Security & Defense

France & NATO – pt.3

[Click here to read part 1]

[Click here to read part 2]

The French Government’s Vision of NATO

In order to determine the current importance of NATO for the French government, it is important to analyse the latest White Paper on Defense and National Security, which was published by Francois Hollande’s government in 2013. The issues covered are the new political landscape France has to evolve in, the strategic priorities, France role in NATO and the EU, how and with which tools to realize those goals.

French White Paper - Defence and National Security, 2013

French White Paper – Defence and National Security, 2013

The White Paper clearly states that France acknowledges the importance of the Euro-Atlantic Alliance as both sides of the Ocean are linked by history and common values. NATO thus gathers Europe and North America around common objectives, including collective defense on which France also depends on for its defence and security.  The official stance on the reintegration into the Integrated Military Structures explains the importance of the gesture which was a natural one. France has, according to the White Paper, retrieved its “rightful place” in the Alliance. As a founding member and one the biggest contributors, France now holds the power it deserves considering these two elements.

France and International Organizations

The French government sees its engagement in both NATO and the EU as indispensable in order to attain its strategic goals and ensure its security. Three possible alternatives are 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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Territories in the Pacific

Tuvalu: Countdown to drowning  

Tuvalu is an archipelago in the South Pacific Ocean. It is one of the worst case illustrating the damaging effects of climate change. COP21 and other strategies are the country’s only ways to pressure the international community to strike a deal which would effectively slow down the climate deregulation process, thus buying more time to the islands before they are covered by the seas. 

Tuvalu is made of nine tiny islands (five of which are coral atolls), located in the South Pacific somewhere halfway between Hawaii and Australia. The country spreads over a total of 26 square kilometers of land. It is also, with a little over 10,000 inhabitants, the third-least populous sovereign state in the world, after the Vatican City and Nauru.

Map of Tuvalu

Map of Tuvalu

The islands were not inhabited until the 14th century, when Samoans, Tongans and settlers from other Polynesian islands migrated there. The territories were discovered by the Spanish in the 16th century. The island of Funafuti, where the current capital is, was then visited by the Brits who gave it the name of Ellice Island, after the name of the ship they were embarked on. The name was then extended to the archipelago. Between 1850 and 1875, many Tuvaluans were kidnapped for forced labour on plantations in Fiji and Queensland. Combined with the introduction of European diseases, the population of Tuvalu dropped from 20,000 to 3,000.  In 1892, Ellice Islands were merged with the Gilbert Islands as a British protectorate, a situation which lasted until 1975. The name of Tuvalu, meaning “eight standing together” replaced that of Ellice Islands. Three years later, the territory obtained its independence. (For more details about the history of Tuvalu, click here)

Irreversible climate change

Tuvalu’s doomed situation is what has been bringing this country to the headlines: it is so far one of the places in the world which has been the most affected by climate change. The archipelago is, on average, at 2 meters above sea level, with the culminating point at 4,6 meters. With the global rise of the seas, Tuvalu is bound to eventually drown. The emergency of the situation has been raised already in 1989 when the UN listed “Tuvalu as one of a number of island groups most likely to disappear beneath the sea in the 21st century because of global warming”.

Global warming has been affecting Tuvalu in many different ways. Among others, the rising of the seas threatens human activities. The coral reefs which surround most atolls are being damaged, which jeopardizes the fish stock, Tuvalu’s only national resource and crucial for feeding the population. The sea is also “invading underground fresh water supplies, which has consequences for farming, while drought constantly threatened to limit drinking water. Annual spring tides appear to be getting higher each year, eroding the coastline.” Global warming has also brought in more extreme weather conditions in the region – cyclones especially – as illustrated by Tropical Cyclone Pam which hit Tuvalu and Vanuatu on March 10, 2015. Among other consequences, “Cyclone Pam has redrawn the map of Tuvalu, scouring away coastlines, cutting an island in half, and making one islet disappear altogether.” Plus, “researchers projected that international migration would increase sharply by 2055 from Tuvalu, Kiribati and Nauru. The study found storms and “king tides” are likely to worsen. Sea levels have risen about 20 centimeters in the past century.

Tuvalu, facing Cyclone Pam

Tuvalu, facing Cyclone Pam (Photo: AFP)

When Cyclone Pam tore Tuvalu and the Vanuatu apart, the Red Cross and other humanitarian aid organizations came to the rescue of the islanders. The Italian Foreign Ministry also donate 100,000 euros to Tuvalu and 300,000 to Vanuatu for rebuilding the two countries. However, as highlighted by the Tuvaluan Prime Minister at COP21, “While [the Tuvaluans] were grateful for the assistance [they] received from the relief community, this ad hoc response to the impacts of climate change cannot continue. We need a permanent mechanism for Loss and Damage anchored in the Paris Treaty to give us the assurance that the necessary response to climate change impacts will be forthcoming.”

