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February 27 2014

February 25 2014

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February 22 2014

February 18 2014

February 14 2014

Ending Illegal Logging and Launching Forest Carbon Credits in Madagascar

 Illegally logged rosewood from Masoala and Marojejy in Antalaha, Madagascar via wikipedia CC-BY-2.0

Illegally logged rosewood from Masoala and Marojejy in Antalaha, Madagascar via wikipedia CC-BY-2.0

The new administration in Madagascar is seemingly making a concerted effort to curb down deforestation in Madagascar. First, new president Hery Rajaonarimampianina has made ending illegal logging of Madagascar rosewood a priority at his first executive meeting[fr]. Second, the Wildlife Conservation Society announced that the Government of Madagascar has approved carbon sales with Microsoft and its carbon offset partner, The CarbonNeutral Company, and Zoo Zurich. The funds from carbon sales will be used by Makira REDD+ Project for conservation, capacity building, and enforcement activities related to conservation of Madagascar's rainforest. It is yet to be seen whether these measures will be implemented in the field. 

February 11 2014

Remembering Dr Alison Jolly, Lemurs of Madagascar Expert

Dr. Alison Jolly, Primatologist  1937-2014- Public Domain

Dr. Alison Jolly, Primatologist 1937-2014- Public Domain

After leading a distinguished career as a primatologist at the Berenty Reserve of Madagascar, Dr. Alison Jolly has died at home in Lewes, East Sussex, aged 76. Dr. Jolly, a PhD researcher from Yale, made her name as the first scientist to do an in-depth account of the behaviour of the ring-tailed lemur, L. catta, beginning field work in 1962. David Attenborough recently wrote : ‘not only they but the people and land of Madagascar captured her heart’. 

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]:


February 05 2014

Meet 3 Talented African Lady Geeks Involved in New Media

The new technology sector is booming on the African continent. The force behind this growth is mainly driven by the talent and passion of young Africans for innovation and information technology. However, these talented young people are also well aware that various areas of the tech industry in Africa are still a work in progress: skill development, competitiveness and equal opportunities for all.

We asked three talented bloggers from Francophone Africa for their opinions on new media in their region and what being a female geek (known as a ‘geekette‘) means for them.

Mariam Diaby [fr], who is based in Côte d’Ivoire, defines herself above all as an entrepreneur interested in all things digital. Her studies took her as far as London to the London South Bank University.

Julie Owono is studying law in Paris and is currently studying to take the bar exam. Originally from Cameroon, she contributes regularly to online publications such Global Voices and Quartz Magazine and is head of the Africa office of Internet Sans Frontières (Internet Without Borders).

Lalatiana Rahariniaina, based in Antananarivo, Madagascar, has been blogging since 2008. Passionate about writing and photography, Lalatiana shares her views on Malagasy society on her French-language blog Ampela Miblaogy (Woman Who Blogs). One of the winners of Radio France International's Mondoblog competition in 2011, she received training from the Atelier des Médias [fr] – RFI in Senegal. Atelier des Médias is a francophone social network that studies the evolution of media around the world.

Mariam Daby with permission

Mariam Daby. Photo used with her permission

Global Voices (GV): Do you think of yourself as a geek (or geekette)? 

Mariam Diaby (MD): Alors là, pas du tout. C'est vrai que j'ai toujours adoré les jeux vidéos (même si je n'y joue plus très souvent), que mon premier réflexe est de “tripatouiller” tout nouvel appareil technologique qui me tombe sous la main, que l'informatique a fait partie de mon cursus universitaire et que je travaille dans le domaine, mais non, je ne suis pas une Geek. Je suis juste attentive au monde des NTIC.

Mariam Diaby (MD): Not at all. It's true that I've always loved video games (even if I don't play them very often), that my first instinct is to play around with any new device that falls into my hands, that IT is major part of my studies at university, and that I work in that field, but I'm not a geek. I just pay close attention to the world of IT.

Julie Owono (JO): Qu'est-ce qu'être une Geekette, aurais-je envie de demander. Dans l'imaginaire, Geek et son féminin Geekette représentaient des êtres peu sociables, toujours le nez dans leur ordinateur, à la poursuite du dernier gadget électronique. Cette vision a sûrement changé aujourd'hui, et si Geekette, c'est être une personne qui utilise de manière intensive les nouveaux médias, dans un but précis, je pense en effet pouvoir dire que j'en suis une. Internet et les outils qui en sont des dérivés offrent des possibilités en terme de démocratie, de participation multi-acteurs dans le jeu politique, de gouvernance, de transparence, toutes ces questions qui m'importent. Je suis à ce sujet très fière d'un outil nommé Feowl sur lequel j'ai travaillé, et qui permet de mesurer le défaut d'électricité dans les métropoles africaines.     

Julie Owono (JO): ”What does it mean to be a geekette?” is what I want to ask first. It used to be that geeks and geekettes were thought of as unsocial, with their noses pressed to their computer screens, searching for the latest electronic gadget. This perception has surely changed today, and if being a geekette means being someone who uses new media intensively with a specific goal, I think I could say I'm one. The Internet and related tools offer possibilities in terms of democracy, multi-stakeholder participation in politics, government, transparency, all of these things which are important to me. In this respect, I'm really proud of a tool I'm working on called Feowl, which allows the electricity deficit in African cities to be measured.

Lalatiana Rahariniaina (LV): Si geek veut dire être passionné dans un domaine précis – dans mon cas le blogging – alors je pourrai peut-être en faire partie. Je tiens juste à préciser que ma vie n’est pas que virtuelle.

Lalatiana Rahariniaina (LV): If being a geek means being passionate about a specific topic – in my case blogging – then maybe I am one. But just to be clear, my life is more than just the online world.

GV: How are female African geeks seen in the world of new media?

