Madagascar

By Victoria Whitwell

madagascar flag

The official flag of Madagascar.

I. INTRODUCTION

Madagascar seems to constantly be changing and evolving. The struggle between the power and the people is what eventually led to its 2009 political and economic crisis. Today, Madagascar is still feeling the waves of its governmental reformation and picking up the pieces to determine its rule of law, rights to its people and boundaries of governmental power. According to Reporters Without Borders, an international organization that promotes and defends media freedom, Madagascar is rated 56 out of 180 in the 2016 World Press Freedom Index. [11] In this Index, rankings closer to 1 indicate a highly free press, whereas rankings closer to 180 are countries with more restrictive and oppressive press freedoms. Madagascar’s rating has improved eight ranks more freefrom previously being 64 in the 2015 World Press Freedom Index. Freedom House, an organization which advocates for the democracy and freedom around the world, considers Madagascar to be “partly free,” which has improved because of recent governmental elections. [8] While the Malagasy people have many freedoms, the Madagascan government maintains a tight grip on its media outlets. It seems that as some overall improvements in Madagascar are made, advocacy for freedom of speech and the press are still put on hold in its roller coaster of government issues.

II. HISTORICAL BACKGROUND

Madagascar is an island off the eastern coast of Africa known for its exotic species of animals and unstable government. It is the fourth largest island in the world with a population of over 23 million people. [11] The French first settled in Madagascar in 1642 and planted its seed of influence on the island. It was also around this time that Madagascar became the destination of choice for pirates from all over the world. [2] Over 250 years later in 1896, Madagascar was annexed by the French. Madagascar was then self-governing within the French community in 1958 as the Malagasy Republic. Madagascar gained its independence in 1960 and then adopted the name as the Democratic Republic of Madagascar from 1975 to 1993. [1] The name later evolved into the Republic of Madagascar. However, since its declaration of independence, “Madagascar’s energies [have] been engaged in an irrevocable downward spiral of economic and political stultification.” [14]

From 1992 to 2002, Madagascar withstood three different presidents along with three constitutional overhauls due to electoral fraud and other issues of corruption. [15] Additionally, a military-backed coup by Andry Roejelina overthrew the government in 2009 to move towards democratic consolidation, eventually leading to a rewritten constitution in 2010. Madagascar’s revised constitution created a senate and protected freedoms of speech and press. However, Roejelina’s transitional government ignored these freedoms. Since Madagascar’s transition, President Hery Rajaonarimampianina broke from Roejelina’s influence in 2014 and has supposedly eased some freedom restrictions. [9] Unfortunately, the Malagasy people are still subject to excessive or violent repercussions if the government chooses to persecute them for political opposition.

III. FREE SPEECH

When it comes to freedom of speech in Madagascar, controversy makes for a perfect summation. The biggest issue Madagascar has with the freedom of speech is when it is in opposition to the government. However before its French colonization, Madagascar’s government consisted of tribes where “practically a large amount of personal liberty seem[ed] to have been enjoyed, each warrior of the tribe having the right of free speech and expressing his opinions upon any measures proposed.” [6A] Madagascar’s modern government has a much different view for its people now. Arbitrary arrests and detention are the main consequences to political opposition and are still very prevalent to this day. Sadly, more drastic measures have taken place in Madagascar’s more recent history. For instance, in 1972 a group of protesters practicing a student demonstration against French cultural domination of the country’s schools was shot by the Republican Security Forces of Madagascar. Shortly after 1972, the government began declaring martial law, imposing censorship and suspending political parties. In a similar situation nearly 20 years later, strike demonstrations at the presidential palace organized by an opposing coalition called Forces Vives (Active Forces) led to government forces to open fire on civilians. [19] All of these issues were handled by ever-changing government reformations led within the same vein of political corruption. Madagascar’s government was so unstable that freedom of speech seemed to be the last of its priorities.

