No secrets (even in Madagascar)

Just a quickie on the Madagascar coup from a Royal Africa Society talk I attended on Tuesday.  According to Volatiana Rahaga, who is president of the Association of Malagasy Residents in the UK (all 100 of them),  news of South Korea’s deal to buy up a large chunk of Madagascar’s arable land may never have filtered through to the public had it not been for a pesky FT journalist.

The FT’s Javier Blas reported on the deal when the negotiations had almost finished. Until then, nobody in Madagascar knew anything about it. When members of Ms Rahaga’s group read Blas’s article, they e-mailed the news to colleagues in France (which has a much larger Malagasy diaspora). The latter then told their friends and relatives back home about it, and the brown stuff promptly hit the fan.  At first, the recently-ousted president, Marc Ravalomanana, denied that any such deal was going through; when he was eventually forced to tell the truth, it was too late. Everyone assumed the worst – that he and his cronies were making millions from the plan at the expense of the Malagasy public, who not only would not be compensated but would face an increased risk of food shortages once they surrendered all that farmland.

As an environmental consultant based in Antananarivo told me, this failure to communicate the deal doomed it, and public anger about the sell-off was partly responsible for the coup that deposed Ravalomanana this spring. In today’s wired up world, it seems, even authoritarian African governments can no longer count on a monopoly on information.