Lundi 22 Avril 2019  

N°124 - Quatrième trimestre 2018

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  S.E.M. / H.E. Jean-Pierre Razafy-Andriamihaing

Madagascar: A Revival Spurred by New Vitality and Openness

One year after the recognition of the new government in  Antananarivo, the Ambassador of Madagascar to France, H.E. Jean-Pierre Razafy-Andriamihaingo, discusses the key themes in Madagascar’s grand project to achieve “rapid, sustainable development“, and the Great Island’s desire to become a leading actor in the Indian Ocean region.

The Diplomatic Letter: Mr. Ambassador, Madagascar’s long political crisis appears to have come to a close with Marc Ravalomanana’s election as president in December 2001. Former President Ratsiraka stepped down in July 2002, putting an end to the country’s political divisions. Is the national reconciliation process more or less complete? Do you think the general amnesty law advocated by the opposition could help stabilize your country and quell the  ethnic and cultural strife rekindled by the political crisis? Is the launching of a decentralization plan, based on the revised 1998 Constitution, an attempt to diffuse this unrest?

H.E. Jean-Pierre Razafy-Andriamihaingo: It is important to understand that there was no civil war nor rift between the Malagasy people during the five-month crisis that broke out in Madagascar in December 2001. There was an electoral dispute sparked by former president Ratsiraka, who was defeated in the first round of balloting but steadfastly refused to acknowledge this. He was overwhelming defeated, even after he had mobilized every single state body, most notably the High Constitutional Court, the only body with the power to declare the winner of the election. And so, in a final desperate ploy, he engineered a dangerous crisis. President Marc Ravalomanana was elected by an absolute majority, a fact quickly recognized by foreign chancelleries. On 22 February 2002, a gigantic crowd of nearly 2 million Malagasy gathered in Mahamasina Stadium in Antananarivo, to solemnly proclaim Ravalomanana’s victory. Then on 29 April 2002, after the normal legal composition of the High Constitutional Court had finally been restored, the Court confirmed Marc Ravalomanana’s election to the land’s highest office in the first round of balloting, where he won 51.46% of the vote compared to 35.09% for Didier Ratsiraka.
Though the Malagasy people were held hostage for over five months by the ousted regime, they never displayed the slightest disunity. Their decision at the urns was finally upheld, and justice was served.  Despite repeated acts of provocation by former President Ratsiraka, we fortunately have not seen any “ethnic or cultural clashes” from that point on. All the less so – and this must be stressed – when we consider that all references to Madagascar’s “18 ethnic groups” are in fact a misuse or oversimplification of terms. While our country does have wide cultural diversity, it can also proudly say that its population shares common Malayo-Polynesian origins as well as a common language: Malagasy. In that light, the “reconciliation process” championed by the minority opposition is really nothing more than a meaningless slogan. What is more, several political leaders who committed common law crimes in an attempt to retain power have already been found guilty by the courts, or are now awaiting trial. If “reconciliation” and an “amnesty law” mean welcoming them back into the political fold, then this cannot be done unless we willingly flout our judicial system and denounce the eminently democratic values of "Fahamarinana" (transparency and truth) and "Fahamarinana" (democratic rigor, investiture, and consecration), which are the very foundation of the current regime’s institutional practices.
Institutional, political and social stability were soon restored in Madagascar. The United States and France in turn unequivocally recognized the new regime, on 26 June 2002 and 3 July 2002. They also offered it their full support, and praised what has come to be known as the “Malagasy exception.” Other of Madagascar’s leading partners, such as Japan, Norway, Germany, Switzerland, and Great Britain, to mention just a few, had recognized the regime even before the U.S. and France. Finally, to complete the cycle of democratic investiture and consecration, the early legislative elections of 15 December 2002 gave the president and his government a comfortable majority in the National Assembly. In these conditions, the decentralization process initiated by the 1998 Constitution is designed to give the provinces wide autonomy and reinforce the country’s institutional stability, as well as local democracy. These goals go hand-in-hand with the decentralization program, which bids ministerial departments to set up local branches of various central administrative offices. The President of the Republic recently convened a Council of Ministers in the provinces, with the aim of underscoring his great concern for their welfare and specific needs.

