Image via WikipediaMalagasy people like to imagine what could have been when they compare the fate of their nation with the fate of their neighbor Mauritius. There was even the hope of somehow catching the right wave and rising like the "Asian Tigers" of a few decades ago. (Taiwan had a lot of geographical and biological similarities with Madagascar but it light-years away in terms of development)
Let's be clear, it's all a pipe dream now. Catching up with Mauritius, that ship has sailed, long gone like the Sarimanok, the first sail from Malaysia to land on the coast of Madagascar.
The issue at hand here is that there is a fair amount of self-loathing going on everytime Malagasy people reflect on the development of their country. It is not uncommon to hear from Malagasy: " We cannot do anything right, our leaders have failed us over and over".
Especially in this time of political crisis and uncertainty, trust is a scarce commodity amongst Malagasy and hope even rarer.
Maybe it is time to revisit the goals here.
Maybe if we accept that we will never be an economic powerhouse, we can start focusing on doing the things we can achieve.
Our history is fraught with trying to hit the home runs when exploiting our rich natural resources ( mines, oil, tourism, arable land, etc.) yet time and time again, we failed to truly achieve sustainable progress, even for indices that should be directly related to these investments: GDP, trade balance, export, entrepreneurship...
what we see is international corporations settling in and identifying resources to exploit and very little wealth trickling down on Malagasy local economy.
By no means, am I advocating that we forgo foreign investments, on the contrary. What I am saying is that we should not be obsessed with rapid growth when evaluating how well we are doing. Instead we should do monitor other criteria and concentrate on improving those. Why ? because the criteria I propose are achievements that depend solely on us and very often, I hear that those are the ones that matter the most to Malagasy in their everyday lives. Let's consider a putative list:
1) Health care coverage: a stunning statistic came to me recently: 38% of doctors are unemployed yet 70% of Malagasy don't have access to a doctor ( either financially or geographically). Surely we can find a way a solution here.
2) Preventing that rain forest from disappearing. What seems like an exaggeration decades ago is now a very concrete reality, thanks to rosewood logging and slash and burn. We may not be able to regrow the forest but we can still stop a total extinction.
3) Better democracy. A strong man at the top has always been the motto of Malagasy politics. Maybe we believe than an authoritarian regime is more conducive to rapid development. Well, that was not the case here, as corruption and greed doomed any kind of sustained growth. So let's see more
4) More civil engagement that would make sure that authorities don't abuse their power. It might slow down economic activities but may also ensure better distribution of wealth. If anything, Malagasy are known to be good at writing in general and like to engage in conversations. Let's encourage more bloggers, more press freedom and dissent.
5) Food security: a reaffirmed commitment to agriculture and support for farmers.
6) More education/literacy and information dissemination. The challenge with education and health care is that those are rarely self-sustainable projects. Yet, many individuals have to carry the burden of both education and health care with out-of-pocket expenses. (A close friend had to pay for school fees for his three children and also suffered a heart attack. Since Malagasy hospitals are not able to provide the appropriate care, he has to be evacuated to France for a total costs that will probably wipe out all of his savings and more. He is one of the lucky one who can still be send to France for an otherwise near death sentence)
7)Reducing ethnic boundaries: anyone who lived in Madagascar is aware of the underlying tensions between ethnic groups. It is not always out in the open but it is more palpable when crisis hits. Any measures that would encourage direct dialog between ethnic groups ought to be supported. Additionally, decentralizing decision centers ought to help prevent famine and the heterogeneous distribution of wealth.
8) Support small businesses.
9) Reduce GNI.
By shifting the focus away from GDP and production, I do not mean to romanticize poverty. I am emphasizing the fact that the arrival of Total, Rio Tinto and other big corporations have done little for social progress anyway so any revenues that trickle down here should be considered as bonus and not something to count on to initiate development. That can only come for a commitment from the state, small businesses and civil society.
It is also an acknowledgment that aiming to maximize profit for individuals as it is the case now in Madagascar lead to the absurd but common situation where "nouveaux riches" are parading Ferraris and Hummers on roads that can barely fit cars of such size. I am also unsure where is a pride in showing off such luxuries when 89% of the population live with less than $2/day, especially when this sudden wealth strangely coincides with the peak of rosewood logging last year.