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Madagascar: Too much emphasis on the environment ?

Categories: Sub-Saharan Africa, Madagascar, Development, Environment, Freedom of Speech, Governance, Science

Forrest madagascar
(photo via Harinjaka [1])

Madagascar is arguably most renowned for its unique biodiversity. However, the focus on the environment is sometimes resented by Malagasies who think it diverts attention away from the hardships of the Malagasy people.

One of the most famous Malagasy artists of all time, Rossy, wrote a famous song called “Resa-babakoto [2]” (translation: discussing the apes) which includes this verse (mg):

“Ny gidro sy ny ala, Tsara karakara
Andaniana drala, Amina miliara
[..] Rakoto ‘ty mijaly, tsisy mpitotaly
Ny zanany tomany, tsisy mpanontany”

The apes and the forest are well-taken care of.
One spends a lot of money, billions on them [..]
Rakoto (average Joe) is struggling, no one really cares.
His children are crying, no one would ask why.

kids on the street

(photo via foko-madagascar [3])

Despite Rossy’s artistic exaggerations, there is a real concern among Malagasies that protection of the environment comes at the expense of the local population.

Rossy is known for his political activism and his current music tour in Madagascar has been canceled by the government for reasons that are yet to be clarified [4] (fr). His view on the environment was probably not the reason for the sudden censorship but the current government has placed a strong emphasis on the environment as a major factor in sustainable development.

Windows on the New World of Sipakv points to a presentation [5] given by President Ravalomanana [6] on the importance of biodiversity, highlighting this odd quote:

“The famous German author Goethe already knew about the lemurs. The “Lemuren” play an important role at the end of Faust II. Mephisto calls them when Faust is dying. So, it was our lemurs that buried your ‘Faust'”.

If you are slightly puzzled by that quote and unsure of its purpose, you are probably not the only one.

In addition to the president’s speech, two major piece of environment-related news had the Malagasy blogosphere talking last week:

A major study about protecting biodiversity [7] was featured on the front page of Science, a prestigious scientific journal. On my blog, Rakoto's Rants, I pointed out that although the main authors are from major US universities one of the collaborating institutes is based in Antananarivo [8] and a Malagasy scientist is a collaborating author.

Also, one of this year's eight MacArthur Foundation “Creative and Effective Institutions” [9] award grantees is the Tany Meva Foundation, an environmental organization in Madagascar. Jogany at The Purple Corner explains what the Tany Meva Foundation is about [10]:

Tany Meva seeks to increase sustainable use of the environment, to educate and empower communities and to save the threatened forests. […]
(Their) mission is to sensitize and manage the financial resources so as to:
-promote the sustainable management of the environment in Madagascar
-contribute to the global challenges to this concern through the active engagement of the local communities.

Finally, Tomavana at Malagasy Miray questions the priorities and the authoritative nature of the current government [11]:

Tandis que la famine et la malnutrition menacent plusieurs régions de l’île, rien ne semble ébranler le déroulement de la partie qui a commencé depuis un certain temps déjà

As famine and malnutrition threaten many regions of the island, nothing seems to stop the proceeding of the current game (participation in the Olympic games etc..) that seems to have already been set for a while.