In Madagascar, we are working with the church during times of national conflict
Rising poverty, crime, exploitation
Madagascar has suffered years of political tension under what many consider to be an illegal transitional government, writes Laurette Totomarovario, Mothers’ Union co-ordinator in Antsiranana.
This situation has led to more poverty, especially in rural areas. Today, nine out of ten Malagasy live under the poverty line.
Social healthcare has deteriorated, with infant mortality rates of 58 per cent. Fewer children are in education. Crime has increased. Extreme poverty has led women into prostitution, and has contributed to domestic violence and broken families. There is sexual exploitation of children, child trafficking and child labour.
Many parents regard children as a source of income. In Antsiranana, some 12- to 14-year-olds have become criminals: they kill, steal or burgle to support single mothers who, in turn, ferociously protect their children against the law.
Members of the police have been caught burgling shopkeepers. Figures in authority are suspected of illegal trade in rosewood.
The Mothers’ Union organise educational prayer circles and counselling. They give food and clothes to women and young prisoners, they visit the sick, run nursery schools and parenting programmes, and teach vocational skills to women.
Background to the unrest
In January 2009, violent protests broke out in the capital city Antananarivo following the closure by then-president Marc Ravalomanana of opposition radio and TV stations.
Opposition leader Andry Rajoelina assumes power with military and high court backing. Deposed Ravalomanana moves to South Africa.
Since then, the country’s leadership have been embroiled in political conflict as they seek a transition to a new government. However, with Rajoelina and Ravalomanana (and many others) all campaigning for the presidency, the conflict continues.
Meanwhile, according to the World Bank, 70 per cent of Madagascar’s population is living on less than £1 per day.
In response, the Anglican Church is working with other Christian churches as part of the Malagasy Christian Council of Churches (MCCC) to address this crisis. At the same time, USPG is working closely with the Anglican Church in Madagascar as part of our leadership development programme for the Indian Ocean. The programme is helping to strengthen leadership at a grassroots level which, in turn, will help to build a stronger national church.
We are also running a support programme for bishops. Many bishops do not have a support network, and so they frequently face being overwhelmed by problems, rather than inspired by possibilities. Our programme brings bishops together for mutual support and encouragement, and has so far proved very effective. One bishop who attended sessions told Us: ‘This programme was absolutely what I needed. It’s reminded me I am here to listen to people, not tell them what to do. I want to be more of an encourager, and less of a director.’
The church is speaking out on behalf of the people
Here are extracts (slightly edited) from a MCCC declaration that describes the ‘poverty, hardship and insecurity’ faced by people in Madagascar.
‘It is clear that most of the Malagasy people are presently living in poverty, hardship and insecurity, while traditional values about respect towards parents and elders have been eroded. MCCC is standing up to fulfil the call of God to preach the way of justice.
‘Politicians are wasting their time on conflict issues, and not considering the well-being of the Malagasy population. It is not only the implementation of transitional institutions that will create peace, but a frank recognition of errors made and a commitment to forgiveness and repentance.
‘The Malagasy people are disturbed to see and to hear the politicians disagreeing frequently. It is not honourable for politicians to neglect their responsibilities in the face of social problems that are becoming more serious every day.
‘Fundamental human rights are being trampled underfoot. Those who do not hold power or occupy high office cannot expect to be protected in the judicial system. The independence of the judiciary system is not respected.
‘We are concerned that all those who express their own opinions or who criticise the management of national affairs are systematically silenced or threatened. There are numerous media outlets that have been closed down.
‘In these hard times, MCCC encourages all Malagasy citizens to have faith and hope in God so they might dare to speak out against officials who fail to commit themselves to resolving these problems.
‘It is alarming to see the excessive use of force by those in charge of security each time demonstrations are held. Meanwhile, bandits dare to carry out their misdeeds in broad daylight and even publicize their arrival in advance.
‘We call on those who dare to kill people because of money and politics to remember that life belongs to God alone and that no one can justify the assassination of someone else. We denounce and oppose the abuse of power and the use of force without legitimate reasons since we want peace to prevail.
‘MCCC asks all politicians not to impede the resolution of the political crisis. We ask the international community to consider the Malagasy nation in the resolution of this crisis.
‘Acting as the church, which is a prophet and a watchman to the nation, MCCC continues to accept its own responsibilities. We are committed to searching for solutions to the protracted crisis that is ruining Madagascar.’
This statement was issued jointly by the Revd Rakoto Endor Modeste, head of the Malagasy Lutheran Church; the Revd Rasendrahasina Lala Haja, head of the Reformed Church of Jesus Christ in Madagascar; Archbishop Razanakolona Odon Marie Arsène, head of the Roman Catholic Church in Madagascar; and Bishop Ranarivelo Samoela Jaona, on behalf of the Anglican Church in Madagascar.