Madagascar, the world’s fourth-largest island and a treasure trove of unique flora and fauna, is prone to disaster. Tropical Storm Hubert wreaked havoc on the island’s shores in March 2010, leaving 37,000 homeless, and according to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization, the Malagasy people should brace themselves for another impending threat: record swarms of locusts are expected to decimate the country’s crops once the rainy season arrives. Perhaps Madagascar’s climate has a sense of irony, unleashing a plague of locusts on a country suffering from a political crisis of biblical proportions. Andry Rajoelina, a wealthy media entrepreneur and former mayor of Antananarivo, Madagascar’s capital, declared himself President in January 2009, effectively instigating a coup against the government of twice-elected President Marc Ravalomanana. The ensuing political crisis entailed mass protests against the Ravalomanana government that often turned violent; around 100 Malagasy had died in the protests by March 2009, 20 to 30 of them in a single February episode of retaliation by Ravalomanana’s security forces. Eventually the army threw its support behind Rajoelina, forcing Ravalomanana to abdicate power and flee the country. From the get-go, Rajoelina, who, at the age of 36, had to force constitutional reform so he could meet the age requirement for the presidency, has failed to achieve legitimacy domestically or in the eyes of the international community. In response to the coup, virtually every major economic power and intergovernmental organization, including the United States, the United Nations, the European Union, the African Union, the Southern African Development Community (SADC), and the World Bank, has refused to recognize the current Malagasy regime, called for Rajoelina to step down, and either levied economic penalties such as sanctions, trade barriers, or aid reductions against Madagascar or threatened to do so. These sanctions have not in any way brought an end to the political crisis; on the contrary, the international hostility directed at Madagascar has entrenched political divisions and exacerbated the country’s concurrent economic and humanitarian crises. The goal of sanctions and other forms of economic pressure is to force a regime to accede to the wishes of the international community—in this case, that Rajoelina restore democracy to Madagascar. During Madagascar’s year of political turmoil, however, a diplomatic solution to the political crisis has become increasingly unlikely. Since deposing Ravalomanana, Rajoelina has accepted or initiated several attempts to reach political compromise, but none has borne fruit. Fall 2009 negotiations to establish an interim government until elections and a constitutional referendum could be held fell apart when Ravalomanana boycotted the final meetings, citing an unwillingness to support even a temporary government headed by Rajoelina, who he argued had seized power unconstitutionally. Rajoelina subsequently backed out of the deal, firing an interim prime minister chosen during the negotiations and submitting his own unilateral election plans, which the SADC summarily rejected in January 2010. Further AU-brokered attempts to build a power-sharing arrangement in early 2010 dissolved that April. Madagascar has been in a state of political stalemate ever since. Rajoelina has continued to act more or less unilaterally, announcing in August 2010 that Madagascar would hold a constitutional referendum in November 2010 and elections in mid-2011. Rajoelina’s plan has the support of about 100 Malagasy political parties; the catch is that the country’s three major opposition parties, which participated in the initial power-sharing negotiations in fall 2009, are not among them. Without major-party support, ostensibly democratic exercises, such as elections, are, in practice, indistinguishable from the autocratic whims of an illegitimate regime. The Rajoelina administration further distanced itself from any meaningful democratic compromise by sentencing Ravalomanana in absentia to hard labor for life for his role in the February 2009 violence against protesters, a move denounced as obstructive to the peace process by the SADC and South Africa. At the time of writing, among all the nations of the world, only Libya has recognized the Rajoelina regime, while myriad economic sanctions have contributed to the grinding halt of economic growth after years of GDP growth rates in the high single digits. Yet none of this international isolation and pressure, let alone more direct efforts at intervention by regional intergovernmental organizations, has brought about a political compromise; indeed, Rajoelina has acted unilaterally with increasing frequency in recent months. It is impossible to know what the political situation in Madagascar would look like had the international community maintained relations with Antananarivo, but it seems hard to imagine how less progress might have been made. Moreover, the longer the Rajoelina regime fails to achieve legitimacy, the stronger its incentive to centralize power to preempt protest movements grows, and the greater the odds that the military, engaged in tense negotiations with Rajoelina over the political standstill at the time of writing, will stop backing the current regime and seize control of the government become. While international hostility has had an uncertain impact on Malagasy politics, its effect on the Malagasy people is perfectly clear: economic and humanitarian crisis. International donors such as the European Union and the World Bank have cut all but essential humanitarian aid to Madagascar. Given that foreign aid has, according to the International Monetary Fund, accounted for around 70 percent of government spending in recent years, these economic penalties have paralyzed essential social services such as education and healthcare, in addition to long-term projects such as the infrastructure improvements conceived as part of the Millennium Development Goals. These spending reductions could not come at a worse time. Due to political crisis, the global recession, and the loss of favorable trade relationships with economic powers such as the United States, Madagascar’s unemployment rate has skyrocketed. According to UNICEF, the number of child laborers has risen by 25 percent since the beginning of the political crisis, to around 2 million. Desperate for work, many Malagasy have turned to illegal logging, cutting down rare species of Rosewood and other botanical treasures of Madagascar’s forests for export. The general lawlessness that has persisted since Rajoelina’s coup and the widespread corruption among government officials who have no way of knowing when their jobs might be lost to political upheaval allow the black market to thrive unchecked. Without the renewed capacity for government spending and international trade that a normalization of international relations and aid schedules would bring, Madagascar stands little chance of reviving its economy, let alone defending itself against the impending wave of locusts and the environmental disasters that often hit the southern regions of the country. Forcing functional democracy upon Madagascar may well be a fool’s errand anyway. Since achieving independence from France in 1960, Madagascar has periodically played host to political and military coups; Ravalomanana, the very man whose ouster provoked such international outrage, forced his predecessor from power in a disputed 2002 election. Given the mutual antagonism of the major political players, it’s hard to see a way out of political limbo for Madagascar. By restoring aid and eliminating sanctions and trade barriers, however, the international community can pull the troubled island out of economic hell.