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February 27 2014

Saving Primate Lemurs

Mother lemur and her offspring by Tambako on Flickr CC-BY-2.0

Mother lemur and her offspring by Tambako on Flickr CC-BY-2.0

A group of researchers from Madagascar, Canada, UK and USA published a detailed report in Science that alerts on the possible extinctions of 90% of the known lemurs of Madagascar following the prolonged political crisis in the country.  One of the researcher, Christoph Schwitzer,  explains to the Scientific American the dire consequences of such threat:

lemurs have important ecological and economic roles, and are essential to maintaining Madagascar’s unique forests through seed dispersal and attracting income through ecotourism.

Another researcher, Ian Colquhoun, explains what can be done to protect the unique Malagasy ecosystem in which the lemurs can thrive:

We highlight three key ways to save lemurs: community-based conservation management, the long-term presence of researchers at field sites, and ecotourism.

February 25 2014

Madagascar Still Awaiting a New Prime Minister, Government

A full month since President-elect Hery Rajaonarimampianina took position as the new head of state in Madagascar, there are still no indication who the new prime minister will be and what government he/she will assemble. Ma-Laza argues that the main issue is not really the identity of the prime minister but what he/she will bring to the table [fr]: 

 Un  technicien hors pair,  rassembleur, capable de mener à bien la politique générale du Président de la République. Ce Premier ministre ne  devrait appartenir à aucune mouvance politique, en principe.Mais il n’est ni contre Rajoelina, ni contre Ravalomanana. Bref, c’est un oiseau rare qui inspire aux bailleurs de fonds la confiance. Cette personne existe-t-elle ?  

(The prime minister should be) a person with outstanding technical know-how, a uniter who is able to carry out the policy of the President of the Republic. In theory, the Prime Minister should not belong to any political movement. He will not be against Rajoelina, nor against Ravalomanana (the two last presidents). In short, he will have to be that rare person who will inspire the trust of the investors. The question is:  does this person even exist?

February 22 2014

Malagasy React to SI Swimming Suit Issue and Model's Take on Madagascar

The 2014 Sports Illustrated Swimming Suit Issue was shot on Nosy Iranja (Iranja Island), Madagascar:

Nosy Iranja is known as the Turtle island for the Hawksbill Turtles came to shore to lay their eggs. It is also known for the spectacular sandbank that bridges the two nearby islands.

Nosy Iranja, Madagascar - Public Domain

Nosy Iranja, Madagascar – Public Domain

Russian Top model Irina Shayk and wife of footballer Cristiano Ronaldo said that she has a special relationship with Madagascar:

When I was a student I did a report on Madagascar, and ever since then it was my biggest dream to go there [..] The (Malagasy) people live and get by every day walking in the roads, living this super simple life, and they're still happy. It is an experience that keeps you humble, puts things in perspective.

Rakotonirina Miaro wonders why the world outside Madagascar seem to appreciate the island's treasures but Malgasy citizens cannot seem to notice [mg]:

Ny olon-kafa maita ny hatsaran'ny Nosin-tsik fa ny tompony jay no tsy mahafatatra fa tsar i Gasikara! Tsara daholo ny mannequin naka sary é!

Foreigners know how beautiful our island is but we, who live here, do not seem to appreciate about our own treasures. Oh yeah, and the swimming suit models were not bad looking either

February 10 2014

INFOGRAPHIC: Pursuit of Happiness in Africa

Happiness Value Index for the African Continent via Afrigraphique CC-NC-2.0

Happiness Value Index for the African Continent via Afrigraphique CC-NC-2.0


The Afrographique blog mapped the happiness index for the African continent. Topping the ranking are Angola and Mauritius who hold the same happiness index as Albania and Russia, respectively. In related news, the Pharell’ single “Happy” has been used by dancers around the world to celebrate the new year 2014. All the videos are compiled at the blog We are Happy from . Below are the videos from Antanannarivo, Madagascar:

and Cotonou, Benin:

February 09 2014

Five of the Most Celebrated French-Language African Films

The Panafrican Film and Television Festival of Ouagadougou (Festival panafricain du cinéma et de la télévision de Ouagadougou or FESPACO) is the largest film festival in Africa, held every two years in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso. The festival usually takes place in March of every year it is held. Founded in 1969, it has honored a great number of movies whose impact is still felt today. In celebration of the upcoming film festival, below are five of the most celebrated French-language African films (award-winning or not) that have left their mark on an entire generation of movie-watchers.

Ivory Coast: ”Bal poussière” (Dancing in the Dust)

Poster du film BAL POUSSIERE - Domaine public

Poster for the film “Bal poussière” – Public domain

“Dancing in the Dust” is a 1988 Ivorian film directed by Henri Duparc. Seen by over 300,000 people in France, this satire of polygamy tells the story of Alcaly (a.k.a. “Demi-God”) who, despite already having five wives, becomes infatuated with Binta, a young woman who has returned home from the big city of Abidjan. See a French-language clip from the movie below:

Gapont [fr], contributor on Allociné in Paris, explains what he found striking about the movie:

Un petit bijou de fraîcheur et de spontanéité. Ce film a la candeur du cinéma de Renoir ou de Pagnol. Petit budget pourtant, acteur souvent amateurs, tourné en super 16mm et pourtant la magie est là, on se laisse porter par ces personnages incroyables. Du vrai cinéma.

A fresh and spontaneous little gem. This movie has the candour of a [Jean] Renoir or [Marcel] Pagnol work. Small budget, many amateur actors, shot in Super 16 mm, yet the magic is there, these incredible characters simply carrying us away. Authentic filmmaking.

Ethiopia: “Va, Vis et Deviens” (Live and Become)

Poster du film Va, Vis et Deviens - Public Domain

Poster for the film “Va, vis et deviens” – Public domain

“Live and Become” is a 2005 French-Israeli film by Radu Mihaileanu. In an Ethiopian refugee camp in Sudan, a Christian mother makes her son Shlomo pass as Jewish in order to survive and be included in Operation Moses, which brought many Ethiopian Jews to Israel. Declared an orphan, Shlomo is adopted by a Sephardic Jewish French family living in Tel Aviv. He grows up fearing that his secret past will be revealed. See the trailer below:

Janos451, an IMDB commenter from San Fransisco, loved the movie's dramatic intensity:

What makes the film extraordinary – what creates all the crying in the audience – is its honest and effective portrayal of the young refugee's isolation and loneliness, made worse by his belief that his escape is at the cost of his mother's life

The film is based on the history of the Beta Israel (Ethiopian Jews) who, despite their efforts, have experienced a great deal of difficulty gaining acceptance after immigrating to Israel. The movie has seen renewed interest recently as many African immigrants in Israel have been demonstrating for their rights.

Chad: “Un homme qui crie” (A Screaming Man) 

“A Screaming Man”, originally titled “A Screaming Man is Not a Dancing Bear”, is a film by Chadian director Mahamat Saleh Haroun, released on September 29, 2010. It received the Cannes Film Festival Jury Prize in 2010. The original title is a quote from “Notebook of a Return to the Native Land” by Martinican poet Aimé Césaire. The film tells the story of 55-year-old Adam, a former swimming champion turned hotel lifeguard in N'Djamena. When the hotel is taken over by Chinese investors, he is forced to surrender his job to his son Abdel.

The blogger at Words of Katarina explains what makes the movie so compelling:

A Screaming Man talks about loss of self, not as a consequence of happenings beyond our control, but of the choices we make when life throws us off guard. . . It is in fact up to ourselves to decide what kind of person we want to be and how to express and live up to the decision once it has been made.

Algeria/Morocco: “Indigènes” (Days of Glory) 

“Days of Glory” is a 2006 Algerian-Moroccan film directed by Rachid Bouchareb. The film tells the stories of one Moroccan and three Algerian soldiers serving in the French army during World War II: Abdelkader, Saïd, Mesaoud and Yassir. While they are disillusioned by the discrimination they experience during the war, the movie also illustrates their emerging sense of hope and political consciousness.

Sarah Elkaïm, french writer and african affairs expert at Critikat explains the film's historical significance [fr]:

Personne ne s’était encore attaché à relater le sort de dizaines de milliers d’Africains, du Maghreb et au-delà du Sahara, qui, au sein de l’armée française, ont participé à la libération du pays qu’ils n’ont jamais, pour la plupart, cessé de considérer comme leur patrie. [..] c’est ce qui fait la force et l’émotion du film : les personnages sont construits, et pas prétextes. Ils sont humains : parfois lâches, peureux, ils sont avant tout des hommes venus libérer leur pays du joug nazi.

No one had yet endeavored to tell the story of tens of thousands of Africans from North Africa and beyond the Sahara in the French army, who helped liberate the country they always considered their homeland. [...] That's what makes this movie so emotional and powerful: the characters are fleshed out, not clichéd. They are human, sometimes cowardly or scared. Above all else, they are men who have come to liberate their country from the Nazi yoke.

