Divided Islands

The Divided Islands: New Guinea

This series of articles focuses on a territorial quirk I find very interesting because cases are more numerous than I first thought and because it is the source of disparities; I will write about those islands that are split into several countries (mostly two, sometimes more). Of course, some cases are more famous than others. You might have thought of Cyprus and Ireland. I will attempt to write about as many as possible, so come back every week to read about a new place.

The two halves of New Guinea are faced with two very different situations. The Eastern part is ethnically homogeneous but is struggling with political instability due to corruption, separatist movements, and weak infrastructures. The Western part is still being affected by colonialism as Indonesia tries to control the local inhabitants by mixing them with other ethnicities coming from other parts of the country, which has pushed the Papuans to demand self-determination.

The island of New Guinea is split into two almost equal halves by the 141st Meridian east which acts as the border between Indonesia to the West and Papua New Guinea to the East. Continue reading

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Divided Islands

The divided islands: Hispaniola

The next series of articles will focus on a territorial quirk I find very interesting because cases are more numerous than I first thought and because it is the source of disparities; I will write about those islands that are split into several countries (mostly two, sometimes more). Of course, some cases are more famous than others. You might have thought of Cyprus and Ireland. I will attempt to write about as many as possible, so come back every week to read about a new place.

From quickly scanning through the cases of split islands, it is easy to see that the divide is more than just about sovereignty and statehood. In a vast majority of cases, it is possible to see a broad gap between the parts although they share a common border and the same floating piece of land.

Map Hispaniola

Map of Hispaniola

Let’s dig into the first case, Hispaniola. The latter can also be referred to at Santo Domingo, after the name of its original capital.

Conquest and division

Toussaint Louverture

Toussaint Louverture

Discovered in 1492 by Christopher Columbus, Hispaniola, or La Isla Española as it was first named, is located in the Greater Caribbean. The location of the island was a strategic asset for Spain’s expansion in the Americas, notably in Mexico, Cuba, Panama and South America.  Upon discovery, the Spaniards killed the majority of the local populations, the Tainos, and principally settled in the South East region of the island, allowing France to occupy parts of the West. The French presence was recognized by Spain in 1697. In 1804, the slaves, under the leadership of Toussaint Louverture, revolted again the French and seized their independence under the name of Haiti. The West then invaded the rest of the island, after which the Spanish part declared its independence in 1844 under the name of the Dominican Republic. Unhappy about the situation, the Spaniards regained control of their territory to again become a Spanish dominion. Real independence was finally proclaimed in 1865. Haiti covers about one third of the island, or about 27 000 sq. km.

The island is prone to hurricanes and other weather-related disasters.

The Dominican Republic

Official language: Spanish

Population: 10,478,756 (July 2015 est.)

GDP per capita: $14,000 (2014 est.)

Infant mortality rate: 18.84 deaths/1,000 live births

Life expectancy at birth: 77.97 years

Human Development Index rank: 101

The Dominican Republic (DR) is a relatively stable democracy despite the recurring political scandals that shake the government in place every now and then. It was not always like that as before 1996, periods of dictatorship, coups and civil war followed one another. The current President is Danilo Medina Sanchez.

Economically speaking, the service sector has taken over the nation’s agriculture productions (sugar, coffee, tobacco). Tourism and telecommunication are the most important sources of revenue for the country. The extraction of silver and gold is also a non-negligible asset for the local economy. “Remittances amount to about 7% of GDP”, and come from Dominicans who emigrated to the US or Puerto Rico where they found better working conditions and higher salaries. In the Dominican Republic, unemployment is high (14,5% as estimated in 2014) and income inequalities force many to leave the country.

The Dominican Republic was not affected by the 2010 Earthquake which destroyed Haiti. The government, however, immediately sent aid to its neighbouring country.

Haiti

Haiti earthquake

The damaged National Palace in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, after the earthquake that occurred on Jan. 12, 2010. (Image: Logan Abassi—Minustah/Getty Images)

Official languages: French and Creole

Population: 10,110,000 (est. 2015)

GDP per capita: $1,800 (2014 est.)

