An assassination attempt on the life of President Andry Rajoelina was thwarted in Madagascar last month, according to a government announcement on July 21.
Six suspects were initially arrested following the attack, but the figure has since risen to 21.
They include two individuals from France, both of whom were identified as retired military police officers. One, who served in the French Gendarmerie, a branch of the armed services, was arrested while attempting to leave the country.
The attempted assassination of the Madagascan leader came just days after the successful assassination of the president of Haiti – the world’s oldest black republic – on July 7.
Both Haiti’s president, Jovenel Moïse, and Madagascar’s Andry Rajoelina were vocal critics of the World Health Organization (WHO) and the global vaccination programme.
The attacks have fuelled online conspiracies, not least because the US authorities announced that Haiti, which had been among the last holdouts against the vaccine, would receive shipments of the jab less than a week after President Moïse’s death.
Like the Haitian president, the Madagascan leader is a staunch critic of the WHO. He had also made global headline for promoting a controversial organic ‘cure’ for the virus.
Earlier this year, President Rajoelina slammed the World Health Organization (WHO), saying: ‘If it were a European country which had discovered this remedy, would there be so many doubts?’
His herbal drug, which is ‘intended for the treatment of mild and moderate forms of Covid-19’, had been embraced by several African leaders opposed to lockdowns and the WHO-backed vaccines. Most famous among these was Tanzania’s late president John Magufuli.
The Tanzanian leader was reported to have dispatched a plane to Madagascar to collect a shipment of the tonic, ‘so that Tanzanians too can benefit’.
President Magufuli’s death under mysterious circumstances in March, and the decision by his deputy, Samia Hassan, an ex-United Nations employee, to reverse his ban on Covid-19 vaccines a few months after taking control, has fuelled online conspiracy theories of a coordinated effort to remove leaders critical of lockdowns and the vaccine rollout.
The Tanzanian was one of four African leaders critical of the global pandemic response to have died under mysterious circumstances in six months.
The funeral of Tanzania's former president John Magufuli, who died of a heart attack in March.
Paid fact-checkers have attempted to address claims that leaders opposed to the WHO have been the focus of coercion or worse.
Just two weeks before the attempt on the Madagascan president’s life, for instance, the online publisher Factly dismissed social media claims that: ‘Andry Rajoelina, President of Madagascar, accused the WHO of offering him $20 million to add toxins to a Covid-19 remedy being used in the country.’
But the US lawmaker Thomas Massie has hit out at such groups, asking: ‘who pays the paychecks of the fact-checkers?’.
The member of the US House of Representatives pointed out that another fact-checking group, FactCheck.org, ‘who claim to be independent, are funded by an organisation that holds over $1.8 billion of stock in a vaccine company’ – a reference to vaccine-maker Johnson & Johnson.
Massie added that its CEO is ‘a former director’ of the US-based Center for Disease Control (CDC), which, like the WHO, is largely funded by pharmaceutical companies and others with vested in making large profits from the distribution of vaccines.
Conspiracy theories over foreign involvement in the deaths and attempted deaths of African leaders are by no means new, as Toby Green, professor of Precolonial and Lusophone African History and Culture at King’s College London explained.
‘There's certainly a history of the murder of African political leaders who did not play along with the dynamic of global power at the time. In the 60s it was Patrice Lumumba in the DRC, in the 70s Amilcar Cabral of the Guinea-Bissau liberation movement, in the 80s Thomas Sankara in Burkina Faso and Samora Machel of Mozambique.’
Green, whose book The WHO and COVID-19: Re-establishing Colonialism in Public Health, is critical of lockdowns, added: ‘The current cases may be different, of course, since there's no proof of foul play.
'But it's hardly surprising that people in and outside the continent may choose to see conspiracies when the entire weight of global political power has driven the continent into making choices which have devastated the lives and livelihoods of so many millions of people – and all for a disease which is a very minor concern for the vast majority of Africans when weighed against the real risks of hunger and the endemic diseases going untreated because of the myopic focus on Covid-19 by global policymakers.’