Madagascar: “Tabataba”

“Tabataba” (“rumblings” or “rumors” in Malagasy, but also the code name given to the events of the 1947 Malagasy Uprising in Madagascar) is a 1988 film by Raymond Rajaonarivelo. The film tells the story of a Malagasy village fighting to achieve independence from French colonial rule. For the villagers, rebellion takes different forms. Some believe in the power of democracy; others believe in the power of arms.

Director Raymond Rajaonarivelo describes how he wrote the screenplay for the film [fr]:

Tout le monde me racontait une histoire, jamais la même. Cela a donné lieu à une rumeur, Tabataba, qui me paraissait refléter ce que j’avais entendu là-bas. Ce sont toutes ces mémoires qui m’ont servi à écrire le scénario

Everyone was telling me stories, but never the same one. This resulted in a rumor, tabataba, that seemed to reflect what I had heard there. These are all memories that I used to write the script.

Valérie Andrianjafitrimo, the reporter of Rajaonarivelo's remarks, adds [fr]:

Car ce qui est crucial, dans ce jeu de balance auquel on assiste entre déni et commémoration, entre interprétation française renouvelée et pluralité des perceptions malgaches, ce n’est pas la vérité de l’historiographie, dont on voit bien qu’elle ne résoudra rien des ombres de la mémoire ni de la dimension symbolique de l’événement. C’est peut-être la voix alternative de la rumeur, ce « tabataba », ce bruit sourd, permanent, varié et variable, tantôt ténu, tantôt éclatant, tantôt victimaire, tantôt héroïque, qui est importante.

For as we try to balance denial and commemoration, the balance between France's reinterpretations of the events and the Malagasy people's various perceptions, what is crucial is not the truth in historiography. That clearly resolves nothing when it comes to the shadows of memory or the event's symbolism. Perhaps it is the rumor as an alternative voice, the “tabataba” – this muffled, continuous, multifaceted sound, ever-changing from restrained to deafening and from victimized to heroic – that is more important.

Discovering Malagasy Diverse Street Food

Koba, a snack from Madagascar, made from peanuts, brown sugar and rice flour - Public Domain

Koba, a snack from Madagascar, made from peanuts, brown sugar and rice flour – Public Domain

Malagasy cuisine is a mix of its many diverse influences from Asian, African and European migrants that have settled in the Island. It makes for a rich culinary experience, as seen from its multitude of snacks and street foods. Hanta Ramanatsoa highlights some of those on her facebook page, la cuisine de Madagascar (Malagasy Cuisine). Here is a sample of the street foods and snacks photos shared on her page [mg]:

 

January 29 2014

A Business Model Competition to Ignite Start Ups in Madagascar

Harinjaka, founder of the co-working space Habaka and Madagascar-based blogger, created the 2014 Antananarivo Start Up Cup [fr] whose objective is to select and support the best business ideas in Madagascar. He thinks that there is a bright future for entrepreneurship and innovation [fr] in Madagascar. Here is a poster for the event [fr] :   

“The objective of the Start Up Cup is to connect founders with business investors and VCs.” via the Facebook Page of the event with permission

January 23 2014

On Love, Politics and the Francophone Culture

Julie Gayet at Deauville film festival  via wikipedia  Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0

Julie Gayet at the Deauville Film Festival via Wikipedia Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0

The global community is now well aware of the tumultuous love life of French President François Hollande. Hollande's affair with French actress Julie Gayet and the ensuing illness of his current partner and still-considered French First Lady Valérie Trierweiler have made the cover of newspapers worldwide over the past week. Hollande is also a father of four with former partner Ségolène Royal, a politician who came in second during the 2007 presidential elections in France.

So his love life is a tad complicated, but he is hardly the first French president to have an unorthodox family structure (François Mitterand and Felix Faure come to mind). By most accounts, French voters do not factor in the private lives of their politicians when it comes down to the ballot. In fact, a survey by the Pew Research Center suggested that French voters may be more lenient towards infidelity than others:

Just 47% of the French say it is morally unacceptable for married people to have an affair, the lowest percentage among 39 nations surveyed in 2013 by the Pew Research Center. In fact, France was the only country where less than 50% of respondents described infidelity as unacceptable. Instead, four-in-ten think it is not a moral issue, while 12% say it is actually morally acceptable.

The French perspective on infidelity and politics has often puzzled many of its English-speaking neighbors. Adam Gopnik in the United Kingdom articulated the cultural dissonance between the two cultures that sprung from the Hollande's affair going public: 

France is not a puritanical society – it accepts that human appetites for sex and food are normal, or “normale”, to use a word much prized there, and that attempts to suppress either, will make men and women nervous wrecks at least [...] 

Puritans are the least buttoned-up people in the world. They can't wait to pin a scarlet A for adultery on someone's clothing, or hold a public humiliation ritual. Nothing could be more illustrative of this than the tone of outraged indignation directed by British tabloid journalists at their reluctant French press equivalents in the past week. 

A few readers disagreed with Gopnik's take. “Sean in Belgium” argued that one needs only to look at the recent mass protests in favor of family values and the ban on prostitution in France to see that the theory does not compute:

It is a caricature of the complexities of French attitudes simply to say that desire is accepted. This, after all, is the country that has just banned prostitution.   

Love and privacy in other French-speaking countries

Given the cultural impact that France has had on the countries within its former empire, one cannot help but wonder: Do the relaxed views on the issue extend to France's former colonies?

At first glance, it would seem that the French laissez-faire attitude did not extend to other Francophone countries. The aforementioned survey by the Pew Research Center noted that a large majority of polled citizens in Senegal, Lebanon, Tunisia and Canada viewed extramarital affairs as morally unacceptable. In Côte d'Ivoire, citizens are often puzzled by France's choice when it comes to matters of love and relationship.

Elsewhere, reactions were more diverse. In Morocco, prominent author Tahar Ben Jelloun empathized with the privacy that public figures ask for when it comes to their love life. Here is his open letter to Hollande's partner Valérie Treilweiler [fr]: 

Je pense à vous en ce moment où votre vie intime, la vôtre et celle de votre compagnon, est sujet de curiosité malsaine, une espèce de cambriolage en plein jour où l'on saccage tout sans penser aux conséquences non seulement sur votre existence, mais aussi celle de vos enfants.[..] Je pense à vous parce que je sais la douleur et la violence, je sais aussi l'attente et l'espoir. Une histoire d'amour est née entre vous et celui qui allait devenir président. Les gens sont durs et s'imaginent que la vie de ceux et celles qui sont sous les lumières de l'actualité ne mérite que des claques. [..] À présent, il vous faudra choisir : continuer à vivre à côté d'un homme qui est ce qu'il est et qui ne changera pas, ou bien tourner cette page douloureuse et trouver votre place

These days I think of you a lot, now that your intimate life, yours and your companion's is being subjected to morbid curiosity, a kind of robbery in broad daylight where your life is being destroyed without a thought for the consequences to not only your life, but that of your children. [...] I think of you because I know that suffering and that violence, as I also know the expectation and hope [of love]. A love story was born between you and the man who would become president. People are cruel and they think that the life of those who are in the spotlight of the news cycle only deserves punishment [...] Now you must make a decision to either continue to live next to a man who is who he is and will not change, or turn this painful page and find your own place. 

In other former colonies, citizens are not shy about discussing matters of the heart. In fact, some seem to relish the use of the word “love”. In Madagascar, former transitional President Andry Rajoelina changed the motto of the country to include the word: “Fitiavana, Tanindrazana, Fandrosoana” (Love, Homeland, Progress). The former First Lady Mialy Rajoelina is in charge of an Association called FITIA (Love), a charity that helps the education of disenfranchised children. 

Her emphasis on sharing compassion seems to have resonated with many Malagasy people, as shown by Twitter user @tagnam:

Who has not signed the petition to keep #MialyRajoelina as the first lady yet ?

In Cameroon, the 237 Online community blog reflected on the rights to privacy for their public figures. Maximilien Ombé wondered how such an affair would be covered [fr]:

On se demande si c'est possible qu'au Cameroun les médias aient le droit de publier des informations relatives aux loves stories des hommes publics notamment du Chef de l'Etat Paul Biya.

One wonders whether Cameroon media would have the right to publish information on public figures’ loves stories such as Head of State Paul Biya.

Dieudonné Mveng added [fr]:

Dès lors qu'on est politique qu'on est une personnalité on est la boussole de la société. La population prend exemple sur nous. C'est aux personnes publiques de bien se tenir.

As soon as a person goes into politics and becomes a public figure, they by default becomes a moral compass for society. The general population takes its cue from them. It is therefore a responsibility of public figures to behave as role model. 

Ampère Simo concluded [fr]:

La règle qui doit guider les médias et les professionnels de l'information dans le traitement des affaires touchant à la vie privée des individus consiste à ne révéler que ce qui est d'intérêt public.  