MD: Je crois que les femmes africaines ont su s'imposer ces dernières années. Des femmes comme Marieme Jamme représentent le visage de la “Technology African Woman”. Il n’ y a pas de différence entre femmes et hommes, il n'y a que les compétences qui parlent, et sur ce point il n'y a rien à redire. Pour moi, elles ont le mérite qui leur revient.

MD: I think African women have known how to find a place for themselves in recent years. Women like Marieme Jamme represent the face of the ‘Technology African Woman'. There is no difference between women and men, what's important is their skills, and on that point there's no more to be said. For me, those women deserve a lot of credit.

Julie Owono avec sa permission

Julie Owono. Photo used with her permission

JO: Il faut d'abord signaler que nous ne sommes malheureusement pas si nombreuses… ou alors nous nous cachons bien ! J'organise parfois des formations portant sur l'utilisation des nouveaux médias, les candidatures féminines se font rares ! A quoi cela est dû, peut-être est-ce à cause de l'éducation distributive, en fonction des genres, qui irrigue encore le système éducatif et l'inconscient de beaucoup de parents dans l'éducation qu'ils transmettent à leurs enfants : les filles auraient plus des âmes de littéraires que de techniciennes. Il faut croire que les choses ne sont pas si différentes ailleurs qu'en Afrique, mais fort heureusement, elles sont en train de changer progressivement. On voit se développer sur le continent de plus en plus de programmes pour encourager les vocations de femmes technophiles, et celles-ci, surtout parmi les jeunes générations, ont une idée différente de leur place dans ce monde des nouveaux médias, et de leur rapport avec ces nouveaux médias. Et puis, le fait d'avoir de plus en plus de modèles ne peut qu'aider. J'ai moi-même été, et suis toujours, très inspirée par le parcours d'Ory Okolloh. Donc pour répondre, la geekette africaine c'est encore une perle trop rare, mais c'est aussi un formidable réservoir d'idées, de projets, et de progrès.

JO: First of all, it needs to be said that there aren't many of us… or we're hiding somewhere! Sometimes I organise training events for using new media, and female participants are rare! Why that is, maybe it's because of distributive education, based on gender, which still guides the principles and subconscious of lots of parents in educating their children: girls are seen as literary, not technical. Things aren't very different outside of Africa, but happily they are changing slowly. We're seeing more and more programmes being developed to encourage girls to choose technical careers, and these women, particularly in younger generations, have a different idea of their place in the world of new media and their relationship to new media. And the fact that they have more and more role models must help too. I myself was, and am, always inspired by Ory Okolloh. So as an answer, the African geekette is still too rare, but she's also an incredible reservoir of ideas, projects and progress.

LR: Je ne pense pas que dans le monde des nouveaux médias on distingue particulièrement les femmes des hommes. Cependant, si on parle de Madagascar, on constate qu’il y a peu de femmes par rapport aux hommes qui s’intéressent réellement aux nouveaux médias.

LR: In the world of new media, I don't think we really discriminate between women and men. But if we talk about Madagascar, you can see that there are few women in relation to men really interested in new media.

GV: Regarding ‘bro’ culture in Silicon Valley, is the glass ceiling more difficult to break through in the world of new media?

MD: Je ne pense pas du tout, au contraire. Les réseaux sociaux sont tellement efficaces en terme de viralité, qu'il est encore plus facile de diffuser l'information sur les geekettes comparé aux médias traditionnels.

MD: I don't think so at all. To the contrary, social networks are so effective in terms of going viral that it's even easier to diffuse information about geekettes compared to traditional media.

JO: Finalement, à force de vouloir être totalement différent, “disruptive” comme on dit, le secteur des nouveaux médias a fini par ressembler aux secteurs d'activités plus traditionnels : un monde sexiste, où les femmes n'aurait qu'exceptionnellement un rôle important à jouer. Pour autant, contrairement à avant, le plafond de verre est peut-être moins insurmontable : avec Internet, et l'ouverture que cet espace offre, il peut être un peu moins compliqué d'accéder à un réseau d'autres femmes ayant réussi, et de se faire introduire, d'être soutenu lorsqu'on a des idées, de mettre en application ces idées avec trois sous pour commencer, recevoir des financements, avoir des modèles de réussite (je pense à Sheryl Sandberg, Marissa Meyer et al.), comme je l'écrivais plus haut. Le plafond de verre il est surtout dans le mental à mon avis : penser que pour y arriver dans ce domaine, il faudrait avoir le cerveau d'un homme dans un corps de femme.

JO: At the end of the day, by seeking to be completely different, ‘disruptive’ as we say, the new media sector has ended up resembling more traditional branches of business: a sexist world, where women only rarely have an important role to play. Nevertheless, compared to before the glass ceiling is maybe less impossible to break through; with the Internet and the opportunities that it offers, maybe it's a bit less complicated to get in touch with a network of other women who have succeeded, to be introduced as a newcomer, to be supported in our ideas, to start working on these ideas without the need for a huge amount of capital, to get financial aid, to have successful role models (I'm thinking of Sheryl Sandberg, Marissa Meyer etc.), as I mentioned before. In my opinion, the glass ceiling is above all psychological: thinking that to get somewhere in this field, you need to have a man's brain in a woman's body.

