MADAGASCAR: Exotic island battles widespread poverty
Thomas Cromwell

Madagascar: Exotic island battles widespread poverty

Known for its rare and exotic fauna and flora, Madagascar has only the faintest identity in people’s minds beyond its natural endowments. The size of Kenya or France and Belgium combined, and the fourth largest island in the world, Madagascar has a largely rural population and most of the 80 percent of its 18.5 million people who live in the countryside are engaged in subsistence farming.

A French colony until 1960, in December 2001 a national election brought a young new president to power, ending 20 years of almost continuous government under socialist leader Didier Ratsiraka. With the results disputed, violence broke out, and in 2002 the economy shrank by 12 percent. Washington’s recognition of the new government of Marc Ravalomanana in June, 2002 went a long way to ending the post-election uncertainty and enabled the new government to get down to the business of ruling.

With his market-oriented economic policies, the new president has managed to reduce poverty somewhat, and he won re-election in December last year. The main focus of the government is now the Madagascar Action Plan (MAP) for 2007 to 2012.

In a recent interview with DiplomaticTraffic.com, the Madagascar Embassy’s chargé d'affaires, Eulalie Ravelosoa, discussed the development plans in her country and the role Washington is playing, from granting the first Millennium Challenge grant to providing support through USAID, AGOA and the Peace Corps.

Explaining MAP, Ms. Ravelosoa stressed that it includes a broad range of national objectives, including improving infrastructure, boosting education, attracting foreign investment, expanding exports and attracting more tourists.

A basic problem is the poor roads and electricity distribution, the latter a cause of recent unrest. MAP calls for most of the poor quality roads to be transformed into a modern highway system by 2015, including a road circling the island, and extended electrification.

To create a workforce capable of managing development, the government has established the National Leadership Institute of Madagascar. Its graduates should be able to help lead both public and private development.

To attract investment, the Economic Development Board has been set up, and several legal measures taken to safeguard foreign investments and make Madagascar an attractive destination for foreign direct investment.

MAP is nothing if not ambitious. Set out in an attractive brochure are its eight commitments, starting with responsible government and followed by connected infrastructure, educational transformation, rural development and a green revolution, health and family planning, a high-growth economy, environmental protection and national solidarity.

The commitments are matched by a set of values, such as professionalism, shared leadership, continued capacity building, partnership, competitiveness, integrity and the will to succeed.

Ms. Ravelosoa pointed out that although quite diverse in its ethnic origins, the population has one language and a tradition of integration and social harmony. She said that periodic tribal conflicts are usually the result of political manipulation of differences in society.

She noted that Washington has a wide range of assistance projects for Madagascar, which enjoys the distinction of being the first country to have met the criteria to receive development assistance from the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC), which is financing projects primarily in the agriculture sector with multi-year financing of some $110 million.

The Peace Corps is teaching English (now a third official language after French and Malagasy) and helping with the protection of the environment as well as the promotion of health-related initiatives and projects. Madagascar is known for its indigenous silk and traditional Lamba scarves. “Madagascar has highly skilled men and women,” Ms. Ravelosoa said. USAID is supporting another range of projects.

In addition to textiles and apparel, Madagascar exports titanium, graphite, chromite, gold, precious stones, petroleum products, coffee, pepper, cinnamon, cloves, vanilla, chocolate, seafood, meat, sugar and plants. Among the precious stones it exports are sapphires and rubies, and among the products it makes from medicinal plants, including Ravintsara, a number of essential oils are sold abroad.   .

ExxonMobil is currently exploring for oil, and has said that off-shore resources might equal those of the Gulf of Guinea, which currently supplies something like 17 percent of all oil imports to the United States. CEO Rex Tillerson on March 7 told a New York audience: “We like what we see in Madagascar. The country’s geology is similar to Nigeria and Angola.”

An “island continent” with 70 percent of its fauna and flora found only there, Madagascar is a fascinating tourist destination. It also has beautiful sandy beaches, offering a combination of nature with sun and sea tourism. As the infrastructure to receive visitors improves, the numbers are bound to increase beyond the modest 150,000 a year that make there way there now.