The rule that should guide the media and any news writers in the treatment of cases involving the privacy of individuals is to only reveal what is relevant to the public interest. 

It seems that while Francophone countries have not embraced the laid back attitude of France towards the love lives of their elite, they are also more willing to move past affairs and love stories to focus on the more pressing public issues.

January 22 2014

How Protecting the Environment and Fighting Poverty Are Linked in Madagascar

With a new president in Madagascar, the country is finally taking steps towards exiting the four-year-long political crisis since a military-backed coup toppled the last democratically elected leader in 2009. It is now time for the new administration to tackle the more pressing issues plaguing the island, such as the alarming poverty rate among the most disenfranchised citizens [fr] and the rapidly deteriorating ecological system. 

Let's examine how those two issues, although seemingly unrelated at first, are closely interconnected in Madagascar. 

The exploitation of mineral resources in the southern region

A legal conflict involving mining giant Rio Tinto Group and an environmental group in southern Madagascar illustrates how poverty and environmental issues are closely linked.

Lavaka (erosion gully) in Madagascar caused by deforestation via wikipedia CC-BY-2.0

Lavaka (erosion gully) in Madagascar caused by deforestation via wikipedia CC-BY-2.0

QIT Madagascar Minerals, owned by a subsidiary of Rio Tinto, has been involved in the exploitation of several mining resources in the south of the country. The project website states the following about its activities there:

QIT Madagascar Minerals (QMM), which is 80% owned by Rio Tinto and 20% owned by the Government of Madagascar, has built a mineral sands mining operation near Fort-Dauphin at the south-east tip of Madagascar. QMM intends to extract ilmenite and zircon from heavy mineral sands over an area of about 6,000 hectares along the coast over the next 40 years. [...] Current mining activity is at the 2000 ha Mandena site, to the north of Fort-Dauphin. Production on this site will eventually ramp up to 750,000 tonnes a year. Later phases will be at Ste-Luce and Petriky and there is potential to expand production to 2.2 million tonnes a year.

Website Malagasyfordevelopment.kazeo.com adds that [fr] the project was projected to create 2,000 new jobs over three years: 600 would be directly related to the project, while between 1,000 and 2,000 would be indirectly created during the production phase.

This is the sunny side of the story. The other is much darker, as described by Libération afrique [fr]:

 75% de la population malgache vivent avec moins de US$ 1 par jour. Le gouvernement malgache se résigne à se faire piller son sous-sol pendant 40 ans par Rio Tinto avec ses conséquences : dette, salaires de misère et environnement unique au monde détruit. Pour les trois années de construction, Rio Tinto ferait appel à des sous-traitants, dont plus de 500 ouvriers spécialisés venant d’Afrique du Sud et d’Asie alors que le chômage à Madagascar est parmi les plus importants en Afrique.

About 75% of the Malagasy population live with less than 1 US dollar/day. Yet, the Malagasy government is resigned to let Rio Tinto exploit its mineral resources for the next 40 years with the following consequences: increased national debt, very low salaries and the destruction of a unique mineral ecosystem. During the three-year construction phase, Rio Tinto has summoned at least 500 workers from South Africa and Asia, while unemployment in Madagascar is one of the highest in Africa.

Several environmental groups have denounced the impact of the project on the local population and their environment. Some of these allegations against the project are described in the following post by Sarah-Jayne Clifton for Friends of the Earth:

Customary land rights have not been respected, with families without formal land title being persistently disadvantaged in the compensation process despite Rio Tinto’s commitment to respecting traditional land tenure . Some families were excluded from the compensation process altogether because they were not present when the register of families requiring compensation was drawn up [...]

QMM has said it will replant the mine site once the ilmenite has been removed and has collected seeds from the forest for this. But 70 per cent of the area will be planted with exotic species because QMM’s specialists claim that the soil in these areas is too degraded to support the reintroduction of native species. There are concerns that this could have devastating impacts. Exotic species such as eucalyptus could over-run native trees on the island, take valuable water resources, and fundamentally change the biodiversity of the forest floor.

When asked about these allegations, QMM was at first not exactly forthcoming, as their response to pointed questions regarding the issue demonstrates:

The tension between Malagasy civil society and Rio Tinto/QMM reached a peak when protests outside QMM factories led to the arrests of 15 environmental and indigenous rights activists from the association Fagnomba in March 2013, who demanded compensation for the land taken by the company. 

Perle Zafinandro Fourquet, a co-founder of the association, was one of those arrested. Her family provided further details about the context of the arrest [fr]:

Depuis janvier, Fagnomba installe des barrages sur l'accès à la mine et les militaires ont été diligentés pour lever ces barrages…Dernièrement, des bureaux et du materiel informatique ont été saccagés et le juge semble mettre tout cela sur le dos de Fagnomba : une affaire montée de toute pièce ! Enfin, pour montrer que l'affaire est scabreuse, la plainte a été déposée par la présidente de la CENIT (qui regroupe l'aide exterieure pour mener à bien les élections à Madagascar) qui est cousine par alliance du chef de Région…

Since January, the association Fagnomba has raised fences in front of the entry of the mines and the army was summoned to remove them. Recently, the offices and the IT system of QMM were looted and the judge seemed to have decided that Fagnomba was to be blamed for that: This was just a trap! To tell you how fishy the whole thing is, the complaint was filed by the president of the National Electoral Commission (the body who is supposed to make sure that the elections will be transparent and free). She is also the cousin of the regional political leader…

Fagnomba argues that a few measures are necessary to make it right in the region via this petition:

Elle réclame également l'embauche de travailleurs locaux au sein de cette société qui fait venir la plupart de ses employés de la capitale. Elle lutte pour la protection de l'environnement malmené durement (les poissons disparaissent depuis l'installation d'un barrage…).

The association asks that local workers be recruited instead of bringing workers from the capital city. They also ask that the environment be better protected (as seen in the vanishing of fish since the dam was built…).

Potential solutions

However solutions do exist that combine providing for the neediest with ensuring that forests are protected.

First, Anup Shah at Global Issues argued that a more comprehensive outlook on the issue of poverty is needed:

Just as doctors highlight the need to prevent illnesses in the first place, and resort to cures when needed, so too do we need to understand these deeper issues in a more holistic manner. The interconnectedness needs more recognition if environmental degradation, poverty and other global problems can begin to be addressed.

In addition to a more holistic approach, the risk assessment of the consequences of poverty has to be broadened as well. Larry West, an editor for environmental issues at About.com, explained:

The lower your income, the higher the likelihood that you will be exposed to toxics at home and on the job. The greater the risk that you will suffer from diseases — ranging from asthma to cancer — caused or exacerbated by environmental factors. The harder it will be for you to find and afford healthy food to put on your table.

The World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) states that an important proportion of people in Madagascar and around the globe rely on forest resources for subsistence, and therefore protection of forests is an integral part of the fight against poverty:

Close to 1.6 billion people depend on forest resources for their survival. Forest resources directly contribute to the livelihoods of 90% of the 1.2 billion people living in extreme poverty. [..] Damage to the environment, as well as a lack of clean water and land suitable for farming or growing food, leads to more hunger, illness, poverty and reduced opportunities to make a living.

The WWF recommends the following course of action to achieve this goal:

work with local communities across the world to:
-help them to secure their rights to manage the forest resources on which their livelihoods depend
-support them to manage forests sustainably, for their own well-being as well as to protect the environment
-provide opportunities for generating long-term incomes from sustainable forest management, for example by providing business training and linking them to national and international markets
-enable them to gain FSC certification and access markets for sustainably managed timber

January 13 2014

Madagascar's Return to Democracy Proving to Be a Bumpy One

Moving ever closer to shutting the book on the drawn-out saga of Madagascar's presidential elections, seen as a long-awaited first step in solving the years-long political crisis that has gripped the island, the country's election commission declared on January 10, 2014 that Hery Rajaonarimampianina, the finance minister of the transitional government, is the winner of the vote's second round.

But opponent Jean-Louis Robinson immediately cried fraud, and amidst the uncertainty related to the election results, the army fired on students protesting in Mahajanga, Madagascar's largest western coastal town. One student died and 11 others were injured.

Hery Rajaonarimampianina campaign poster – Public Domain 

It is unclear whether the protests were related to the pending decision of the CES. 

Today 10 Jan. 2014 was a deadly day in Mahajanga. The Boeny capital has been shaken by confrontations between the army and students.

The country's last democratically elected president, Marc Ravalomanana, was ousted during a military-backed coup in 2009. After multiple delays, elections were finally held on October 25, 2013 and a run-off on December 20. Many viewed the vote as a proxy battle between the ousted President Ravalomanana and President of the Transition Andry Rajoelina, who toppled Ravalomanana in the coup. President-elect Rajaonarimampianina was Rajoelina's budget and finance minister; Robinson worked as a minister in Ravalomanana's government.