Lalatiana Rahariniaina avec sa permission

Lalatiana Rahariniaina. Photo used with her permission

LR: Je ne crois pas. Dans le cas de Madagascar, comme je l’ai dit précédemment, les intérêts des femmes sont ailleurs. C’est ma façon de voir en tout cas. Mais j’avoue que c’est un défi permanent entre les tâches, les devoirs, les activités qui m’incombent. Et c’est peut-être l’une des raisons de cette grande absence des femmes malgaches dans le monde des nouveaux médias. Sinon, puisqu’on parle du sujet, le glass ceiling n’a pas sa raison d’être. Si les femmes veulent vraiment s’y mettre, je ne vois aucune raison qui pourrait les en empêcher. Il faut arrêter de se passer pour des victimes. C’est une grande opportunité pour montrer ce dont femmes sont également capables de faire sans toujours vouloir « s’immiscer » ou entrer « de force » dans une « culture bro ». A croire qu’on doit demander la permission aux hommes. Pourquoi ne pas créer notre « propre culture » ? Petite précision, je ne cherche pas à dénigrer qui que ce soit en disant cela – genre groupe d’hommes contre groupe de femmes. C’est juste pour dire que de notre côté, nous les femmes, nous pouvons également faire les choses, alors faisons-les.

LR: I don't think so. In Madagascar, as I said before, women's interests lie elsewhere. That's how I see it, anyway. But I admit that it's a constant challenge, between the tasks, the obligations and the activities that fall to me. And maybe that's one of the reasons for this absence of Malagasy women in the field of new media. But seeing as we're on the subject, there is no reason for the glass ceiling to exist. If women really want to do so, I don't see any reason why they shouldn't achieve their goals. The victim culture needs to stop. It's a great opportunity to show that women can achieve just as much without always wanting to ‘interfere’ or push their way into the ‘bro’ culture. You would think we need men's permission. Why not create our own culture? Just to be clear, I'm not trying to take away from anyway by saying that – I don't see it as women against men. All I want to say is that we, as women, can also do things, so let's do them!

GV: What are the strengths and weaknesses of geek culture in your country?

MD: En Côte d'Ivoire, nous avons des Geeks, des informaticiens et des sympathisants de la technologie. Parmi les Geeks, il y a ceux qui pensent innovation et développement, et il y a les autres. Nos technologues font bouger les choses à petits pas avec la communauté qui grandit, mais l'accès technologique n'est pas optimal pour qu'une culture geek s'impose et que notre Silicon Valley locale éclose réellement. Cependant, ces dernières années, ça bouge fort avec les forums et évènements technologiques.

MD: In Côte d'Ivoire, there are geeks, IT technicians, and people who like technology. Among the geeks, there are some who focus on innovation and development, and some who don't. Our technologists are making progress in small steps with a community that is growing, but access to technology isn't good enough for a geek culture to really get off the ground and for our own Silicon Valley to really flourish. Despite that, in recent years there has been a lot of movement, with forums and technology events.

JO: La culture geek au Cameroun évolue rapidement, elle est dynamique, inventive. Elle se créé ses propres opportunités, et je pense qu'elle fera évoluer la société. Sa principale faiblesse : les pouvoirs publics camerounais n'ont pas encore compris l'intérêt d'investir massivement dans les nouvelles technologies. C'est d'ailleurs le sens d'une préoccupation que j'ai quand je pense à mon pays : le coût prohibitif de l'accès à Internet. Quelle culture geek peut sereinement s'épanouir sans un Internet de bonne qualité et à un prix raisonnable ?

JO: The geek culture in Cameroon is changing rapidly, it's dynamic, inventive. It's creating its own opportunities, and I think it will make society change too. The main weakness is that the administration in Cameroon hasn't yet understood why it should make huge investments in new technology. That's the reason behind one of my preoccupations when I think about my country: the prohibitive cost of Internet access. What sort of geek culture could blossom without high quality Internet at a reasonable price?

GV: What would you like to see changing in the near future regarding IT?

MD: De la vulgarisation  des investissements pour la formation et l'équipement. C'est entre autre, ce dont le secteur IT a besoin en Côte d'Ivoire.

MD: Greater investment in education and equipment. That's one of the things the IT industry needs in Côte d'Ivoire.

JO: Plus de femmes bien sûr, et un Internet beaucoup moins cher en Afrique Sub saharienne.

JO: More women, of course, and much cheaper Internet access in Sub-Saharan Africa.

LR: Une meilleure utilisation des outils TIC par les citoyens.

LR: People making better use of ITC tools.

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 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, 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 19 2014

Madagascar Finally Has a New President, But Uncertainty Remains

It's official: Hery Rajaonarimampianina, considered a proxy for Madagascar's former President of the Transition Andry Rajoelina, who toppled the country's last democratically elected president in a military-backed coup in 2009, was declared the victor of long-awaited presidential elections by Madagascar's Special Electorate Court (CES).

The CES rejected allegations of vote-rigging and demands for a recount from the other candidate, Jean-Louis Robinson. The two had faced off in a second round of elections in December 2013 when neither won a clear majority after the initial vote in October. Rajaonarimampianina garnered 53.49 percent of votes in the run-off, while Robinson earned 46.51 percent.

Does this mean Madagascar is back on the path to democracy? Are prosperity and peace finally on the horizon for a country marred by chronic instability and a steady descent into poverty?

A straightforward calculation indicates that Rajaonarimampianina would have been elected with barely 25 percent of registered voters using figures delineated in the Madagascar Tribune [fr]: 

Inscrits : 7 971 790 
Votants : 4 043 246 
Blancs et nuls : 171 790 
Suffrages exprimés : 3 851 460 
Taux de participation : 50,72% 
Rajaonarimampianina Rakoatoarimanana Hery Martial : 2 060 124 (53,49%) 
Robinson Richard Jean Louis : 1 790 336 (46,51%)

Registered: 7,971,790 

Voting: 4,043,246

Invalid ballots: 171,790

Ballots: 3,851,460

Participation rate : 50.72%

Rajaonarimampianina Rakotoarimanana Hery Martial: 2,060,124 (53.49%) 

Robinson Richard Jean Louis: 1,790,336 (46.51%)

Screen shot of Hery Rajaonarimampianina during the presidential debate - Public Domain

Screenshot of Hery Rajaonarimampianina during the presidential debate via Malagasy Public Television -Public domain

Beyond that point though, power grabs have rhappened in Madagascar through either street protests and/or military coups, five times since 1972, with the latest in 2009.