T.D.L.: President Marc Ravalomanana has launched  a national revival program to spearhead rapid, sustainable development on the “Great Island.”  Could you outline the plan’s primary objectives for our readers? What steps are Malagasy officials taking to expand infrastructures and render government more transparent and effective? How is the new administration going to achieve its announced goal of cutting inflation from 15 to 5%, and overcoming unemployment? Education is another key theme in the government’s program. Have any special measures been taken in this arena?

H.E.J-P.R-A.: As the President of the Republic explained during his state visit to France in late April 2003, "rapid, sustainable development" is a bold formula derived from a brand-new, pragmatic approach to the concept of development. “Sustainable” implies that an investment project much address local environmental, social and cultural concerns, otherwise it will be short-lived. If it does address these concerns, it will necessarily win the support of the local population and all interested partners, who will feel truly implicated in these projects and will devote themselves wholeheartedly to helping carry them out. This, in turn, introduces the notion of speed. A national renovation program founded on a global strategy underlies this formula. Indeed, we must start by creating a climate conducive to recovery, for it must not be forgotten that Madagascar has become the planet’s 6th poorest country, after standing out in the 1960s as one of the French-speaking community’s emerging countries. The "Poverty Reduction Strategy Paper," or PRSP, was issued in early April 2003. This is a full-fledged program to eradicate poverty and lay the foundation for a national recovery. It has been approved by the World Bank, as well as our financial partners. This strategy must focus, first and foremost, on opening up regional areas. The guiding plan calls for laying out large East-West and North-South routes, and upgrading the road networks as well as port and airport infrastructures all across the country. These are the guiding principles that will serve as our compass for the coming five years. We will concentrate on five key sectors: tourism, agriculture, handicrafts, fishing, and textiles. Clear objectives have already been laid out: guaranteeing investments; promoting foreign direct investments by improving the legal climate; improving the free zone regime and creating new activity zones; securing our borders; facilitating the creation of new businesses by setting up a single bureau for administrative formalities; customs and import tax exemptions for key categories of goods and equipment.
In late 2002, the government oversaw the launching of a plan to reinvigorate Malagasy companies. It should enable them to regain the record level reached in 2001 by early 2004, then move well beyond it in the first quarter of 2004. Moreover the GDP growth in 2003 reaches 9,6%. The government, for its part, has implemented measure to tighten the budget and  reign in costs. It has offered clear proof that it is stabilizing finances while the inflation rate is valued to 0% for 2003, which is a remarkable achievement. With regard to the unemployment rate, the  tally board for the Malagasy economy is posting promising new figures, which should drop sharply over this same period. In a country where far too many families still operate within the informal economy, education is another vital key to reducing unemployment, along with economic growth. Especially basic education, at the primary and secondary level, as well as professional training. Spurred on by the President of the Republic, the Malagasy government has implemented the “Education for All” program at the primary level, so that by the year 2015 all of Madagascar’s school-age children will receive a basic education.
T.D.L.: The economic reconstruction program laid out by Malagasy authorities lays special focus on expanding the private sector. Could you tell our readers exactly what the government is doing to strengthen the role of private actors, and foreign investors in particular, in the country’s economy? In late July 2003, Madagascar traded the Malagasy franc for the ariary, the currency in use before the colonial period. What was the reasoning behind this switch?