According to the Malagasy Election Commission (CENI-T), with 98.89 percent of the results in, Rajaonarimampianina won the second round with 53.5 percent, compared with Robinson's 46.5 percent.

However, Robinson is challenging the decision and has sent evidence of allegedly massive fraud [fr] to the Special Electoral Court (CES), claiming to have actually won 56 percent of the total vote. The CES is the only institution [fr] that can pronounce the definitive winner of the election, and must issue a ruling by January 19.      

Students injured during protests in Mahajanga via @RavakaN on twitter (with permission)

Students injured during protests in Mahajanga via @RavakaN on Twitter. Used with permission.

Madonline, a community malagasy blog,  provides more details on Jean-Louis Robinson's challenges regarding the results of the elections:

Complains and requests lodged by Robinson and his staff are likely to give a lot to deal with to the electoral judges. The request for disqualification of candidate Rajaonarimampianina alone happens to be as long as 120 pages. One parliament member who swore allegiance to the Opposition has, in addition to this, required the very show election held on December 20th to be canceled as a whole because of the too large amount of frauds spotted across the island. The largest part of the other request mainly target the invalidation of votes awarded to the transitional ruling power's champion. The electoral showdown is nowhere near to an end. The Special Electoral Court will decide and ultimately release the presidential elections’ second round's final results by mid-January. The Electoral Commission releases its own temporary results on January 3rd. The very same outrage was caused by the development of legislative elections held together with the presidential elections. The Special Electoral Court has a pack of complains to read about it too. Independent and Opposition candidates jointly denounced frauds which occurred in favor of candidates supporting and supported by transitional leader Andry Rajoelina. The movement capitalized in street protests in Morondava city in the West of the island.

Jean-Louis Robinson campaign poster – Public Domain 

Making the pending decision of the CES even more difficult is the recent resurgence of documents alleging the involvement of the soon to be declared president-elect in the illegal logging of rosewood. Additional sobering news dampening Madagascar's return to democracy is the news that the plague may have returned to the island:

Still, there are silver linings ahead for the island. Madagascar is once again welcome in the international community, which has put a stamp of approval on the elections, deeming them free and fair. And Madagascar's return into the international community is expected to stop its isolation and usher in a return of foreign aid. Indeed, during the transitional government, as remarked by Brian Klaas on africanarguments.org:

Virtually no progress was made for four years with the economy contracting severely.  Political and economic progress has limped along since.  A new rugby stadium is one of the only tangible accomplishments of the “transitional” regime led by Andry Rajoelina, who is now close to completing a full electoral mandate.
…As international praise pours in, so too may international aid—a critical lynchpin of development and state budgeting for the deeply impoverished island.  Donors are eager to come back and disburse long overdue payments slated for projects canceled during the crisis.

Signs of Madagascar's imminent return to the international community are being observed:

Elections may not have happened as smoothly as the “free and fair” label make believe. One look at tweets and blogs reads like a litany of complaints by voters who could not vote, or who witnessed or suspected irregularities. Some citizens are already organizing petitions to demand a transparent and public recount of ballots. Other bloggers, like Fidy, are resolutely positive:

For the first time in our history, this electoral commission has members chosen from the civil society (high-ranked civil servants, lawyers, journalists, teachers or magistrates) and from all the political parties who took part to the Transition phase. The CENI-T also heavily benefited from the support of international bodies such as the UE, UN or SADC whether for financial or implementation issues. For the first time in our history, we have a dedicated website with regular updates of votes at the National, Regional, District and Polling Station levels. The level of transparency given to our citizens has never been higher. Just remember how 1997, 2001, or 2006 (see page 30 of the report) elections were run. For the first time in our history, thanks to the internet and the data framework the CENI-T is providing us, we had bloggers who did an incredible job of making projections during the first round of votes. And final results were actually very close to those extrapolations — a stark example that no significant anomalies happened in the first round count. Pure maths. No politics.

The potential president-elect's name, Rajaonarimampianina, is proving quite a tongue twister to newscasters and news aficionados worldwide. The Guardian wrote:

His family name alone racks up an impressive 19 characters and (we think) nine syllables. His full name – Hery Martial Rakotoarimanana Rajaonarimampianina – totals 44 characters. One would assume that repeating three years in primary education just to master the spelling of his name would hold Rajaonarimampianina back in life (we have no evidence that happened) but on the basis of our story, it appears that a long name can be good for a career in politics.

 Twitter users have also chimed in: 

Slate Africa teaches its readers how to pronounce Malagasy names and explaining why they are so long.

“Le linguiste Narivelo Rajaonarimanana souligne que «le nom malgache n'est pas une étiquette. C'est un souhait, un destin, une parole qui contredit un mauvais destin, un souvenir du jour de naissance, une combinaison de noms de parents ou d'ancêtres». «L'astrologie joue un rôle important pour l'attribution des noms», note Rajaonarimanana. Cette pratique est très vivace en milieu rural, où l'on peut faire appel à un ombiasy (devin) et où l'on a également souvent recours à l'horoscope. Une étude réalisée par Samuel Rasolomano et publiée en 1905 par le journal Mitari-dàlana recense 24 sources d’inspiration pour les noms malgaches. Parmi elles, l’expression du caractère (physique ou moral), de l’amour filial (vœu d’un amour parfait, d’avoir un remplaçant etc.), le prestige (richesse, honneur etc.) sont les plus fréquentes, avec l'astrologie. Ainsi, «les noms sont à usage mnémotechnique pour se souvenir du destin d'une personne».”

The linguist Narivelo Rajaonarimanana emphasizes that the Malagasy name is not a label. It is a wish, a destiny, a counterattack to an unfortunate destiny, a recollection of one's birthday, a combination of names of parents or ancestors. Astrology plays an important role in attributing names. This practice is still very much applied in rural areas, where one can summon an ombiasy (shaman) and where one often uses horoscopes. A study by Samuel Rasolomano and published in 1905 by the journal Mitari-dalana counts 24 sources for Malagasy names. Amongst them, one sees most often expression of character (physical or moral one), love of children (promise of an unconditional love, replacement of a lost child etc…), prestige (wealth, honor, etc.) as inspirations for names, together with astrology. Therefore, names are used as a mnemotechnical means to remember one person's destiny.

December 12 2013

5 Influential People from Madagascar Who You Should Know

In the current polarized political atmosphere of Madagascar (after elections last month, a presidential run-off is scheduled for December 20, 2013), there are very few personalities who are unanimously revered by Malagasy citizens. Take a closer look at five modern figures from Madagascar who have made a difference in the African island country.

Albert Rakoto Ratsimamanga, the Scientific Pioneer 

Albert Rakoto Ratsimamanga via arom asso

Albert Rakoto Ratsimamanga via arom asso CC-BY-2.0

Albert Rakoto Ratsimamanga [fr] is by far the most renowned scientist from Madagascar. He was made famous by his extensive work on better understanding the healing properties of the unique endemic flora of Madagascar. He is credited with about 350 scientific publications on topics ranging from the function of the adrenal gland to natural remedies for diabetes.

He said the following about the interplay between nature and the Malagasy population [fr]:

Nous devons avancer à notre rythme, nous devons avant tout avoir confiance en nous-mêmes et dans les vertus thérapeutiques de la nature. Car la nature et l'homme ne font qu'un.

We need to proceed at our own pace, we need to trust ourselves and the healing virtues of nature. In the end, nature and man are nothing but one and the same entity.

In the following video in French, Ratsimamanga explains the body of his work and his passion for research:

The interview notes :

(Rastimamanga) a mis au service de son pays le fruit de ses connaisances modernes conciliées au savoir empirique des guérisseurs malgaches 

(Ratsimamanga) served his country by combining his modern scientific methodology with the empirical knowledge of Malagasy healers. 

Still, his scientific achievement is only half of his life story. He was also a major contributor to the Malagasy movement for independence from France as the co-founder of the the Association of Malagasy Students (AEOM), one of the pioneer organization in the struggle against colonialism.

Cover of Gisele Rabesahala biography via ocean editions CC-BY

Cover of Gisèle Rabesahala's memoir via ocean editions CC-BY

Gisèle Rabesahala, the Patriot 

Gisèle Rabesahala was one of the leaders of the struggle for Madagascar's independence. She was a journalist and political activist who founded the newspaper Imongo Vaovao. She was also the first Malagasy woman elected in 1958 as a representative for the city council of Antananarivo, the capital city of Madagascar. She died in 2011, and the Internet was flooded with many tributes saluting her memory.   

Gradiloafo blog noted [fr] her many caritative efforts and her political activism: 

Dans le social, Gisèle Rabesahala a été la fondatrice de l'ONG Comité de solidarité de Madagascar ou « Fifanampiana malagasy » qui œuvre, en l'occurrence, dans l'aide aux démunis [..] Militante engagée dès son jeune âge dans la lutte pour la souveraineté du pays, elle était de tous les mouvements de jeunesse solidaires de la libération des pays sous la tutelle coloniale 

In her community work, Gisèle Rabesahala was the founder of the NGO “Fifanampiana Malagasy” [Solidarity for Madagascar], which strives to help the very poor [..] She was a committed activist at an early age in the struggle for sovereignty and was part of all the youth movements for the country's liberation from colonial rule.