Were Madagascar's presidential elections truly free and fair? Will they ultimately lead to a period of peace and prosperity for the country?

The elections were four years in the making and were welcome by most in the country and in the international community. While there were irregularities on voting day, as documented by citizen-based electoral observers Andrimaso and Zahavato, they were not deemed important enough to declare the elections void.

There are, however, some valid concerns regarding events especially during the pre-election period. The first of these events being when toppled President Marc Ravalomanana, his wife Lalao Ravalomanana, former President Didier Ratsiraka and coup-maker Andry Rajoelina were all excluded from the elections.

In what constitutes the setting of a precedent, Didier Ratsiraka and Lalao Ravalomanana were barred from contesting the elections, based on residential requirements, while exiled in France and South Africa respectively, and barred from returning to the island. This hardly seems to be the mark of a burgeoning democracy.

Andry Rajoelina had deposited his candidacy at the last minute, and was therefore barred from running as well. The NGO Verified Voting posted the following explanation

The court said neither Ravalomanana nor Ratsiraka met the physical residence requirements for candidacy. Ravalomanana lives in exile in South Africa, while Ratsiraka has not lived permanently on the island since fleeing to France in 2002.

The court said Rajoelina did not register his candidacy during the statutory period. Rajoelina said in January that he would not run in this year's elections, but then registered his candidacy in May. He said he had decided to run because Lalao Ravalomanana's candidacy was the same as having her husband stand.

The Southern African Development Community, a regional bloc of 15 countries, had recommended that neither Ravalomanana nor Rajoelina run as a way of resolving Madagascar's political troubles. The island of 20 million people has been in political turmoil since Rajoelina, a former DJ, seized power in 2009.

Ravalomanana agreed in December not to run. Five other candidates were also dropped from the list, the court said.

Secondly, in November, a law was passed allowing Andry Rajoelina to campaign for Hery Rajaonarimampianina, despite obligations that former presidents, democratically elected or not, stay above the fray and neutral. A blogger on the Malagasy community blog Madonline suspected Rajoelina also had a hand in selecting candidates for the Parliamentary elections [fr] that happened simultaneously with the presidential elections:

Il est le candidat virtuel et omnipotent de ces élections malgaches, car son ombre plane à la fois sur la présidentielle et les législatives. Il, c’est évidement Andry Rajoelina qui a revendiqué la paternité du candidat Hery Rajaonarimampianina pour être tête d’affiche au second tour avant d’enfanter 117 candidats à la députation. Non, il ne viole plus la loi puisqu’il l’a changé une énième fois en sa faveur. C’est par un décret pris en conseil des ministres que Andry Rajoelina a décidé qu’il peut s’afficher physiquement et sur les supports de communication des candidats. En tant que premier chef d’institution, il se libère du devoir de neutralité et de réserve préconisé par la Feuille de route. 

He is the virtual and all-powerful candidate of these Malagasy elections, his shadow is present both on presidential and legislative elections. He is evidently Andry Rajoelina who has acknowledged his paternity of candidate Hery Rajaonarimampianina during the second rounds of the presidential elections, before birthing 117 candidates for the legislatures. No, he does not violate the law because he has changed it for the nth time in his favor. It is thanks to a law passed during a ministerial meeting that Andry Rajoelina can physically accompany candidates and be seen on campaign material. As the head of institution, he has freed himself from the duty of neutrality and obligation of discretion indicated by the Road Map

Thirdly, there are some indications that Andry Rajoelina may attempt to impose himself as a prime minister [fr] a la Vladimir Putin during the Medvedev administration, hinting that a declaration that Madagascar is back on the road to democracy may be premature, as Tsimok'i Gasikara explains:

 Le camp du président de transition non élu Andry Rajoelina, en passe de remporter la présidentielle à Madagascar, a estimé samedi avoir une majorité suffisante pour désigner le prochain Premier ministre, au lendemain des résultats provisoires des législatives.”Selon notre estimation, nous avons 53 députés mais ce chiffre peut remonter jusqu?à 58 après vérification”, a indiqué à l?AFP Jean de Dieu Maharante, le président du groupe de candidats qui se présentaient sous les couleurs de Mapar, acronyme signifiant en français “avec le président Andry Rajoelina”.

The camp of non-elected Transitional Presiden Andry Rajoelina, which is imminently winning the presidential elections in Madagascar, has estimated having enough majority to designate the next prime minister, the day after temporary results of legislative elections. “Based on our estimates, we have 53 representatives, but this can climb up to 58 after recounts”, Jean de Dieu Maharante told the AFP. Maharente is the president of the group of Mapar candidates, Mapar meaning “With the President Andry Rajoelina” in French.

Screen caption of Hery Rajaonarimampianina and Andry Rajoelina during the presidential campaign via Mandimby Maharo with permission

Screen shot of Hery Rajaonarimampianina and Andry Rajoelina during the presidential campaign. Via Mandimby Maharo with permission

During the election, other unorthodox events happened. The first being the unexplained addition of 140,000 voters to the electoral list between the first and second rounds. Who knows how many voters were suppressed from electoral votes and denied their electoral rights? 

Another unexplained and alarming fact is the murky origins of electoral funds. Money poured in from all sides during the campaign. Electoral laws are not in place to regulate financial campaign. For the purpose of comparison, it is good to note that more than 90 percent of Madagascar's population survives on less than two US dollars a day. However, Rajaonarimampianina is reported to have spent 43 million US dollars [fr]:

Enfin, grâce à son trésor de guerre de quelque 43 millions de dollars, considéré comme le budget de campagne le plus élevé, le candidat a réussi à installer ses relais à travers l’ensemble de l’île.

