Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

IMF Considers Not Aiding Impoverished Madagascar Officials Worry Economic Development Will Be Halted without Deal

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

IMF Considers Not Aiding Impoverished Madagascar Officials Worry Economic Development Will Be Halted without Deal

Article excerpt

LIKE the lemur monkeys and ancient ferns that evolved in isolation in their unique way on Madagascar, politicians on this African island state in the Indian Ocean are resisting the rest of the world.

A constitutional crisis and moves by President Albert Zafy to reverse the young democracy are exasperating international donors and alarming environmentalists, who worry that political uncertainty will destroy one of the world's most unique rain forests, filled with hundreds of rare animal and plant species.

The International Monetary Fund (IMF), tired of missed economic targets, is considering not signing a long-delayed deal early next year that would open one of the world's poorest countries to much-needed credits and donor money.

Environmentalists say if that happens, economic development will be halted, and the population struggling to survive will sink further into poverty and cut down the rain forests that are the lungs and potential tourist gold of Madagascar.

"It's touch and go," says one Western diplomat. "Frustration is very high with the economic mismanagement, and the current political uncertainty doesn't help."

The former French colony, lying off the coast of Mozambique, is an anomaly culturally, as ethnically exotic as the flora and fauna that evolved in isolation over the millennia.

The cobblestoned highland towns resemble those of the Adriatic in their architecture; the restaurants are a blend of Chinese and Provencale cuisine, and the rice paddies and rickshaws hint of Asia and Polynesia from whence many of the 12 million people descended.

Politically, it has often gone its own way. Madagascar flirted with socialism in the late 1970s and '80s, but many of its traditionalist leaders have looked inward, wary of foreign influences.

That is at the heart of the current crisis, say local politicians - President Zafy's suspicions of the IMF and World Bank, whose prescribed austerity measures would likely cost him the vote in 1997 elections.

"The president is an old man with no economic sense who has no awareness of the world," says Elyette Rasendratsirofo, a close aide of Prime Minister Francisque Ravony, the president's political rival. "He approaches politics like a village elder. He wants Madagascar to be isolated and isn't interested in medium- and long-term plans to fight poverty. …

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