Jean-Luc Raharimanana, the Guardian of Memory 

Raharimanana on flickr by Gangeous CC-BY-2.0

Jean-Luc Raharimanana. Photo from Flickr user Gangeous CC-BY-2.0

Jean-Luc Raharimanana is a Malagasy writer. By the age of 20, he had already won the Jean-Joseph Rabearivelo Poetry Prize for his early poems. His writings were recognized for their portrayal of the beauty of nature in its native home, but also its poverty and squalor, especially in the shanty towns. In his work, legends and old superstitions are juxtaposed with contemporary political events.

Catherine Bédarida, a literary critic from France, wrote about Raharimanana and his book “Nour, 1947″ [fr]:

 ”Nour, 1947″ son premier roman, est à la fois livre d'histoire, oratorio, récit poétique, pages battues par les vents, l'océan, le sel, le sang.  1947, c'est l'heure de l'insurrection malgache. La colonie française voit le retour de ses tirailleurs, enrôlés dans la deuxième guerre mondiale, qui rêvent de selibérer à leur tour de l'occupant. La répression fait des milliers de morts. [..] ” Les mots s'en sont allés et nous ont laissés sans mémoire “ : reconstituer la mémoire de Madagascar, telle est l'obsession du narrateur. 

“Nour, 1947″ is his first novel. It is all at once a historical fiction, an oral history, a poem battered by wind, sea, salt and blood. 1947 is the year of the Malagasy insurrection against the colonial period. French colonizers in Madagascar saw the return of the Malagasy legion that battled in France during WWII and now wanted to free their own nation from the settlers. The French repression killed thousands [..] He writes, “Words have come and gone and left us without memory”: this author's obsession is to reconstruct the memory of Madagascar 

Erick Manana, the Cultural Icon
Erick Manana is a singer and a songwriter described once as the “Bob Dylan of Madagascar”. His professional career as a musician began in 1982 as a member of the band Lolo sy ny Tariny. Manana is the recipient of several awards, and he performed at the historic Olympia venue in Paris to celebrate the 35th year of his career in 2013.

Uli Niebergall writes the following about Manana:

Manana's repertoire gracefully alternates between lyric ballads (e.g. “Tany niaviako”) and pop tunes with irresistibly wild and intricate rhythms (e.g. “Izahay tsy maintsy mihira”), and a grateful audience responds enthusiastically to every tone and syllable. Manana's lyrics often deal with the everyday life of Malagasy people. [..] Manana, however, doesn't limit himself to influences from his home country, but displays a distinct eclecticism in his choice of songs by other artists, both geographically and stylistically. For example, in reverence to Air Madagascar flying the distance between Paris and Antananarivo, he has remodeled “Amazing Grace” into a song called “Vorombe tsara dia” (The plane that flies well). He sings a Malagasy version of Leonard Cohen's “Suzanne” which sounds surprisingly fresh.

Here is a video of one of his most celebrated songs, “Izaha tsy maintsy mihira”:

Jacques Rabemananjara, the Political Prisoner  

Jacques Rabemananjara was a Malagasy politician, playwright and poet. Rabemananjara was born in town on the Bay of Antongil, on the Eastern Coast of Madagascar in 1913. Rabemananjara was recognized as the one of the most most prolific authors of the Negritude genre [fr], the literary and ideological movement developed by Francophone black intellectuals that rejected French colonial racism. Senghor, the famed Senegalese writer turned president, is the pioneer of the movement. He was suspected of being involved in the instigation of the failed 1947 Malagasy Uprising against colonial rule, despite the fact that he had urged the rioters to be calm. He was arrested and sentenced to life imprisonment with hard labour.

Green Integer blog recalled his life's achievements

After leaving school, Rabemananjara became an organizer of the first union of Malagsy civil servants, and co-founded La Revue des Jeunes de Madagascar, a journal which expressed nationalist sentiments at odds with the French rulers, who forced the magazine, after 10 issues, to cease publication. During the war years in France he met members of the negritude group, including Léopold Sédar Senghor and Alioune Diop, who contributed to the African journal Présence Africaine. [..] In 1947, however, Malagasy revolutionaries attacked a French military installation. The authorities retaliated by killing or wounding eighty thousand Malagasies. And, although there is no evidence that his Mouvement democratique de Renovation Malgache party was involved, Rabemananjara was threatened with death, suspected of having organized the uprising. He was tried, found guilty, and sentenced to life imprisonment at hard labor. His Antsa (Song), published in France in 1956, made him a national hero, and associated him even more closely with Senghor and Cesaire.

Rado, the Poet  

Georges Andriamanantena [mg], better known as Rado, is a renowned Malagasy poet who died five years ago. Yet his work has endured the test of time in Malagasy culture, including the Malagasy blogosphere.

Georges Andriamanantena via his facebook tribute page with permission

Georges Andriamanantena via a Facebook tribute page. Used with permission

Rado is a descendant of the rulers of the village of Amboanana in the Itasy Region, known as the home of the fiercest freedom fighters against French colonization. Tebokaefatra,  a malagasy blogger from Antananarivo,  wrote [mg] about how Rado's origins explained his unwavering patriotism:

“…ilay vohitra kely ao atsimon'Arivonimamo, izay nisehoan'ireo Menalamba sahy nanohitra voalohany indrindra ny Fanjanahantany teto Madagasikara. Araka izany koa dia mba nandova ny ran'ireo tia tanindrazana tsy nanaiky hozogain'ny vahiny.”

…the little village south of Arivonimamo, where the Menalamba, the fiercest and first opponents of colonization in Madagascar, originated. Rado inherited the patriotism of his forebearers who always refused any foreigners’ rule.

He valued his independence: even though he held a well paying job for a time, he resigned from that job and preferred to found his own newspaper called Hehy with his brother Celestin. He published seven books of poems, including Dinitra (1973), ny Voninkazo adaladala (2003) and ny fiteny roa (2008). Many of his poems were set to music by some of the most famous Malagasy artists. Maintikely, Malagasy blogger in Cape Town, RSA,  posted [mg] one of his poems. Here is an excerpt: 

Ho any ianao,kanefa….
Aza ataonao fantany izao fahoriako izao
Fa aoka hiafina aminy
Ny ketoky ny jaly
Nanempaka ny aiko,tanatin'ny longoa
Izay namandrihany ahy…
Ny dinitry ny foko manorika ahy mangina,
Fa sempo-tsasak'alina
Misaina ity anjarako,
Aza ataonao fantany!
[..]
Eny e ! Ampy izay.Tongava soa aman-tsara !
Dia akatony mora
Io varavarako io
Fa hitomany aho…
Rado, janoary 1966

You are meeting her, but…
Do not tell her about my suffering,
Let her ignore the bite of pain,
that is tearing up my being,
in the web she trapped me in,
My sweating heart that chokes me silently
at midnight
when I ponder my fate,
Do not let her know !
[..]
This is my message. Please do not forget.
And Adieu !
But before you go,
this hand of yours, do not touch anything with it,
until it links to hers…
Yes, that is it. Have a good journey.
And please do close that door
On my tears.
Rado, January 1996.

Mialy Andriamananjara contributed to this post.

October 25 2013

Madagascar On Tenterhooks As Election Proceeds

It is finally election day in Madagascar. The elections have been postponed three times this year alone, since the 2009 coup catapulted the country to international pariah status. The BBC has a comprehensive summary of the events of the last four years leading to this less than perfect electoral situation: 

The polls will be run by the Independent National Electoral Commission of the Transition (Cenit) – an independent electoral body funded by the United Nations.

No firm date has been set to announce the results but if no candidate receives more than 50% of the votes cast, a second round will be held on 20 December, along with the parliamentary elections.

Cenit says there are 7,697,382 registered voters and 20,115 polling stations in Madagascar, a country the size of France with a scattered population.

Since this morning, voters have been lining up to cast their ballots and choose the future President from among an unprecedented 33 candidates.

Citoyenne Malgache is among those who were eager to vote.

Donc dès 6h30, j’étais présente sur les lieux de vote. Il y avait déjà du monde, et c’était calme. Des responsables m’ont gentiment orienté vers le bureau où je pouvais vérifier si mon nom figurait sur la liste. Des centaines de cartes y attendaient que leur propriétaire vienne les réclamer. Une responsable parcourt le listing des 4 bureaux de vote pour chercher mon nom.  Elle me demande si je veux faire le miala nenina et appelle un autre responsable qui reconsulte consciencieusement les 4 listes avant de me demander si j’avais reçu la carte bleue. Une dame au regard inquisiteur me pose la question : Avez-vous voté lors du referendum ? La réponse est non.

