Wrapped up in everyday tasks and activities it can be easy to not consider the full implications of the political crisis in Madagascar and just how much of an effect the crisis has had and will continue to have on the island. On my recent travels to the capital and to further northern parts of the country I was reminded again of how volatile the situation remains.
After the coup in 2009 which was backed by military support led by Andry Rajoelina to overthrow former president Marc Ravalomanana, international aid was cut off from the EU and the US to Madagascar. The international community immediately stated the newly claimed government the High Transitional Authority (HAT) had illegitimately come to power and it would not recognise either this regime or Rajoelina. This loss of funding since 2009 has had a devastating impact on the island’s development which has gradually begun to reverse. Alongside this, disappointment also persists in the South African Development Committee (SADC), the main intermediary in the crisis who continue to suggest solutions will be met quickly at their summits but in reality these often amount to little.
I recently visited Nosy Be just off the North – West coast of Madagascar, a tranquil tourist friendly island and for this reason it is evidently a wealthier region of the country, certainly in comparison to other smaller coastal towns such as Tulear in the south-west for example. Here I stayed in a guest house run by a French man who has resided on the island for the past six years. As I was about to leave I asked him how business picked up at certain times of year and generally how stable life was on Nosy Be. He explained the difficulties that have been faced to his business, initially when the crisis happened in 2009 with the sudden decline of tourists, but what seemed of more concern has been the lack of government spending on medical aid and education, as these vital sectors remain seriously underfunded. It was this that was his particular concern for bringing up his two young children. What was most interesting was that he attributed blame to the French for supporting Rajoelina from the outset.
What is constantly the theme of disappointment for Madagascar and the political situation is the untapped potential that the island holds for the tourist industry (in addition to what could be offered for investment opportunities and raw materials – especially for mining and gold exploration, Madagascar is said to have one of the biggest unwrapped potentials of gold mining in Africa). Not only does the island entice biologists, but Madagascar is a huge attraction for a range of tourists interested in seeing the surplus of endemic plant and animal species (found nowhere else on earth). Over the past few months I have frequently heard of discoveries of new species of chameleons, birds and lemurs. But it seems for every new discovery a shadow is cast as others continue to be threatened by factors mostly a result of the political situation.
The illegal animal trade and poaching is now rife as profiteers have taken advantage of the instability. For many of the country’s poor who carry out the poaching this is simply a means to an ends, and those who control the trade are most likely to profit. Rare breeds of tortoise and lemur are now endangered as pet smuggling has also increased their likelihood of extinction. A report from the World Wide Fund for Nature in 2010 indicated that at one time at least 1000 terrestrial tortoises were illegally extracted from south Madagascar per week. It was once a cultural taboo to eat tortoise meat in the south, but this is no longer the case. And lemur meat sold in certain parts of the country is also considered a delicacy.
Deforestation has also increased hugely, especially of precious hardwood and other materials. Some reports have claimed deforestation has seen the felling of up to 400 trees per day in certain regions. Illegal shipping of precious rosewood is also a huge problem, which is often shipped out of the North – East and the North and occasionally the South as a means to avoid detection. Just last week Inter Press Service reported on 30 tons of rosewood being illegally transported in Antalaha, on the North-East coast which were seized by the police, and the week before three trucks transporting 115 rosewood logs were intercepted in the South – East of the Island.
The full implications of this deforestation on Madagascar must be realised. All too often donors prefer to opt to give to development over conservation but finding a solution which meets both these demands is essential on an island like Madagascar for a longer term development. Even the role the forest plays as a watershed must not be overlooked. In Madagascar it still remains that 23% of the population don’t have access to clean water. Not only will deforestation increase this figure but it will also affect rice siltation and agricultural fields ultimately affecting crop production and livelihoods. Environmental preservation relies on a good economy but also can help ensure the success of future economic stability and growth. Even before the more recent crisis of 2009, between 1990 and 2005 more than one million hectares of forest were lost to deforestation which the World Bank estimates cost the country 3 – 15% of its GDP annually. In light of this the solutions that Feedback Madagascar and Ny Tanintsika propose can be valued more so. These projects see that development and conservation are carried out hand in hand, interlinking reforestation alongside promoting health, livelihoods, education and the local stewardship and management of natural resources.
Despite the problems posed by the crisis that have and continue to face various organisations in Madagascar, it remains remarkable that NGOs such as Ny Tanintsika/Feedback Madagascar continue to remain dedicated, proactive and persistent in striving to reach the poorest communities – who have ultimately been affected the most since 2009. When I first arrived in Madagascar I read a report from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), which spoke of the perseverance of such players and which sums up their position precisely; “International NGOs, local civil society organizations, civil servants and communities have continued to push forward and support the cause of healthy and sustainable management of Madagascar’s wonderfully important natural resources despite the temporary suspension of donor support, an evident lack of political will, and increasingly difficult circumstances. They are to be lauded for their persistence and dedication. But they need significantly more help.”
Photo 1 Credit: Madagascar’s military drive through streets of Antananarivo at the end of a rally organised by opposition leader Andry Rajoelina March 16, 2009. [Pan-African News Wire File Photos]
Photo 2 Credit: Cultivation of plants for dyeing basketry materials as part of project Pailles, (preserving the endangered Pandanus species and promoting women’s livelihoods) [Samantha Cameron]