Madagascar: aborted development

Madagascar… apart from the animated film of the same name, what do we really know about Madagascar? Until last weekend, I certainly did not know much, but meeting a native person opened my eyes to the potentials and threats that this gigantic island located off the coast of Africa, across from Mozambique is facing.

Madagascar - Source:

Madagascar – Source: Ministère des Affaires Etrangères de France

A little bit of history

Madagascar was independent kingdom before being colonized by France in 1896. In 1946, the island’s status changed to become a French Overseas Territory, as opposed to a colony. The decolonization process started with a local insurrection in 1947 which was violently repressed by the French forces (the repression is often considered as one of France’s bleakest moment of the decolonization era, alongside Indochina). Madagascar finally seizes it independence in 1960. This renewed freedom did not, however, change much at the political level as the lack of democracy and an autocratic, inherited from the colonial era, stayed in place until 1992-93 when the first free elections took place.

Important political instability shook the country in 2009-2013, as a popular uprising forced former president Marc Ravalomanana to hand in the power to the military who passed on the reins of the state to the mayor of Antananarivo, the capital city. The process is de facto considered to be a  coup d’état. The crisis was settled through international mediation led by the Southern African Development Community, following which Madagascar held UN-supported presidential and parliamentary elections in 2013. The presidency has been in the hands of Hery Rajaonarimampianina since 2014.

Political and economical disarray 

Last May, the “Assemblée Nationale” (legislative chamber) voted for the destitution of the president, result of the semi-parlementarian system and the lack of strong political foothold of the president (Rajaonarimampianina was elected despite not belonging to a party and thus not being represented in the

Malagasy President Hery RAJAONARIMAMPIANINA Source:


Assembly). The request was, however, rejected by the Constitutional Court. The political situation on the island remains unstable, illustrated by the resurgence on the political scene of former heads of states. The demons of the past have creeped up again on the economic scene as well, although Madagascar had been on the road to development since the mid-1990s after the country followed the IMF and World Bank policies.

Today, 80% of population lives off of agriculture but deforestation and difficult weather conditions such as drought and cyclones have put a strain on food supplies and the income generated. The national economy knows a very slow growth, 3,2% so far in 2015 (IMF), a number which should be much higher considering that Madagascar is a developing country. Plus, the Malagasy soil is rich with oil, chrome and nickel, thus offering immense economic potential for the local population, but the laxity and lack of efficiency of the government keeps putting foreign investors off.

The rampant corruption is also preventing the development of the country: Madagascar ranks 133 out of 174 on the corruption scale, a situation which has worsen since 2012. Other numbers are alarming: close to 3 out of 4 Malagasy live under the poverty line; the GDP per capita ranks 218 out of 230; the GDP has dropped by 42% since the independence in 1960.

The vicious circle 

Unfortunately, the situation Madagascar is in today will be hard to get out from alone. And due to the elements enumerated above, violence, strikes and inefficiency have increased. As a consequence, tourism, which is one of the island’s main source of revenue due to the beauty of its nature, has considerably dropped: only 100,000 tourists have made it there so far in 2015, although the previsions forecasted three times more foreign visitors. The strikes at Air Madagascar are partly to blame, although the claims of the staff are more than fair (see here for more).

The crisis also triggers chronic malnutrition, but also caused the resurgence of plague due to the poor living conditions in some parts of the country (Madagascar is the country the most affected by plague in the world).

Madagascar is also widely affected by malaria and dengue fever due to its tropical climate. Prevention campaigns have so far failed to reduce the effects of malaria. For example, children have been seen fishing with the mosquito nets rather than using them to keep the insects away.

Getting out of the mess 

On September 22, the IMF agreed to a 42 million euro loan to reform the local economy. This is a two-hedged sword because it has the potential to make a difference and trigger real changes, but it also has the potential to support corruption and not reach the intended result.

Madagascar is in a very concerning situation as the country seems to have halted its development. Strangely, it seems like the country is going backwards. Political stability has done no good for the population yet. Fear is spreading that only a military coup could force changes. Weirdly enough, history has shown that authoritarianism seems to have brought better results than democracy in Madagascar.