Infant mortality rate: 47.98 deaths/1,000 live births

Life expectancy at birth: 63.51 years

Human development index rank: 163

Although rich under the colonial rule of the French due to the slave trade and deforestation, Haiti is now the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere.

The country has been rules by a succession of dictators, notably François and Jean-Claude Duvalier. Political instability is still very important today, and the UN has had to get involved several times in order to organize local democratic and fair elections, like in 2004 after the president, Jean-Bertrand Aristide resigned. The current President, Michel Martelly, is currently running for re-election.

Haiti UN

UN peacekeepers attempting to direct earthquake victims queuing for aid outside the National Palace, Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Jan. 25, 2010. (Source: Jewel Samad—AFP/Getty Images)

The development of the country is hindered by corruption, the low level of education, and dependence on foreign aid. In addition, the 7.0 of magnitude earthquake which epicentre was located 25km off of Port-au-Prince, the capital city, destroyed most of the city and killed over 300,000 people. 1,5million Haitians were left homeless after the disaster. The reconstruction of the country is still in progress with the help of international economic assistance. This disaster was a massive blow to the economy and development of Haiti, from which the country is still struggling to recover.

The future of Haiti is, however, not very bright as the lack of local infrastructure impedes foreign investment. The instability of the country has also demanded for UN peacekeepers to deploy there for the UN Stabilization Mission in Haiti in 2004 “to restore a secure and stable environment, to promote the political process, to strengthen Haiti’s Government institutions and rule-of-law-structures, as well as to promote and to protect human rights.”

Contrast & cross-border issues

The contrast between the two sides of the island is drastic. One side, Haiti, is poor and underdevelopped, while the other, DR, is consistently developping.

Of course, some traits can be found in both Haiti and DR, such as their vulnerability to natural disasters and governmental instability. They, however, do not have the same means at hand to respond to those issues.

The main issue that affects the island of Hispaniola as a whole is migration, and more specifically from the West to the East. Immigration from Haiti to its neighbouring country has been important for centuries due to the lingering economic problems Port-au-Prince has been faced with. Discrimination against Haitian is, however, strong in Santo Domingo against the darker-skinned migrants. This originates from the colonial era as Haitians’ ancestors are the African slaves who rebelled against their white owners. Illegal immigration has been a recurring problem that the Dominican political class has tried to stop several times with gruesome methods. For example, in 1937, dictator Rafael Trujillo, ordered the massacre of thousands of Haitians who had crossed the common border into his country.

Haiti at the border

At the border of Haiti and the Dominican Republic. (Image: Alex Proimos/Flickr)

Today, it is estimated that 300,000 Haitians live in the Dominican Republic to work in fields or dig the ditches to support the expansion of the country’s infrastructure, for the meager salary of $4.50 a day. Thousands of Haitians also cross the porous border every day to work in DR. In order to stop the illegal migration flows, the Dominican government has put in place “Operation Shield” to post more troops at the border. In addition, “a September 2013 Constitutional Court ruling revoked the citizenship of those born after 1929 to immigrants without proper documentation, even though the constitution at the time automatically granted citizenship to children born in the Dominican Republic”. This ruling has created indignation and fear amongst the Haitian population in DR as the Operation has the potential to the create the status of statelessness for those who have no family connection with the DR but have never lived in Haiti. 10,000 undocumented Haitians have already been expelled and many more have left DR out of fear. They now live in shanty towns on the Haitian side of the border and cross everyday to got to work.

The differences between the two countries are easy to see; they are the result of the colonial era, their respective political evolutions as well as weather conditions which affect each sides the island differently. All in all, Haiti and the Dominican Republic started their history together but are now on two very different paths. Hispaniola is divided, between languages, cultures, wealth, history, and skin colours. History is rarely linear, and Hispaniola is the perfect example of that.

