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Madagascar – Crisis hits the defenceless

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Madagascar resembles today a submarine in urgent need of upwelling. The political crisis that began in 2009 left in its wake harsh conditions for the population. The National Institute of Statistics published in September a study saying half of the population now live in extreme poverty. Likewise, a fresh report of the World Bank highlights 8 in 10 Malagasies are poor, i.e. they earn less than US$ 234 a year. The situation is particularly critical in the South where chronic food insecurity threatens over 1.2 million persons. Natural disasters like cyclones, inundations, locust invasion, and the effects of climate change also are blackening the near future of the island-nation. The political antagonism considerably affects rural communities in particular. ‘Before the instability, my clients used to buy an average of 1 kilo of beef. They now ask only for a quarter of that. People have no money at present,’ says a butcher in the city of Moramanga, east of Antananarivo, requesting anonymity.

Emmanuel Rakotovahiny signs the roadmap to end the Madagascar crisis. AFP

Emmanuel Rakotovahiny signs the roadmap to end the Madagascar crisis. AFP

Early in September, the transitional government announced palliative measures to alleviate the heavy load on the back of deprived groups. The Ministry of Education abolished the annual school fee for all pupils enrolled in primary level. In addition, the government gives out packs of ‘cheap rice’ for the penniless strata. People however see these cosmetic relief services as a pure fabrication of the national authorities that failed to stop the hostility. ‘Those politicians enjoy playing with the life of the nation,’ said Daniel Ramanantsoa, a grocer in Andavamamba Antananarivo. That is corroborated by Olivier de Schutter, the UN special reporter on the right to food. ‘Madagascar’s hungry population is taken hostage by politicians,’ he mentioned at the end of his mission in the country in July.

The little relief afforded to the poorest compare badly with the benefits the minority in power is receiving after the coup in March 2009. The ruling High Authority of Transition has embezzled $385 million within thirty months, Prof. Albert Zafy, former president of the republic, claimed on 21 September during a rally held in Antananarivo. He then lodged a complaint at the public prosecutor about the misappropriations committed by the current authorities. The former leader is now become a well known figure of the opposition.

People in rural areas are not interested in these events. They are busy planning self-protection schemes against banditry. ‘Security is our first preoccupation. It is frequent that armed bandits attack a village up to three times a week,’ a teacher said in Andranomadio Tsiroanomandidy, in the west of the country. The region is classified red zone because thieves repeatedly terrorise communities, loot villages, rustle cattle, and kill people. ‘Uneducated and unemployed men in rural areas get involved in this network of banditry. They avoid coming down hard on a locality as long as the people do not react,’ explained DonnÈ Randriamanantena from Maritampona Tsiroanomandidy. Constant vigilance is required anyway. ‘People in my village cannot get jobs. Villagers, especially men, feel tired due to multiple sleepless nights. From evening to daybreak, able men must watch over their hamlets against assaults from the outside. Because of fatigue, peasants can accomplish little in the fields during the day,’ Fabien Randria, from Andranovola Vohipeno Ambatolampy, told me.

Furthermore, rural communities are leaden with corruption, abuse, unfairness, and neglect of the administration. ‘Officials do not take appropriate measure despite deteriorating safety. Cows continue to be stolen and people die from attacks. That has caused vendettas to spring up, which have become recurrent over the recent months. People kill thieves every time they catch them. Scenes of killing are recorded and then distributed on CDs. This strategy is used to warn people of will happen to them if they are caught’ says Shalma Alice from Maintirano ‘in the past four months, I heard about ten or so killings. Every time there is new CD produced, it means thieves were killed’.

There are private initiatives to create jobs, especially by younger people. However, social uncertainty makes everything more difficult. Fortunat Julio Ramandahery, a 35 year-old social worker, opened a boarding hall for secondary school pupils in Tsiroanomandidy in 2009. Unfortunately, that was exactly when things started to fall apart, and his business never took off. ‘We are facing challenges never experienced before the crisis. Nevertheless, we can no longer recoil. My wife and I invested all our savings in the sector,’ he says. For her part, Shalma Alice who has just completed studies in management plans to put in place her own micro-enterprise. ‘My goal is to contribute to the socio-economic development. I plan to set a cybercafÈ service proposing IT training programme for those in need. But fund-raising is an insurmountable hindrance’ she stresses. Yet, she is not about to give up.

Optimistic persons like Shalma Alice and Fortunat Julio expect positive development to happen soon in the island-nation. Now warring parties reached an agreement after months of stalemate. Major stakeholders signed a political roadmap to sustain national peace on September17. Time will tell us how the deal will be implemented. For the time being, the most vulnerable and marginalized keep on carrying the brunt of political turmoil and social insecurity.

Imalagasy Ratsimiahotra

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