It is a country of fabulous wealth, where fruits, vegetables, fish, minerals and precious stones abound, where “ in the highlands, you can harvest up to three rice crops a year, grow wheat and pick strawberries “recalls a Frenchman who lived there for a long time. A country, the tenth poorest in the world, in the south of which there is a terrible famine and where children feed on leather straps boiled in water.
A country where two former French officers, graduates of the Military School of Saint-Cyr, are detained for a supposed coup against President Andry Rajoelina. The first, Franco-Malagasy, Paul Maillot Rafanoharana, designated brain of the “Apollo 21” project, was sentenced on December 17 to forced labor for life. The second, Philippe François, at ten years old. Lamplighters, no doubt, lost in a matter beyond their control. A war of influence where France disputes it with Madagascar on the question of sovereignty over the Scattered Islands, an ecological reserve of course, but also a gigantic oil and gas deposit. Where China, already well established, advances its pawns, its ports and its ships. Where a president struggling with an economic, health and humanitarian crisis, must find a way to play on the nationalist rope to revive his popularity.
Little is said about Madagascar, and yet this country as big as one and a half times the size of France, of which it was a colony until 1960, attracts covetousness. For its natural wealth, on the one hand, and for its location in the southwest of the Indian Ocean, on the other. A set of factors that make “Mada” the subject of many economic and strategic issues. ” The country’s resources are enormous: lychee, pepper, cinnamon, bananas, mangoes, shrimps, cereals, precious wood, precious stones, but also ore, with four uranium mines “, Details the Franco-Malagasy Lova Rajaoarinelina, researcher at the Foundation for Strategic Research (FRS), and specialist in nuclear issues. She lived on the island, where she held political responsibilities from 2012 to 2017. She experienced the transition there after the 2009 coup, then the 2013 presidential election.
China in ambush
According to the researcher, while France does not have particularly important interests there, a certain number of SMEs belonging to French people, descendants of families of settlers who arrived in the nineteenth century, and even of pirates who had settled there since the eighteenth , hold the top of the basket in areas such as vanilla: “ Abundance is such that some can be billionaires only in the lychee trade without touching vanilla! “, she says as well. Rémy Lescure, member of the support committee of Philippe François, professional communicator, managed a hotel in Madagascar. ” In a few decades, the country’s state structures have fallen into a serious state of decay, corruption is very present, and the state of the infrastructure, particularly roads, does not allow for the proper transport of goods, as could be done with the highland rice, for example “, he explains. Madagascar thus exports a quantity of exotic fruits but struggles to feed its own population.
Rare metals represent another object of desire: “ There is plenty of tungsten, precious stones, especially sapphire. The one who is supposed to come from Burma or India actually arrives, via smuggling channels, from Madagascar “, continues Rémy Lescure. But smuggling and trafficking are one of the scourges of the Big Island: “ There is cocaine, with very present cartels, but also rosewood and zebu, which are among the main sources of income for the mafias. As for the metals used in the manufacture of battery components, they obviously attract foreign investors, whether from China, India or neighboring South Africa. “ The first tests of the French atomic bomb were carried out with Madagascan uranium, recalls Lova Rajaoarinelina. No wonder Iranians, North Koreans and Chinese are looking this way. They are interested in it. »
China is one of the main partners of the Island, as recalled by Emmanuel Véron, professor at the Naval Academy and at Inalco (National Institute of Oriental Languages and Civilizations): “ Apart from the merchants present for a long time, we are in the presence of the classic relationship maintained during the Cold War with the post-Third World countries, with all the talk against the former colonial powers, in this case France, which accompanied, he explains. And for twenty years, China has been taking important shares in the economic field. There is predation on rosewood and endemic species, the acquisition of agricultural land, the construction of road networks, and infrastructures on which Beijing is in competition with other powers: a French company has moreover succeeded in excluding China from a project for a new airport. “Above all, China imports a lot of foodstuffs, but also sees Madagascar as an important stage of the “maritime silk road”, hanging over the sea from the “new silk road”, a pharaonic commercial transport project that crosses the steppes of Central Asia to Western Europe.
But Emmanuel Véron also tempers this importance: “ Madagascar is important, but most exports pass through the northern Indian Ocean and the Red Sea. And then the level of poverty is such in Madagascar that it is not a viable market, it is not consolidated. There is a tendency to exaggerate the extent of trade relations between China and Madagascar, but it is a very secondary market compared to Kenya and Ethiopia. »
On the other hand, the waters full of fish are a real mine for Chinese fishing companies. “ China is very active in all areas around African countries. We are witnessing real looting and predation on fisheries resources “, continues Emmanuel Véron. Beijing builds port facilities, and does a lot of work in international organizations like the UN on issues of interpretation of maritime law. The goal? Allow to obtain decisions that will set a precedent for other regions of the world where China has territorial and commercial claims.
” When I worked there, it was striking to see how much the speech of the Chinese vis-à-vis the Malagasy was “anti-France”, it was a question of castigating the former colonial power “recalls Lova Rajaorinelina. This discourse was further hardened after the discovery of gigantic gas and oil deposits in the Mozambique Channel where the Scattered Islands are located, which remained French after decolonization and claimed by Madagascar. A treasure for the Big Island, whose president campaigned in 2018, insisting on the independence of his country and the rejection of foreign interference.
In October 2020, Madagascar asked the United Nations to extend its Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) beyond 200 nautical miles, which would allow it to exploit some of these energy resources, according to the newspaper. Midi-Madagascar. Which also specifies that to assist it in the work of seismic surveys, the country is accompanied by a Chinese oceanographic research institute.
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