Seeking new land

One must understand the gravity of the situation: Tuvalu may soon disappear, swallowed by the seas. The rising of the seas and cyclones have already pushed many to flee the archipelago to find safer living conditions – it is estimated that the Tuvaluan diaspora in New Zealand already regroups 2,600 individuals. However, not every inhabitant of Tuvalu has the financial means to emigrate.

The government of Tuvalu is currently seeking solutions for its population. Fiji has recently “reaffirmed it will offer permanent refuge to citizens of Tuvalu and Kiribati should the risk of rising sea levels intensify in their islands” and New Zealand also agreed to welcome more refugees. Australia has so far not made any commitment.

COP21

The UN Climate Summit currently taking place in Paris has been the perfect platform for Tuvalu and the other endangered territories around the world to make their voices heard.

The Prime Minister of Tuvalu, the Honourable Enele S. Sopoaga, made the following declarations at the Leaders Events for Heads of State and Government at the Opening of the COP21 on November 30, 2015:

“Today, we stand here facing one of the greatest challenges of humankind, – climate change. We are at a critical point of history … Tuvalu’s future at current warming, is already bleak, any further temperature increase will spell the total demise of Tuvalu. No leader around        this room carries such a level of worry and responsibility … For Small Island Developing States, Least Developed Countries and many others, setting a global temperature goal of below 1.5 degrees Celsius relative to pre-industrial levels is critical … Tuvalu is already suffering the impacts of climate change.”

(For the full address, click here)

Tuvalu Banki Moon

(Top Left) Mr. Ban met with the Prime Minister of Tuvalu – Photo: Instagram @UnitedNations

Tuvalu has been an apparent leader of the fight taken on by small countries to put pressure on the big ones to come up with solutions and sign a deal. US Secretary of State John Kerry and UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon both met with Tuvaluan Prime Minister Enele Sapoaga during COP21, thus illustrating the relevance of Tuvalu when discussing climate change.

Tuvalu, like the Maldives, Philippines and many other are already facing the effects of global warming. It is no longer something which is coming, it is already here. And although COP21 wants to prove that the issue is being taken seriously by governments, what has been put on the table so far has not been ambitious enough. Even Ban Ki Moon called for a lower threshold than negotiated, explaining that “even a 2-degree rise will have serious consequences for food and water security, economic stability and international peace … The world’s Small Island Developing States have even less room to manoeuvre, and are desperately asking the world to keep temperature rise to 1.5 degrees.” Sacrifices will need to be made, but they need to be made now before it is really too late.

Sovereignty recognition against attention

Tuvalu, like most Pacific islands, is extremely isolated and dependents almost exclusively on imports and international generosity and support. However, an interesting fact somewhat put Tuvalu, along with Vanuatu and Kiribati, back on the map in 2011 – this time, for other reasons that climate related issues.

Three years after the Russian-Georgian war of 2008 during which the pro-Russian regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia seceded, the government of Tuvalu formally recognized the independence of the two newly created political entities. Their independence is not, however, recognized by the international community in the name of Georgia’s territorial integrity.

Many questions were raised following what seemed to be quite a random diplomatic act on the part of Tuvalu. What did they get out of recognizing two separatist regions located on the other side of the planet and with which they had nothing in common? Although there is no clear answer, the fact that Russia and the archipelago established diplomatic relations a few weeks after the recognition cannot be a coincidence – it seems extremely odd that Russia and Tuvalu would hold private meetings to discuss bilateral cooperation, including trade, fishing and education when the two nations had never been in contact before.

Tuvalu is also one of the few countries to recognize Taiwan today. This has, however, pushed Taiwan to say that it “wants to help Tuvalu deal with the effects of rising sea levels”.

So, what can we deduct from those two cases? It is possible to assume that, by recognizing states in search of international recognition, Tuvalu actually attracts media attention which can come in helpful to raise awareness about the archipelago’s struggles – a money-against-recognition type of deal is probably the most probable option. It may also push those who do not wish for Abkhazia, South Ossetia and Taiwan to be recognized as independent states to raise their bids and offer Tuvalu support in an effort to buy their allegiance. As an illustration,  Tuvalu finally retracted its recognition of the two secessionist regions last March when the Pacific nation agreed to establish diplomatic relations with Georgia. It seems like changing side is never a problem. This strategy has proven relatively effective, but Tuvalu’s best bet today is still on demonstrating that global warming is no longer a myth.

