Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Political Challenges in Madagascar - the only place in the world where lemurs occur naturally

Blog entry by Charlie Welch, Conservation Coordinator at the Duke Lemur Center
Charlie and his family lived and worked in Madagascar for many years and care deeply for the people, the land and the lemurs.

It has been almost a month since I wrote the last update of the political situation in Madagascar. Much has changed since that last entry.

The democratically elected president of Madagascar, Marc Ravalomanana resigned on March 17. He handed power to the military which had backed the opposition, and the military quickly passed the power on to opposition leader, Andry Rajoelina. This past Saturday, March 21 in a ceremony at the main stadium in Tana Mr. Rajoelina was formally handed the reins of the country. Mr. Rajoelina has the title of leader of the HAT, which translates as the High Authority of the Transition (government). He can not be given the title president as the Malagasy constitution dictates that any president of Madagascar must be a minimum of 40 years old. Mr. Rajoelina is 34. He will however have the same authority as a president. The “transition” government is to last for 24 months, after which there will be elections.

The international community has roundly condemned the unseating of a democratically elected president by forceful means. The African Union and the South African Development Community have both announced that they do not recognize the new government in Madagascar. The US, EU, and other countries around the world have taken the same stance. To date, I do not know of a single country which has come out in support of the new government in Madagascar. Most donor countries, including the US have suspended non-humanitarian aid. The US government has evacuated all “non-mission” personnel and their families. The Peace Corps has evacuated all volunteers.

The situation is a complex one for the donor community. No one wants to cut off aid to one of the poorest countries in the world, as that punishes those at the lower end of the economic scale. Also, as Madagascar is of enormous importance from a world biodiversity standpoint, conservation organizations do not want to curtail their fight to protect the key natural areas that remain on the island. Both are critically important points with no easy solutions.

What does it all mean? So hard to say at this point. What it does mean for certain is a large loss of foreign investment, which will mean further loss of jobs, which of course translates as difficult times ahead for the Malagasy people. And that on top of an already sagging world economy which has already caused cutbacks for many economic and business ventures in Madagascar, as worldwide. Being an unrecognized government will add enormously to that burden. It is certainly not good news for the environment as more of the new government’s emphasis will need to be on immediate people issues. Also, for the moment it is not yet clear what the new government’s view on conservation and the environment will be. At present illegal removal of precious woods from forests in certain areas of the northeastern part of the country is out of control, with armed gangs threatening locals in some instances. Some of the national parks have had to be closed down in that area of the country for security reasons. Everyone hopes that this is not a preview of things to come.

On a side closer to us, little has changed for the Madagascar Fauna Group (MFG) and Duke Lemur Center (DLC) in terms of conservation work in Madagascar. MFG Project Manager An Bollen is carrying on with work and trainings at Ivoloina and Betampona. There have been delays on some of the trainings, and some researchers have postponed their work, but otherwise An feels that it is important continue to move forward in as normal a fashion as is possible. We agree.

As always, our thoughts and hopes for the best are with our friends, and colleagues in Madagascar – in fact with the whole of Madagascar. There are difficult times ahead.

Here is a recent article from National Geographic about the situation in Madagascar and how it effects conservation.

1 comment:

  1. March 27 Science Magazine also has a news update. (requires password, or university user)