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La Francophonie Summit Comes to Madagascar, Where Demonstrators Are Waiting

Rassemblement du collectif citoyen Wake up Madagascar via Facebook Wake Up Madagascar

Rally of the citizen's collective “Wake Up Madagascar.” Photo: Facebook, used with permission.

The sixteenth Summit of the International Organisation of La Francophonie (IOF) will take place on November 24 and 25 in the capital of Madagascar, Antananaviro. Taking place every two years, the summit brings together heads of state and government leaders from the member states of the IOF, which represents French-speaking nations. At the summit, delegates discuss international politics, global economics, cooperation between Francophone nations, human rights, education, and democracy.

In preparation for the arrival of the many heads of state, the Madagascan government has been keen to clean up the country's capital, so foreign guests see it in its best light.

The administration has taken drastic steps to achieve this. New roads have been built, but the many homeless people who live in the capital have been relocated, as well. Felaniaina Diamante has published photographs showing homeless people being moved during the night ahead of the summit. She writes:

Afindra monina vonjy maika(…) aloha ireo”mahantratsika”fa manimba mason'ny vahiny@frankofonia…Noraofina t@camion ben'ny CUA.

Our destitute citizens are being […] hurriedly moved because their presence might shock the guests of La Francophonie. They were transported by a dump truck from the city council.

Emsemble de photos montrant l'evacuation des sans abris a Antananarivo, madagascar

A collection of photos showing the evacuation of homeless people in Antananarivo, Madagascar. Photo: F. Diamante, used with permission.

Pamela, who lives in Antananarivo, confirms this information:

J'étais outrée de voir comment ces personnes ont été transportées en pleine nuit, entassées dans un camion. Les SDF ne pouvaient pas vraiment refuser l’offre faite, les policiers leur ont proposé des vivres et des couvertures. Mais dès le lendemain matin, quelques-uns sont revenus à la case départ expliquant que le lieu ne leur convenait pas. Pourquoi a-t-on laissé le nombre de SDF s'accroître dans ce quartier, pour subitement décider de les embarquer, quelques jours avant ce sommet ?

I was furious to see how these people were transported in the middle of the night, crammed in a lorry. The homeless people couldn't really refuse the offer in front of them. Police officers offered them food and blankets. But the very next morning, some of them came back to square one because the place wasn't suitable for them. Why has the number of homeless people been left to increase in this neighbourhood — to decide suddenly to send them packing several days before the summit?

The citizen's movement “Wake Up Madagascar” works to expose the realities of daily life for Malagasy people. In one of the capital's public squares, the movement organised a sit-in to call out to leaders attending the summit. The group described the objectives of its demonstration in an open letter to the Secretary-General of the IOF:

Madame La Secrétaire Générale,

Nous, citoyens malgaches, sommes honorés d’être les hôtes du 16e Sommet de la Francophonie, bien que l’organisation de l’événement et les mesures prises pour son déroulement sont loin d’avoir acquis l’adhésion de tous. Nous vous souhaitons la bienvenue dans notre humble pays.

Malheureusement, ce Sommet qui se veut fédérateur écarte l’âme même de Madagascar qu’est sa population. Les mesures prises au nom du confort et de la sécurité des prestigieux invités ne servent qu’à cacher la réalité du Malgache de 2016 et pour certains d’entre nous, alourdissent la précarité quotidienne durant la semaine consacrée à la Francophonie.

Par ailleurs, un budget faramineux a été mis à disposition de l’Etat pour l’organisation de l’événement. Cependant, les dépenses occasionnées dans la préparation du Sommet restent opaques et les détails, jalousement gardés par l’Administration. Malgré les incessantes demandes de la société civile et de simples citoyens, le budget y affecté et ses sources sont volontairement laissés flous, laissant planer des doutes et des inquiétudes légitimes.

Madam Secretary-General,

We Malagasy citizens are honoured to host the sixteenth Summit of La Francophonie, even though the event's organisation and preparation has far from gain the support of everyone.