Today, the Malagasy people enjoy rights to religious and academic freedoms along with organizational rights. However, censorship and corruption remain to be at the center of the Madagascan government’s agenda towards its citizens’ rights to free speech, especially when the speech is in opposition to the government. Political demonstrators continue to be at risk of violence from armed forces and restrictions on assembly. [11] Not only are the Malagasy people at risk during political demonstrations, but they are also at risk for what they post online. “Madagascar’s National Assembly has quietly adopted a cybercrime law that provides for prison sentences for anyone insulting or defaming a state representative online.” [11A] The law was passed without citizens knowing, yet it brings a heavy sentence to those who disobey it such as two to five years in prison and/or heavy fines. The law went into review by the government only to be passed because it is “in compliance with the constitution by the Constitutional High Court.” [11A] Whether it is truly compliant with the constitution or not, cyber-censorship on the Malagasy people continues to choke out their freedom of speech. In fact, discussion of more restrictive laws concerning freedom of speech online have risen in the past year due to an increase in popularity of memes criticizing the Madagascan economy. Global Voices, a non-profit organization that collects and translates news stories from all over the world, posted an unverified news story explaining that citizens are demonstrating their frustrations towards the government through memes all with the common theme of a pineapple. The pineapple relates to an expensive Dolce & Gabana pineapple-printed dress that the first lady wore to an event. The Malagasy people were outraged that the first lady wore such an expensive dress while the rest of country is in poverty. To fight back, people have been posting memes of pineapple, pictures of citizens’ hair styled to look like a pineapple, and economic information on social media and the internet. The Madagascan government has since then passed stricter laws to hide its true economic status. [14A]

Both online and offline, Madagascan citizens’ voices have been hushed by the government. Rights to free speech that were once exercised so openly in tribes have now been trampled through excessive censorship and strict laws. On the outside, the government claims Madagascar to be prosperous and doing well. Their constitution seems set the blueprint for a free, blooming nation. From the inside, the Malagasy people contradict such an image desperately crying out for freedom through any possible outlet.

IV. FREE PRESS

The press and the Madagascan government are still looking for some common ground. It was not until the early 2000s that the country of Madagascar began to have a voice. As the press became more popular, the government seemed to become more harsh. In March 2009, five newspapers were forced to stop publishing, and many journalists were severely attacked during the governmental transition of presidency. One reporter covering a political rally was shot dead. Another editor was beaten so bad that he went into a temporary coma. The government commended such actions and even hired mobs to beat and rob reporters throughout the country. Unfortunately, publications were not the only medium being threatened. During the same governmental transition, radio stations also took a major hit. Within a week after the newspapers were shut down, Viva Studios was surrounded and attacked by armed forces. More than 50 soldiers and policemen destroyed the studios’ radio equipment. [5] The following month, censorship in state-owned media became an order against anti-government press coverage and the studio, Radio Mada, was shut down. In the midst of the radio station being shut down, broadcasting equipment was seized by force using tear gas and stun grenades. During the attacks, 13 people were injured and one person was killed. [12] Another radio station, Fréquence Plus, was attacked during a live interview with an opposing politician in 2010. The damage to the radio station caused it to shut down, leaving three employees assaulted and the politician abducted and placed under house arrest. [3] As for television, during the 2009 governmental transition, Madagascan soldiers forcibly removed Télé Mada’s transmitters and seized its equipment as well. Television was then heavily censored by the government. [12] Since then, the government has continued to bring new threats to Madagascar’s media outlets.

In 2015, a branch of Viva Studios was attacked once again for reporting results of a municipal election that was recently held. Radio equipment was destroyed once more, and it was forced to close several of its branches. Reporters Without Borders describes Madagascar’s situation thusly, “the media climate in Madagascar is marked by corruption, self-censorship and violence against journalists.” [7] In hopes of change, journalists across Madagascar launched a petition in late 2016 to persuade President Henry Rajaonarimampianina to reconsider the new media law called the Code of Communication that was recently approved by the High Constitutional Court. The petition asks for the bill to be sent back to parliament for revision along with some proposals of improvement. [10] As this petition remains in development, the freedom of press currently remains compromised in Madagascar.

V. CRITICAL COMPARISON

It is believed that the United States of America is the freest country in the world. However, according to Reporters without Borders, the United States is rated 41 out of 180 in the World Press Freedom Index. [18] This rating is only 15 ranks higher in freedom than Madagascar. Interestingly enough, these 15 ranks have defined a world of a difference in its gap. Being an independent country for 57 years, the Malagasy people are still fighting for a voice in their land. In comparison, American citizens have a voice but are currently fighting to protect it. Oddly enough, the most recent Madagascan constitution is written in similar context to the United States constitution, concerning equality for all men and women, separation of church and state, inalienable rights and so on. Among other things, Madagascar’s constitution also includes the freedom of speech and press as mentioned in Articles 10, 11, 14, 26, and 33. [16] The alarming difference between Madagascar and the United States is that the United States honors constitutional rights, whereas Madagascar’s government has completely disregarded theirs, especially when it comes to free speech and press.