Bref, on me dit de venir m’inscrire au bureau du Fokontany dès lundi pour pouvoir voter au 2ème tour. Mais il n’est pas encore sûr que j’aurai encore envie de voter à ce moment là.

Allons-enfants de la patrie, le jour de vote est arrivé. Mais ce n’est pas encore aujourd’hui que j’aurai le droit de m’exprimer. Pour moi, aujourd’hui n’aura été qu’un bâillon de plus. Et aussi un pont de plus que je vais pour une fois apprécier.

At 6:30 am, I was at the voting area. There were already people there, and things were calm. Those in charge politely directed me to the office where I was able to verify if my name was on the electoral list. Hundreds of voting cards were waiting for their owners to claim them. The lady in charge reads through the listing for four polling stations, looking for my name. She asks me if I want to make a last hope request and calls another person, who consciously reads the four lists again, before asking me if I had received the blue card. A lady looks at me questioningly and asks whether I invoted during the referendum. The answer is no.

Finally, they tell me I can come and register at the Fokontany office from Monday onwards, so I'd be able to vote in the run-off elections. But I'm not sure that I will want to vote at that time.

Allons-enfants de la patrie, voting day has arrived! But today isn't yet the day that I'll have the right to exercise that right. For me, today will be will be nothing more than yet another gag. And also one more bridge that I shall for once be able appreciate. 

On the ground, voters tweet about irregularities.

Urgent: According to the candidate, Rajemison, on his official Facebook page, in Ambohibao they're paying voters to vote for Hery, #3 candidate.

Tahina tweets a picture of the single ballot:

On the HuffingtonPost, Jason Pack, a researcher of African History at Cambridge University and President of Libya-Analysis.com, is skeptical about the outcome. 

Malagasies will supposedly choose who will lead them through these turbulent times. Because that choice is likely to be little more than an electoral farce, the international community will also have to make a choice. Will they turn a blind eye to electoral manipulation and rampant “irregularities” while congratulating themselves in diplomatic circles for steering Madagascar back to democracy? Or will they send a message that governments that come to power by breaking the key rules of democracy do not get rewarded with aid and diplomatic recognition?

Unfortunately, it seems most likely that the reality in Madagascar will once more be obscured by a cartoon caricature.

Finally, in a humorous tweet, Faly Kizitina (“The happy grumbler”), wonders how hard the SADC election observers are really working (there are 300 SADC observers deployed in Madagascar). 

 

October 24 2013

Madagascar Goes to the Polls, Four Years after the Coup

Tomorrow, Madagascar is set to hold elections, four years after a coup plunged the country into political, economical and social turmoil :

Thirty-three candidates are competing tomorrow to replace Rajoelina, who deposed President Marc Ravalomanana almost five years ago, causing the African Union to suspend the country and donors including the U.S. to freeze at least $400 million in aid. That forced the government to scale back services including education, water and health care, deepening poverty in the world’s second-biggest vanilla-producing nation Among the top contenders are former Finance Minister Hery Rajaonarimampianina; Jean Louis Robinson, a medical doctor and former cabinet minister under Ravalomanana; Roland Ratsiraka, a nephew of ex-President Didier Ratsiraka; and ex-Foreign Minister Pierrot Rajaonarivelo.

 The mood amongst bloggers is mixed.

Rabelazao sees some hope and relief and is looking forward to voting [mg]: 

Ny latsa-batoko dia kiry manantena ampitso mibaliaka ho an'i Madagasikara.  Ny latsa-batoko dia midika fahavononana hanarina ny rava ary hanohy ny lalantsika.  Ny latsa-batoko dia antso hamerenana ny safidy sy ny zo ho an'ny mpiray tanindrazana amiko.  Ny latsa-batoko dia finoana tsy mihambahamba fa hiray hina sy hihavana ny vahoaka Malagasy.  Ny latsa-batoko dia miandrandra ny hamela lova tsara ho an'ireo taranako. 

My vote is a hope for a happy future for Madagascar. My vote means readiness to build from the ruins and continue our path. My vote is a cry for re-establishing choices and rights for my countrymen. My vote is a non wavering belief in cohesion amongst the people. My vote is a desire to leave my descendants a meaningful legacy.

Others like Jentilisa [mg]worry about the inconsistencies and failures of the poll organizations.

Maro dia maro ny olona tsy tafiditra anaty lisi-pifidianana ary antony maro samihafa no nahatonga izany. Ny mampihomehy dia iray trano izao, ary loham-pianakaviana izao, dia tsy tafiditra anaty lisitra, nefa ilay loham-pianakaviana no nanao sonia ny famenoana ny taratasy fa ny ankohonana tao aminy indray no tafiditra soa aman-tsara. Maro ny tsi-fetezan-javatra ka ny vahoaka indray no nomena tsiny ho tsy mandray andraikitra. Efa fanao eto amin'ity tanindrazana ity ilay fanilihana andraikitra.

Many voters did not make it on the electoral list, due to many reasons. The funny thing is that in the same household, the head of household is not on the electoral list, even though he signed the voter enrollment form, but members of his household are on the list. There are many failures in the voting process, but voters are being blamed for being irresponsible. It is customary in this country to dodge responsibility.

August 07 2013

Madagascar Agency Suspended from Network Tracking Money Laundering

malagasy Ariary and Euros via  Teraka Andriatsoa blog - Public Domain

Malagasy Ariary currency and Euros via Teraka Randriantsoa blog – Public Domain

Lambo T. reports [fr] on the website of La Gazette de La Grande Ile that Samifin [mg], the agency in charge of cleaning up the financial sector and combat transnational illegal operations in Madagascar has been suspended from the Egmont Group of financial intelligence units. Egmont is an international network that helps tracks money laundering or terrorism financing. Lambo T. explains that the current administration's failure to move forward on a Bill against terrorism and transnational organized crime that led to Samifin's suspension.

July 25 2013

Sifting Fact From Fiction on the French Speaking Web

A recent row between a veiled woman‘s husband and the police in Trappes, a low-income suburb of Paris, was followed by numerous erroneous posts and images [fr] posted on social media websites. The blog Les Décodeurs, which strives to sift out truth from lies on the Francophone web, was quick to counter the false information.

Fabrice Florin, the French-speaking founder of NewsTrust and TruthSquad, explains the need for fact-checking initiatives:

There is a growing amount of misinformation, particularly in this political climate [..] With an expanding universe of news options, once someone finds a source of information they like or agree with, they tend to cling to it. The reason [for fact check] is to get people thinking about what they read and hear, and from there, questioning it.

Here is a review of recent events that were reviewed extensively by fact checkers in French-speaking online media.

Row in Trappes

On July 19, 2013 in Trappes, the husband of a Caribbean woman who was wearing a niqab (face veil), allegedly tried to strangle [fr] a police officer. Following the husband's arrest, 200 people protested in front of a police station destroying property, and were eventually repelled by riot police. Images posted on social media were erroneously tagged as originating from the violence during the protests. Les Décodeurs unpacked numerous errors [fr]:

Quelques personnes, en général connues pour leur activité militante, diffusent sciemment de fausses informations. C'est le cas de cette photo, diffusée par Stéphane Journot, ancien militant UMP, actif durant la campagne de 2012

Some people, known for their political activism, knowingly share false information. As is the case with this photo, shared by Stéphane Journot, a former UMP (right wing party) activist from the 2012 campaign.

Below is the erroneous tweet and photo [fr]:

you might call this racism but..look for yourself #Trappes

The photo was in fact an old image taken in 2010 in Lyon. Les Décodeurs adds that there were many similar tweets spreading, knowingly or not, the wrong information.

Fact checking on the African continent 

African nations are well aware of the importance of fact-checking initiatives. Ushahidi, the world's first crowd-mapping platform  originated from the African continent. A project called Africa Check specifically monitors information from African leaders. Their mission statement says:

We test claims made by public figures around the continent, starting in South Africa, using journalistic skills and evidence drawn from the latest online tools, readers, public sources and experts, sorting out fact from fiction.

In Francophone Africa, the focus has been mostly on election monitoring. Election monitoring initiatives, in SenegalBurundi, are well-established.  Elections are coming up in a few Francophone nations,including Mali, Togo and Madagascar. Pen Plus Bytes has dedicated a specific platform for election monitoring in Africa called the African Elections Project (AEP). The project wrote the following report on the ongoing Togolese parliamentary elections:

About 3.3 million registered Togolese voters will cast ballots today in 7,600 polling stations to select 91 Parliamentarians out of about 1,174 contesting candidates from the ruling and opposition parties. This election has been delayed for eight months amid concerns by opposition parties that the poll won’t be transparent and fair.