Ms. Ravelosoa said that after its first administration, in which it made some progress, including reducing the level of poverty from over 80 percent to about 70 percent, and raising investment from 0.2 percent of GDP to 1.7 percent, the Ravalomanana government “needed better and faster results.” Hence the development of MAP, “a bold and exciting plan for rapid development,” she said.

To jump-start its ambitious five-year plan, the government has embarked on what it calls a Breakthrough Reform Initiative. This seeks to raise tax collection from 10 percent of GDP today to 15 percent by 2012; increase foreign investment through developing infrastructure and make Madagascar an attractive destination for investor dollars; pursue a green revolution through which subsistence farmers will be assisted in growing and selling produce for the domestic and export markets; improve public security, including cracking down on cattle rustling and smuggling; improve health services; transform the judiciary; and improve the capabilities of leaders.

The government wants to limit population growth from an average fertility rate of 5.6 children per woman to just three, improve education and fix problems in the infrastructure so that it can expand the economy at a target annual rate of 7 to 10 percent by 2012. This will be the key to cutting poverty levels. Last year, it turned in growth of 5.5 percent.

Ms. Ravelosoa noted that Madagascar has done well from the trade incentives in AGOA, but as with other African countries, the removal of US textile and apparel quotas through the World Trade Organization has made competition with China in particular, more difficult, and income from exports to the US from this sector (by far the largest category) dropped 20 percent to $277 million from 2004 to 2005, and a further 15 percent in 2006. 

With GPD per capita estimated at just $309 last year, Madagascar is still a very poor country. But with wisely placed assistance and pro-market reforms, the country appears set to make progress towards its lofty MAP goals.

Resume

  

Personal Information :

 

First and middle names : Eulalie Narisolo

Surname: Ravelosoa

Born on: January 13 1963 in Antananarivo, Madagascar

Status: married

Number of children: 3

  

Education:

 

2002: Insitut Universitaire de Hautes Etudes Internationales, Geneva, Switzerland:

IUHEI Certificate (specialization in multilateral diplomacy)

 

2001: South African Institute of International Affairs (SAIIA): Certificate of Participation in the SADC training on Regional Cooperation

 

2000: Japanese Language Insitute, Osaka, Japan: Certificate in Japanese Language and Diplomacy

 

1997: Intitute of Diplomacy and Foreign Relations, Kual Lumpur, Malaysia

(Malaysian and South East Asian diplomacy)

 

1996: Ecole Nationale d’Administration de Madagascar : ENAM Certificate for
Diplomatic and Consular Agents (Public Administration, International Relations)

 

1994 : Professional Training at the Madagascar Embassy in Mauritius

 

1989: Moray House College of Education, Edimburgh, UK: Certificate of Study Skills and Certificate in the Teaching of English as a Foreign Language

 

1986: Ecole Normale Superieure, Antananarivo, Madagascar: Certificat d’Aptitude Pedagogique de l’Ecole Normale Niveau III (English Language Teaching)

 

1979 : Lycée Jules Ferry, High School graduation (Baccalauréat de l’Enseignement
Secondaire)

 

 Carrer History:

 

From April 10, 2007: Embassy of Madagascar, Chargé d’Affaires a.i.

 

May 23 2003April 10 2007: Embassy of Madagascar, Deputy Chief of Mission

 

September 1997 – May 2003: Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Madagascar; respectively in charge of Strategic Studies and Cooperation with America and Asia. Has acted as Director of Bilateral Cooperation where needed

 

1989 – 1990: Ambatondrazaka Public High School, Teacher of English

 

1987 – 1988: Marovoay Public High School, Teacher of English

 

1979 – 1981: Ministry of Culture and Art, Department of International Relations
(National Duty)

 

Languages spoken:

 

Malagasy: mother tongue

French: fluent

English: good

Japanese: basic skills for diplomatic practice in Japan

German and Spanish: basic