under house arrest after he was deposed in 1965, but he recovered sufficiently to run for the 1991 election. Despite his hero status in liberating the country, he did poorly. He died in 2012 and was accorded a state funeral.

Egypt’s first president Muhammad Naguib spent 18 years under house arrest. In office for a year from 1953, he fell out with his co-revolutionary leader Gamal Abdel Nasser, and was only released from a Cairo villa in 1972. 

His funeral in 1984 was attended by long-term leader Hosni Mubarak, and in 2013 Egypt awarded him its highest state honour.

Mubarak, in power for 30 years until 2011, has been under house arrest at a military hospital since August 2013. It is a popular measure Egypt: Mohammed Morsi, in office only a year as the first democratically elected leader of Egypt was ousted in July 2013 and kept under house arrest incommunicado by the military for several months before being moved to a high-security prison near the Mediterranean city of Alexandria.

Habib Bourguiba

On April 21, Morsi was sentenced to 20 years in prison after being convicted of ordering the detention and torture of protesters in 2012.

Nigeria’s Shehu Shagari also had a taste of house arrest after he was overthrown by the country’s president-elect Muhammadu Buhari in 1983. He was released from detention in 1986 and banned from participating in Nigerian politics for life.

Buhari was himself overthrown in 1985 and spent the next three years under house arrest.

Tunisia’s first president Habib Bourguiba was at the helm for all of 30 years overseeing a one-party state, but after he was impeached in 1987, spent 13 years under house arrest in a residence in the central coastal city of Monastir, where he died in 2000.

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