Bell Tolls for Madagascar as Foreign Affairs Looks Other Way as 100 Lose Their Lives

Cape Times (South Africa), February 2, 2009 | Go to article overview

Bell Tolls for Madagascar as Foreign Affairs Looks Other Way as 100 Lose Their Lives


JOHN DONNE'S famous Meditation XVII instructed us that "no man is an island entire of itself" and therefore, we should not "send to know for whom the bell tolls, it tolls for thee".

And yet, not far off the southern African shore, there is an island ringing alarm bells and no one really seems to be listening.

This is Madagascar of course, quite a large clod, the 20th largest of Africa's 53 official states by land area, 14th by population and 23rd by GDP.

Yet we know very little about it apart from the island in the animated movie where those cute New York zoo animals were stranded.

And, in the current sequel, from which they finally manage to escape. Appropriately enough, since the island has suddenly become rather unpleasant again.

Last Monday supporters of Andry Rajoelina, the mayor of the capital, Antananarivo, rioted, setting several buildings alight, including a TV station linked to President Marc Ravalomanana. That was after Ravalomanana's government had closed Rajoelina's radio station.

About 100 people have so far died, including nearly 30 people reportedly burnt alive in the torched shopping mall.

Ravalomanana, who himself came to power a few years ago after a low-level civil war, promised on Thursday to reopen Rajoelina's radio station, though it is not clear if this will defuse the violence.

Rajoelina, a rather precocious 34, claims to have the military's support and on Saturday told a rally he was in charge of the country, a claim Ravalomanana swiftly denied.

The response to this rather bloody crisis has been muted. On Friday the SA Department of Foreign Affairs issued a statement saying the humanitarian crisis was of deep concern to SA, that it was saddened by the loss of life and offered "to continue to support any efforts aimed at bringing about peace and reconciliation".

But that was about the crisis in Sri Lanka, a few thousand kilometres away. …

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