On Thursday morning, we welcomed journalist Emilie Filou for a breakfast briefing on Madagascar – an island which is hugely under-reported in the English language press, and that even Africa experts often know little about. Emilie’s presentation was packed with new information; these are the updates which particularly stuck in our mind:
1. The cost of Madagascar’s political crisis
The political coup in 2009 had a huge impact on the economy – the World Bank estimates that the cost of the crisis has reached about $8 billion. While Madagascar still lags behind its neighbours on the African continent, it is beginning to recover.
2. A turning point?
The confirmation last week (17 January) of Hery Rajaonarimampianina as the first officially elected president of Madagascar in five years has been greeted with cautious optimism by the international community. Hery’s choice of Prime Minister will be the most significant indication of whether anything will truly change under his leadership. If the country can take advantage of its strategic location between growing Asian and African markets and its cheap workforce, it could still return to the pre-coup growth rates of 6-7%.
3. Out of the crisis rises opportunity
– A backlog of 4,000 mining permits and 223 oil exploration licenses have accumulated since the crisis, as well as a huge backlog of infrastructure and construction projects
– Agribusiness is beginning to benefit from new foreign investment, and with 90% of the population employed in agriculture and 70% of the island’s land used for arable, there is great potential in this secto
– Tourism was Madagascar’s second largest cash earner before the crisis. About 70% of the island’s fauna and 90% of its flora is endemic, and both Lonely Planet and Rough Guides cited the island in their ‘Top 10 Destinations’ in 2013 and 2014
4. Challenges remain – national electricity production capacity is 0.5 MW
Madagascar remains one of the toughest markets in which to do business, which will take time and concerted effort from a committed leadership to redress. Corruption is culturally embedded, bureaucracy is burdensome, and – as anyone who has spent time in the country can testify – infrastructure is severely lacking. Electricity supply is unreliable and road density is just 9.7km/1000km2, compared to the sub-Saharan average of 31km/1000km2. And while Madagascar’s population is young and labour is cheap, education is poor and two thirds of teachers have no formal teaching qualification and often do not speak French – the language of the national curriculum.
5. How to pronounce Hery Rajaonarimampianina’s name
The audience were suitably impressed when the longest name of any head of state tripped of Emilie’s tongue. For those who are still perplexed:
Emilie Filou is a freelance journalist specialising in business and development in Africa. Her work has been featured in The Economist, The Guardian and BBC Radio 4’s ‘From Our Own Correspondent’, as well as contributing to the Lonely Planet guide to Madagascar in 2011. She revisited the island in 2013, and is available for commissioned articles and briefings on the country. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org