Madagascar (a.m.) / Johannesburg (p.m.), South Africa

  • Date
  • 11 July 2000
  • Lodging
  • Park Hyatt
  • Distance
  • 2363 KM
  • Total
  • 90300 KM

I found the poverty of Madagascar to be broad-based and extremely depressing, yet I can’t tell you how many people have told me how they loved “untouched” Madagascar. The land is exquisite, as fertile as any place we have seen, and the people remarkably beautiful, but the situation on the ground leaves little optimism: two-thirds of the children receive no formal education and 90 percent of the people live without electricity. The countryside villages, with one-room wooden homes, are leveled by the floods of the rainy season. The train station in the village by Perinet has not run since a cyclone destroyed the tracks some years back.

Chinese, French and Indians have successful businesses, many more than the Malagasy operate. Roads are pot-holed and in need of repair, but mobbed with old trucks and even older cars. Much like West Africa, people depend on private and government-run mini-vans for transport. These are packed like sardines in a can, people standing where seats go missing as others hang out the back door creating another spot.

In one town we watched children play Capsule – a soccer (football) game using bottle caps for players, a marble for the ball and an empty tuna tin as the goalkeeper. Can I imagine any of my friends’ children playing a soccer game in the dirt or even being creative enough to improvise a soccer field? The Malagasy children scouring the village streets and countryside are poor, dirty, unattended, uneducated and under-fed. Jim says they don’t know they are poor, but doesn’t a hungry tummy alert them? Don’t the young ones notice, and grow-up to resent, the well-fed and more prosperous local Chinese, Indians and French living here?

Antananarivo, the capital known as Tana, is a bustling city, but not a prosperous one. Scores of lovely flowers are for sale along the streets – lilies are among the most beautiful. A mountain sits in the center of Tana and life takes place in the Upper and Lower Cities, with thing unbelievably cheap: a 15-minute taxi ride might be less than US$2, and breakfast of eggs and sausage runs only US$0.80 cents. Still, few locals can afford these prices.

I wonder if in 30-40 years people in Sub-Saharan Africa will blame the West for the horrible poverty that seems to be worsening here. Perhaps they will blame the World Bank, IMF and NGOs for loaning money when the organizations should have known repayment was impossible. Or perhaps they will blame the NGOs and even Western governments for giving money, but holding no one accountable. I wonder.