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Decolonization, society

Mayotte, the colonial paradox

Building on two posts that I have published here, namely “Madagascar: aborted development” and “Upside Down Decolonization and Remnants of Empire“, I bring to you today an article about Mayotte.

Map of Mayotte in the Indian Ocean

Mayotte in the Indian Ocean

The island is located North of Madagascar, and is a French Overseas Territory. The French far-flung possessions are divided into two (general) categories: the Collectivités d’Outre Mer (COM) and the Départements d’Outre Mer. The main difference between those two categories are in terms of political representation each territory has in the metropole.

France possesses 5 COMs: Saint-Pierre et Miquelon off the Canadian coast, Saint Martin and Saint Barthelemy in the Caribbean, and Wallis and Futuna and French Polynesia in the Pacific. To that must be added New Caledonia which has its own status of Collectivité sui generis. The most prominent feature of these territories is that France is mainly responsible for ensuring basic responsibilities such as defense, police, justice and finances for those territories. The local governments manage the rest of the political prerogatives.

In opposition, the Départements d’Outre Mer enjoy the same political prerogatives as mainland départements (France counts 101 départements). Paris is one example, same as Rhône (Lyon), Bouche-du-Rhône (Marseille) and Gard (Montpellier). Guadeloupe, Martinique, Corsica and Guyana are also part of the list. The latest addition to the list is Mayotte which switched from being a Collectivité to a Département after a referendum in 2011.

Mayotte moves backward on the decolonization evolution 

When looking at decolonization, it is expected that the normal route for territories who have been colonized by a foreign power would be to gain more independence rather than less. By demanding to become a Département d’Outre Mer, Mayotte thus demanded to be more integrated into the French political sphere and thus to abide to French (and Europeans) laws.

Watch this video about Mayotte - France 24

Click on the picture to watch this video about Mayotte – France 24

Mayotte was colonised and administered as part of the Comoros under the status of French overseas territory until 1976 when 3 of the 4 islands making the Comoros seized their independence. The island of Mayotte voted to remain a French dependency, and to increase their integration, which was finally consecrated by the referendum on March 31, 2011.

Mayotte’s many obstacles 

The island is crippled with many disabilities which make its integration into the French system difficult. The local authorities had, until the change of status, little influence in terms of taxation, land ownership and regulations of all sorts. But becoming fully part of France means abiding to the rules in place on the continent. In order to support the development and the necessary changes in Mayotte, the French government has signed a pact with the local authorities. Called “Mayotte 2025″, this pact aims to boost the local economy. 17,6% of the Mahorais, the inhabitants of Mayotte, are unemployed, and the local GDP is more than 5 times lower than on the mainland. Insecurity is also one of the biggest concerns on the island.

Another key issue is linked to the partition from the Comoros. The latter still rejects the 1976 referendum which consecrated the Comoros’s independence without Mayotte as part of it. Historically, the Comoros is a 4-island archipelago. The fact that Mayotte decided to remain French during the decolonization process felt like an amputation for Moroni, which still contest the 1976 referendum. The Comorian President, Ikililou Dhoinine, has spoken four times since his election about the dispute between France and his country in front of the United Nations General Assembly. The representation of Mayotte athletes under the French flag during the Indian Ocean Island Games also caused a diplomatic crisis between Paris and Moroni.

Flag of Mayotte

Flag of Mayotte

It would, however, be wrong to assume that the situation is all positive for France. Accepting Mayotte as the 101th Département also came with a price, which is to adapt the island to the necessary standards. It also meant that the dispute with Comoros would only go stronger, especially as Mahorais are now benefitting from France’s welfare redistribution system, therefore increasing the attractiveness of Mayotte. This in turn has pushed many Comorians to cross the agitated waters that separate them from Mayotte to pursue a better life in France.

Stay tuned for next week’s article: “Indian Ocean: the other migrant crisis” 

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society, The political use of...

The political use of public shaming

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.

We all know who Monica Lewinsky is. She was “the other woman”, the young lady Bill Clinton had an affair with in 1997 while being President of the United States. After years of hiding, Monica Lewinsky finally broke her silence and shared her vision of the scandal, how she regretted what happened, and how it had been a mistake. She rightly points to the fact that everybody makes mistakes in their early twenties; but her mistakes had far greater consequences than the average person’s. Lewinsky dwells on the changes that internet brought. The news of her affair with Clinton was everywhere, every time and for everybody who looked for the information. It triggered a scandal with unprecedented dimensions. The scandal had life-threatening consequences for her. The scandal was not just ethical – it was political. Lewinsky’s humiliation was just the byproduct of a political confrontation between Clinton an his opponents.