Sylvio Combey in Togo has already posted images of alleged fraud from his Twitter account:

 

8:00, A ballot box is shown to be empty in #Kanyikopé (Togo) #TGinfo #TG2013 #Nukpola #Fb

In Mali, Rising Voices (a Global Voices project) grantee Fasokan has been involved with the monitoring the upcoming Presidential elections. He wrote about the training of electoral observers [fr] :

Pendant cinq jours, plusieurs thèmes ont été abordés : la loi électorale, la charte des partis politiques, les genres journalistiques (compte rendu, portrait, interview…), les règles de déontologie et éthique du journaliste, les contraintes liées à l’exercice de la profession

For five days, several topics were discussed: the electoral law, the charter for political parties, the different journalistic activities (report, biography, interviews …), the rules of conduct and ethics of a journalist, the constraints while conducting journalistic activities

Training  for Media and Elections in Mali. Photo by Fasokan published with his permission

Training for Media and Elections in Mali. Photo by Fasokan published with his permission

Madagascar also awaits elections and concerns are already arising with false information posted on the web. During recent protests asking for a firm electoral calendar, a photo claiming that protesters were out in force was fact checked by Global Voices contributor Jentilisa.

Jentilisa wrote [mg]:

Fa maninona ho'aho ity sarin'ny tolon'ny 2009 na fony mbola tsy vita ny lapan'ny tanàna hita amin'ny “grue” manakaiky ny hazo avo ireo no miverimberina hanetanana ny tolonareo e? Sahala amin'ny hoe io no tao androany nefa tamin'ny 2009 ity sary ity?

Why is a photo from 2009 resurfacing again (and tagged as photo from recent events)? One can see with the crane in the background that it is clearly not a recent photo. This crane was there in 2009, wasn't it ?

The photo Jentilisa disputes is below:

Fact checked photo of protests in Madagascar via Jentilisa - Public Domain

Fact checked photo of protests in Madagascar via Jentilisa – Public Domain

With the worldwide growth of the web, it is critical that fact checking project becomes more mainstream and better known as well.

July 19 2013

Privileges Granted to Ex-Presidents in Madagascar

Reporter Rianasoa posts the image of a document that stipulates what ex presidents will be entitled to in Madagascar. These privileges include but (not limited to) the services of 5 house helpers and 2 drivers and a stipend of 6 000 000 Ariary (about $2700 USD/month):

 

Law #2013-001 stating the privileges granted to former presidents in Madagascar

July 09 2013

Why Can't Madagascar Settle on an Election Date?

Four years since a military takeover plunged the country into political crisis in 2009, Madagascar cannot seem to find a way out.

One of the critical steps in the consensus road map [fr], an agreement signed by the head of the transitional government and three of the country's four opposition parties that outlines an exit to the crisis, is to organize free and transparent elections. Yet the date of the presidential elections have been delayed and pushed back more often than flights between Newark and Cincinnati airports.

The country has been bogged in crisis for so long that a recurring question among observers is whether the current transitional regime will outlast how long Madagascar's previously elected administrations held office. To boot, the political constitution is in such disarray that the prime minister has stated that in his opinion, there is currently no acting head of state in Madagascar.

What is the hold up anyway ? 

At the deadline for submitting their candidacies to the election, there were 49 declared presidential candidates. With the election date pushed back from May to July to a date to be determined later in 2013, a few candidates have already dropped out of the race while three others have been asked by the international mediation group (GIC-M) to withdraw their names in order to comply with the spirit of the road map.

The three politicians whose candidacies are deemed unacceptable by GIC-M are the current president of the transition, Andry Rajoelina; Madagascar's former two-time President Didier Rastiraka, who served from 1975 to 1993 and from 1997 to 2002; and Lalao Ravalomanana, the wife of booted President Marc Ravalomanana.

African Union representative Ouedraogo explains the mediation group's viewpoint with respect to the Malagasy elections [fr]:

C’est vrai que ces candidatures ne respectent pas toute la légalité, mais la situation des Malgaches est telle que, après quatre ans de crise, il vaut mieux chercher la solution. Et la solution, nous, nous disons qu’avec une pléthore de candidatures – une pléthore parce qu’il y a 41 candidatures – il suffit de responsabiliser les Malgaches, de leur faire confiance, et ils feront le bon choix pour eux-mêmes

While it is true that these three candidacies do not comply to the agreed legal framework, the situation of Madagascar is such that after four years of crisis, we need to find a solution. And the solution might be, considering the plethora of candidacies (41) to trust the Malagasy citizens, let them take charge of their destiny and they will make the right choice for themselves.

But none of the three candidates seem ready to drop out of the race. Rajoelina is seen campaigning in the west of Madagascar in the picture below under the cover of some official event to attend (the presidential campaign is not officially underway since the election date is not yet set):

Rajoelina campaigning in the Mahajanga, Madagascar,  July 2013. Image posted on Facebook by Patrick Raharimanana with permission.

Rajoelina campaigning in Mahajanga, Madagascar, July 2013. Image posted on Facebook by Patrick Raharimanana with permission.

Lalao Ravalomanana has declared in the Wall Street Journal that:

I am running for President, nothing has happened recently to make me change my mind. I am prepared to suffer personal sanctions for my beliefs [..] The outcome all Malagasy citizens want is for an election date to be agreed; nothing more, nothing less. After that it is for the people to decide who they want as their next President.  All forty-one candidates should be allowed to present their manifestoes.

The rest of the candidates urge the Malagasy civil society to take action and do everything in their power to get an election date set once and for all. For that, a petition was launched [fr] and signed by 21 of the 41 candidates left.

The United States has also stated that they are in favor of election that would include all 41 candidates this year [fr].

Who is benefiting from the delays? And who is suffering?

As stated earlier, many observers wonder how long will the transitional regime last and how the country can bring closure to the crisis. The underlying issue is that the current administration is not ready to let go of their power, as illustrated by Rajoelina's campaigning effort.  The longer the status quo is maintained, the longer they can hold onto their positions.

Zafy Albert, an ex-president, stated that one of the main road blocks is the army [fr], the entity that helped put the current administration in power in the first place :

Zafy confirme que le blocage c'est l'Armée mais que des négociations sont en cours

Zafy confirms that the main blocking agent is the Army but negociations are ongoing.

The reasons for holding on a while longer are made quite apparent by a recent infographic published by the OMNIS agency, a state-owned agency that been commissioned to manage, develop, and promote the national petroleum and mineral resources in Madagascar:

natural ressources of Madagascar and the corporations vying for them. Graph posted by  Front Patriotique Malagasy on Facebook, with his permission

Natural resources of Madagascar and the corporations vying for them. Graph posted by OMNIS Agency on Facebook, with permission

The map lists all the mining sites in Madagascar and the international corporations that have signed contracts to exploit the available mineral resources on the territory. The lack of transparency on the content of these contracts prevent Malagasy citizens from knowing the exact terms of the deal and who benefited from them. Another reason for hanging on to power a while longer is the ongoing lucrative rosewood trafficking.

While the prolonged transition benefits a few privileged ones, it has taken an important toll on the general public. A recent study shows that the political crisis has overshadowed a more pernicious social and economic crisis: while Madagascar was already one of the most impoverished nations, now nine out of ten Malagasy live with less than two US dollars a day. The data shows than there are four million more poor citizens in the country since 2009 [fr].

The following video by Eric Rabemanoro details the impact of the crisis on unemployment, purchasing power and crimes [fr] :

An exit to the crisis at this point is not merely a question of politics anymore, it has become a question of survival for the majority of the population. A glaring question mark on where exactly does the priority of the political elite and the international community stand.

June 10 2013

Delays, Political Turmoil Plague Madagascar As Elections Near

Political stalemate, financing issues, and logistical hurdles threaten to derail Madagascar's overdue upcoming presidential elections, the country's first since a coup in 2009 plunged the island into political crisis.

Voting was originally scheduled for 24 July, 2013, but faced with sorting out the legitimacy of some contested candidates, the government has postponed elections again, moving the date a month later to 23 August, 2013.

Madagascar has not had an elected president since the spring of 2009, when elected President Marc Ravalomanana was forced to resign his power by the country's military following violent clashes between authorities and anti-government protesters. The military promptly handed over the government reigns to opposition leader Andry Rajoelina, who immediately dissolved the two houses of parliament.

During Rajoelina's tenure as head of the transitional government, presidential elections have been pushed back three times since the first scheduled date, 26 November, 2010, and parliamentary elections have been postponed four times since 20 March, 2010. Because of this political cluster, the European Union, the United States, and other countries suspended aid to the island and the African Union suspended Madagascar's membership until a return to the state of law.

Cartoon about the ever-eluding elections in Midi Madagasikara paper edition posted by @Aline_Tana on twitter

Cartoon about the ever-eluding elections in Midi Madagasikara paper edition posted by @Aline_Tana on Twitter (posted with her permission)

More than two years after the ouster, Rajoelina and three of the country's four main opposition parties signed a political road map [fr] on 16 September, 2011 that says former presidents and the current president of the transition are prohibited from running for another presidential term. The road map also states [fr] that any candidates running need to resign from any governing office if they want to validate their candidacy.