H.E.J-P.R-A.: In addition to the points I made earlier about the great importance Madagascar officials lay on  enhancing the private sector, I would like to underscore the fact that the people of Madagascar, especially the younger generation, cherish our newfound national unity and the fresh burst of liberty. This has inspired a brand-new spirit of entrepreneurship across the board. Applying the new values of good governance to the business sector, along with stronger citizen involvement, puts us in an even better position to succeed. We must, of course, take full advantage of this, as it will bolster our foreign  sponsors and principal partners’ renewed support for the Malagasy government’s ongoing efforts to turn around the economy. Foreigners are not required to obtain any prior authorization before making direct investments. Other portfolio or capital investments still carry certain restrictions, which will eventually be eliminated. As for the ongoing privatization program, it includes conditions designed to prevent predatory operations, safeguard our technical capital and technology transfers, and develop our human resources. The government is aiming for a 20% investment rate in 2002-2004, with 13 to 14% coming from the private sector. Finally, as it refocuses it actions, the Industrial Development Fund (IDF) should step up its strategic role in the industrial restructuring process. It should also be noted that Madagascar is targeted in the Heavily Indebted Poor Countries (HIPC) Initiative, which should free up significant resources in the short term, especially with the cancelation of 50% of the debt burden. After the 2003 recovery, a growth rate of around 6% in 2004 will be a good sign for the future. Experts deem that the goals set by our head of state – an annual rate between 8 and 10% for a period of ten years, and cutting poverty in half – are realistic. This would make Madagascar an important emerging country around the year 2014.   
But this will not mean anything at all, unless both national and foreign private actors take on a leading role and serve as a driving force for economic growth. This is the meaning of the “3P” principle of Public-Private Partnership behind the PRSP, which calls for the public and private sectors to work together in a true spirit of partnership. In other words, establishing a true “joint venture” wherein both parties jointly negotiate and identify their roles, and agree on the benefits and risks with full knowledge of the facts. An extremely attractive institutional climate also encourages the creation of new businesses and supports their activities.
With regard to the adoption of the Ariary, this shift was made in favorable circumstances, in order to meet well defined objectives. Thanks to the general economic recovery and renewed growth of the tertiary sector (services and banking industry), which began in March 2003 and was confirmed in the second quarter of this year, Madagascar’s currency, the Malagasy Franc, gained a level of relative stability against both the euro and the dollar. The June 2003 announcement of the adoption of a “new” currency, the Malagasy Ariary, gave us a psychological boost and the needed momentum to shore up an economic recovery that would not only last, but would also spark an upwards spiral. The launching of the Ariary is also a return to our historical roots, and is thus an instrument of our political will as well as our economic and financial strategy. The same was true of the new French franc, which crowned France’s renaissance as well as its economic and financial independence at the height of the de Gaulle era. The Malagasy Franc will be gradually phased out before the close of November 2004. It will be replaced by the Ariary, the currency in use during Madagascar’s royal era, for it must be recalled that the Ariary has never stopped existing as a monetary unit. The exchange rate has already been set: 1 euro equals 1,400 Ariary. The big changeover will take place on 1 January 2005: all accounts, contracts, and national transactions will be made in Ariary alone from that day forward.
T.D.L.: While the tourism industry did pick up in the summer of 2003, thanks to an bigger inflow of tourists, the Great Island’s tremendous tourism potential remains largely untapped. What can be done to expand and promote this sector, with special focus on ecotourism? Could you outline the government’s stance on the question of environmental protection? Does it have specific goals as concerns fishing practices and protecting the marine environment? Could you summarize the program to combat sex tourism recently put forward by Malagasy authorities?

H.E.J-P.R-A.: Madagascar is an island of tremendous contrasts. When you recall that it is as large as a continent – isn’t it often referred to as an “island-continent”? – you realize at once that its great wealth of riches must be protected, promoted, and judiciously utilized. Measures are being taken to that end, with emphasis on: identifying state-owned lands with high tourism potential, in order to create a regional “stock” of land reserves that can be developed as tourism “zones”; upgrading the country’s many runways; increasing the national carrier Air Madagascar’s capacity on its domestic, regional and national routes, and opening up air traffic; enhancing and diversifying our accommodation facilities.
Madagascar has no intention of blindly reproducing a certain brand of faceless international tourism that would turn it into a “concrete jungle,” yet remains fully conscious of the need to develop. Our primary goal is to take full advantage of our assets to develop one-of-a-kind “niches,”  such as an ecotourism industry centered around the country’s vast and invaluable wealth of native fauna and flora.  
You may rest assured that Madagascar continues to push forward with the work begun five years ago within the  Environment Program Project sponsored by the World Bank. The main focus is on reforestation programs and efforts to preserve ecosystems, as we strive to lay out integrated projects for rural areas that have sustainable development as their underlying goal. This concerns the tourism industry as well as sectors such as fishing, which require the restructuring of an activity of great economic and social importance. While Madagascar plans to maintain and even step up its export activities – especially for tuna, shrimp and rock lobsters – it does not want to fall into a situation like that now seen in seas where overfishing has wiped out entire stocks of fish.
Bolstered by the success of these integrated projects, the program’s creators, working with the National Office for the Environment, decided to extend it for another three-year period. Protected zones have been created to shield the local population’s traditional activities from investments that do no comply with preset conditions, and have proved to be an effective safeguard. Finally, the government is setting up a network of regional tourism offices with the aim of heightening the involvement of regional authorities and national actors. At the national level, a national tourism bureau that will bring together industry professionals will begin operating on 16 October 2003. In these conditions, there will no longer be deviations like “sex tourism.” The government is taking strict measures to prevent and repress this scourge in the regions currently afflicted. An information campaign has also been launched to heighten public awareness of the risks of sexually transmitted diseases, especially among young people and women. So far the AIDS epidemic has bypassed Madagascar, though there have been a few isolated cases in well identified zones. This has driven the government to be more vigilant than ever. The President of the Republic is greatly concerned about this problem and its effect on Africa. He is constantly looking for ways to contain and eradicate the scourge of AIDS at the global level, as witnessed by his recent address to the United Nations 58th General Assembly. Greater solidarity has clearly become absolutely vital, to say the least. In order to fight sex tourism and AIDS even more effectively, along with other curses like drugs, pedophilia and the exploitation of children, we are gradually setting up a network of “provincial units to fight tourism-related scourges” all across the country. At the national level, a special “national unit” is already in place.