Thanks to his war chest of 43 million US dollars, considered the largest campaign budget, the candidate has successfully established outposts throughout the whole island.

Famously, another unsuccessful candidate, Camille Vital, saw his donated 350 SUVs blocked at the port of Toamasina. Post-election, Vital, Rajoelina's former prime minister, who backed Robinson during the second round, is not allowed to leave Madagascar. Yet again, another worrying sign that democracy may not have fully arrived in Madagascar [fr], via Malango news: 

Fin septembre, 350 véhicules 4×4 sont bloqués dans le port de Toamasina (Tamatave) ainsi qu'un cargo contenant plusieurs centaines de milliers de t-shirts à son effigie. Les documents fournis éveillent la méfiance des douanes qui demandent des explications. Selon le candidat, il s'agit d'un « un don non remboursable et sans contrepartie » fait par un « ami » étranger convaincu de son programme fondé sur le rétablissement rapide de la sécurité dans le pays.

At the end September, 350 SUVs are blocked at the port of Toamasina, together with hundreds of thousands of t-shirts with his portrait. The supplied documentation rises customs officers’ suspicion. According to the candidate, they were a non-refundable donation by a foreign friend convinced by his policy founded on fast reestablishment of security in the country.

 There are signs that people are exhausted by the long crisis. As reported on All Africa:

People might also be tired of interminable political disputes. Some indication of this, and of people's disillusionment with their current leadership, is the low voter turnout during the December elections, which was just over 50%.

Paul-Simon Handy, Head of the ISS Conflict Prevention and Risk Analysis Division, says the low voter turnout in the second round is reminiscent of other post-crisis countries where the electorate is exhausted by protracted political disputes.

‘As much as people want a legitimate government, they've simply had enough of political disputes and they see that what is on offer in terms of candidates as the recycling of the same political elite.' 

Only one day after the formal proclamation of Rajaonarimampianina's victory, Robinson was already calling for protests:

All eyes are on Rajaonarimampianina to see if and how he intends to honor his electoral promise to restore stability and work together with the people to lift Madagascar out of poverty. Is Rajaonarimampianina his own man, and can he stand on his own, despite being seen as a Rajoelina proxy? The Malagasy people deserve a government and a president who knows that being elected with only 25 percent of registered voters means he has to work inclusively with other camps, reconcile all Malagasy people, and refrain from a Putin scenario. 

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

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.

Fighting Corruption in Comoros, Cameroon and Madagascar

CPI Index 2013 for ssAfrica via Transparency International CC-License-BY

Corruption Perceptions Index 2013 for Sub-Saharan Africa via Transparency International CC-License-BY

The people of Comoros, Cameroon and Madagascar haven't got much faith in the honesty and integrity of the public sector, according to Transparency International's annual Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI).

The report measures perceived levels of public sector corruption and ”serves as a reminder that the abuse of power, secret dealings and bribery continue to ravage societies around the world,” as stated on their website. On a scale going from 0 (highly corrupt) to 100 (very clean), more than two-thirds of the indexed countries scored less than 50.

Comoros and Madagascar tied for 127th of 177 countries, with scores of 28. Cameroon fared worse, coming in at 144th with a score of 25.  

Let's take a closer look at the state of affairs in these three French-speaking African countries. 


State of corruption

March against Corruption in Moroni in November 2013 via Comores actualités - Public Domain

March Against Corruption in Moroni in November 2013 via Comores actualités – Public Domain

Toyb Ahmed in Moroni for AlWatan Info summarized the state of corruption in Comoros [fr]:

Les Comores sont placées au 127ème rang sur 177 pays évalués, avec la note de vingt-huit points sur cent. L’archipel grignote encore six places en comparaison au classement de 2012. l’installation de la Commission nationale de prévention et lutte contre la corruption (Cnplc) par le président Ikililou Dhoinine avait posé la première pierre. Dans la foulée, le chef de l’Etat avait concrétisé sa volonté de transparence dans la chose publique par la signature du décret d’application instituant l’Autorité de régulation des marchés publics (Armp). La Justice comorienne est régulièrement pointée du doigt, accusée de laxisme dans la répression des actes de corruption.

Comoros is ranked 127th out of 177 countries with a score of 28 points. The archipelago gained six places compared to the 2012 ranking. The installation of the National Commission for the Prevention and Fight Against Corruption (Cnplc) by President Ikililou Dhoinine has laid the foundation for the fight against corruption. The head of state has proven his commitment to transparency in public affairs by signing the application decree establishing the Regulatory Authority for Public Procurement (ARMP). The justice system of Comoros is regularly singled out, accused of laxity in cracking down on acts of corruption.


Al-hamdi Abdillah Hamdi, a citizen reporter based in Moroni, proposed the following measures to decrease corruption levels in Comoros:

On peut noter la mise en place de la Commission anti corruption et l'organe de contrôle des passations des marchés publics.
L'avocat franco-comorien Me Ben Ali Ahmed avait récemment dressé un constat d'échec dans la lutte contre la corruption en indiquant que les mauvais comportements n'ont pas changé d'un iota. En plus des pratiques peu musulmanes dans les administrations publiques et leurs incapacités à rendre des comptes aux citoyens, les forces vives de la nation regrettent régulièrement l'impunité dont bénéficient certaines autorités.

The establishment of the Anti-Corruption Commission and the Supervisory Body for the Approval of Government Procurement should be noted (as measures against corruption). The Franco-Comorian lawyer Mr. Ben Ali Ahmed recently indicated some failures in the fight against corruption by saying that the previous corrupt actions (in the government) has not changed one iota. Additionally, some practices in public administrations are unworthy of our Islamic faith and many public servants have shown no accountability towards the citizens they serve. As such, we citizens, the lifeblood of the nation, are often disappointed with the impunity granted to certain authorities in power. 


