Why Are Thousands of Malagasy Women Being Trafficked to Abusive Jobs in the Middle East?
Five years of political deadlock and ever-deepening misery have led Madagascar’s donors to reconsider their actions after the coup. Haleh Bridi, the World Bank country director, now argues for a more nuanced approach to similar situations. “I must say, every time there has been a crisis like this, we have left,” she says. She points to a chart documenting one political crisis after another since Madagascar achieved its independence from France in 1960. Each has been followed by a significant drop in economic growth, something Bridi chalks up to skittish international donors fleeing at the first sign of trouble.
In 2011, the World Bank cautiously resumed disbursing funds. While taking measures to ensure that aid would not go “through the plumbing of the government,” Bridi says, it has pursued ambitious projects in environmental protection, infrastructure and the social sectors to the tune of more than $200 million.
Steven Lauwerier, the country representative for UNICEF, says that Madagascar’s experience highlights the need for rethinking. “At the end of the day, I think the donors’ withdrawing all the money or reducing the money didn’t really contribute to a better political situation,” he says. “It’s more or less the population that paid for it—and the most vulnerable who paid for it.”
The United States, however, has declined to undertake a similar reckoning. Eric Wong, the chargé d’affaires at the US embassy in Antananarivo (the United States withdrew its ambassador in 2010), rejects any responsibility for Madagascar’s woes. “There’s no denying that the US decided to impose sanctions as a result of the 2009 coup,” he says. “But I would place responsibility for the current political and economic crisis on the current regime as opposed to the United States.”
When I ask Wong about the impact of punitive sanctions, he dismisses the matter as “an academic debate” and touts the millions the United States has given since 2009 to respond to emergencies in the food security and health sectors. “The general economic malaise in Madagascar is largely a result of regime inattention to good governance, democracy, fostering investment. Certainly AGOA has a role to play, but I wouldn’t say that the loss of AGOA was the key catalyst for the current economic crisis.”
On January 25, Hery Rajaonarimampianina, the finance minister from Rajoelina’s regime, was sworn in as president after winning a long-delayed election. What the future holds for foreign aid is unclear. Crucially, the IMF has restored ties with the Malagasy government, but donors emphasize the need for “confidence-building” measures and say it could be months before significant aid flows resume. During a recent visit to Madagascar, Robert P. Jackson, the principal deputy assistant secretary for African affairs, said the United States was prepared to re-evaluate the country’s AGOA eligibility pending the appointment of new ministers, but warned that participants in the 2009 coup “are not necessarily the best choices to participate in this new government.”
It is clear that the costs of the coup and the response to it will continue to be borne by the average Malagasy for some time to come. In mid-February, Herynirina was informed by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs that his wife had died in Saudi Arabia a few weeks earlier. On March 15, her body arrived back at Ivato Airport, its organs missing, according to the local news. A medical report from the Saudi authorities claims they were removed to preserve the body. The cause of death was officially listed as a heart attack.
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