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Countries, Territories in the Pacific

Kiribati: keeping a population afloat

After having explored the cases of Nauru and Tuvalu, that of Kiribati must be looked into as it showcases the dedication of a government to counteract the effects of global warming. Kiribati is one of the poorest countries in the world. Located in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, at least five days by boat away from other land, this nation’s survival is threatened by the rising sea level, a phenomenon the local government is dedicated to stall with the help of other stricken Small Islands States such as Tuvalu, Seychelles and the Maldives. 

Kiribati (pronounced Kee-ree-bus) is made out of 33 atolls and coral reefs, and is located in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, at least five days by boat away from any other land. The islands are divided into 3 island groups, Gilbert Islands, Phoenix Islands and Line Islands. They are located in both the Northern and Southern Hemisphere as well as on both ends of the International Date Line. The local population is estimated at 110,000 people.Kiribati

The country is one of the least developed – and least visited – in the world; a visit outside South Tarawa is like stepping back in time. Men fish and tend to the coconut trees. Women plant vegetables and braid pandanus leaves into thatches. Only a minority is involved in the monetary economy. It is a simple life that lately has become harder.”

The threat

Every year, the seas are believed to rise by 3mm. Although the number sounds small, such an increase threatens many places around the world like Kiribati whose shores rise at around 2m above sea level. The nation is therefore weak in the face of tides, and especially king tides which have become more frequent (more than 3 times a year as opposed to once every 4 years 20 years ago) due to climate change. This kind of tide destroys the shores of the island more and more everytime, wiping out homes and arable land, leaving only sandy beaches behind. Due to the lack of depth of the islands, it is difficult for the inhabitants to stay away from the shores and so they remain threatened by high waves. Floods also cause the diminution of the sources of drinkable water.

In addition, sea bleaching, or coral bleaching, a phenomenon whereby water temperature rises and water becomes more acid, killing the marine wildlife has affected the Phoenix islands, killing corals and fish. It is only because the archipelago has been protected throughout the years from human activities that the ecosystem is slowly able to rebuild itself.

Finally, Cyclone Pam which destroyed Vanuatu and hit Tuvalu also had repercussions for Kiribati and the most southern islands of the archipelago were hit by strong waves. Kiribati is usually not affected by cyclones due to its location by the equator.

As the President of Kiribati, Anote Tong said:

I think what many people do not understand is they think climate change is something that is happening in the future. Well, we’re at the very bottom end of the spectrum. It’s already with us.

All in all, Kiribati is in a dire situation where its existence is in jeopardy. If the weather conditions continue the way they are now, the entire population will most probably have to relocate. This, however, raises concern amongst the i-Kiribati (the inhabitants of Kiribati) as they are traditionally very attached to their land, and the international level as there is no precedent to base action on.

Saving Kiribati

Several i-Kiribati already left their homeland in the 60s to migrate to Fiji. Movements of population are also occurring inland or to other islands, especially to Tarawa, the capital of Kiribati where unemployment is extremely high.

Another wave of migration has taken place in more recent years, notably to New Zealand and Australia, where the newcomers were granted temporary visas. But because the is no provision for climate refugees in international law, as the term of ‘refugee‘ refers to ” someone who, there are reasonable grounds to believe, will be persecuted due to their race, religion, nationality, political affiliation or membership of a certain social group”, the visas were never renewed.

Although the possibility to migrate is an evident one, the government wishes to look at it as the last recourse. Preserving the islands must be the priority for all, in an effort to preserve a country, an identity as well as to not give up in the face of climate change. The government of Kiribati is doing everything in its power to finds alternatives to the disappearance of this Pacific nation. The emphasis is put on “migration with dignity” which gives the opportunity for some to access training in neighbouring countries such as New Zealand and Fiji, thus giving them a chance to find a better alternative to their limited lives in Kiribati. And although this causes the risk of brain drain, it is seen positively as it could lift off pressure on the seldom local resources while remittance could be a source of revenues for the population of the islands.