We wish you a warm welcome to our humble country. Though this summit aims to unify, unfortunately it casts aside the very soul of Madagascar: its people. Steps taken in the name of comfort and security for the prestigious guests only serve to conceal what life is like for a Malagasy citizen in 2016. For some of us, daily life has been made all the more precarious during the week devoted to the summit. Moreover, a budget of staggering proportions has been made available to the government to organise the event. However, the money allocated to organising the summit has not been publicised, while the government jealously guards every preparation detail.

Despite incessant calls from civil society and common citizens, the budget assigned to the summit, as well as its provenance, have been purposefully shrouded, giving rise to legitimate doubts and worries.

The letter continues:

Dans le quotidien malgache, nos citoyens meurent chaque jour dans des cambriolages, dans des attaques à main armée, dans des attaques de dahalo. L’Etat, qui se plie en quatre pour recevoir le sommet francophone, n’agit pas pour les administrés.
Nous nous sentons exclus de notre propre vie, de notre propre ville, de notre propre pays. Et c’est injuste !
Quelle est notre réalité, en 2016 :
- 92% des malgaches vivent en dessous du seuil de pauvreté. Un chiffre terrible qui s”illustre par la difficulté du Malgache lambda à trouver quotidiennement son besoin le plus basique : la nourriture.
- 1.400.000 personnes sont en état d'insécurité alimentaire dans le Sud, dont 840.000 personnes au plus haut niveau d'insécurité alimentaire
- Une insécurité galopante en milieu urbain et en milieu rural
- 7 personnes sur 10 n'ont pas accès à l'eau potable
- Les coupures d'eau et d’électricité sont quotidiennes sur tout le territoire, pour ceux qui y ont accès.

Everyday in Madagascar, our citizens die in burglaries, armed attacks, and attacks by the dahalo [Malagasy for “bandits” or organized criminal gangs]. While the state is bending over backwards to host the summit, it's not acting for its citizens.

We feel excluded from our own lives, our own city, and our own country. This is a grave injustice. This is our reality in 2016:

  • Ninety-two percent of Malagasy citizens live below the poverty line. This terrible statistic is only underscored by fact that ordinary citizens’ most serious basic need, on a daily basis, is food.
  • 1.4 million people in the south live in a state of food insecurity, and 840,000 of those people are living at critical levels of food insecurity.
  • Food insecurity is rapidly increasing in urban and rural areas.
  • Seven out of 10 people do not have access to safe drinking water.
  • Interruptions to power and water supplies are daily occurrences up and down the country (for those who do have access to these utilities).

At the sit-in, many messages were displayed by the protesters, like this one carried by Jentilisa, a contributor to Global Voices:

"Je suis lq liberté d’expression bafouée" par Jentilisa

“I am freedom of expression ridiculed.” Photo: Jentilisa, used with permission.

The spokesperson for the collective, Ketakandriana Rafitoson, explained to Radio France Internationale what the event was about and what the participants’ messages meant:

Et quand il y a un sommet où il s’agit d’inviter des étrangers, l’Etat se plie en quatre pour les accueillir. Mais nous, alors qu’on demande des services publics de base, -par exemple des problèmes d’électricité, de délestage qu’on a au quotidien, l’eau boueuse, les routes qui ne sont pas réparées-, personne ne nous écoute.(La teneur des messages?) : « Je suis les milliers de sans-abris », « Je suis celui qui n’a pas de travail », « Je suis les 1 400 000 Malgaches qui souffrent d’insécurité alimentaire dans le sud ». Les dirigeants veulent jeter de la poudre aux yeux à la communauté internationale tandis que le peuple se meurt.

And when there is a summit where people are invited from abroad, the state bends over backwards to welcome them. But for us, no-one listens when we ask for basic public services, such as problems with electricity, planned selective cuts to utilities, dirty water, unrepaired roads. What do the messages say? “I am the thousands of homeless people”, “I am the jobless”, “I am the 1.4 million Malagasy citizens in the South who struggle with food insecurity”. Leaders want to make a smokescreen for the international community while the people are dying.

To date, the government has not publicly revealed the cost of hosting the summit. This lack of transparency is precisely what the “Wake Up Madagascar” wants visitors to the Summit of La Francophonie to know.

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