Ratsiraka leaves Madagascar; tanzanite certificate of origin gets government approval

Mike O’Keefe, U.S. State Department desk officer for Madagascar and Tanzania, tells JCK there’s good news on the East African front.

After numerous international meetings regarding the crisis of control in Madagascar, former president Ratsiraka finally gave up his bid to retain power and left the island nation Thursday. He’s now in France.

When his reelection bid failed last December, Ratsiraka maintained that challenger Marc Ravalomanana, now Madagascar’s unopposed president, did not receive more than 50% of the vote. A recount in February showed that Ravalomanana had indeed won 51%, and he claimed the presidency. Ratsiraka moved out of the capital city and established his own provisional government along the coast, where he had strong support. He blocked all imports and exports and cut off transportation links to the capital.

Now, with Ratsiraka out of the country, the roadblocks are coming down and Ravalomanana is solidifying control over the island. “Ravalomanana’s big objective is to get things moving again,” says O’Keefe. “Economic indicators should recover in a few months-I hope.”

“We’ve looked at this, and there is no current evidence of any kind that shows any systematic use of tanzanite for terrorism,” O’Keefe says. “Of course, we wouldn’t have any information if one person were trying to sell a stone here or there. But we always look for it.”

O’Keefe says he’s working on the tanzanite issue for another reason. “The State Department always looks at any type of uncontrolled export. We’re working with the Tanzanian government in putting in place the Tucson tanzanite protocols,” he says. “And just yesterday, the government of Tanzania has agreed to implement the certificate of origin based on the Tucson protocols.”

Uncontrolled exports may soon become a thing of the past. “The proposed certificate utilizes the language that Cecilia Gardner proposed,” says O’Keefe. “And that’s a big step.” This should make it a disadvantage to sell the gem “off on the side,” says O’Keefe.

The area still needs to be fenced off. “It’s roughly 2 square kilometers,” says O’Keefe. “Right now, AFGEM is pretty well fenced in.”

There also are unconfirmed reports of children working in the mines. “There’s no evidence, and we saw none when we were there,’ says O’Keefe. “On the whole, I think we’re making strong advances here.”