Did our headline catch your attention? Good! 1960 was 61 years ago and we've established that Madagascar isn't exactly independent as we believe. As a former colony and country in the Global South experiencing extreme poverty, climate induced environmental disasters, political unease, and much more, everyone has their own opinions about what is the demise of Madagascar as well as different ideas and solutions to fixing Madagascar. Some can blame the continued French influence and vested foreign interests on the lack of development/impoverishment of Madagascar and others can say that the government isn’t doing enough, however, only using the French as a scapegoat for Madagascar’s problems doesn’t negate the wrongdoings and faults the Malagasy government and society can be responsible for. It’s human nature to find excuses and blame for when things go wrong, but the Malagasy need to do a deep internal reckoning. This is not to say that we are pro-French or Francophobes, but there needs to be an objective examination of all the factors that holds Madagascar back from progressing.
The following article is an op-ed by the MadaLiving team.
Madagascar is today one of the poorest countries in the world. No Malagasy is proud to say that, but it is the sad reality. All economic indicators, as published by the World Bank Group, point to this dark image where the growth was -4% in 2020 and is estimated at 2% this year. The GDP is decreasing while the number of population increases (2.7% from 2019 to 2020). It is now the only country which did not go into war or faced a disastrous civil war but has gotten poorer and poorer since the 1960s. Yet there were significant growths (9% in 1978, 9.85% in 2003, 7.1% in 2008) but they could not be sustained and the downfalls (-9% in 1981, -12.7% in 2002, -4% in 2009, -4% in 2020) made damages to the economy that the growths could not overcome. Note that the downfalls were immediately followed by a strong growth except the ones in 2009 and 2020.
These are the numbers on paper, and when we face reality, diving into the Malagasy’s daily life, the picture is not any better. The population is complaining about the price of commodities increasing day by day. In the cities, the intermittent and even rare electricity, where in some neighborhoods, the power cut offs can last more than 18 hours a day) utility costs for households can be expensive, and there is virtually no electricity in the countryside. The same applies to the water, on the rare times it runs into your home, the pressure is low and the water sometimes is not clean. Some people must wake up at 2AM in hopes to fetch water they could use for 1 or 2 days. Clean, treated water is not known in remote areas. The roads are in disarray and the infrastructures are obsolete. Rural exodus is intensifying (urban population grew 4.4% in 2020) because people flee the poverty and thefts in the countryside and land in deceitful cities, facing another type of poverty. Insecurity has become part of everyday life. Health care is nonexistent: people cannot afford to pay medicine and hospital bills, so they avoid seeing doctors and use other means to cure. There are still diseases that cannot be treated in Madagascar and necessitate an evacuation abroad which is not within the reach of a large majority of Malagasy. The population in the Southern part of the island is living the worst famine Madagascar has ever seen.
But why is it so? What caused this disastrous situation? Many reasons could explain why Madagascar has fallen down this low, but a very recurring shortcut answer is: ‘blame it on the French!”. The education system is rotten, blame it on the French! There is a coup d’état, blame it on the French! The national airline company, Air Madagascar, is on the verge of bankruptcy, blame it on the French! Our kids do not master the Malagasy language, blame it on French! Our elections are fraudulent, blame it on the French! Rivalries between Merina and coastal people are intensifying, blame it on the French!
The French certainly play an important role here. Studies show that former British colonies are doing much better economically than former French colonies (that's another topic we can explore for another day). They destroyed the Malagasy fahendrena (wisdom) just as they annihilated the culture of their former colonies to achieve their domination during the colonization. However, every bad thing that happens to the Malagasy cannot be put on the French’s back. We, Malagasy, have our part of responsibility because it is our country, that is, if independence is real. Letting the French act the way they do and accepting their behavior in Madagascar are our responsibility. Finding the real problems and applying the real solutions including resisting French neo-colonialism are our duty.
Today, some Malagasy, in despair and having lost any hope in the country, leave Madagascar and are proud to acquire foreign citizenships (French, American, etc), some would even make it a lifetime objective, as if it were earning a college degree or finding a dream job. When we no longer believe in our own country, it is very easy for foreigners to impose their principles and rules. And who is to blame? Some of our supposedly Malagasy government officials do not even speak Malagasy. Who is to blame?
Did the French destroy our fahendrena? Let’s be wise again, the French cannot be wise on our behalf! French took our pride? Let’s win it back! The French expect us to follow their rules and regulations when we are in France. Let’s do the same when they are in Madagascar! Most importantly, Malagasy are responsible for Madagascar and we need to seriously ask the question: who is to blame?
All of that requires a new state of mind, different from the one that is reigning in the Malagasy society today. The Malagasy must change their mentality. Easier said than done. But why is it so difficult?