Edito 55

The sun on her brow

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First of all, a brief resume of events.
On 16 December 2001, Ratsiraka’s regime – synonymous with shady dealing, corruption and intimidation – lost its majority to the mayor of the Madagascan capital, Marc Ravalomanana, who presented himself as a pragmatic figure who had cleaned up the capital. But the elections were blatantly rigged in Ratsiraka’s favour.
On 4 January 2002, Ravalomanana’s followers demonstrated at the Place du 13 mai, coming back day after day. On 7 January, their demonstration was suppressed. On 25 January, the Constitutional High Court ordered a second round. On 22 February, Ravalomanana took over as President of the Republic.
When Ratsiraka’s supporters demonstrated on 27 February, the two camps affronted one another for the first time. On 28 February, martial law was declared in Antananarivo. On 1 March, Ravalomanana appointed his first government. The churches backed him, drawing fierce criticism. Violence and score settling intensified. The confrontation opposed the centre and the coastal areas, but the pro-Ravalomanana camp demonstrated throughout the entire country. From February to July 2002, they were fiercely suppressed by the Ratsirakist authorities, especially in the northeast. As the territorial breakdown of the electoral results showed, the base belied the logic of the political divide between the centre and the coastal regions, just as the population refused an ethnic uprising even though cultural ethnicity is a reality when it comes to defining identity. Although the demonstrations were largely non-violent, proclaiming to follow the legacy of Martin Luther King and Gandhi, the same methods of vengeance were reported on both sides…
The press and numerous artists backed Ravalomanana. Roadblocks were erected around the capital, notably the Brickaville blockade, which was the most important in economic terms. There were soon shortages. On 4 April, the Cotona cotton mills in Antsirabe shut down. 90 000 were laid off, 80 000 directly as a result of the plant being closed. Tourism fell from 187 000 visitors in 2001 to 500 in 2002.
On 12 April, Ravalomanana forcefully imposed a governor in Fianarantsoa. On 18 April, the two presidents met in Dakar and agree to end the violence. But a week later, the roadblocks were still there and even intensified. Neither of the two camps kept its promises.
On 29 April, a new Constitutional High Court declared Ravalomanana the official president. On 6 May, he was invested for the second time. On 8 June, he launched an offensive to dismantle the roadblocks. All the provinces were brought to heel with the exception of Tamatave, Ratsiraka’s stronghold.
The French government prevented French mercenaries from reaching Madagascar, but hesitated in recognising Ravalomanana’s government. On 26 June, the United States took the initiative. On 4 July, the French Foreign Affairs Minister signed a 5 million-euro cooperation agreement in Antananarivo. On 6 July, the Brickaville roadblock was dismantled. And Ratsiraka moved to his home in Neuilly-sur-Seine*…
How was this victory achieved? Not without violence and suffering, of course, but with a mobilised population. What happened in Madagascar moved us and, in the heat of the moment, we couldn’t resist exploring the cultural tenants in the widest sense of the term, that is on a societal level. The subject is thus culture and not the arts.
This dossier makes this choice: to anchor our understanding of Madagascan culture in current affairs. And to do so on the ground. No one had ever attempted to do this before. The risk was of course of being incomplete, and even partial, but we assume that risk.
Madagascar conjures postcard dream images of mists and the poetry of its landscapes… But the contemporary cultural reality is bitter and harsh, dominated by poverty in a country where 75% of the population live from farming. This dossier tries to offer an alternative to such exotic illusions, to offer elements that help understand its culture on a day-to-day basis, a culture that is complex and hard to penetrate, but rich and dynamic.
As is our habit with this type of dossier devoted to a country (made possible, we must not forget, by a special grant from the French Foreign Affairs Ministry), we entrusted it to someone able to give us an insider view and capable of mobilising an array of local writers. The Madagascan political scientist Christiane Rafidinarivo Rakotolahy, who teaches at the University of the Réunion, wanted to mobilise not only the topicality of the written word, but also photos and poetry.
For it is indeed not easy to grasp this very rich culture that is inward looking by dint of its insularity. The fact of the matter is that Madagascar is on the move, bubbling, a real geyser, and that culture plays a major role in this contradictory and complex emergence. Trying to understand it requires agreeing to immerse oneself into a new world, at the risk of losing oneself in it for a while.
This dossier is not so much an introduction as an invitation to go further, to listen to the slightest echo from the Grande Ile, in search of the Madagascan cultural traces that come to us wherever we are.
The sun on the girl’s brow on our cover, photographed by Maksim Seth, augurs a new era in which nothing is yet certain. Her eyes are troubled, but full of hope.

* Translator’s note: a highly exclusive suburb of Paris.///Article N° : 5701


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