In 2014, the government also purchased a 20 sq km piece of land on an island of Fiji, Vanua Levu. This land now serves to ensure Kiribati’s food security by being used to for agricultural and fish-farming projects. The possibility to displace i-Kiribati there is, however, not excluded if the conditions and life on the atolls were to become impossible. The government is also looking into constructing floating islands for its population.

The Phoenix Islands have also been added to UNESCO’s World Heritage list, making them the largest designated Marine Protected Area in the world, in an effort to conserve the pristine environement of the islands.

The road ahead

Everything that is currently being done by Kiribati is to address the issue of climate change from all angles by advocating for the survival of the nation on the international scene by notably teaming up with their neighbouring islands which are faced with the same problems, but also by finding innovative and long term solution for the populations. In light of the migration crisis currently taking place in Europe, Anote Tong, the President of Kiribati, continues to seek better alternatives to humanitarian relief and forced migration.

COP21 offered a platform for the President of Kiribati to put his fight forward. He declared before the meeting that

Until we can think of [climate change] as a global phenomenon, because we create it, individually, as nations, but it affects everybody else, and yet, we refuse to do anything about it, and we deal with it as a national problem, which it is not — it is a global issue, and it’s got to be dealt with collectively.

Climate change is a global problem. What can be preserved should be kept intact. Development should be practiced responsibly. Kiribati, and many other islands, pollute very little but yet are the ones which are the most affected by human development and economic growth. They should not be the only ones who advocate for a change.

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Countries, History and Culture, Uncategorized

Nauru: When Development Goes Wrong  

Imagine an island lost in the middle of an Ocean where people have lived in peace and harmony with the local nature and wildlife for centuries. Then imagine the damages of colonialism and the exploitation to exhaustion of the local natural resource. Then what? Well, everything, from the local culture, wildlife, source of revenues and chance for a bright future have disappeared. This is what happened to several isolated places around the world. The most extreme case is, however, that of Nauru. This little island of 21 square kilometers located somewhere in the Pacific Ocean, halfway between Australia and Hawaii, has been through it all, from peace to war, from a quiet traditional life to extreme westernization, and from wealth to poverty.

Nauru, in the middle of the Pacific Ocean

Nauru, in the middle of the Pacific Ocean

Discovered in 1789 by a British Captain who nicknamed it ‘Pleasant Island’, Nauru was then colonized by Germany in 1888 and taken over by Australia after World War I. The Japanese occupation during World War II dramatically reduced the local population by deporting two-thirds of them to Micronesia for force labour, or because of starvation and bombings during the war. After the conflict, Nauru became a trust territory administered by Australia. The island finally seized its independence in 1968, thus becoming the world’s smallest sovereign entity of the time.

From ‘Heaven’ to Hell

In 1900, it was discovered that Nauruans were sitting on large amounts of phosphate, a highly demanded natural resource used as fertilizer for agriculture. The exploitation of the mineral thus started. The production became more intense with the development of new means of transportation and the modernization of the industry. Australia was the main importer of the resource. The entire economy of Nauru adapted to the wealth of their soil: all traditional occupations disappeared and everyone reconverted into the production of phosphate. As the local population was not sufficient, foreigners arrived on the island, mainly from neighboring islands but also from Asia. At the end of the 1990s, it was estimated that “out of a total population of 12,000, some 4,000 are foreigners. Australians serve as managers, doctors and engineers, Chinese run the restaurants and shops, while other Pacific islanders do the dirty work in the mines.”

Phosphate made Nauru extremely rich: in the 1970s, the island even became the second largest country in the world, with three times the GDP of the United States. The island quickly developed, and the newly founded sovereign state took it upon itself to offer the best services to its population, possible thanks to the revenues generated by the mining. With the feeling that the wrongs of the past had been corrected, namely that the local resources were finally in the hands of the local population after decades of foreign rule, the Nauruans were now able to consume to their liking, and did not need to work to enjoy a high quality of life. The government could indeed provide free health care and education to everyone without imposing taxes.

