Step 9 – Madagascar

December 13, 2017

For each one of us, Madagascar represents one of the most important steps. Not because of the
interreligious dimension, but for the awareness of our privileges. This ninth step comes to an end
and leaves us with a taste of gratefulness and humility.

Context

From the XIVth century, Madagascar has been arousing the lust of European countries, particularly
by its strategic localization on the route to India and its rich and fertile soil. Ultimately, France
secured a protectorate on the totality of the island from the 20th century. The situation is drastically
different nowadays. Before colonization, Madagascar was based on a feudal system, centralized in
Antananarivo with a federation of twelve kingdoms and dominated by the Merinas. Nevertheless,
colonialism participated in a brutal change, without managing to adapt the importation of occidental
products and concepts to Madagascar’s cultural reality. Right after World War II, during provincial
elections, the National Party, with a Merina majority, won the majority of sits at the Parliament.
Madagascar would only initiate an Independance process, in a context of tensions between the
French Administration and the Nationalist Party, before becoming a fully sovereign state in 1960.
The following decade is characterized by a « malgachization » of society and economy, correlated
with the questioning of the cooperation agreements made with France. Since then, the country has
been undergoing numerous political crisis, and a particularly unstable situation since 2009, with
transitional governments.

The discovery of new realities

For the first time in our tour, we were in one of the world’s most vulnerable countries, with very
different realities than what we had encountered previously. Madagascar is the world's 5th poorest
country. Poverty can be seen, felt, and lived about everywhere on the island. If the interreligious
factor isn&’t a dominant topic in the country, it is precisely because priorities lie elsewhere: the
struggle against misery, corruption and violence. We have met with Malagasies and non-natives
who have been living there for a long time: they all attest of society’s difficulty of emerging of the
abyss it seems to be sinking into. Indeed, the opinion is fairly unanimous: though each of them
mean to believe in the country’s potential, everyone is aware that the situation is serious and that it
will take years before being able to observe real change. The most striking example is no other than
the case of Father Pedro and of his restless work for the very poor and those
who were born in what we used to be the garbage dump of Antananarivo hills. Back to his arrival on
the island, he was told that within 50 years Madagascar would be out the woods, out of this misery.
Today, he is sadly assessing that the double amount of years would be needed. A conversation that
reminds us of the General De Gaulle’s famous quote: « Madagascar is a country of the future, and it
will remain one ». We still want to believe that the youth, which is such an important part of this
country’s population, the soil fertility, and the landscapes’ beauty, are factors allowing us to expect a
sweeter future for Malagasies.

A youth full of hope despite of everything

Madagascar’s educational system is based on an « inclusive education » that wishes to welcome
every child, regardless of their social, racial or religious background. During our meeting with the
Ministery of Education, we got fimiliar with the program that aims at raising awareness on
environmental issues, sustainable development and the responsibility that we all individually have.
Despite the precarious means, School intents to be a bulwark against school dropout, delinquency,
and negative social reproduction (95% of the population lives under the poverty line, with 71%
qualifying for extreme poverty). Fenosofa Sergia is one of these young people who wishes to
change the way we look at Malagasy society. As a blogger from MondoBlog, she wrote several
articles on diverse topics to give more attention to those who are engaging in change. In this very
field, we have met several groups of young students of Antananarivo University. While one of them
decided to start a company for media production, to shed light on the new innovators and
entrepreneurs of Madagascar, another one has committed to cultural promotion via multiple
exhibitions in the center CRAAM (Current Arts Resource Center of Madagascar). The executive
director of the CRAAM, Hobisoa, also told us about the importance of Scouts in the
country, and about how it manages to convey values and bring populations together. Hobisoa
actually sits at the committee striving for the gathering of protestant, catholic and lay branches
under a common Malagasy Scouting banner.

Religion : first cultural factor in Madagascar

Though in interfaith is not the developed work in Madagascar, religion is clearly omnipresent in the
country’s culture. Syncretic practices are very common and among them the Famadihana, known as
the turning of the bones which requires each year a veru important financial investment for each
practicing family. Majority of the population is of Christian obedience (57%) when traditional
spritualities represent 47% of it. The Malagasy society is clearly not secular despite the importation
of the principle of “laïcité” brought by the French. In fact, if Church is separated from the State, the
religious factor is yet too rooted to be put aside. If for many, the encounter with Bénédicte and her
Atheism was a first, some have shared the taboo there is around Atheism. Though it exists in small
proportion, people who do not believe in god do not publically say so, may it be in their family circles
or out of it. The Muslim community (about 3% of the population) has settled on the Island a long
time ago but is now the victim of many foreign investments encouraging another type of practice:
one that goes against the “colonial” Islam that their parents and grandparents practice and favoring
a rather fundamentalist turning point. With the help of an Israeli organization, a small Jewish
community newly converted, has been claiming its filiation with one of the 12 lost tribes of Israel.
Despite our efforts, we have failed to find contacts to meet with members of this community and get
to know more about their story. Like in many countries stuck by poverty, religious communities are
often criticized for their strong implication in political issues and often end being suspected for
corruption. This is precisely why, the FFKM (Council of the Christian Churches of Madagascar),
which gathers the different churches’ religious leaders, works on raising awareness on each
leader’s responsibility and influence on society as well as on globalization and contemporary issues
striking Madagascar. Briefly, they wish for Church to be a support to populations rather than a
retrograde institution, mainly regarding social issues.

A thousand thanks to the Don Bosco Community, Liantsu and her family (including her not-so-
adorable dogs), Philippe who has spoiled us and with whom we have laughed a lot, Eric Rajaona
and, last but not least, Haja and Luc who have hosted us for 5 days in their educational center, the
SPV Felana and that work so hard for the best of their country !

 

Béné