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

Vaccines and Development

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.

On September 7th, the news broke that an African child was paralyzed by vaccine-derived polio. On top of having dramatic consequences for the child, it also meant that the outburst of joy celebrating the first year anniversary of a polio-free Africa will not be reiterated next year. Aside from the fact that polio is still affecting Africa, the saddest part is that it is only in 2014 that the possibility of eradicating polio on the continent became a reality and that it was that same year that polio was declared a world health emergency. At last.

Although there is no cure for that disease, preventing it has been possible since the invention of a vaccine in 1952 by Dr. Jonas Salk. The West has been polio-free for decades, with only very few cases in the 1980s. “When the global polio eradication drive began in 1988, more than 350,000 children around the world were paralyzed by the virus each year. Last year, only 359 were”.  Many people were thus still affected by polio even though a preventive method was available. It took a world initiative to address the issue.

Seth Berkley discusses why that is; why vaccines, and medicine in general are not developed or done so at a later point after the resurgence of a medical crisis. Berkley takes the example of Ebola, which has been around since 1976. Until the outbreak last year, this dangerous infectious disease was barely studied and no cure was developed, even though it had not disappeared and continued to kill people. Berkley also mentions the dengue fever and measles which, despite their wide reach and mortality rate, still have not find cures.

We spend practically nothing to prevent something as tangible and evolutionarily certain as epidemic infectious diseases

The explanation is straightforward: there is no commercial benefit to expect from developing drugs to stop those diseases, for the simple reason that the affected populations cannot afford the research and development costs of such endeavour. Richer regions are not concerned by those viruses and hence do not have any interest in contributing . Ebola caught our attention because of the violence of its symptoms but also because Westerners had been infected and had brought the disease back to their home countries, thus created a risk of pandemic (although Ebola is not as contagious as other viral diseases such as the flu). Globalization had made it possible for a regional outbreak to become global. It also meant that there was a market for a cure for Ebola; affected Westerners were willing and able to pay the price in order to get better.

The fact that some widely spread diseases have not been cured is appalling; it is sad and difficult to understand. The lack of market outcome is not an excuse. Investing in vaccine research is investing in people, in their security and safety.

Every year we spend billion of dollar keeping a fleet of nuclear submarine to protect us from a threat that will probably never happen

Africa seems to always been behind in terms of diseases. ” The last case of smallpox was found in Somalia in 1977, and the last case of rinderpest, a centuries-old cattle disease that may have killed millions of humans by causing famine, was recorded in Kenya in 2001″. Why is that? Because populations do not have the financial means? Most probably, yes. Africa is, however, one of the continent with the most resources and the most human and development potential. This still needs to be explored. The first step is to use those resources to invest into the human capital, by addressing the health issues the populations are facing. In order to do so, the revenues of oil, gas, minerals, wood, diamonds and gold must be used for support local initiatives to come up with local solutions to local problems, and not to feed some dictators and their foreign partners.