State of corruption

The high level of corruption in Cameroon remains a great source of concern. Despite international pressure and many plans and laws against corruption dreamed up throughout the past decade, the practice remains a constant in the daily lives of Cameroonians.

Reportedly, over 50 percent of Cameroonian households have paid at least one bribe [fr]. According to Samuel Ekoum, president of the Cameroonian NGO SOS Corruption, the state of Cameroon loses on average 400 billion CFA francs (about 832 million US dollars) per year because of corruption.


Various organizations are implementing several programs to monitor the distribution of aid in Cameroon; one such project is highlighted in the following video, in which an NGO monitors the proper use of aid funds in estate development projects:

Ben Christy Moudio in Douala provided an analysis of why the fight against production has often failed in his country [fr]:

Dynamique Citoyenne, réseau de suivi indépendant des politiques publiques et des stratégies de coopération, réclame à nouveau que les hautes personnalités dont le président de la république Paul Biya concernées par cet article, se plient aux injonctions de la loi en déclarant leurs biens. Le non respect de ces dispositions légales étant entre autres un facteur qui favorise les détournements des derniers publics et la corruption au Cameroun. Justement, le classement 2013 de l’indice de perception de la corruption  a repositionné comme en 2012, le Cameroun à la 144e place. l’incapacité du Cameroun à s’insérer dans une logique démocratique et à réellement mettre en œuvre les mécanismes de lutte contre la corruption justifient l’attribution dans cet indice de la note de 25/100.

Dynamique Citoyenne, a network of independent entities monitoring public policies, claims that dignitaries including President of the Republic Paul Biya comply to the order of the law by declaring their assets. Non-compliance with these provisions are a few of the factors that promote the embezzlement of public funds and corruption in Cameroon. The 2013 Corruption Perceptions Index released on December 3 ranks Cameroon in 144th place. Cameroon's inability to conform to a democratic process and effectively implement mechanisms to fight corruption fully justify the attribution of the low score of 25/100 on the index.


State of corruption

In the 2013 CPI,  Transparency International released the following on the rising level of corruption in Madagascar [fr]:

Parmi les secteurs les plus corrompus à Madagascar, l’on peut citer la gendarmerie nationale, les collectivités territoriales décentralisées, la justice, le service foncier et l’éducation. 58% des enquêtées estiment que le niveau de la corruption a augmenté durant les deux dernières années et le secteur juridique est vu comme étant l’organisme public le plus corrompu. 32% de la population enquêtée ont affirmé avoir payé un pot-de-vin, soit pour accélérer le processus auprès d’un service public quelconque, soit parce que c’est l’unique moyen pour un aboutissement, tandis que 54% ont déclaré que les actions du gouvernement pour combattre la corruption sont inefficaces.

Among the most corrupt sectors in Madagascar, we can cite the armed forces, the regional and local authorities, justice, land service and education. 58 percent of respondents believe that the level of corruption has increased over the past two years and the legal sector is seen as the most corrupt government agency. 32 percent of the surveyed population reported having paid a bribe to speed up the process of a public service because it was the only way to do so, while 54 percent reported that government actions to combat corruption are ineffective.


The justice system plays a crucial role in ensuring that corruption is kept at a minimum. Preserving its independence is key to making sure that any anti-corruption measure is sustainable. According to Transparency International Global Corruption Report, a few principles to ensure the credibility of the system can be applied (PDF): 

  • Judges must declare their revenues to an independent agency
  • the members of the supreme court ought to be elected by their peirs
  • the rules of assignment of the judges need to be made public
  • All payments to the court must produce a receipt
  • A procedure of quick appeal against corrupt officials must be put in place

January 02 2014

3 Suggestions for Good Governance in the Central African Republic, Madagascar and Mali

Three countries in francophone Africa are fighting to exit prolonged social crises that stem from broken political systems. Over the past five years, the Central African Republic, Madagascar and Mali went through political takeovers that involved the participation of armed factions: 

All three nations face similar long odds before a sustainable political system can be stabilized. Here are three conditions that civil societies in these respective countries have identified in order to start the reconstruction of the political system.


Emmanuel Jovelin, a lecturer at the Université of Lille, and Lala Rarivomanantsoa, a professor at the University of Antananarivo, wrote a book called “Opinion publique et bonne gouvernance à Madagascar” [Public opinion and good governance in Madagascar]. The authors addressed a multitude of issues pertaining to Malagasy citizens’ perception of their political representatives. One of their most outstanding chapters is the proposed framework for evaluating governance in Madagascar. They opine [fr]: 

Le gouverné n'est pas, comme on a toujours tendance à le croire, une masse informe que le gouvernant pourrait modeler à sa guise. L'opinion qu'il se fait de la gouvernance prend des formes variées parfois contradictoires pour mettre en place une administration efficace. [...] Mais l'ensemble des opinions recensées dans cette étude peut constituer la base d'une gouvernance respectant les règles de la démocratie [...] La succession des différents régimes depuis l'Indépendance peut s'expliquer par une faiblesse des structures intermédiaires de dialogue (à travers l'administration et au sein de la société civile) qui n'ont pas fonctionné comme on aurait pu le souhaiter.  

Citizens are not, as one tends to believe, a shapeless mass that could be shaped as rulers would wish. Citizens’ opinion of governance takes various forms sometimes contradictory to the establishment of an effective administration. [...] Still, all opinions identified in this study can form the basis of a governance that respects the rules of democracy [...] The succession of different regimes since independence can be explained by a weakly structures intermediate dialogue (through government and within civil society) that did not work as one might wish.