This situation lasted as long as there was phosphate left: being a finite resource, phosphate eventually ran out. The ‘resource curse‘ had stricken.

A Series of Poor choices

Nobody was oblivious: it was clear from the very beginning that the phosphate would not last forever. A series of measures to continue benefiting from the revenues of the mineral were put in place such as a diversity of investments abroad. Most of them, contracted by the Australian authorities and the Nauruans government both seemed to have met misfortune, thus shrinking the long term revenues for the island. In addition, eager to enjoy their wealth, the Nauruan governments made some poor choices which cost them later on: the creation of a local airline, Air Nauru, was clearly not adapted to the needs and size of the island with its 7 planes even though the local population was around 10,000 inhabitants. When the revenues came to lack, Nauru was no longer able to pay for all the services it had previously offered, and accumulated large amounts of debt it tried to cover by asking for loans from the Asian Central Bank, but also by trying to become an offshore banking center, and tax haven for the Russian mafia, without success as the G7 quickly put an end to it. Nauru even sued Australia in 1989 in front of the International Court of Justice asking for repair for the destruction of one third of the island during the colonial era. Australia settled the suit for about $75 million. The fall of the price of phosphate in the 90s only worsened the situation, until it ran out in the early 2000.

The story of Nauru’s descent from prosperity to penury is one of the most cautionary tales of modern development

Dramatic Consequences

Beyond the impact on the local economy, the exploitation of phosphate irreversibly affected numerous aspects of Nauru’s life. First, the local population seems to have forgotten how to do anything with is not linked to mining; fishing has long been forgotten and replaced by imported processed food and the excavation of the phosphate has destroyed all possible arable land. As a result, the island entirely depends on imports for its food and the population presents high levels of obesity and diabetes and high blood pressure, and the life expectancy has dramatically dropped to 50 for men and 55 for women. It is estimated that 95% of the population is overweight.

Nauru

Nauru from the sky – Photo: Radio Australia

The consequences for the local climate are also worth mentioning: the deforestation on 90% of the islands have induced a continuous drought and is struck by heat waves. In addition, the local population lives on the coast, which is only 10 meters above the sea level, making them very vulnerable in the face of climate change and the rising of the oceans. For that reason, Nauru has joined 44 other small countries like Vanuatu, Kiribati, Tuvalu in the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS) who fight together to ensure the survival of their threatened nations. The Maldives are on the forefront of the battle, hoping to put pressure on the big countries to halt the already ongoing global warming process which is already harming many in small islands around the globe.

Today, “seen from the air, Nauru resembles an enormous moth-eaten fedora: a ghastly grey mound of rock surrounded by a narrow green brim of vegetation.”

All in all, Nauru has become “case study for environmentalists and anthropologists in how easy it is to destroy a tropical ecosystem and crush a native culture.”

Finding Something Else To Do

The phosphate age is over and Nauru has needed to find new sources of revenue, which it has found by working with Australia. “Under former Prime Minister John Howard, the nation introduced the now-infamous Pacific Solution, a policy of diverting asylum seekers to detention centers on nearby Pacific islands.”

As a result, Nauru has become a refugee camp for all those got caught while trying to reach Australia by the seas. Since 2001, the Nauru Regional Processing Center has been hosting around 650 refugees at a time in unsanitary barracks. “In addition to the unnecessary and excessive processing period for asylum seekers, the camp has been singled out as substandard and inhumane by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees” which corroborates with the numerous cases of violence and rape which have become public.

Although it does not come close to the revenues once generated by phosphate, supporting ‘Solution Pacific’ is what Nauru has found to get some revenues. Who knows what will happen when the UNHCR will finally act and close those camps and Australia addresses their refugee crisis…

More about Nauru

I recently finished reading a novel taking place in Nauru titled “J’ai entraîné mon peuple dans cette aventure” (I led my people in this adventure) by Aymeric Patricot. Based on the history of the island, the story shows through the eyes of the main character how he experienced the changes the island was confronted to, how the local life evolved and how the local authorities, Australian than Nauruans exploited the phosphate and led the country to its loss. Although romanticized, the book appears to give a clear image of what happened in Nauru and how the local population who were eager to have access to more led their country to their doom.