T.D.L.: Though Madagascar carries great weight (most notably demographic weight) in the Indian Ocean Commission (COI) zone, trade with COI countries accounts for just 3% of total foreign trade. Would it like to sign more accords easing trade restrictions with these countries, like the Madagascar-Mauritius accord that came into effect in 2000? Did President Marc Ravalomanana’s visit to Mauritius in late 2002 enhance prospects for strengthening ties between your countries, especially in the economic arena? Has the IOR-ARC opened up new avenues for moving into markets in the Indian Ocean region and Southeast Asia, home to 1.6 billion potential consumers?

H.E.J-P.R-A.: Let me answer your questions with a comprehensive overview. The opening up of the Malagasy economy is naturally reflected in Madagascar’s foreign relations, particularly in its ties with its direct neighbors, which include Mauritius. Both islands have  great potential, as well as complimentary assets. Combining our potential and assets opens up real opportunities for Madagascar, especially as concerns joint development with its neighbor. We are gradually seizing these opportunities, through bilateral agreements such as those we have signed with Mauritius, but also through multilateral accords such as COMESA, the Cross Border Initiative (CBI), the COI, and the IOR-ARC, which both Madagascar and Mauritius opted to join.
You are quite right in underscoring that Madagascar is looking for promising markets for its products outside the Western Indian Ocean region, in Africa, Europe, America and Asia. To that end, there has been a comprehensive and reciprocal reduction in import taxes and customs fees, as called for within the framework of these international agreements. These regional accords are in turn tied to interregional pacts, such as the Cotonou Agreement between the European Union and the ACP countries, and the Africa Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) that links several African countries and the United States. Under the first treaty, products from Madagascar and other ACP countries that meet specified rules of origin enjoy duty-free access to EU countries. The second accord allows a variety of goods from qualified countries to be imported free of duties and quotas into the American market.

T.D.L.: Though a member of COMESA, Madagascar hasn’t played a very active role in this organization. Does your country plan to step up its efforts to promote overall regional development? Madagascar announced its desire to join SADC several years ago. Would SADC membership offer an alternative to attempting to quickly rebuild Madagascar?  How would you describe your country’s current ties with South Africa, which holds great promise as a potential trade partner but could try to bring Madagascar under its sway?

