Problems of Madagascar
Mada is great, but it's no paradise, for both the Malagasy and the traveller.
Let's start with a few facts:
- Madagascar is listed by the United Nations as one of the world's 49 least developed nations.
- According to the US Department of State, in 2003 "approximately 70 percent of (Madagascar's) population was below the government's own poverty level of approximately 45 cents a day in income."
- The World Bank estimates that each Malagasy earns only US$290 per year. In a list of 208 countries rated according to gross national income per capita for 2003 the bank places Madagascar at position 187, just 21 places from the bottom.
- Madagascar's infant mortality is almost 1 in 10. Only about five per cent of the island's land is considered arable.
- Madagascar was ranked by Transparency International in its 2003 International Corruption Perceptions Index as the 45th most corrupt nation in the world. The previous year Madagascar was ranked as the 4th most corrupt nation.
These are not a great set of figures, and along with them come all the expected human consequences - low life expectancy, rapid population growth, poor health care, periodic famine, hand-to-mouth living, exploitation, the list goes on.
A little bit of money can buy you a lot in Madagascar; a point not lost on unscrupulous Malagasy and foreigners alike. Cronyism is said to be rife, and heads can be easily turned from all sorts of unsavoury or downright illegal activities if the price is right. Human predators are ready and willing to take advantage. Sexual tourism is obvious and can involve children. There are also reports of human trafficking.
The problems have been exacerbated by decades of bad government. The little infrastructure and few social institutions left by the French colonialists were allowed to run down during the 40 years of socialist rule that followed independence.
Today Madagascar is just starting to pick itself up under a revised constitution and new president, but the long-term outlook remains uncertain, although any future tremors will probably just roll over the body of Madagascar. And it's this inertia that is the country's biggest problem, though perhaps, up till now, it's also been its saving. The question is, as the 21st Century closes in, can Madagascar move beyond tradition?
Most Malagasy are intensely proud of their country and aware of its vast potential. They want their island and their fellow citizens to prosper. They want to progress while retaining their traditional Malagasy ways. One can only hope that they succeed.
Perhaps their best opportunities lie with education and environmentally sustainable development.
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