Madagascar, FAQs answered by a Malagasy person. Series #1.
Updated: Nov 6, 2018
Laura is a 17 year old girl living in Switzerland. She was preparing a presentation for school about life in Madagascar, so she sent me some questions. I found the questions interesting so I decided to post them in this blog with my answers. I am planning to do the same with all questions people usually ask me about Madagascar for anyone interested (for any reason) :). If you have any questions, you can comment on this post, or send them to me on Facebook, Instagram, or by email (firstname.lastname@example.org).
Laura: Do you speak French?
Tsiky: Yes, I do. French is the second official language in Madagascar because Madagascar was colonised by France from 1896 until 1960. We study French from primary school, and in most schools, the notes are given in French even though teachers are explaining everything in Malagasy (our first language).
L: What are the dreams of the teenagers in Madagascar? What were your dreams? Do they put more value on family or career?
T: My dream was to study abroad. I think in general, guys are focusing on being successful, then find a good girl to marry and have a family, while girls are focusing on finding a successful guy to marry. This is slowly changing though.
L: What are their worries?
T: Young people do not have so much to look forward to in Madagascar, the country is poor and corrupted. There are many young people without a job, with or without diploma, which does not encourage people to go to school, because somewhat there is no point.
L: What are Madagascar’s biggest problems? (social, economic, political situation etc...)
T: From my point of view, many of Madagascar’s problems come from the fact that people are not educated. 46% of the Malagasy population can not read or write.
There have been many political crises that made the country highly unstable, every time we change president, there has to be a political crisis. Therefore there is no continuity in governance, every transition has to be painful for the country. We say that Madagascar is a democratic country but I would say that most of the Malagasy population do not understand what is democracy, and are easily manipulated through media.
Madagascar is highly dependent on foreign aid. People will applaud if someone from the government announces that we managed to borrow some money from some foreign country, or received some aid for some reason. No-one has ever wondered how we are paying back the debt, or how long we will have to be dependent on aid.
People are poorly educated about Madagascar and about the rest of the world. Therefore, they do not see how to make the best of their situation or how to achieve anything on a large scale, because they are only aware of their immediate environment.
This leads to a huge lack of entrepreneurship, hence the employment shortage. Anyone that has some money in Madagascar opens a shop. If you walk in any street in any city in Madagascar, you will notice that there are little shops everywhere. These little shops sell very similar things, which just doesn’t make any sense. Another example is the the fact that everyone in the Southern highlands is cultivating rice and sells it in autumn. Therefore, they don't have anything to eat during the rainy season. No-one thinks about diversifying.
The gap between rich and poor people increases tremendously through the political crises. There are more and more poor people and less and less very rich people. Therefore, the insecurity rises from all over the place.
L: What do young people hope for their country? What do you hope will get better in Madagascar?
T: Young people hope for jobs. It is very frustrating to have studied for many years, and not being able to find a job, and seeing many other young people in the same situation.
To improve the situation in the near future, I hope that young people will understand that the only way is to get more informed and create small entreprises. For a long term development, I hope that people will understand the importance of education, and will take it more seriously in every aspect.
L: How are the people in Madagascar? (To help you a little bit with your answer: I‘m originally from Brazil. People in Brazil are very open but also very biased. Racism is a very big problem there. But, almost every Brazilian is very patriotic..)
T: People in Madagascar feel in their everyday life that there are many problems in the country, but these are mainly caused by the poverty.
Malagasy people are very welcoming. I believe anyone that has visited Madagascar has felt it.
There are 18 tribes in Madagascar. We are generally not racist but some tribes still do not marry each other. This depends a lot on the family though.
We look up to white people, everyone would like to go abroad because, for Malagasy people, being abroad literally means being successful.
L: How do people in Madagascar live? (in houses, is the lifestyle simple?, with their extended family or in small numbers...)
T: People live in houses. The type of house depends on the region. In the highlands, the houses are made of bricks, because it is cold, while in the coast, houses are made of palm trees and leaves or other types of light wood.
Families live together until the children can afford to be on their own (which might not happen) but families tend to live not far from each other.
L: How is the school system? Do a lot of students go to a University? Is it a good school system? Is the number of unemployment high? Is it difficult to find a job?
T: We follow the French school system. Not many of the children that go to school make it to university. I don't have the exact percentage. (I think I already replied to the question about the unemployment).
L: What are the most famous traditions in your country? (food, music, festivals...)
T: Every tribe has its own tradition. I am Merina, this is the tribe that lives around the capital. One of the most famous traditions we have is the exhumation (we call it famadihana). This is a family tradition to express gratitude and to honour the members of the family that are already dead. We take their body out of the tomb and cover it with more fabric. The fabric used is Malagasy handmade silk. This celebration lasts for 2-3 days, and the extended family gather to dance and eat together.
L: What is the women‘s status in Madagascar?
T: Traditionally, women take care of the children and the house and men provide. This is changing though, as I said before, especially in the big cities.
L: Do young people want to stay in their country? Or is it likely for them to leave it, like you did? :-)
T: As I said before, moving abroad means being successful. Therefore, many young people would like to go away because of the lack of opportunity, but it is not easy.
L: What is the main religion there? Are many people religious?
T: People in big cities are generally christian, but the ones that live in the villages are following the traditional religion. Overall, 55% of the population are following traditional beliefs, 40% are christian, and 5% are muslim.
L: What is the relation between Madagascar and France?
T: Economically, Madagascar exports to France and imports from France. France is the second largest trade and business provider for Madagascar. There are many French people living in Madagascar. I would say the majority of foreigners living in Madagascar are French, and the majority of Malagasy people abroad are in France.
Itsikiantsoa (Tsiky) Randrianantenaina