H.E.J-P.R-A.: Madagascar must be rebuilt within Madagascar, and nowhere else! It is simply inconceivable for a country to be rebuilt by an outside organization, as if by default. That is true no matter how powerful the international or regional organization may be, in this specific case SADC. But perhaps I’ve misunderstood your question. At any rate, as concerns SADC,  former president Ratsiraka appears to have had ideological and personal misgivings that kept Madagascar from joining. There is now a strong political will to join this organization. The Malagasy government has already voiced its desire to develop a more open relationship with Africa, and both sides should begin making diplomatic overtures in the near future. Our involvement with COMESA must been viewed and evaluated in this light. What’s more, since Madagascar has served both historically and culturally as a bridge between Africa and Asia, our strategic approach naturally includes a very open relationship with Asia, where 60% of total world trade is now carried out. In these conditions, French-held import companies have nothing to fear, as this market expansion is the best way to guarantee their own economic and commercial growth.
With regard to South Africa, at the end of his term in office, former President De Clerk himself predicted that Madagascar would play a “leading role” in the Indian Ocean. That prediction appears to be coming true under Madagascar’s current president. South Africa’s current president has shown great consideration and concern for Madagascar, equaled only by the president of Madagascar’s high regard for his counterpart. In these conditions, how can we even entertain the thought that South Africa would launch a “takeover bid” against Madagascar, even a friendly one? The level of South African trade and investment in Madagascar has in no way weakened the position of our country’s main partners, namely France, Germany and Japan. South Africa’s expertise in certain areas is also greatly appreciated. Who would take offense at stronger regional relations between South Africa and Madagascar? We are neighboring countries lying in the same ocean, who are working together to spur joint-development in a true spirit of partnership. We have also begun building a partnership with Reunion Island, after President Ravalomanana’s state visit on 24-25 July 2003.

T.D.L.: In view of recent developments in southern Africa, most notably in Rwanda and DRC, and the continuing troubles in Sudan and Zimbabwe, could you summarize Madagascar’s policy towards this region and its approach to the recurring problems on the African continent?

H.E.J-P.R-A.:  Madagascar’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, General Marcel Ranjeva, is fond of underscoring that "Madagascar pursues geography-based diplomacy." This is a just and insightful observation. For as Napoleon pointed out, a country’s geostrategic position dictates its diplomatic options. In Madagascar’s case, this means not interfering in matters that have nothing to do with the region in which it lies. This does not, however, mean that it takes no interest in extra-regional questions. Madagascar has been a founding member of the Organization of African Unity – known since last year as the African Union – since its inception. It has responsibilities within the great African family, and consistently meets those responsibilities. Madagascar’s actions are inspired by principles based on internationally recognized values. Its relations with certain countries are founded on shared sympathies as well as strategic and historical considerations. There are a good many examples of this, such as the special ties Madagascar has woven with Morocco, or with Senegal and Burkina-Faso. It has also drawn closer to Gabon, Cameroon, and Libya, but working on a different basis. In short, Madagascar has chosen to take an approach that is at once pragmatic yet founded on respect for specific values. Madagascar’s approach has been steadily gaining favor, especially after its recent successful experience with the democratic process. This is why African UN member states actively supported Madagascar's bid for a vice-presidency on an important commission in the UN General Assembly. They did this in order to ensure that recurrent African problems would be brought before the world’s highest bodies, and hopefully resolved.

T.D.L.: After several months of hesitation, Madagascar was welcomed back into the community of African nations at the African Union Summit in Maputo, Mozambique in July 2003. What steps is President Ravalomanana taking to make Madagascar a driving force in NEPAD? On a broader level, what do you think Africa can do to overcome its commercial isolation?

H.E.J-P.R-A.: First of all, let me make it clear that the nations of Africa never banished Madagascar. Hence, I would not say that “Madagascar was welcomed back into the community of African nations,” but instead that African nations finally acknowledged what is now a political and institutional reality in Madagascar. A handful of leaders were rather late in doing so, but this delay did not lessen the great sympathy there has always been for Madagascar within the extended African family. Finally, Madagascar’s short-lived exclusion was an exceedingly minor and quickly forgotten event.
NEPAD is an initiative that strives to mobilize Africa’s resources and capacities. Madagascar sees it as an opportunity to foster sustainable development on the African continent. NEPAD’s objectives do, in fact, mirror Madagascar’s own ambitions. The measures already taken by the President of the Republic are greatly appreciated by the founders of this African initiative, in particular Madagascar’s strong involvement in the fight against AIDS, in the promotion of good governance, and in the search for new sources of investment. In addition to its cooperation with strictly African bodies, Madagascar intends to seize every opportunity to bolster these initiatives by working with international bodies, most notably through its involvement in the Francophonie movement. Whenever the opportunity arises, Madagascar will show its active solidarity with the African countries taking part in the global NEPAD initiative.
One of Africa’s biggest problems is mustering enough weight in the international arena to assert its point of view, most notably within the WTO. Africa is still greatly handicapped by the international trade circuits founded on long-standing practices left over from the colonial period. It is neither normal nor acceptable for Africa’s products and raw materials to continue to depend, in such a mad manner, solely on demand from consumer countries in the North. Here too, Madagascar is deeply aware of the need for greater solidarity with its African brothers, as well as with various emerging countries in Asia and South America. All the more so as the trend toward easing international trade restriction has created extremely difficult situations, and even a certain amount of disruption in developing countries. Large emerging countries with strong trade potential are striking temporary alliances that may prove to be long-lasting, to the detriment of poorer countries. For the latter will soon be deprived of the preferential conditions guaranteed by accords like the Cotonou Agreement, which runs for a limited time period. Madagascar is eligible to participate in the American AGOA initiative, and in the present circumstances, it is absolutely vital that we seize this opportunity.

