INDIAN OCEAN: Anglican Archbishop urges Madagascan leaders to put people first

September 7, 2009

Anglican Archbishop Ian Ernest of the Indian Ocean province is calling on political leaders in Madagascar to set aside their political agendas, and put people first.

"I know it is difficult because of the delicate situation, but as a church we are calling on the leaders to see it at the level of God," Ernest told Ecumenical News International in Nairobi on September 2 after a meeting with regional Anglican leaders.

The world's fourth largest island in the Indian Ocean is trapped in a political standoff between Andre Rajoelina, the former mayor of Antananarivo, the capital city, and ousted President Marc Ravalomanana, the senior lay leader of the Church of Jesus Christ in Madagascar (FJKM).

In January, after weeks of protests, Rajoelina seized power, in what the international community described as a "coup," aid was cut and there was a call for the formation of a national unity government.

"There is a desperate need for leadership at the moment, because the leadership that has come out, has not received any legitimate recognition from the international community," said Ernest, noting that the situation in Madagascar had been confusing in the past months.

After a series of attempts at peace talks, through the mediation of former Mozambican president Joaquim Chissano, the parties on August 9 signed a power-sharing deal in which they committed themselves to end the political violence, form an interim government and hold fresh elections in 15 months.

The second round of the talks later in August collapsed, however, after Rajoelina requested time to consult about the position of prime minister, which the opposition wants him to cede.

"The church is very attentive about the situation, and we are following it quite closely," said Ernest. "I prayerfully hope this will work."

Asked if the Church in Madagascar may have involved itself too much in politics to the extent that it had lost its moral authority, Ernest said the church had been good at being the voice of the people. However due to circumstances it got mixed up in politics.

"I believe now we have learnt our lessons from the problem. I believe the church can always be an independent body, and at times a forceful body that can work for the betterment of life in the whole nation," said Ernest.

Ravalomanana's Church of Jesus Christ in Madagascar has a following of 2.5 million members, the country's biggest Protestant denomination, and some people say that during his time in office there was a blurring of the separation between church and state.