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Decolonization, History and Culture

Indian Ocean: the other migrant crisis

As explained in my previous post, Mayotte is a French Overseas Territories which voted to be more integrated and become a Departement d’Outre Mer, therefore abiding to French and European laws.

As a French possession, Mayotte enjoys better living conditions than neighbouring and former fellow country-men in Comoros. When the Comoros decided to seize their independence and Mayotte voted to go their separate ways, each territory started on separate path – towards independence for the Comoros and towards remaining a relic of colonialism in the case of Mayotte.

The fact that Mayotte refused to build a common future with the rest of the archipelago stirred up problems in the region. Historical and cultural arguments have been put forward by the Comoros to explain how the partition of Mayotte from the Comoros went against the territorial integrity of the archipelago which is made of 4 and not 3 islands. It is on this basis that the President of the Comoros have appealed to the UN General Assembly to reject France’s “annexation” of Mayotte, which was made in accordance with people’s right to self-determination (although the results of the referendum were contested) and against the principle of territorial integrity.

Illegal immigration: Mayotte’s attractiveness 

Every year, thousands of Comorians cross the seas from their islands to Mayotte to immigrate illegally. At a time when we speak of the migration waves from the Middle East to Western Europe, the migration crisis in the Indian Ocean is swept under the carpet, although the phenomenon is important and has increased since Mayotte became a French département. What attracts the Comorians to Mayotte is the French Département’s development and wealth. It is estimated that Mayotte’s GDP is 7 times higher than that of the Comoros. the French health care system, much more advanced, better sanitized and also cheaper than in the neighbouring islands.

In addition, Mayotte has become a birth center in the region as all babies born in Mayotte automatically become French citizen. Indeed, the legal principle of jus soli, or right of soil, applies in Mayotte, thus granting the French nationality to anyone born in Mayotte. Jus soli is opposed to jus sanguinis which would require one of the parents to be French citizens for the newborn to gain the French nationality. It is believed that a third of the population of Mayotte, that is to say 50,000 to 60,000 people out of 21,700 (2013) are illegal immigrants, amongst which 90% come from the Comoros. (NB: a similar phenomenon can be observed in French Guyana, where mothers from neighbouring countries travel to give birth in the French overseas territories)

Mariane, the French allegory to Anjouan, one of the Comoros' island:

Marianne, the French allegory to Anjouan, one of the Comoros’ island: “I’ve already told, I cannot adopt you too”

Although the French border control attempt to keep the Comorians away, the attractiveness of Mayotte seems to be a sufficient motive for the illegal migrants to risk their lives over and over on kwassas-kwassas, the local fishermen’ boats, to cross the seas. The 70km that separate the island of Anjouan to Mayotte are deadly; it is estimated that up to 10,000 people have died since 1995 trying to reach the French territory.

This migration pattern, however, causes problems in Mayotte as the medical system is not built to also cure the population of the Comoros. The local finances are thus in deficit because of the migrants. Estimates judge that more than 50% of mothers giving birth in Mayotte are from the Comoros.

In addition to the weight on the health care system, immigrants cost a fortune: the border police must deploy important means to prevent illegal immigration and send the migrants back to where they came from (20,000 Comorians were rejected by the French border police in 2014). Illegal immigration was triggered by the imposition of a visa without which Comorians cannot visit Mayotte. The cost of that visa is, however, prohibitive for more Comorians, who thus prefer to go “visit” the neighbouring island via the fishermen’s boats.

What solution? 

The problem is historical: Mayotte is historically a part of the Comoros, and thus cannot be isolated from the other islands. It has been evaluated that a third of the migrants who come to Mayotte were born there, and thus only wish to go back rather than to immigrate. In addition, the visa – commonly called “visa Balladur”, but a financial strain on those historical and cultural ties which the Comoros and Mayotte share. On top of that, Mayotte is geographically isolated from the continent, and the Comoros are important partners for the island. Cutting the ties completely would be disastrous.

