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[Editor's Note: This is the first article in an occasional series from guest writers responding to the prompt, "What's going on in your country?"]

In Madagascar, history repeats itself.

Photos: fanalana_azy

The past few months have been unfortunate for Madagascar.

A series of tropical storms hit both the east and the west coasts, leaving more than 40,000 people roofless and recovering from floods. However, if you were in Madagascar the near complete destruction of infrastructure would be an afterthought because a chain of political and social unrest has hit the country with equal force.

To understand how a country better known for its unique biodiversity has gotten to this point, one must go back seven years, when long-time president of Madagascar, Didier Ratsiraka, was ousted by a young up and coming self-made businessman, Marc Ravalomanana.

After a close and contentious election, Ravalomanana claimed the presidency, carried by his strong popularity in Antananarivo, the capital city. Ravalomanana showcased his popularity with street demonstrations that ultimately forced Ratsiraka out.

For the next six years, Ravalomanana ruled uncontested and the GDP of Madagascar grew steadily under his watch, but some would argue it was at the expense of the poorest.

But tensions became apparent when a series of unpopular measures brought a new mayor into office in Antananarivo, defeating Ravalomanana’s protégé. The new mayor, Andry Rajoelina, is a young, dynamic, self-made businessman, quite popular in the city.

Sound familiar?

Ravalomanana and Rajoelina were so alike they could only dislike each other, and some measures in past months brought out the tension to open confrontation. First, there was the decision to lease a major portion of the arable land in Madagascar to Daewoo Logistics at an outrageous discount price in exchange for help for land development. Cries of agricultural neo-colonialism led to the deal being put on hold.

Then, the private TV station of Andry Rajoelina was ordered to close because it was allegedly at risk of causing social unrest. Things only escalated: Rajoelina issued an ultimatum to Ravalomanana to reopen his television station or else.

That “else” was the call for a national strike on January 26th. Unfortunately, public demonstration quickly got totally out of control on either side, and reports of looting, arson, and various acts of vandalism came out on the Internet. Most radio and TV stations were shut down, as well as most businesses.

The nation is currently at a standstill because the location of the president is unknown and the police forces seem strangely absent. People are under a self-imposed curfew as fires are set ablaze and gun shots are heard. Fires have now come very close to national oil reservoirs.

One expects the unrest to spread to the other major cities if the current situation perseveres. Reports are still pouring in that citizens are now self-organizing for the protection of their neighborhoods because they cannot wait for authorities to show up anymore.

It is still unclear how this unrest will come to an end.

To learn more about current events in Madagascar, visit Global Voices Online and follow Lova on Twitter.

World Events


About The Author

Lova Rakotomalala

Originally from Madagascar, Lova Rakotomalala is currently based in Lafayette, Indiana, USA, where he works as a post-doctoral research associate at the Cytometry For Life (C4L) Program of Purdue University. He also writes about the blogosphere in Madagascar at Global Voices Online. He also helps coordinate the Foko Madagascar Project.

  • Marie

    Thanks for such an informative story. Madagascar is one place I am looking to go to this year, so reading this has been an eye opener and made me realise I will probably need to keep an eye on the political situation in my planning.

  • Goob

    I keep getting an error whenever I try to go to Mr. Rakotomalala's Twitter page. Says it doesn't exist!

  • Lova

    Thank for the comments. A small typo on my twitter handle it's ( l as in lova ) not Irakoto. (You could see how that could happen :) )

  • collazoprojects

    Sorry about that. I wrote capital "i" instead of lowercase "l." I've just fixed his handle; please check it out now. Thanks for letting us know!

  • Tim Patterson

    Thanks for this concise analysis. I'm intrigued by the part about the Korean company leasing agricultural land. In Cambodia recently, all of Phnom Penh was decked out in Kuwaiti flags. Turned out Kuwait has leased a good chunk of Cambodian paddy for exclusive rice exports. Meanwhile, the price of rice in Cambodia has gone up about 300 percent and malnutrition is the norm in rural areas and urban slums. This in what is THE most fertile country in the world. I'd love to see more of your writing on Matador, Lova.

  • Lova

    Hello Tim, Thanks for the kind words. I am thankful for the opportunity to share a bit of my country here , albeit under tough circumstances. The other disappointing part of that ludicrous land deal was the attempt at sneaking it through, hoping no one would notice. I would love to tell you more about a brighter side of Madagascar when things quiet down a bit over there. Best, Lova

  • Tanya Brothen

    Thank you for this information. I have a friend in Madagascar with the Peace Corps. It's good, but a bit worrisome, to hear what she might be witnessing.

  • Tim Patterson
  • Claudio88

    Tim, I was just about to post BBC's version of the article above. I shudder whenever unarmed civilians start getting killed by police like that. It is a catalyst for more bloodshed, mass confusion, and eventually, war. I hope I am proved wrong.

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  • Jordan2010

    Hello, I am doing a report on Madagascar for my college. Do you know where I might find CURRENT information on food safety, food supply, availability, or anything that involves the struggle of feeding the Malagasy people? Any help would be greatly appreciated, Madagascar is an amazing country! Thank you!

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