Madagascar: Devastating tropical storm makes way for a political one

A few days after passing Madagascar, the official toll from the damages caused by Cyclone Fanele have finally come in.  President Ravalomanana president flew to one of the affected areas to assess the extent of the devastation.

Cyclone citizen media initiative

While the BGNRC  (department of risk and disaster management) is still without an official website, reports pertaining to the damages are being aggregated on an open-source Google map by two bloggers, Marie Sophie Digne and Tomavana (fr).

Here is a summary of the damages, according to IRIN, via ReliefWeb:

New figures from Madagascar's National Office for Natural Disasters Preparedness (BNGRC) indicate that cyclone Fanele claimed eight lives and affected some 40,400 people [..] The BNGRC said a further 63,000 people were at risk in Menabe if heavy rain continued to fall. Relief teams are still assessing the damage caused by the two storms, and figures are expected to rise as more information on the full extent of the damage is gathered.

Political turmoil

The Malagasy blogosphere was also buzzing with political news and commentary about a new massive political gathering today (Jan 24th) and a call for a national strike to demand the resignation of the entire administration.

Many bloggers have provided live blogging and images of the event (additional images on facebook).

Blogger Ariniaina provides a brief factsheet on the background of the turmoil:

Andry Rajoelina (or Andry TGV) had a TV Station named VIVA and still have a radio station with the same name. The minister of the communication has decided to close the TV station VIVA due to a documentary movie that this station had broadcasted. It was a message from the former President of Madagascar, Didier Ratsiraka [..] Since then, the Mayor ( of Antanarivo, Andry Rajoelina) gave an ultimatum to the government to re-open VIVA TV station before January 13 [..] As Andry didn’t get what he wanted, he invited the people of Tana to go on a strike AGAIN today, January 24.

( demonstration photo via ariniana )

Blogger Jentilisa
provides in-depth analysis of the discourse on both sides of the political spectrum and cautions against the spreading of unverified rumors (mg):

Toy izany ihany koa nisy hazo nianjera tao amin'ny kianjan'ny demaokrasia, noho ny fahanterany mazava loatra (tatitra heno tamin'ny radio tana, kidaona maraina) nefa misy manadrohadro hoe “lazao fa sabotazy ihany koa e!”; eo indrindra isika, fambara zavatra amin'ny hafa hatrany ny zavatra toy izany na dia tokony ho tsy misy dikany aza. Eo amin'ny toe-tsaina minomino foana mbola ananan'ny maro dia mbola fampitandremana aloha izay,

A tree fell on the square for democracy (where the meeting took place) because of the evident affluence ( message heard on the radio); still some claim “say that it was a sabotage”. So here we are, talking about insignificant events instead. We are still so prone to believe anything we hear and I would like to caution against that.

Blogger Avylavitra reminds us that the government is also trying to terminate VIVA radio and that the reason it advances for it does not hold up. There is a law against private radio broadcasting all over the country. Yet, one pro-government radio MBS has been broadcasting nationally for 5 years without any threat of censorship (mg):

Tsy hoe fanenjehana ny MBS akory no ilazako izany fa filazana kosa hoe ‘Natao ho an’iza ny lalàna?’

I am not trying to single out MBS. I am just asking: ” Is the law only applicable for a few ?”

( Malagasy activist yes we can shirt by avylavitra)

History repeating itself
Mialisoa Randriamampianina, a journalist and blogger, is dissapointed to see a replay of the events in 2002, with the same errors, same bellicose rhetoric and a democracy that is still far from mature (fr):

À défaut d’une véritable culture politique, ce grand public se rabat sur la bonne vieille offuscation des éternelles victimes, le ton toujours plus haut, la prudence toujours bradée [..] Ainsi faisait-on en 2002, ainsi fait-on en 2009 [..]: la rue est devenue le chemin forcé, la menace, le recours incontournable. Et au bout, une implosion qui n’est pas forcément utile. Il y a sûrement une juste manière de se faire comprendre, en dehors des intimidations un peu trop faciles et de la condescendance maladroite. En attendant un peu de sang-froid, on en est tous là, en train de naviguer à vue d’œil ou à l’aveuglette. Et on appelle cela « une quête de la démocratie »…

Without a true political culture, the crowd is resorting to the old whines of eternal victims, the noise ever louder and prudence thrown out the window [..] So we did in 2002, so we will in 2009 [..] the street has become the only way, the leverage, the absolute recourse. Eventually, an implosion that may not be very useful. There has got to be a way to convey your message, without the easy intimidations and the awkward condescension. While we wait for a bit of perspective from cooler heads, we are here, trying to find our way out. And we called this ” a quest for democracy”

Randy also a blogger/journalist, agrees that Madagascar may still may not be ready for a true democratic process (fr):

Et c’est bien ce qui inquiète une partie de l’opinion. Car, dans tous les pays du continent qui se sont livrés à ce jeu, c’est toujours par des manifestations d’une spontanéité suspecte que commence la mise en scène.

And that is what scares some. As was the case in most countries of the continent that tried the (democratic) game, suspiciously spontaneous public protests set the stage.

The irony of the current president threatened by a public tour-de-force reminiscent of his own ascendancy to power is not lost on blogger Rajiosy (fr):

L’ironie de l’Histoire veut que celui-là même qui a outrepassé l’Etat naguère a eu pour tâche de restaurer l’autorité de cet Etat et de stabiliser ses institutions. Il se retrouve aujourd’hui mis en demeure de conforter cette pérennité. Tâche difficile on l’a vu face à une partie de population versatile.

The irony of the story is that the same person who back then overrode the rule of law now has the task to restore the authority of the state and stabilize its institutions. He is now faced with trying to consolidate his position. A difficult task considering the volatility of public opinion.

Maturing twittosphere

An intriguing development during this political process was the emergence of an active Malagasy twittosphere who posted political development in a real time manner. One can follow a timeline of related tweets by searching for #madagascar:


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