This was supposed to be an art blog, but given the events in Madagascar, I need to post an entry on that!
Following is the letter to the editor I have sent to several English-speaking newspapers.
March 16, 2009
Wife of the current Ambassador of Madagascar to Italy, previously Ambassador to France, an American citizen but with great admiration and respect for the Malagasy people, in light of the current crisis in my husband’s country I feel an urgent need to provide another perspective on events.
What disturbs me the most is the fact that some of the international media reporting of the “opposition”, led by former mayor of Tananarive Andry Rajoelina and backed by politicians from the former regime, is far from accurate and perhaps even biased. They have consistently used violence against the population of Tananarive, hiring criminal elements to loot, pillage, and commit acts of violence. They have consistently refused dialogue with President Ravalomanana. They have consistently demonstrated irresponsibility in « appointing » a « transitional » government with absolutely no authority of any kind and inundating internet and the traditional media with false information to willfully mislead the Malagasy people and the international community. These people are also backed by Ghadaffi and his supporters in the African Union in yet another move to put more power into the hands of those that would keep Africa a backwards and exploited continent. Madagascar’s rich natural resources, especially the oil and mineral wealth that have recently been discovered and exploited, make the political stakes so much more crucial and do much to explain the current move by these unscrupulous people at this point in time.
The Malagasy people and President Marc Ravalomanana are motivated by the traditional Malagasy wisdom of « fihavanana », a word perhaps best translated as solidarity, mutual respect, and tolerance. An objective look at the record, especially at the history of the electoral crisis of 2002, will demonstrate that President Ravalomanana is a man of peace who has consistently shown willingness to dialogue with the opposition and has shown exceptional restraint in handling the current crisis. He has proposed a referendum to allow the people of Madagascar to demonstrate clearly and freely who they choose to defend their interests. It will be interesting to observe the actions of an opposition that has, time after time, demonstrated their willingness to go to any extreme to take power illegally from the legitimately elected chief of state, including attempts to foment civil war. Already Andry Rajoelna has refused the referendum. Doubtless he is less interested in the opinion of the people since he is afraid of losing. Fortunately the Malagasy people and President Ravalomanana are not going to give up that easily. As President Obama would say, “Yes, we can.”
I would also like to add some information on the achievements of President Ravalomanana and his government since 2002. Over 6,000 kilometers of roads have been built, roads capable of resisting the heavy rains that pour down in much of the country (a first for Madagascar) to connect the main towns and cities of the country, improving economic exchange of agricultural and industrial production. No media has yet mentioned that President Ravalomanana has also modernized the health care system, opening health centers throughout the country and leading an effective fight against AIDS and malaria. As for education, he has opened many schools throughout the country, ensuring that all school-age children can go to school at least through grade school and 78% currently in high school, providing the school materials they need. (Prior to 2002, children used to beg tourists for pencils and paper for school.) He has modernized agriculture, extending intensive production of rice, the stable food of the population, and eliminating speculation, allowing Madagascar to once again become self-sufficient in providing rice to the population, for the first time since 1971. Madagacar is the only country where the price of rice decreased when the price of grains and rice was rising worldwide.
Ironically, given the rhetoric of the opposition politicians, President Ravalomanana has made the fight against corruption one of the keystones of his administration through the Independent Anti-Corruption Bureau (BIANCO), created in a partnership with international institutions. No media has yet informed the general public that this fight has allowed producers to sell their merchandise in a secure environment, protected from the shady operators who proliferated under Didier Ratsiraka from 1975 onwards. No media has yet spoken of President Ravalomanana’s Madagascar Action Plan (the MAP) designed to implement and sustain the economic and social development initiatives undertaken during his first term of office from 2002 to 2006 following the devastating economic consequences of the electoral crisis resulting from the refusal of Didier Ratsiraka to peacefully hand over power to the legitimately elected Marc Ravalomanana, instead fomenting civil war and only overcome by the remarkable maturity of the Malagasy people and the unceasing efforts of the ecumenical organizations of Madagascar to maintain peace. (Indeed, Madagascar is a model of inter-religious cooperation at all times, a testimony to the philosophy of fihavanana.)
Although the media have underlined that Madagascar has been opened to foreign investment under President Ravalomanana in the sectors of tourism, telecommunications, mining, and agriculture, what they have omitted discussing thus far is how this investment can and does benefit the country. Since 2004, following a disastrous 2003 at -11,9 percent growth in the wake of the 2002 electoral crisis, in spite of economic recession worldwide and huge rises in the price of oil, GDP has grown every year, at 6% in 2004, 5.5% in 2005, 5.1% in 2006, 4.7% in 2007, and in 2008, a rise of 34% to 6.3 %. Clearly the President must be doing something right. In addition, the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, the United Nations, and the European Union all have recognized that President Ravalomanana has fostered transparency, investment security, and a consistent commitment to sustainable development.
I trust and hope, in the spirit of fihavanana, that this brief reminder of certain facts will be useful to everyone in situating the current conflict in its geopolitical and national context, taking us beyond a vision that sees the crisis a conflict of interest between political “equals” and rivals. A strong opposition makes a strong country, but only where that opposition acts in respect of the constitution and the legal institutions it claims to defend.