Madagascar: Fatal incident overshadows Indian Ocean Island Games’ opening ceremony

Official logo of the 2023 Indian Ocean Island Games (JIOI). Ring-tailed lemur, a flagship species of Madagascar.

Just as Madagascar's current President, Andry Narina Rajoelina, seeks reelection in November 2023, the opening of Madagascar's Indian Ocean Island Games was overshadowed by a fatal incident that left several dead.

On August 25, in Madagascar's capital, Antananarivo, the opening ceremony of the Indian Ocean Island Games (JIOI) was marred by a stampede, where at least 13 spectators were killed and 80 injured upon entering Kianja Barea Mahamasina stadium.

To learn more about JIOI 2023, read: Madagascar to host the 2023 Indian Ocean Island Games

Kianja Barea Mahamasina stadium has a seating capacity of 40,260. However, on August 25, it is thought around 50,000 spectators were able to enter the stadium as a large crowd eagerly waited outside.

As those outside desperately tried to get in, a stampede broke out, which tragically resulted in a number of deaths. Several children and a pregnant woman were among those killed

This video, which has been circulating widely on social media, shows the stampede as it unfolded. The video was recorded by an anonymous citizen living close to the stadium.

Despite this tragedy, the opening ceremony still went ahead. However, before delivering his opening speech, Andry Rajoelina asked the audience to observe a moment of silence in memory of the victims.

The cause of this tragic stampede is yet to be clearly established. Malagasy authorities are currently conducting an in-depth investigation to determine its cause and thereby assess the shortcomings in the security measures in place.

On the night of the incident, a delegation led by Madagascar's Prime Minister, Ntsay Christian, went to Joseph Ravoahangy Andrianavalona Hospital, where the injured were being treated. The hospital fees of those injured were fully covered by the state, and the victims’ families also received government aid and support. 

Following this tragedy, Malagasy people expressed their grief on social media. Facebook user Jolla officiel thereby posted:

C'est trop dur
Même une femmes enceinte est morte 🥹🥹🥹 des blessés 😭😢
J'ai mal au cœur 😭😭😭😢😢🥺🥺💔💔💔

It's just too painful
Even a pregnant woman has died 🥹🥹🥹 several are injured 😭😢
My heart aches 😭😭😭😢😢🥺🥺💔💔💔

Scoring political points online

Madagascar is gearing up for its presidential elections on November 9 (first round) and December 20 (second round), 2023. Vying for election are the country's current president, Andry Rajoelina, and its former presidents, Marc Ravalomanana (in office 2002–2009), and Hery Rajaonarimampianina (in office 2014–2018), as well as Malagasy MEP and African Judo Union President, Siteny Randrianasoloniaiko.

In the current pre-election climate, this stampede has taken on political overtones. Hetsika Pro-Ravalomanana, a Facebook page in support of Madagascar's former president, Marc Ravalomanana, posted:

When watching this video, two things stand out:
1) There was no organization from the security forces. People could just walk in without any specific planning.
2) People were too concerned about getting in that they kept pushing forward.
This shows that the Island Games were poorly organized and that the authorities aren't reliable.

Whereas others accuse the public of being stubborn and not following the instructions of the security forces on site. This applies to most comments on the Serasera Mada Facebook page, which backs President Andry Nirina Rajoelina.

It's still difficult for Malagasy citizens to readily accept organization. They're good at blaming others💁 Sending all my support 🙏

The problem is our attitude…we're incapable of embracing organization.
I send my condolences to those bereaved and wish those injured a speedy recovery

Repeated negligence at large-scale public events 

This wasn't the first fatal stampede to take place at Kianja Barea Mahamasina stadium in Antananarivo. During a soccer match between Madagascar and Senegal on September 9, 2018, this stadium was the scene of a tragic stampede, which killed one individual and left around thirty injured.

On June 26, 2019, during a free event in celebration of the 59th anniversary of Madagascar's independence, another tragedy struck, claiming the lives of 15 spectators and injuring another 75

What's more, shortcomings were also observed throughout these games. Some athletes experienced problems with accommodation, outdated equipment, chaotic transport, and issues accessing food.

Besides the shortcomings in organization and security measures, this tragic incident is also indicative of the poverty in Madagascar. According to Jerison Razafimanantsoa, Secretary-General of the Malagasy Ministry of Labor, Employment, Public Service and Social Laws, Madagascar had an unemployment rate of 80 percent in May 2022 and an estimated poverty rate of 81 percent in 2021.

This video from the lgobal press agency, Agence-France-Presse (APF), reflects the level of poverty in this country.

“If I had to vote, I'd definitely vote for the trash cans, since they're the ones who feed us,” says Claudine. Like her, many Malagasy citizens aren't going to vote in the first round of presidential elections in Madagascar, where poverty is rife. #AFP

— Agence France-Presse (@afpfr) October 30, 2018

Malagasy people who have had enough of poverty and inflation wanted to make the most of these games, which were accessible and free for all. For them, this was an opportunity to unwind and forget about their daily struggles for a while.

A showcase for Malagasy athletes

Despite this tragedy, the games ended in due form on September 3. It should be noted that the Island Games Organization Committee (COJI) decided to observe a moment of silence at the start of each event in memory of the victims of the opening ceremony's stampede.

At this edition of the games, Malagasy athletes dominated the winners list, as this medal table shows:

Screenshot of the medal table on the JIOI website

Drone show displaying the Indian Ocean Island Games official logo during the opening ceremony. Photo used with permission

Indeed, Malagasy athletes won 272 medals, including 121 gold, followed by Mauritius. To see the medal count in detail, please visit the Indian Ocean Island Games official website.

While the opening ceremony lasted almost three hours and saw over 4,000 performers take to the stage with video animations, traditional and modern dances, special effects, laser beams, and a brilliant firework and drone display, there were substantially fewer spectators at the closing ceremony.

The 12th edition of the JIOI will take place in four years’ time in 2027, with the Comoros as the host country.

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