Below is the matrix they propose to evaluate the performance of the governing administration:

Screenshot of the  framework to evaluate governance in Madagascar from an extract of the book by Jovelin, Rarivomanantsoa - CC-license-BY

Screenshot of the framework to evaluate governance in Madagascar from an extract of the book by Jovelin, Rarivomanantsoa – CC-license-BY

The first two lines details the skills/competence that any governing bodies should showcase and provide a scoring chart  :

1. Scoring for “Academic Achievement” : primary school: 1; secondary school: 2 ; higher education: 3.

2. Scoring  for the feasability of development programmes : weak : 1; medium: 2; strong: 3. 

Central African Republic

The conflict in the Central African Republic has escalated to an alarming level of victims: the death toll has now reached at least 500, according to the local Red Cross.

Map of the battles in late 2012 in the CAR civil war via wikipedia CC License-BY

Map of the battles in late 2012 in the CAR Civil War via Wikipedia CC License-BY

The following video illustrates the level of fear and insecurity across the country:

The OCBG blog based in Bangui reports on the proceedings meeting on good governance [fr] in the CAR:

En Centrafrique ou ailleurs, par crainte ou par méfiance et quelquefois désintérêt à la chose politique, nombreux sont ceux qui se cachent [..] Notre pays a été marqué par des mutineries successives, des coups d’état et des rebellions ce qui affecte sa stabilité et son développement économique [..] En effet, les centrafricains attendent des gouvernants de demain : L’organisation d’une véritable armée nationale ; la garantie sécuritaire des populations sur toute l’étendue du pays ; l création des infrastructures (écoles, routes, hôpitaux, bâtiments administratifs etc.,) les accords de Libreville ne peuvent résoudre les problématiques récurrentes à notre pays, dans la mesure où Libreville a été qu’une course à l’échalote et des maroquins, aucun des protagonistes n’a posé la question relative à l’urgence sociale qui prévaut

In CAR and the greater region, many people are hiding because of fear, distrust and disinterest towards politics [...] Our country has been marked by successive mutinies, coups and rebellions which affects its stability and economic development [...] In fact, the CAR expect the following from their leaders: the establishment of a truly national army, the guaranteed safety of populations throughout the country, the creation of infrastructure (schools, roads, hospitals, administrative buildings etc.). The Libreville agreement cannot solve the recurrent problems of our country because the Libreville agreement [a ceasefire agreement signed in January 2013 that stipulated the integration of the opposition in the government] was a race for money and power, neither side even addressed the question of social emergency that prevails.


The Malian crisis was partly resolved by the French military intervention in 2013, but despite the presence of the peace forces, unrest is still prominent in the northern territory.

 A Tuareg rebel in northern Mali on wikipedia CC-license-BY

A Tuareg rebel in northern Mali on Wikipedia CC-license-BY

In light of many still unresolved issue of governance, Michael Bratton, Massa Coulibaly and Fabiana Machado report on the survey they conducted with Malian citizens on what they expect in a good governance [PDF] : 

Malians prefer democracy to other political regimes but their perception of democracy is culturally distinct. Malian satisfaction with democracy is often seen in terms of the personal performance of individual political leaders. They judge the legitimacy of the state based on popular trust in public institutions and perceptions that public officials are not corrupt [..] Malians continue to regard the State as the most reliable provider of employment. They prefer cosnensus and unity to political and economic competition. 

December 31 2013

Malagasy Genius Seeking Happiness off the Grid

Arthur Ramiandrisoa at 11 via Dinosoria CC-License-BY

Arthur at 11 via Dinosoria CC-License-BY

Arthur Ramiandrisoa has been under the spotlight his life. That comes with the territory when you hold the record as the youngest french high school graduate ever [fr] at the tender age of 11. The precocious boy whose father is from Madagascar and mother from France obtained his Masters in Mathematics at 15 from the University of Paris VI. Books were written about him, and TV and radio channels wanted to know the teaching method that got him so successful early on. He seemed destined for great achievements when he decided that what he wanted more than anything is a normal life, away from all the public attention he garnered early on, as E. Pineau explains [fr]: 

Présenté comme le “champion des surdoués français”, l'étiquette se révélera trop encombrante. Depuis son doctorat, obtenu à 19 ans, Arthur Ramiandrisoa n'a qu'un souhait : se faire oublier. Contactés à plusieurs reprises, ses proches n'ont pas donné suite à nos sollicitations. Se contentant de nous indiquer qu’“Arthur a gardé un très mauvais souvenir de plusieurs reportages” et “souhaitconserver l'anonymat dans lequel il vit actuellement”

Billed as the French “champion of the gifted children“, this label will prove too cumbersome in the end. Since he obtained his PhD at 19, Arthur Ramiandrisoa has only one wish: to be forgotten. Contacted several times, his family did not respond to any requests for interviews. They say that “Arthur has bad memories from several reports about him” and “wishes to remain anonymous from now on.

A Ramiandrisoa, now an IT architect, was also a pioneer of XML modeling for urban planning.

December 28 2013

PHOTOS: Humans of Comoros, Madagascar and the Mascarene Islands

“The Humans of _____” concept is a photo project featuring street portraits and interviews of regular people collected from all over of the world. Originating with Brandon Stanton's popular Humans of New York, the idea has generated hundreds of spin-offs worldwide, from Latin America to South Asia to the Middle East and North Africa.

Though the African island of Madagascar in the Indian Ocean counts its own Humans project, the phenomenon hasn't taken off yet on the nearby Mascarene Islands to the west or on Comoros to the northwest. We hope that the many talented photographs from the region will take up the challenge. To get started, here are a few photographs from Comoros, Madagascar, Mauritius and Réunion.   