T.D.L.: President Marc Ravalomanana visited Europe in early 2003, in his very first major trip since taking office. What was accomplished by this European tour, which focused primarily on economic concerns? Could you describe the main avenues of cooperation between your country and the European Union for our readers?

H.E.J-P.-A.: In early 2003, President Ravalomanana did indeed visit Switzerland and then Germany, where he met with leading figures from the business community. Economic actors from these countries subsequently visited Madagascar, bringing along project proposals. Then in February 2003, the President of Madagascar visited France on his first state visit, during the 9th France-Africa Summit. This was his first such summit, and it afforded him an opportunity to meet privately with President Chirac. This significantly reinforced Madagascar’s position on the international stage. It is very encouraging to see that top-level economic actors in both Europe and Africa are paying much greater heed to their relations with Madagascar. President Ravalomanana’s subsequent state visit to France, from 26-30 April 2003, attracted a great deal of attention and opened up strong new prospects for enhancing Franco-Malagasy relations. Our countries’ ties were revived, and are now sparking renewed interests on both sides. There was another remarkable event in Paris: Marc Ravalomanana was the first Malagasy President to be honored with the laying of a spray of flowers at the foot of the monument commemorating the Malagasy soldiers who came to France to help fight for liberty during the two world wars. He was also the first to have the privilege of being solemnly inducted into the Charles de Gaulle Institute and Foundation. These special honors are indicative of the privileges France has  continued to reserve for a president and a country that are exemplary in many ways.
Europe is an extremely important partner for Madagascar, especially in the economic arena. The European Development Fund (EDF) earmarked a total of 70 million euros for our country at the end of the 2002 quarter. But Europe’s commitment also extends to the Structural Adjustment Support Program, with special emphasis better management of the state budget. We have completed the first stage wherein legislative texts and regulations were laid out, procedural manual were printed, and the budget for monitoring bodies was worked out. We have now entered a second stage, which will see the implementation of these texts and the actual drafting of the monitoring bodies’ 2004 budget.  
T.D.L.: French Foreign Affairs Minister Dominique de Villepin’s July 2002 visit to Antananarivo, followed by President Marc Ravalomanana’s state visit to France in April 2003, helped revive ties that had been somewhat weakened by Madagascar’s political crisis. As the Great Island’s leading trade partner, investor, and financial sponsor, what can France do to help push forward your country’s reconstruction process? What objectives are France and Madagascar hoping to achieve by working together in the economic, trade and cultural arenas?