Plus, and although Mayotte is in development and still lags far behind the metropole, the island is very attractive for the neighbouring islands due to the available means France brings to Mayotte. In order to stop illegal immigration, supporting the development of the Comoros is part of the solution.

Many advocate for a more forceful method to stop the illegal transit of people to Mayotte, such as the creation of the equivalent of Frontex at the French level. But as shown by the migrant crisis in Europe, this type of military mission is not a deterrent to those looking for better living conditions.

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Countries

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: www.presidence.gov.mg/

Malagasy President Hery RAJAONARIMAMPIANINA
Source: http://www.presidence.gov.mg/

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. 

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Ted Talk of the Week

African Leaders: From Decolonizers to Dictators, then Stabilizers. What next?

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.

Fred Swaniker offers us his insights into Africa, its political history and how the continent’s lack of strong institutions have enabled single individuals to dictate their laws and act unilaterally, creating chaos and warfare throughout Africa. Coups d’état seem to be common and widely spread practice in Africa, as demonstrated by Burkina Faso’s recent military coup. This is, however, becoming less and less frequent, thanks to a shift in Africa’s politics, at least in some of its parts.

But what is the problem? Why are coups possible? Swaniker rightly explains that the continent possesses weak governmental institutions which are not capable of ensuring good governance and respecting democracy, thus allowing individuals to seize power illegally without consequences. They are also able to stay in power for long periods of time, thus ruling as autocrats, by dividing the population, annihilated the civil society and stomping on human rights. Mugabe in Zimbabwe is a perfect illustration of this type of leadership.

In Burkina Faso, Blaise Compaoré, who had been in power for 27 years and was yet willing to “run” again, was toppled by a popular uprising last November, following which the military seize power. A few days later, the military surrendered power, thus allowing the formation of a a transition government led by Michel Kafando, in charge of organizing free and democratic elections due on October 11th. On September 17th, Compaoré’s right arm, Gilbert Diendéré, perpetrated a coup against the transition government, hoping to reinstate the practices in place under the former dictator. This can also be explained by the fact that Campaoré’s clan cannot run for the upcoming presidential elections, as agreed by the transition government.

Mugabe and Compaoré are what Swaniker describes as generation 2 leaders: they came after the decolonization wave and instated regimes of terror, war and corruption in their countries, for their own profits. They exploited their countries’ resources and starved the populations. They both show that, in Africa, leadership matters because the institutions are too weak to counter balance the personal powers of autocrats, and

“Africa would rise or fall because of the quality of [their] leaders… In Africa more than anywhere else in the world, the difference that one good leader can make is much greater than elsewhere”.

Most countries in Africa have moved past generation 2, and have or are being led by generation 3 leaders, such as Nelson Mandela, who have cleaned up the mess of generation 2, stabilized their countries and developed their nations. South Africa is probably the best case of this.

Africa Ted Mandela Quote

Swaniker rightly points to the future: what will come next? All 3 generations involved old leaders, who must now pass the torch to the younger generations. But Africa is failing at producing homegrown leaders who are able to take up the task.

In addition, many challenges will surface, namely environmental ones but also linked to the demographic explosion the continent is facing. Economic opportunities will have to address the new demand in order to keep people at peace. Africa has the potential to do great things. People are resourceful, creative and the soils is full of natural resources such as oil, gas, minerals, etc. The solution to future problems are on the continent.

Africa must, however, seize its independence again. It must define solutions adapted to its own circumstances without depending on others, be it countries or international institutions. Africa must also be given a chance to build its own way to develop, which should be done by African leaders for the African people. Local institutions must be reinforced to ensure the stability of the local governments. These must be built around each countries’ specificities and not based on a universal model, dictated by foreigners. Let’s trust Africa that they know what is best for them.

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