For example, the Madagascan government protest that took place in 1972 and led to the murders and injuries of over 150 protestors would have been handled differently by the United States Supreme Court as displayed by past court cases such as Edwards v. South Carolina. In the Edwards v. South Carolina case, a group of 187 petitioners were arrested and convicted on the charge of breach of the peace during an organized march on March 2, 1961. On February 25, 1963, the Supreme Court ruled that the arrests and convictions violated the rights of the marchers, saying that the petitioners’ march is protected by the constitution on the grounds of free speech, free assembly and freedom of petition. [4] Even though the demonstration may have expressed unpopular views, the government does not have a right to criminalize them. Not only did the Madagascan government criminalize its citizens’ anti-government demonstration, people’s lives paid the cost for it as well. These extreme measures cannot be justified whether they are answering to the United States or Madagascan constitution.

As previously mentioned, Madagascan citizens are still at risk to violence to this day whereas the United States Supreme Court has continued to protect its citizens’ freedom of speech as demonstrated in the Snyder v. Phelps case. [17] This case is widely known for the members of the infamous Westboro Baptist Church protesting at the funeral of a United States military service member. On March 2, 2011, the Supreme Court ruled that the constitution even protects protesters at funerals because the First Amendment shields protesters from liabilities. Meanwhile in Madagascar, citizens’ lives are still threatened if they choose to assemble and protest.

Along with free speech, the United States is comparably more free with freedom of the press. As previously mentioned, prior restraint and censorship in broadcasting have been major adversaries with Madagascar’s press. The United States has dealt with multiple prior restraint issues but arguably the most popular case is New York Times v. United States. [13] In Anthony Lewis’ book, Freedom for the Thought That We Hate, he calls the victory for the New York Times something that seemed “to signal a new attitude on the part of what could be called the establishment press.” [6] In this groundbreaking decision, the United States Supreme Court made sure that the government agenda did not infringe on its citizens’ rights nor disobey its constitution. This case has made a perfect example of the role that checks and balances play in the United States’ government. Not only has prior restraint and censorship controlled Madagascar’s press, but the government has gone as far as to completely destroy the establishments that were publishing and broadcasting the news. Journalists’ lives have been put in danger and even lost in Madagascar, whereas no threats towards the American journalists’ lives were even considered.

Madagascar demonstrates the perfect example as to why true freedom must rely on a nation’s people and not its government. In his “Spirit of Liberty” speech, Judge Learned Hand says, “I often wonder whether we do not rest our hopes too much upon constitutions, upon laws, upon courts. These are false hopes; believe me these are false hopes. Liberty lies in the hearts of men and women; when it dies there, no constitution, no law, no court can save it; no constitution, no law, no court can even do much to help it.” It is the Malagasy people who have the responsibility to carry their nation in complete liberty. Some commendable attributes of the United States are the emphasis of the checks and balances, political participation of the people and them exercising their rights. Hand also says, “A society in which men recognize no check upon their freedom soon becomes a society where freedom is the possession of only a savage few – as we have learned to our sorrow.” The society that Hand describes is the society that Madagascar emulates; power bounces from one political party to the other, overthrown by a select few to control many.

VI. CONCLUSION

In conclusion, Madagascar has a long journey ahead to reach political stability. Though many freedoms are given to the Madagascan people, the freedoms of speech and press are still in development. In a nation where the government is constantly changing, Madagascan citizens remain to be at risk of violent, and sometimes fatal, persecution to exercise free speech. News outlets also continue to be threatened and sometimes destroyed, especially when they discuss anti-government campaigns, ideas and stories. All in all, it is the Madagascan people who must rise out of oppression and have their voices heard to achieve the freedoms of speech and press.

CITATIONS

[1] Allen, Philip M., and Maureen Covell. Historical Dictionary of Madagascar. 2nd ed. Lanham, Md: Scarecrow, 2005. Print.

[2] Brown, Mervyn. Madagascar Rediscovered: A History from Early times to Independence. Hamden, CT: Archon, 1979. Print.

[3] Censorship, Index On. “Madagascar: Station Employees Attacked by Soldiers.” Index on Censorship. Index, 01 Dec. 2011. Web. 29 Mar. 2017. Retrieved from https://www.indexoncensorship.org/2010/05/madagascar-radio-soliders-attac/

[4] Edwards v. South Carolina. 372 U.S. 229 (1963) Supreme Court of the United States. WestlawNext. Web. 29 March 2017.

