Depending on how involved you are in world affairs, you may or may not have heard about what’s currently going on in Madagascar. Unfortunately, the news has been pretty lax in covering this African island nation’s recent coup d’etat and political uprisings.
Since March 21st of this year, thirty-four year old former mayor, leftist politician and television station owner Andry Rajoelina has been sworn in as president of the Malagasy government (government of Madagascar). Rajoelina came to office after a coup toppled the elected president Marc Ravalomanana from his term, forcing his exile to Swaziland. Rajoelina plans to change the country’s constitutional requirement that a president be a minimum of 40 years old and has claimed that he will hold elections within 2 years time. He has spouted words of democracy, while dismissing the elected Ravalomanana’s calls for a referendum to test his support among the population to help stop the uprising.
In December of 2008, Rajoelina’s outspoken criticism of Ravalomanana led to the closure of Rajoelina’s Viva TV for “security” reasons after a 45 minute broadcast of former president Didier Ratsiraka called for a coup against Ravalomanana. This move was condemned by Reporters Without Borders and instigated massive protests and violence in the country. Rajoelina is said to have called for more anti-government protests after the worst day of street violence in years, only increasing the violence and anger.
Canada’s interests in Madagascar represent the largest category of foreign investment in the country, surpassing French interests with almost $3 billion dollars invested. Toronto’s Sherritt International holds the largest stake in the world’s biggest nickel mine in Ambatovy, as well as large stakes in the country’s cobalt mines. Rajoelina vows his new administration will review all foreign investment contracts to ensure Madagascar is receiving a fair share of the revenues. Somehow, despite the political violence that has been happening in 2009, Madagascar moved up 7 rankings in the World Bank’s 2009 “Doing Business Report” from 151st in 2008 to 144th out of 181 countries.
American Exxon Mobil has operations in Madagascar drilling for oil offshore. Several mining companies have been exploring Madagascar looking for gold, gemstones, nickel and bauxite. The British based mining company Rio Tinto has opened a $775 million ilmenite mine in the south of the country for the production of titanium. Huge investment has recently been poured into the country, almost all for extraction purposes.
Canada has responded to the current political crisis in Madagascar, not by condemning the actions as the European Union, African Union, South African Development Community, United States and many other organizations and countries have; but by appealing for calm and dialogue. Canada did not recognize the current political actions as a coup, nor have they stopped aid or suggested sanctions on the country. Perhaps this has to do with the high level of Canadian investment in Madagascar, but so far, Canada has remained rather tight-lipped on the situation. 70% of Malagasy government spending is currently funded by outside donors, meaning international sanctions have the possibility of going a long way.
Massive protests have left hundreds dead and thousands injured over the last couple of months. Many protesters have been killed by security forces who have fired upon them with tear gas and bullets. Riots and violence have been spurred by these actions. The future remains incredibly unstable for Madagascar.
Coups have been overtaking modern African democracies as of late, with Mauritania and Guinea joining Madagascar in this type of political unrest over the last year alone. The rush for democracy has left politically unstable governments, and corrupt powers vying to sell off their country’s natural resources through privatization schemes introduced with the push for “democracy”. The atrocities currently being committed in Madagascar are said by Rajoelina to be happening in the name of democracy. These atrocities must not go unnoticed, as they have little resemblance to any kind of democracy.
Madagascar remains an incredibly poor country despite its abundant natural resources and tremendous beauty. It is home to some of the most diverse species on the planet, many that cannot be found elsewhere. The lack of infrastructure and poor governance leaves the country unable to transcend its poverty. It is the people who suffer and it is the people (and not the profit to be had) who we should be directing our vision towards.
The normal news media has been vague on Madagascar, so I have taken to following the numerous blogs and tweets on the situation for more insight. Doing so has revealed a larger picture of devastation. Even children are protesting in the streets, throwing stones at their opposing protestors. Independent bloggers have been told to remove any pictures or material offensive to the new government, severely curtailing freedoms of speech. Thousands meet almost daily in the streets to protest. Civil war is not far off as the population divides itself further and further. The angry sentiments can be felt in many of the culturally violent comments. Divisions appear to be widening.
The destruction of several cyclones in the past few years has left thousands in the country homeless and many dead or injured. In fact, relief efforts were hindered for the January 2009 Cyclone Fanele because of the political uprisings, leaving those affected completely reliant on the World Food Programme and international assistance for survival. International assistance becomes more and more difficult to deliver as violence intensifies.
What will become of Madagascar? Only time will tell, but certainly, we in Canada will have an impact through our investments and we must be aware the effect this will have on the population. Our policies should reflect the concerns of the population and not just the profit to be had here. Our extraction of natural resources must not cause greater destruction and must be obtained legally and fairly. Canada must not have a hand in supporting warlords, dictators or despots and must stop contributing to war and destruction through our policies or investments.