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Madagascar elections are ‘no solution’

18 October 2013

REUTERS

Plague: locusts on a main road in western Madagascar, earlier this year

Plague: locusts on a main road in western Madagascar, earlier this year

THE Bishop of Antananarivo in Madagascar, the Rt Revd Jaona Ranarivelo, warned this week that the country's long-awaited elections, which are scheduled to be held next week, would not solve its many problems.

Since the coup in 2009, which took place after protests against restrictions on the opposition, the country has been held in political gridlock. Tourism has fallen by more than 50 per cent, growth has been "anaemic", the CIA reports, and aid has been suspended (News, 27 February 2009).

Madagascar is one of the poorest countries in the world. Half of the population, 80 per cent of whom work in agriculture, live below the poverty line, and more than a third of children under five are underweight. The country also suffers from cyclones and plagues of locusts. Last week, the UN warned that four million people were "food insecure", and a further 9.6 million "at risk".

On Monday, Bishop Ranarivelo, who is visiting Canterbury for a Communities and Partnerships Framework conference, said: "The election can be one among other solutions, but not the only way to get out of the crisis. There are many, many things which are threatening for our situation: violence, moral degradation, and the economy. . . We call upon politicians and other actors in the country, like NGOs, religious leaders and others, to sit round the table and to share: 'Where are we going together?'"

He spoke of an economy "dropping down at very, very drastic levels", an increase in crime, children withdrawn from school, and unemployment. Another challenge was climate change wrought by deforestation - because of people burning trees for fuel and land, but also the actions of Western extraction companies.

Next year, Bishop Ranarivelo will chair the Christian Council of Churches in Madagascar. On Monday, he described how the Council had begun in the 1980s, when Marxism was the prevalent ideology in the country.

"For many years, the Church has been involved in the transformation of the life of the country in many different ways," he said. "The Church has to be light and salt, and to bring peace to our nation, in spite of the trouble and difficulties that it is going through.

"Fortunately, there is still a high expectation from Madagascar people for the Church to bring . . . a new dimension of peace and reconciliation in the life of the country."

The "sense of diakonia" was important, he suggested: "this ability to serve and to work for others and to be a witness in the country".

In 2010, the Christian radio station in Madagascar was shut down, and eight members of staff detained. A pastor of the Church of Jesus Christ in Madagascar, Ranaivo Rivoarison, was shot by government forces (News, 4 June 2010). On Monday, Bishop Ranarivelo said that, even if the response was violence, the Church must "speak for those who cannot speak for themselves".

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