H.E.J-P.R-A.: There is a new climate in Franco-Malagasy relations, one marked by mutual trust, the will to work together in a spirit of partnership instead of assistance, a great respect for differences, and active solidarity. What’s more, our two countries share entire chapters of their history, and have retained to this day a feeling of great esteem and mutual affection. France’s support is absolutely essential to Madagascar’s reconstruction process. This support is not selective in nature, but instead reaches into every arena: diplomatic, economic, technical, scientific, and material. We share the French language, which is spoken in both countries. But we are communicating with France in another shared language as well, one that is driving us to build ties founded on competence, efficiency, rationality, and productivity. Moreover, as you are well aware, we have taken a new, pragmatic, and concrete approach to the notion of development. Working through its president, Madagascar has added the notion of “rapidness” to the goal of “sustainable development,” as I explained earlier.
You will thus understand that it is rather simplistic to think of this new multidimensional and brotherly cooperation between France and Madagascar in terms of “objectives.” This cooperation is so incredibly rich, it would be futile to try and draw up an inventory, of sorts. This cooperation is, however, destined to become increasingly diversified, and I am currently working to that end. There is already a special campaign underway to heighten Madagascar's image and promote its unique character and wide potential. Our embassy is working to that end in the French capital, and also through decentralized cooperation programs. For we are constantly looking for ways to step up our exchanges with France’s local communities as well. We have made very encouraging strides, giving us hope that the ties Madagascar is establishing with France will indeed prove to be long-lasting.

T.D.L.: President Marc Ravalomanana has reaffirmed his strong attachment to the French-speaking community, which has helped to forge a close and historical tie between your country and France. Would Madagascar like to see the Francophonie grow even stronger? What can be done to reinforce the friendly bonds between our two nations and our two peoples?

H.E.J-P.R-A.: Yes, the Malagasy President does see the  French-speaking community as another big family in which Madagascar must take on an active and supportive role. At the November 2003 Beirut Summit, which focused on the theme "Dialogue of Cultures, Cultures of Dialogue", Madagascar caused a sensation and showed great innovation by proposing the creation of a "Francophone" label for cultural products and handicrafts. As the President of the Republic’s Personal Representative to the International Organization of the Francophonie, I requested that this matter be included on the agenda of the next session of the Francophonie’s Permanent Council, scheduled for November 2003. Madagascar’s proposal has a two-sided goal: promoting cultural products and handicrafts made in French-speaking countries on international markets, and taking concrete steps to defend cultural diversity. The latter is a issue dear to both our countries, in the face of the undue domination by large British or American industrial groups trying to impose one big monolithic culture. As you know, the campaign to strengthen the Francophonie faces many other challenges, to which Madagascar has given its active support. I am thinking of the efforts to promote good governance and democratic values – most notably through this absolutely unique instrument that is the Bamako Declaration – as well as the harmonization of legal texts. The Francophonie is not France alone, but then again, what would the Francophonie be without France? In fact, within French itself, the French-speaking community would seem to appear almost foreign. This is why, rather paradoxically, the very idea of the Francophonie deserves to be seen more positively in France, especially by its young people. There is, very honestly, a deep and lively friendship between our two nations and our two peoples. Presidents Chirac and Ravalomanana are on familiar terms. Every day I receive new displays of  sincere friendship from top leaders and actors from every field of activity in France. I will be welcoming several French ministers to Madagascar in the coming months. Not a day passes that our embassy does not receive a new stack of letters asking how to visit Madagascar, or invest in our country. We are also increasing our cultural and economic events, as well as purely friendly gatherings, both inside the embassy and outside its walls. We are going out and meeting people. Those who look back with nostalgia on our colonial past know full well that they are in the minority, and yet they are loathe to admit this. And so every now and then, the most radical elements start brewing up underhanded projects, fortunately for us in vain. It is hence vital that we remain ever vigilant. France’s leaders are aware of this, and we are grateful to know that we can always count on them.
In conclusion, the greatest tribute to our friendship with France is most certainly the creation of a poem rendered in its own language, as passed through the filter of Malagasy culture. This has been brilliantly done by our two leading poets, Jean-Jacques Rabearivelo and Jacques Rabemananjara.
"Peu d'arbres fleurissent sans feuillage, peu de fleurs éclosent sans parfum et peu de fruits mûrissent sans pulpe,  tu es le feuillage, tu es le parfum, tu es la pulpe du vieil arbre qu'est ma race, ô lambeque j'ai délaissé mais qui m'envelopperas à la fin, dans le silence de la terre d’où jaillira l’élan des herbes."
"Ile ! Ile aux syllabes de flamme ! Jamais ton nom ne fut plus cher à mon âme ! Ile, ne fut plus doux à mon cœur ! Ile aux syllabes de flamme, Madagascar ! Quelle résonance ! Les mots fondent dans ma bouche : le miel des claires saisons dans le mystère de tes sylves, Madagascar !"
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