This situation cannot last. Parts of the civil society – mostly students- are denunciating the failures of the govenment, to which the police is reacting with violence instead of protecting the population. 


Ted Talk of the Week

How a truely global ethic can save us all

A few weeks ago, I decided that I would listen to a Ted Talk every morning while having breakfast. The point is to keep my brain going from the beginning of the day, but not necessarily on political or topical subjects. Every week, I will pick the one that made me reflect the most. I will post it here, and share my views with you.

The talk that marked me this week was given by former British Prime Minister Gordon Brown in 2009. National politics does not matter here, which is for the best as I am far from being an expert in British politics. You will also tell me that the speech is old, 6 years old to be precise. To that, I reply to you that old does not mean bad. And if you watch the video, you will probably notice that most of what G. Brown discusses still applies today. And this is exactly for that reason that this speech caught my attention.

The first part of the speech is made to captivate the audience, to appeal to their memories, to remind them of the horrors of the past that shocked them, of the pictures which changed the West’s perception of the world and triggered the intervention of the international community in crises abroad. This first part reminded me of a picture that was all over the internet a few days ago: the image of a little boy who was found dead on the Turkish shore after trying to cross the Mediterranean with his family in order to escape the war tearing apart Syria.

As Brown put it,

What we see unlocks what we cannot see

And although this picture is ethically wrong on many levels, it appeals to our humanity, which Europe seems to have had a hard time finding to come up with appropriate solutions to the continuous wave of migrants landing on our Southern borders.

The most important difference that I see between the picture of the little boy stranded on the Turkish beach and all the other examples given by Gordon Brown, is that this crisis has reached and directly affects the West. It is not in Africa or in the Middle East. It is right around the corner from us, within the borders of the EU. What this means is that the effects of decades of foreign intervention in the Middle East has caused a (predictable) crisis that is now asking us to correct our wrongs. It is also demonstrating that Europe is no longer immune to the problems the rest of the world is facing. And this time, sending off aid will not suffice, as it will have to be deployed within our direct realm, thus demanding extreme levels of understanding, cooperation and collaboration.

What this picture also suggests is that, we, the international community, have been unable to address a crisis that everybody knows exist. Gordon Brown rightly points to the failures of our institutions which have been created to advance human rights and human dignity, in order to create global and lasting peace. We have clearly failed, just like in Rwanda we failed to prevent a genocide, to rescue those who would rather risk their lives crossing the Mediterranean in overcrowded boats than stay in their country where their lives are at risk at every instant. And despite the importance of the media coverage relaying the information from Syria and other striken countries, we have failed to appropriately respond to their distress.

We need to tackle problems that everybody knows exist

We also fail to think global, to grasp the implications a foreign crisis could have on us. We forget that in this time and age, was goes around comes back around. Failing to support an underdeveloped country will have medium to long-term consequences that will be felt at the international level. Failing to think global, which also means diverse, compromises our chance for peace and stability. Ultimately, helping others also means helping oneself.

The example of global warming is a striking one as world leaders are due to gather in Paris at the end of November at the COP21 Summit. Gordon Brown’s speech came before the previous summit on the issue which took place in Copenhagen, but did not bring sufficient results. Institutions to regulate, punish and impose decisions must be created in order to make climate change a global common implicating everyone, for the sake of everyone.

In a time and age where people are aware and informed about what happens on the other side of the planet in an instant, more emphasis should be put on involving the people in decision-making and finding solutions to global problems. So far, civil society has been more active in welcoming the migrants coming from the other side of the Mediterranean than governments themselves. There has to be something wrong with our system. The global character of citizens is not reflected in governments. Information technologies are the key, which echoes another Ted Talk.

PM Gordon Brown calls for recognizing our responsibilities to others. We must act as global citizens to solve global problems, because they do not stop at borders. We have the potential to build a better world. Ethic must go beyond our nation interest. Let’s do it.

Gordon Brown engaged in a conversation on Global ethic vs. national interest which can be found here