Friday, November 09, 2018

Spare a thought for poor Madagascar as it votes for a new (old) president

We are just back from a great holiday in Madagascar and, while we were there, the country was gearing up for a general election on November 7th. Counting is currently underway, although this is just the start of a long, gruelling political process.
Madagascar, despite its abundant (albeit fast disappearing) eco-tourism potential and large untapped reserves of nickel, cobalt, gold, uranium and other minerals, is one of the poorest countries on earth, with 80% of its population living in poverty according to the World Bank. That poverty is readily apparent as soon as you leave the international airport, and becomes more and more marked the further from the capital you travel.
The country also has a sorry history of poor leadership, most recently exemplified by the 2009 coup led by Andry Rajoelina, which resulted in most of the world withdrawing its investment from Madagascar, although it has started trickling back in slowly since Rajoelina was elected out, more or less democratically, in 2013.
Perhaps surprisingly, given this history, Rajoelina is probably the front-runner in the current election. The other two main candidates, out of a jaw-dropping total of 36 presidential candidates, are Marc Ravalomanana, who was the man in power before Rajoelina's coup, and the current incumbent, who glories in the name of Hery Rajaonarimampianina. So, one of three failed ex-Presidents, all of whom have faced convincing allegations of corruption and self-enrichment while in office, will almost certainly be given a second chance. Apparently, no "anomalies" have been detected by the EU observer mission during the election process, although there have been widespread reports of names mysteriously missing from voter lists. Such allegations of fraud and corruption are regular accompaniments to Madagascan elections.
It's such a shame for a country which desperately needs some strong, steady and progressive leadership to raise it it out of its morass of poverty and environmental degradation. We experienced the slash-and-burn style of agriculture at first hand, and the poor denuded landscape is a living (dying?) testament to the extent to which necessity has driven poor farmers to destroy the island's inestimable natural and zoological wealth for the sake of a few short years of crop growing.
If there is no outright winner in the initial poll - and there almost certainly will not be - the top two candidates, probably Rajoelina and Ravalomanana, will face off again in a second election on November 19th. Whoever ultimately prevails, though, don't expect any great changes to the plight of the poor people of Madagascar. And if you want to see lemurs, chameleons and tenrecs in their natural habitat, I recommend you go sooner rather than later, while they are still there.

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