Humans of Comoros 

The following photo was taken by David Stanley in Moroni, the capital city of Grande Comore (Ngazidja). A young woman can be seen transporting a jar of water. Access to clean water is still a struggle in many part of Comoros:

Children collecting water from public taps in Moroni, Grande Comore, Union of the Comoros by David Stanley CC License -BY-2.0

Children collecting water from public taps in Moroni, Grande Comores, Union of the Comoros. Photo by David Stanley, CC License BY-2.0

Humans of Madagascar

Joey Ayoub, a Global Voices contributor who recently published a photo post on the Humans of the Middle East and North Africa, helped create the Facebook page for Humans of Madagascar. He then passed on the project to Lalah Ariniana, also a Global Voices contributor living in Madagascar. Here is the latest post on the Humans of Madagascar Facebook page:

“Tarika Mainty”a band created by kids playing drums and dancing in the streets of the Capital City by Lalah Ariniaina with her permission

In the accompanying blog post, Lalah goes into further detail about the life of these three children who started a band to earn a living [fr]:

j’ai fait la connaissance de trois garçons d’une dizaine d’années du groupe « Mainty » (Noir). Fabrice est à la batterie, Christian fait du bruit avec une corne (comme celle qu’on utilise pendant les fêtes d’anniversaire) et Cédric danse. Ils offrent des petits spectacles de rue en faisant le tour des quartiers du centre-ville.

I met three boys who are all about ten years old. They created the band “Mainty” (Black in Malagasy). Fabrice is on drums, Christian is using a self-made horn (like the one used at birthday parties) and Cedric provides the dancing. They do small street performances by touring neighborhoods of downtown Antananarivo.

Humans of Mauritius

There isn't yet a Humans of Mauritius blog, so the Humans of Dubai page posted a few photos to initiate the project. Here is a photo of a typical snack store in Port Louis:

Man in front of grocery store in Port Louis via Humans of Dubai with permission

Man in front of grocery store in Port Louis via Humans of Dubai with permission

Humans Of Reunion
A Humans of La Réunion page also hasn't been created yet, but a good starting place is the photos shared by Ile de La Réunion Tourisme (IRT) Facebook page. They provide a wide variety of photographs illustrating the diversity of the island. Here is a photo of artists from Saint Maxime, Reunion island:

Maxime Laope and their kids in Reunion with their permission

Maxime Laope and their kids in Reunion with their permission

December 20 2013

Votes Cast in the Madagascar Presidential Elections Runoff

Ballot Collecting in one polling station via Andrimaso with permission

Ballot Collecting in one polling station via Andrimaso with permission

Voters in Madagascar returned to the polls today to decide who they would like as president. The first round resulted in two candidates going head to head in a proxy battle between former President in exile, Marc Ravalomanana, and Andry Rajoelina, who toppled Ravalomanana in 2009 in a military-backed coup. Brian Klaas offers a good summary of the situation on DemocracyinAfrica blog :

This Friday, Madagascar heads to the polls to elect a new president and a new parliament. The election is the first major step out of the never-ending ‘transition’ that began in 2009 when Andry Rajoelina, a radio DJ turned mayor, toppled Marc Ravalomanana, a dairy magnate turned president, in a military coup d’état.

Those two figures dominate Malagasy politics, but neither is running for president—at least not directly. Instead, they have put forth proxy candidates in their stead as part of an internationally brokered deal to end the impasse. Dr. Jean-Louis Robinson, a former Ravalomanana Minister and WHO official, is standing in place of his former boss. Hery Rajaonarimampianina, the Minister of Budget and Finance for the post-coup regime, is standing in place of President of the Transition, Rajoelina.

Malagasy voters watched the two candidates in a series of three televised debates. The first one did not attract much enthusiasm, as reported by an article in Madagascar Tribune, as both candidates played it very safe and demonstrated a lack of original ideas:

Nous devons nous demander si les candidats ont vraiment la conviction que leurs idées seraient la solution à nos problèmes ou s’ils se contentent de répéter des solutions génériques que la communauté internationale et autres bailleurs de fond aiment entendre. (Pour être juste, les débats présidentiels peuvent aussi être utilisés pour envoyer des signaux forts pour attirer des partenaires potentiels, ou même des sponsors.) À certains moments, les candidats avaient l’air de répéter les mêmes programmes arrachés de placards à idées – il n’est pas juste de resservir le même vieux « tambavy » repackagé dans de nouvelles bouteilles et puis de clamer que « cette fois-ci c’est différent ». Pour les vingt millions et quelque de citoyens malagasy, cette fois-ci, ça devrait vraiment être différent. Lançons un défi aux candidats de sortir des sentiers battus et de montrer aux électeurs qu’ils sont aussi différents.

One needs to wonder whether the candidates really believe these ideas are a real solution to our problems, or whether they're just tossing around generic solutions that they believe the international community and other “donors” would like to hear. (To be fair, presidential debates can also be used to send strong signals to potential partners or even sponsors). At times, they sounded like standard off-the-shelf policies—it’s not fair to serve old “tambavy” in new bottles and then claim that “this time is different.” For the sake of the 20 million odd Malagasy citizens, this time should really be different. Let’s dare the candidates to think outside the box and show the voters that they are also different!

The second debate was conducted in French, and focused on international issues. The candidates were more aggressive during the third debate. Ideas were still singularly lacking though, as most attacks were personal, as was the case during the entire campaign, whose tone was more carnival than battle of ideas. As again reported by Brian Klaas :

The campaign has not progressed much beyond dueling spectacles. Malagasy politics are not based on policy, and few would claim that they are voting based on anything other than patronage and personality. Today’s vignettes of political strategy—balloons, dancing, and blaring music—are comical, but unfortunately, the comedy may turn tragic if Madagascar does not manage to pull itself out of desperate poverty by building democracy and pursuing development.

The spectacle continues when one considers how alliances were made between politicians – former enemies promptly rallied to one candidate or the other- and how blatantly Andry Rajoelina, supposedly neutral, came out in support of his former Minister of Finance, Hery Rajaonarimampianina :

During the vote, some irregularities were reported on Twitter.

Let us hope the new year 2014 will bring peace and change to Madagascar, whose citizens will have to wait until January to find out the result of the runoff.

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