Madagascar News- Current Issues and Perspectives

Unsung Heroes of Madagascar: sacrificing freedom, safety and the country’s sovereignty?

In Economics, French, Human Rights, Pictures, Politics, Society, Testimonies on December 14, 2011 at 8:35 am

Many Malagasy people remember seeing Ratsiraka in front of a blackboard, making one of his memorable speeches, and demonstrating on the board how much rice Malagasies consume. That memorable evening, Malagasies learned, among other facts, that they were the biggest consumers of rice per capita in the world. According to the FAO, brown rice consumption was 140kg per capita, in 2000 . Amazing! Ten years later, local consumption had decreased by over 6%.

One has to be careful in one’s interpretation: Malagasy people do not eat less rice. Malagasies get to eat less. Indeed, according to IRIN ,  rice is no more readily affordable. Sadly enough this staple food has become a luxury in Madagascar.

Within the past two years, the price of rice has more than doubled reaching US$1 the kilogram. That is about the same amount that the US consumer who makes a minimum wage of $7.25 has to  pay for basic rice at Walmart. In Madagascar, the guaranteed minimum wage or salaire minimum interprofessionnel garanti  (SMIG) is is about 28 euros today, that is roughly US$ 37, which would translate into less than a quarter for an hour work (US$0.25), based on a 40h workweek. “Food accounts to 75% of a household’s budget“, according to  a monetization specialist for a US-based food company in Madagascar.

In January, Rajoelina had announced a 10% increase in salary for the public sector, reaching a 25% increase for those who make the SMIG. As for the private sector, a staggered 17% increase was agreed. Certainly an improvement but not enough to remedy the real problem: major loss of jobs, destroyed economy, changed mentality.

Madagascar has been living in a sociopolitical crisis for over two years now, leaving a crippled economy. From a growing and inventive economy under the UN Millenium project  it has become one of the poorest in the world.

Under his “Madagascar Naturellement” (Madagascar Naturally) program Ravalomanana had lined up an integrated guideline for World Bank, UNDP, EU and other bi-lateral aid and cooperation efforts. Today, the Millenium roadmap is forgotten in history. The textile industry had to shut down. The US market alone  provided about US$278 million of the textile revenue in 2008 . The Tiko Group, one of the most solid firms in Madagascar, has been destroyed, solely because it was Ravalomanana’s business. It was relevant in various sectors such agro-industry, construction and media and provided for thousands of jobs. The Tiko group  by itself provided 5,000 jobs and supported thousands more in other sectors.

Under Ratsiraka’s regime and his promise for a socialist revolution, the economy was relying on a vast government: government and army jobs, and  nationalization of the economy starting in the mid-70s when Ratsiraka came to power. Madagascar defense budget was reaching US$101 million in 1979, only four years into Ratsiraka’s leadership. Economic revolution was outlined in the Red Book. Today’s generation may not remember  the lines for basic needs such as rice, oil and meat or the massive government workers’ strike that started Ratsiraka’s downfall.

But Madagascar is forgiving. It would be more correct to say that Malagasy people sometimes have a short memory of repeated events that have periodically occurred throughout  its independence. So whether positive or negative, historical facts fade easily in Malagasy memories. May 1972 costed innocent lives, and over time it has been downplayed and forgotten. The aura and promises of the Millenium program as well as the fear lived under soviet-, Korean- and Kadafi-inspired Ratsiraka’s dictature alike have faded in conscious memories, aided by the political cultivation of traditional forgiveness through the notion of “fihavanana”(1).

Indeed, by essence, Madagascar is culturally peaceful. However, one has to understand the evolved Malagasy philosophy or culture that is such a mix of different ones, and that is tainted by Madagascar’s sociopolitical experiences. For example, the French saying “ventre affamé n’a pas d’oreilles” (literally a hungry stomach has no ears)  is widely used in Madagascar. If you are hungry, you loose all capacity of analysis and objectivity. By natural instinct, you will need to satisfy an immediate need, particularly if the need has been lasting for over two years. Should anybody offer you a solution or what appears to you as a solution to save your family, you will be more likely willing to grab that proposed solution. “More  likely” than not because in Malagasy there is a also a saying  that you could hear on a daily basis: “It is best to die tomorrow rather than today.”

So today, Ravalomanana shortcomings are kept very much alive in memory. The focus is kept on Ravalomanana business practices and the fact that the military opened fire on the crowd who crossed the presidential red line and killed twenty eight protesters in February of 2009. Much controversy remains about that crossing line event that was viewed by some observers as a  Rajoelina scheme to take over power.

Today also, Ratsiraka is welcomed with open arms and it has been, consciously or conveniently, forgotten that under Ratsiraka’s astounding videorecorded order  the Presidential Guard opened fire on 400,000 peaceful protesters. It has been equally forgotten that Ratsiraka’s lawyer had admitted that the court ruling of 10 years of hard labor against him for embezzlement of US$ 8 millions of public funds  ” seems (ed) fair enough.” Ratsiraka for his part never admitted any wrongdoing, to this day.

Forgotten in history are the students who fell under the military gunshots in 1972 when Tsiranana made the terrible political, broadcast mistake of ordering the killing of “10, 100, 1000” student-led protesters. Forgotten in memories are those unsung heroes who struggled and lost their sense of being during food shortages under the Ratsiraka Socialist experiment. Erased in history are those who lost their lives.  Lost in time are those who have perished in one way or another whether under pursuits and gunshots or through moral decadence for survival, since Rajoelina has been in power. To those  little, unsung heroes of Madagascar, to those who can barely afford rice amid the political,  unchanged allegiances one has to strive for objectivity. While Ratsiraka flew back to France, Rajoelina is back from France with a cooperation agreement of 10 millions of euros and Sarkozy’s promises of lobbying to the European Union and the US government for sanction relief. The same day at  its December 8th meeting in Addis Abeba, the Peace and Security Council announced its intention to lift Madagascar sanctions  based on progress made toward the roadmap to lawful State. According to local medias, the USA will advance US$8 millions and the European Union 100millions of euros to alleviate the situation.  The people of Madagascar need to be able to afford their daily rice, and while bending seems necessary to all involved parties at all levels of this peace seeking solution, one hopes that it would not  be at the high price of the Malagasy people’s freedom, prized culture  and safety.

  1. Great post! You say it all!
    Indeed, we(Malagasy people) have either “short memory” or “no memory” at all. As this rich guy said around 2,950 years ago “what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun”. I think there is a similarity between what happened “August 10, 1991” in Iavoloha and “February 7, 2009” in Ambohitsorohitra ( )

  2. I wonder if Malagasy people have memory or not but what I have realized since 2009 is that it is especially these native white hairs politicians, self proclaimed intelligent nationalists with some dumb journalists who have no brain since they are easily manipulable by foreign gangs especially french and western rulers in African affairs. Just remember : among the origin of all these troubles in Madagascar is about the Corean Daewoo land loan in South East Madagascar. An old intelligent Malagasy president living in France read the article in Financial Times. From France -his guest country or home country?-he called the Malagasies on air through a private radio owned by a shemale Andry Nirina Rajoelina to stand and finish with President Ravalomanana. And so on…My question is now : if it were an western firm that were in place of DAEWOO, would be the story the same?

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