On October 25, 2013, my home country of Madagascar will finally be electing a new president. In recent years the citizens of Madagascar have witnessed their economy plunge into the abyss, its natural resources pillaged. According to some estimates, more than four million people have entered into severe poverty in the past five years. There is currently no rule of law in the country, and ever since the 2009 coup d'état carried out by a fringe of the army removed the elected government and parliament, the political system had been devoid of legitimacy.
Elections have been pushed back five times since the coup, and a transition that was supposed to take one year at most has now lasted as long as the average electoral term. Even given Madagascar's complicated history, to say that the political situation is a mess is an understatement.
Thirty-three presidential candidates will contest the upcoming elections. With the vote only four days away, a significant number of potential voters still doubt that the elections will actually take place, as they have not received their voting cards. It's still an open question whether a sufficient quantity of ballots will be printed in time.
Whatever happens on October 25, this is a turning point for Madagsacar, so I figured it was the perfect time for me to jump into the political fray for the first time, and actively support one of only two women running for president. I have volunteered to help the campaign of Sahara Georget Rabeharisoa, the Green Party leader since 2009, by raising awareness of her cause and explaining her platform online.
These days, an overriding mistrust of politics and politicians seems to be the de rigueur position for most voters worldwide. The Edelman Trust Barometer indicates that the majority of countries now distrust their governments. And how can we blame them? The list of dysfunctional policies worldwide, ranging from government shutdowns to blatant concealing of nuclear disaster, is too long to mention.
Yet, for all our misgivings, politics and political activism remains the only effective way societal change has been brought about through history.
I have been involved in various Malagasy civil society projects (here and here), and I know the value they can bring to communities. I have also seen how all their great work can be undone in the blink of eye because of dirty politics and an unnecessary political crisis. I like to think it is the anger over the dashed hopes of my fellow activists that is driving me to jump into the arena. Some rotten practices can only be changed from the inside. The young Pakistani activist, Malala Yousafzai, said it best when she explained why she switched her career goal from becoming a doctor to politics: “I think it's really good because through politics I can serve my whole country, become doctor of the whole country, help children get education.”
Unlike Malala, I think my main motivation has been to move away from the comfortable position of “observer”, because neutrality is the product of fear and lack of courage to take a stand. As Dante Alighieri said, “The darkest places in hell are reserved for those who maintain their neutrality in times of moral crisis.” Make no mistake, the crisis in Madagascar is way past the political phase. It has long become a societal and a moral crisis, with most of the burden carried by an already overtaxed population.
I am not saying that the Green Party of Madagascar and their candidate Saraha Georget Rabeharisoa will have all the answers. But Saraha and I share similar reasons for getting into politics. She was the director of the non-governmental organization New Mind until the political crisis pushed her to raise her voice, then form her own party.
She possesses the kind of clarity of purpose and principle that one wishes to see in the head of a country. She knows that there no magic pill that will lift Madagascar out of poverty, but she believes that nothing will happen until we consider the ecosystem that is our country in its entirely: our youth, our land and natural resources, and the need to let all of these develop in a balanced fashion.
I support Saraha because she is a woman, and because she's already been battle-tested by her efforts to carve out a space for herself in a heavily male-dominated field. I support Saraha because she has her sleeves rolled up and is ready to work hard.
Maybe I am too optimistic, but I this is a decision I have considered carefully. You can read the thought process behind my decision to support her here (in French).
At the end of the day, it just did not feel right to stay on the sidelines and watch as my country spirals further down into a bottomless pit. I believe all hands should get on deck, starting October 25, by voting and participating actively in the election debate.
As a Malagasy living abroad, I cannot cast my own vote. But as an engaged citizen, I want my voice to be heard. I believe that there are still a few politicians out there willing to fight for a sustainable recovery in Madagascar. Saraha Rabeharisoa is one of these. My homeland deserves as much.
Lova Rakotomalala is a researcher in biomedical engineering and consultant in Global Health. Raised in Madagascar, he has a strong interest in international development and digital media as a tool to promote social change and transparency in the developing world.