That hasn't stopped three candidates of the 50 candidates running from throwing their hat into the ring, despite violating parts of the road map and international pressure to withdraw: the current President of the transition, Rajoelina; Madagascar's former two-time President Didier Rastiraka, who served from 1975 to 1993 and from 1997 to 2002; and Lalao Ravalomanana, the wife of booted President Ravalomanana. Rajoelina initially stated that he would not seek a presidential term, but has since changed his mind.

Given the political deadlock caused by the three aforementioned candidacies, all three and their spouses are now barred from entering the European Union with a Schengen Visa [fr].

As for the rest of candidates who have been preparing for elections since 2011, here is a photo montage of some of them:

Presidential candidates in Madagascar posted by Candidats Fifidianana on facebook

Presidential candidates in Madagascar posted by Candidats Fifidianana on Facebook

The country's leadership crisis has had far-reaching consequences well beyond the political arena. A report by the World Bank states that the impact of the political crisis is multi-pronged:

  • The economy has stalled, income per capita has fallen
  • Poverty has sharply increased
  • Social outcomes have worsened
  • Public finances are increasingly under stress
  • Foreign aid remains muted
  • Infrastructure has deteriorated
  • The ability to deal with exogenous shocks is severely curtailed
  • The resilience of agriculture had helped avoid a food crisis so far
  • Madagascar’s longstanding governance problems have only been exacerbated
  • The resilience of the private sector is increasingly being tested
Madagascar GDP over the last decade posted on twitter with permission

Madagascar GDP over the last decade posted on Twitter with the user's permission

More than 92 percent of the population live under two US dollars a day. Because of the sharp decline in job opportunities since the crisis, poverty has driven women into prostitution with 29,000 registered sex workers in the town of Toamasina in 2012, up from 17,000 in 1993.  A documentary by Journeyman Pictures details the lives of those who are forced to trade sex for survival:

Complicating the already tense situation, the country was recently hit by cyclone Haruna which ravaged most of its southern region. A locust infestation followed, wrecking havoc on its already fragilized agriculture.

Inondations à Tuléar - Domaine public via The Nation

Flooding in Tulear, Madagscar – Public Domain via The Nation

Locust invasion in down town Fianaratsoa, Madagascar

Locust invasion in down town Fianaratsoa, Madagascar via @lrakoto on Twitter (with the author's permission)

Transparent, credible, and timely elections are seen by many as the first critical step towards exiting the crisis, but it appears that the vote may still very well be in jeopardy. How much longer can the Malagasy people endure such hardships?

April 28 2013

Surprise Candidates for Madagascar Elections

Update:  Here is the full list of the 49 candidates [fr] for the presidential elections. It does not include the current president of the transition.

As the deadline to submit candidacies for the Malagasy presidential elections ends today (28/04), a few surprising candidates have allegedly come forth. While the earlier candidates were relatively new to the general public,  a few prominent political players from the past are expected to contest: former president Didier Ratsiraka, current president of the transition Andry Rajoelina [fr] and the spouse of former president Ravalomanana, Lalao Ravalomanana.

March 01 2013

Cyclone Haruna Kills 23 and leaves 22,000 Homeless in Madagascar

Cyclone Haruna has caused a total of 23 deaths, as well as 16 missing persons, 84 people injured and nearly 22,000 disaster victims, during just one week of February 2013 in Madagascar. These are the sobering statistics according to the National Disaster Management Office of the region, BNGRC [fr]. Despite the scenes of distress and messages from humanitarian organisations requesting urgent help, some feel that solidarity has been slow be felt in the affected region, the South West of Madagascar. Others accuse the capital, Antananarivo, of indifference, however, many agencies and associations in Madagascar and from abroad have rallied round to come to the aid of the region.

Major damage caused by massive gusts of wind combined with flooding

Winds accompanied by lashing rain reached 90 to 110 mph with gusts of up to 125mph destroying a number of buildings and flooding many houses.

 

Inondations après le cyclone Haruna dans la ville de Tulèar - photo de Jan Marc Besse su facebook

Flooding in Tulear, Madagascar, following Cyclone Haruna – photo from Jan Marc Besse via Facebook

Andriamihaja Guénolé, who lives in Tulear, the town pictured above, told of the personal tragedies of the region’s inhabitants [fr] in his blog tulearenvie.mondoblog.org:

J’ai entendu dire que des parents, dans l’espoir de sauver leurs 3 enfants, les ont enfermés dans un placard. Ce dernier a été emporté par les eaux, on n’a plus aucune nouvelle, on ne sait pas si les enfants sont en vie. Une autre mère pas trop chanceuse, est tombée dans un puits avec son bébé dans les bras. Ni l’enfant, ni sa mère n’ont pu être sauvés. Mais on oublie souvent que si une telle catastrophe s’est produit après le passage de la forte tempête tropicale Haruna, c’est parce que des malins s’amusent à voler les gabions  qui longent la digue. Cependant, l’heure n’est pas au moment de désigner des coupables. Il est maintenant impératif de venir en aide aux sinistrés et rebâtir Tuléar.

I heard of parents who, in the hope of saving their 3 children, shut them in a cupboard. This was then carried away by the waters, we have had no news, we don’t know if the children are alive. An other unlucky mother fell into a well with her baby in her arms. Neither the child nor its mother could be saved. But we often forget that if a disaster like this follows the passage of Tropical Storm Haruna, it is because vandals find it amusing to steal the metal structures which are lined up along the seawall. However, this is not the time to point out guilty parties. At this moment, it is imperative to come to the assistance of the victims and rebuild Tulear.

 

Regarding material damage, the BNGRC gave a running total of [fr]:

  • 9,965 homeless
  • 1,120 houses destroyed
  • 6,351 hectares of crop fields flooded

Nianja Ranovelo posted photos showing the impact of the flooding on the BNGRC website:

 

Inondations à Tuléar - Domaine public via The Nation

Flooing in Tulear, Madagscar – Public Domain via The Nation

Executive Secretary of the BNGRC, Raymond Randriatahina, also stated that [fr]:

La ville de Morombe (dans la même région que Tuléar) a été détruite à 70%

The town of Morombe (in the same region as Tulear) has been 70% destroyed.

 

On Facebook, Noeliniayna Randrianarisoa added that there were [fr]:

Chez nous à Ambovombe, onze morts, et 02 portés disparus

Here in Ambovombe, eleven dead and 02 swept away

Here is a video of a road in Tuléar, published by Djedaw on YouTube, which shows the level of flooding in the town:

and another video from TVPlusReplay [mg]:

Solidarity with the region

Many messages of solidarity have been posted on various forums and Facebook pages [fr], some asking how they can help the victims.

Lalah in Antananarivo wrote to her friend in Tuléar [fr]:

De tout cœur avec les gens de Tuléar et une pensée spéciale pour toi mon cher ami Andriamihaja Guénolé

All my heart is with the people of Tulear and special thoughts for you, my dear friend Andriamihaja Guénolé

Lomelle in Mahajanga added [fr]:

Juste en voyant les photos d'après, on a le sang glacé. On est de tout coeur avec vous et j'espère que tu vas bien

Just looking at these photos from afterwards makes the blood run cold. We are with you in our hearts and I hope that you are going to be fine

 

Organisations rallied round to provide help. For example, Vatofototra proposed a collection of donations [fr] for the victims.  The Junior Chamber International, JCI, of Tuléar and Axius have organised distribution [fr] of food and urgently needed items.

Specialised agencies were also quick to react. The Platform for Regional Intervention in the Indian Ocean of the French Red Cross, PIROI, is sending 35 tonnes of relief materials from Reunion Island.

Action Against Hunger, ACF, also published a report on their activities in the region following the cyclone [fr]:

Un avion de 15 tonnes affrété par ACF et parti hier de Lyon arrive aujourd'hui à Madagascar pour apporter en urgence sur le terrain du matériel permettant d'assurer aux populations sinistrées un accès à l'eau potable : plus de 20 réservoirs, station de traitement de l'eau, pompes

A 15 ton plane, loaded by ACF, left Lyon yesterday and arrives in Madagascar today to bring urgently required materials allowing the assurance for the disaster-stricken people of access to drinking water: more than 20 water tanks, water treatment stations, pumps

 

The World Food Programme, WFP, has starting providing emergency food aid [fr] for 7,800 displaced people:

Le PAM distribue environ 40000 paquets de biscuits énergétiques nutritifs ainsi que 23 tonnes de riz, légumineuses et huile enrichie en vitamine A à Toliara

The WFP is distributing around 40,000 packets of nutritious energy bars as well as 23 tons of rice, beans and Vitamin A enriched oil to Toliara

It seems the disaster-struck South West of Madagascar is at last feeling the effects of solidarity.

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