May 19, 2024

Madagascar President Andry Rajoelina faces uphill battle as famine looms and majority of population lives in poverty

Madagascan President Andry Rajoelina. © Yara Nardi/Reuters
Madagascan President Andry Rajoelina. © Yara Nardi/Reuters

Andry Rajoelina was elected as President of Madagascar in 2018 and took office in January of 2019. Under his leadership, Madagascar has seen relative political stability but also serious economic hardships.

The East African island nation continues to deal with widespread poverty and has been faced with dramatic food instability brought about by a combination of detrimental factors including a severe drought, the covid-19 pandemic, and pre-existing poverty.

In recent years, there has been a devastating drought that has pushed over 1.6 million people in Madagascar’s already impoverished southern region into food insecurity.

During his presidential tenure, Rajoelina has called on the international community to aid in madagascar’s fight against climate change, describing Madagascar as a “victim of climate change.”

“My compatriots in the south are bearing the weight of climate change which they did not participate in creating,” explained President Rajoelina at the United Nations’ General Assembly in September of 2021.

Despite contributing just a small fraction of global emissions, the continent of Africa is severely and disproportionately affected by the negative effects of climate change. The African Development Bank recently estimated that the continent of Africa loses 7 to 15 billion dollars per year to climate change, a number that the International Monetary Fund estimates will rise to $50 billion per year by 2040.

Madagascar has been hit hard by successive years of severe drought, destabilizing the region and putting its people at risk. “More than one million people in southern Madagascar are struggling to get enough to eat, due to what could become the first famine caused by climate change,” reported the United Nations in October of 2021.

While climate change continues to be a growing issue facing the world, many argue that it is not the primary cause behind Madagascar’s food insecurity. A December study from World Weather Attribution reported that poverty, poor infrastructure, and natural weather variability are all larger factors in southern Madagascar’s crisis.

As Madagascar faces its worst drought in decades, it had not developed the underlying infrastructure and safety nets to handle such a challenge. A nation that underwent a coup d’etat just over a decade ago and is still recovering from a political crisis that weakened the national economy, Madagascar lacks the resources to effectively combat the devastating effects of a drought over which it has no control.

While President Andry Rajoelina was elected in 2018, this is not his first time operating as Madagascar’s head of state. He was President of Madagascar’s High Transitional Authority from 2009 to 2013 during its political crisis following a coup d’etat.

Previously, Rajoelina was a media entrepreneur who owned radio and television stations. He was also an outspoken critic of President Marc Ravalomanana and led the opposition movement against him.

Throughout Madagascar’s decades of political instability, one thing that has remained consistent is the severity and pervasiveness of poverty.

In 2020, 80 percent of Madagascar’s population lived on less than $1.90 per day, the international poverty line. The covid-19 pandemic exacerbated pre-existing hardships to reverse years of growth, giving Madagascar its first negative GDP change since 2009. Additionally, Madagascar’s rate of chronic malnutrition has been amongst the highest in the world for years.

President Rajoelina’s leadership has been questioned by someone on multiple occasions. He has faced criticism for promoting an herbal tea in early 2020 as a cure for the coronavirus. This claim was not supported by the World Health Organization and was treated by the international community as misinformation.

President Andry Rajoelina and Madagascar’s government face a critical point. Life saving assistance is needed in order for Madagascar to overcome its economic challenges and avoid slipping into another political and economic crisis like that of a decade ago.

Rajoelina met with United States AID Administrator Samantha Power on April 19 to discuss “the impact of climate change and COVID-19 in Madagascar, as well as ways to strengthen anti-corruption efforts in the country.”

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