It started as just a gathering of people passionate about information during the Madagascar crisis, wanting to meet in real life and share personal experience and tips. It organically became something a little more, a forum on what transpired during the crisis and what can each of us do to get involved in the future direction of information in Madagascar. It was an unexpected mix of experts and people of good will; and it apparently tickled enough the attention of the current administration, as well as the former one to send uninvited "representatives".
For full disclosure and at the risk of repeating myself, I am not a journalist, but I certainly admire people who dedicate their lives trying to share information and analysis the right way.
For those who don’t know, I just got back from almost a month in Madagascar and it clearly was not nearly enough time spent there. My overall impression is that I fell in love all over again with Madagascar and I did so despite the current political miasma. For that I took a clue from Malagasies over there, who are making things happen mostly in spite of enormous “pot holes in their daily commute”, as a blogger friend nicely put it.
I fell in love again because at the gathering I just mentioned, I saw the youth of Madagascar getting involved without fear and being encouraged and advised by elders who knew all about the importance of communication and independent journalism for a country aspiring to democracy. There was no bitterness or accusation, just statements of events lived personally and stories of everyday courage because that was and is the right thing to do. Mada Matin and Midi Madagasikara wrote lengthy articles about the un-conference and foko's contribution to it so the seeds for more collaboration are in definitely in play.
Bloggers had hoped for an increased collaboration with journalists for a while now because we were aware of the extreme pressure they are subject to ( RSF, CPJ, Advox).
To that matter, we had a lively conversation at "Friday Talk" between journalists and bloggers, managed by the outstanding Oelisoa, , and we talked about how digital media could be used by journalists as a complement to their work ( additional source of info, anonymity if desired, real time publications etc..) . Claire Ulrich was kind enough to share her extensive knowledge of all things media and risk of censorship with the reporters in attendance.
[ OT/ Digression: Claire was a blast to be with in Madagascar, always so cheerful despite the multiple trips, change of addresses and the undeniable crazy behavior of my folks :). I highly recommend to any GVers to invite Claire along while traveling home]
After my write up based upon testimonies by journalists of the hardship they are facing , I have received threatening mails and message of encouragement. Its par with the course and nothing unexpected. I would just like to make one point very clear:
There is outstanding journalism going on in Madagascar, for instance Madagascar Tribune and Midi-Madagasikara often highlighted improper actions by people in power, it’s just that it takes an incredible amount of effort and special circumstances to produce that type of reports. Coincidence or not, those publications and those journalists are already quite savvy with web 2.0 technology. As a matter of fact, Tribune seems to be limiting if not removing its print edition ( I could not find any while I was there).
In other words, the majority of journalists are still not provided the proper conditions to inform the public to the full extent of their capabilities in the traditonal medium that still reaches most of the compatriots. Threats on their person, their relatives and means of living are real. That was the whole point of my report. Nothing more and nothing less. Additionally, I am fully aware that the independence of journalists has been undermined or attacked for a long while in Madagascar, by former regimes. That is still no excuse for perpetrating and aggravating the situation by sending the army into media news room or after journalists for arbitrary arrests. It is time we demand better judgment from our leaders, if they cannot perform to the proper standards of leadership, they need to say so and step away.
At the very least, they need to let media do their job of reporting and monitoring the development of the nation. As I was walking the streets of Antananarivo and Mahajanga, I saw the results of the Black Monday upheaval of January 26th. It was puzzling to me that a movement that was qualified as a spontaneous reaction to an authoritarian regime was so precise in burning down and pillaging only a specific set of stores and not the others. One store would be ransacked and burn but the one next door, belonging to someone else, was left untouched. If you were angry at a regime and the current unbearable social class divide, would you be so precise as to make sure some stores were left untouched?
Those questions should have been answered or investigated a long time ago. They were not and that is what we are trying to point out here. Too many stones are left unturned still in Madagascar.
Why is it that no one asks why the new constitution would stipulate that only candidate between the age of 30 to 60 years old would be allowed to run ? ( Ratsiraka and Ravalomanana would be ineligible by year’s end then). Why is it that new 4X4 vehicles are seized from a car dealership by the army and no one bats an eyelash ? When were most precious rosewood plantations from the SAVA region become the property of private interests close to the former president ?
I hope that clarifies where I stand once and for all on the reason why I am bullish about information and bloggers in Madagascar. The setting of standards for fact finding needs contribution from us all. It will take a while but as friend said: “this is about the legacy we will provide to our kids and grand kids, what will we tell them when they ask what on earth happened here ?”
The transitional government offers anticipated elections by the end of 2009. I am all for it but they need to allow all parties to participate and they need to restore the parliament beforehand. Otherwise, we are heading once again for more violence and turmoils and no one wants to see that.
Believe me, I would have much rather talked about the resiliency of Malagasy students and the tireless smiles on Malagasies faces. I’d have rather talked about all the ideas that they come up with to share info faster and improve the way things are: they proposed citizen monitoring of the upcoming elections but they also wondered about an SMS based report of traffic jams in the city. If you have been in Tana lately, you know that would be the single most drastic improvement in the lives of urban commuters.
That is why I fell in love again over there. Madagascar is choke-full of potential, too bad our leaders only see potentials in minerals, oil wells and unexploited lands. They might have just missed the single most important one, its youth’s quest for getting involved.
Many thanks to those guys in the photos below, you made my trip but more importantly my dad’s and Claire’s trips one to remember for a long, long time.