[5] “JOURNALISTS CAUGHT IN THE MIDDLE OF POWER DISPUTE.” IFEX. IFEX, n.d. Web. 29 Mar. 2017. Retrieved from http://www.ifex.org/madagascar/2009/03/18/journalists_caught_in_the_middle/

[6] Lewis, Anthony. Freedom for the Thought That We Hate: A Biography of the First Amendment. London: Perseus Running, 2010. Print.

[6A] Little, Henry William. Madagascar: Its History and People. London: William Blackford and Sons, 1884. Google Books. Google. Web. 14 Apr. 2017. Retrieved from https://books.google.com/books?id=ditRAAAAYAAJ&pg=PA159&lpg=PA159&dq=madagascar%2B%22free%2Bspeech%22&source=bl&ots=3-ZeVyq0hG&sig=3jXw4A4U4o2fVLAN8VDAwCmNXeY&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwjY6svvy6nTAhUO8WMKHW39CtkQ6AEIQTAF#v=onepage&q=madagascar%20%22free%20speech%22&f=false

[7] “Madagascan Opposition Media Attacked amidst Political Polarisation.” IFEX. IFEX, 17 Aug. 2015. Web. 29 Mar. 2017. Retrieved from http://www.ifex.org/madagascar/2015/08/17/viva_attack/

[8] “Madagascar.” Freedom House. Freedom House, n.d. Web. 29 Mar. 2017. Retrieved from https://freedomhouse.org/report/freedom-world/2016/madagascar

[9] “Madagascar.” Funk & Wagnalls New World Encyclopedia (2016): 1p. 1. Funk & Wagnalls New World Encyclopedia. Web. 19 Feb. 2017.

[10] “Madagascar : Journalists Urge President to Send Media Bill Back to Parliament.” RSF. Reporters Without Borders, 19 Aug. 2016. Web. 29 Mar. 2017. Retrieved from https://rsf.org/en/news/madagascar-journalists-urge-president-send-media-bill-back-parliament

[11] “Madagascar : Reporters without Borders.” RSF. Reporters Without Borders, n.d. Web. 29 Mar. 2017. Retrieved from https://rsf.org/en/madagascar

[11A] “Madagascar’s New Cybercrime Law Punishes Defamation with up to 5 Years Imprisonment.” IFEX. IFEX, 6 Aug. 2014. Web. 14 Apr. 2017. Retrieved from https://www.ifex.org/madagascar/2014/08/06/cybercrime_defamation/

[12] “Media under Attack One Month after New President Installed.” IFEX. IFEX, n.d. Web. 29 Mar. 2017. Retrieved from http://www.ifex.org/madagascar/2009/04/24/media_under_attack_one_month_after/

[13] New York Times Co. v. U.S. 403 U.S. 713 (1971) Supreme Court of the United States. WestlawNext. Web. 29 March 2017.

[14] Ostheimer, John M. The Politics of the Western Indian Ocean Islands. New York: Praeger, 1975. Print.

[14A] Rakotomalala, Lova. “Why Everyone in Madagascar Is Making Jokes About Pineapple · Global Voices.” Global Voices. Global Voices, 07 July 2016. Web. 14 Apr. 2017. Retrieved from https://globalvoices.org/2016/07/01/why-everyone-in-madagascar-is-making-jokes-about-pineapple/#

[15] Rakotomanga, Hans M. Democratic Transition in Madagascar, Malawi, and Mozambique. Thesis. Texas State University, 2011. Print.

[16] “Read about “Madagascar” on Constitute.” Constitute. Constitute Project, n.d. Web. 29 Mar. 2017. Retrieved from https://www.constituteproject.org/search?lang=en&q=madagascar

[17] Snyder v. Phelps. 562 U.S. 443 (2011) Supreme Court of the United States. WestlawNext. Web. 29 March 2017.

[18] “United States : Freedom Ends Where National Security Begins | Reporters without Borders.” RSF. Reporters Without Borders, n.d. Web. 29 Mar. 2017. Retrieved from https://rsf.org/en/united-states

[19] Winslow, Robert, Dr. “Comparative Criminology | Africa – Madagascar.” Comparative Criminology | Africa – Madagascar. San Diego State University, n.d. Web. 29 Mar. 2017. Retrieved from http://www-rohan.sdsu.edu/faculty/rwinslow/africa/madagascar.html

This essay was last updated April 30, 2017.

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