June 26, 2021 marked 61 years of Madagascar’s independence after 6 decades of French colonial rule. Yesterday we celebrated and honored the achievements of the women and men who fought for our independence. But 61 years later, what do we have to show for it? Are we really independent? The following article is an op-ed by the MadaLiving team.
It is taught in International Relations 101 that the characteristics of a sovereign nation are: a territory, a permanent population, a government not under the control of a foreign power, an independence from other countries, and the capacity to build relations with other sovereign states. If you just have an overview on these, Madagascar seems to be an independent country. But that is all in theory. If you look closely, you would ask yourself, “what kind of independence are we talking about?”.
How can we talk about independence when we do not even control our territory? The United Nations decided in the 70s that the Iles Eparses belong to Madagascar but until today, the French still occupy them and claim that it is as theirs. Dare we talk about independence when our presidential elections are driven and controlled by foreign countries? Presidential candidates, in their campaigns, brag about their relations with such and such countries, and voters talk about “X candidate is a candidate of France, Y candidate is a candidate of the US…” Foreign countries send observers to our elections and they are quick to call that the elections went well or were unfair depending on how the probable elected president fit their interests. In the 2013 presidential elections, foreign countries (the international community they call it), with their famous “Ni…ni…” (neither…nor…) decided on who can be candidates and who cannot be. It sounds like “hey Malagasy people, you are going to vote for the president we [foreigners] want”. And we accepted that. Where else in the world would you see that? No, that is not independence!
Our military was created in 1960, but of the 61 years of its existence, it was only a “normal” military for the first 10 years. When it became the “popular army” in 1972, it became a political tool to defend the interests of the leaders and whoever is behind them. They shoot with real bullets at their own countrymen who are trying to claim real independence. Our army who never goes to any war except repressing the Malagasy, has roughly 1 general for 750 soldiers. (The US army has 231 generals for a little more than 1 million soldiers, that is roughly 1.3 generals for 5,000 soldiers). What are these generals for? And guess in which country our officers are trained? No, that is not independence.
What kind of independence are we talking about when our laws are first written in French before they are translated in Malagasy? When there are loopholes in the law, foreigners are quick to say “there is a loophole here so let’s use the French law to fill it.” Can we imagine finding a loophole in the French law and say let’s use the British law to compensate? Some people still think that if you do not speak French then you are not educated. What about all these people who have PhDs in Japan, South Africa, US, Kenya …who do not speak French? Are they not educated? We have heard “your president does not even speak French”, what does that really mean? Malagasy parents are so proud to see their children speaking French. The ironic side of that is these kids cannot even write correct French, the sad side is these children cannot speak and write good Malagasy either. How many Malagasy do you know have a PhD in Malagasy? And guess which country you need to go to if you want to earn a PhD in Malagasy?
Our original culture is fading away, giving more room to that of the ancient settlers. Part of what we consider as courtesy is the French one. For example, basically, for a meal, Malagasy use a spoon, a fork (sometimes), and a cup for the ranovola. French use 3 spoons, 3 knives, 3 forks, 3 glasses, at the simplest, they use 1 knife and 1 fork. Then we try to apply their dining behavioral rules to ours and say that it is courteous when we do what French do. Just like the Japanese and the Koreans who bow when they greet someone, the courteous way for the Malagasy to greet someone is to hold your own elbow, or wrist, with the left palm when shaking with the right hand, but we want to use la bise on the cheeks as the French do. Hopefully, COVID19 has changed it and we can go back to our own greeting. Maybe using 3 forks to eat and kissing on the cheeks to greet are not bad per say, it depends on everyone’s perception, but it is not our culture.
How can we even pretend to be independent when every single year, when we prepare our budget law, it must have the approval of the World Bank and the IMF? Every move we make, every step we take, is controlled by the World Bank and the IMF. These institutions control our laws and our reforms, and our socio-economic initiatives. Our decision makers, our highly ranked public servants swear by the WB and the IMF only: “the WB said this…the IMF said that…so that’s what we are going to do”, because every year we receive a budgetary aid from the IMF and if we do not do what they want, we do not get the aid. Independence?
Look at how the De Haulmes behave in their sisal plantation in the Anosy region. They act as if we are still in the ‘50s. But the local authorities are silent, incapable of changing the course of things. All the major companies (banks, energy, logistics, agribusiness, telecommunications …) are managed by foreigners, mostly French, because the Malagasy respect more a vazaha than a fellow Malagasy and work better under the supervision of a vazaha. Independence? I respectfully say not.
The Malagasy people deserve better and true independence. Not whatever smoke and mirrors it presents to be and should not be at the continued expense of the Malagasy people, resources, culture, and land.
We will end with the lyrics of Mahaleo:
Sao dia ataon’ialahy hoe mihani-kazo letsy ao a?....Tsia letsy a!
(Maybe you think that I take drugs [when I write this]?....No bro!)
No bro, I write this because:
We have a fake independence
We have a torn independence
We have a failed independence