DJ, builder, Frenchman – Madagascar’s leader vying for re-electionMon, 13 Nov 2023 06:33:37 GMT

With smooth features and thick black hair, Andry Rajoelina might at first sight appear like a political novice. But looks are deceiving. Nicknamed “the disc jockey”, Madagascar’s outgoing President has held a firm hold on power for years and is barrelling towards re-election on November 16, despite protests and legal challenges.  Only months ago, the man who first took power in 2009 on the back of a coup, then skipped the following elections only to make a winning comeback in 2018, seemed in trouble. In June, media reports revealed that the 49-year-old had acquired French nationality in 2014, triggering calls for him to be taken out of the presidential race. Under local laws, the President was to lose Madagascan nationality and with it the ability to lead the country, his opponents said. He became the butt of his detractors’ jokes, with some asking whether as a Frenchman he would celebrate July 14, Bastille Day, in style. Rajoelina responded in a three-hour long interview broadcasted by radio and television, where, with a sweet tone and flirtatious smile, explained that he became French “out of love” for his children, to allow them to pursue their studies abroad. Barack Obama had Kenyan origins and Nelson Mandela received several honorary citizenships, he said, downplaying the debate that raged in his country. Accusations that he had not been upfront about his dual citizenship were untrue. He simply was not asked about it, he said in another interview.  In September, Madagascar’s top court dismissed appeals to have his candidacy declared void. To Rajoelina, that put the issue to bed. But the verdict sparked opposition anger. For more than a month, 11 out of 12 of his election challengers have held almost daily demonstrations in Antananarivo, decrying an “institutional coup” to favour the incumbent.Rajoelina has been unmoved. Following the initial demonstrations he took his electoral campaign away from the capital, showcasing the achievements of his administrations. Styling himself as a “builder president” in a country that lacks everything and is among the poorest on the planet, he pointed to schools, roads and hospitals built during his tenure.- High-speed train – Born to a middle-class family, Rajoelina owes his “DJ” moniker to his popularity for promoting parties in Antananarivo in his youth. In 2000 he married his wife Mialy, of wealthy background, who later became the boss of an advertising company.Helped by strong communications skills, he waded into politics setting up a party, Tanora Gasy Vonona, that earned him another moniker, “TGV”, after the French high-speed train. And fast was his political rise too. In 2007, he trounced the party of then President Marc Ravalomanana to become the capital Antananarivo’s mayor.He quickly established himself as the leading opposition voice. His supporters openly defied the regime with the tacit support of the military that helped oust Ravalomanana in 2009.At the time, Rajoelina, who was then in his mid-30s, struggled to guide the country out of crisis as its unelected leader.His rivals accused him of corruption, greed, and turning a blind eye to the pillage of the country’s natural resources, including its precious rosewood forests.His failings won him another nickname — “crayfish” — a crustacean that walks backwards.Under international pressure, he did not contest the 2013 election, but came back five years later. In September he said he was “determined” to win a second term.Critics continue to question the origin of his significant financial resources, with some claiming he is in the pocket of Madagascar’s business elite. But with his classic aplomb he has brushed aside the criticism, and said he is once again “ready to… be the president of all Malagasy people”.