Clinton must be taken down 

Clinton was elected President of the United States in 1992, preventing George Bush from a second mandate at the White House (Clinton’s campaign focused on economy while Bush’s hinged on foreign affairs). The new democrat president is not accepted by a large portion of the most conservative politicians, who criticized Clinton for being too lax, for lacking of leadership and experience, and for including his wife in the government’s affairs. Refusing to accept Clinton, his detractors monitors his every move hoping to dig out some dirt which could ruin the president’s integrity and standing. Several stories were brought to the news, such as the Whitewater affair, Troopergate, Filegate or Travelgate, all started by the American Spectator, the same newspaper which launched the anti-Clinton campaign during the elections. The American people did not pay much attention to those affairs, too preoccupied by the stagnation of the national economy.

Monica Lewinsky’s affair with the president, while not being related to the affair that was being investigated at the time, was brought up and added to the list of accusations against Bill Clinton. The conversations the young woman had on the phone with Linda Tripp, Lewinsky’s confident at the Pentagon, were tipped off to the prosecutor in charge of investigating Clinton’s past. Clinton was summoned to the Court where he deliberatly lied about his affair with Monica Lewinsky. This triggered a political spiral against the president, which went as far as an impeachment procedure against Clinton.

This case shows how adultery was used and distorted by Clinton’s political opponents, for political reasons. This also shows how Clinton’s political decisions as President of the United Nations did not matter in this story. His detractors tried to get him humiliated for his character because they did not support his political agenda. This is not democracy, and this is not justice. Lewinsky got caught in between conflicting political interests disguised as moralism. Clinton’s opponent did not play fair or by the rules.

Judging a president by his personal life

There are many examples of presidents, prime ministers or politicians whose personal lives were used to temper with their careers. Take France: we are probably the champions when it comes to being apologetic with our politicians’ personal faux pas. François Mitterand had a double life which was revealed after his death. Although morally wrong from a marital point of view but also because both wives and children were supported by public finances, did it make Mitterand less of a president? I am not saying that his politics were right. I am saying that what he did in his private life and what he did as the French President were two separate things that did not affect me the same way.

A more recent example: François Hollande was witnessed sneaking out of l’Elysée to go visit his mistress at the time. Same for Mitterand, this shows that he is someone I would not be willing to be friends with, no more no less.

Collage of cover pages of newspapers about scandal of Dominique Strauss Kahn

Innocent until proven guilty? Will ‘DSK’ survive the sex scandal? AFP PHOTO / THOMAS COEX

The most extreme example of distorting a politician’s personal life is that of Dominique Strauss-Kahn. Former president of the IMF, Strauss-Kahn is – or was – also a French politician who was rumored to have been preparing his candidacy for the French presidential elections  of 2013. He was accused of “aggravated-pimping”, sexual harassment and other terms of the sort, and finally acquitted. I am one of those who believe that this was a conspiracy, just like in Clinton’s case(You can read more about the scandals here). Because of the scandals, Strauss-Kahn was fired from the IMF and put to the sideline in France, thus annihilated (or at least greatly postponing) his possible candidacy for the presidential elections.

Find me cynical 

Now, find me cynical, but I believe every single politician has something to hide. We would like for them to resemble the general public, to be just like us, or at least reflect what we would like ourselves to be like. But we are not perfect, we also have things that we do not want to be made public. Because they have a public life, politicians’ private lives are more likely to get exposed. But think that we hope to be judged on our skills and capacities when we are at work. Let’s judge politicians on the same ground, in their case for their abilities to govern.

Do not get me wrong: adultery, sexual harassment, and so forth, are terrible things and they should be addressed. They should not, however, be used as political daggers to get rid of an opponent. Those defects should be exposed before they become liabilities for a nation. Everybody knew Clinton had had several affairs before going to the White House, but nobody did anything about it and it did not prevent him from becoming the president of the US.

The French (and others) political scene is sexist, which is only a reflection of our society. Change this approach and you will change the politicians. As long as this has not changed, I will continue judging my political leaders based on their capacities to govern, and not on what they do with their personal lives.

In the name of transparency, I would ideally like my politicians to be angels. But none of them are. Someone still has to run our countries. Does that make me cynical?

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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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