•17 July 2011 • 1 Comment

Three weeks in Tamatave has come and gone. The survey went pretty fast at a rate of 15 respondents per day. I’m basically done with my research now. I finished a total of 240 surveys between Tana and Tamatave. This should give me plenty to write about back in Provo. My last sample area on Saturday presented me with a unique perspective. I chose an area fairly remote out in the countryside. I took a bus to the end of the line out on the edge of town and then walked for an hour to get to a small village in the hills that is only accessible by scooter or 4×4. The people there are very simple. They almost all farm, mostly sugar cane. Along with the sugarcane comes moonshine, so, even here in the backwoods, I found plenty of drunkenness despite it being the middle of the day. The first guy I talked to didn’t seem to understand what I was doing. He asked for money and refused to talk to me when I told him I wasn’t going to give him any. But when he saw me hand the next person I talked to a copy of the consent form, he suddenly became very interested. He followed me halfway through the village asking me to let him participate so he could have a consent form too. I finally just gave him a copy without surveying him. I found one person who understood French but several people I talked to never went to school, were born in that village, and claimed to be “pure” Betsimisaraka (the local ethnicity). Due to the small size of the village, I only got eight responses there, but pushed farther north to another, even more remote village. The trail to Menagisa is narrow and muddy, inaccessible to even scooters. When I finally got there, the village turned out to be much smaller than I had imagined. In addition, my timing was such that most people were out in the fields when I came through so my visit only yielded a single survey response before I hiking back south into town for an hour and a half. While I didn’t get many surveys, the day was fruitful in that it provided a great perspective into rural life and politics here on the coast. If I had thought to do so in advance, I would have liked to have planned a three-day camping trip and hiked from village to village for a few days. Although, even the little bit I saw provided me with much food for thought.

Quiet anticipation

•19 July 2011 • Leave a Comment

The political climate in Madagascar has been more or less calm during the past month. Resulting from the SADC June 11-12 summit, the SADC finally announced a single amendment to the Road Map requiring the return of exiled political leaders. While Rajoelina has accepted the return of Didier Ratsiraka, he continues to insist on previous, and recently renewed, court verdicts dictating lifetime hard labor for Ravalomanana’s involvement in the shooting at the presidential palace on 7 February 2009. Upon SADC’s original announcement that urged that Malagasy political leaders be allowed to return unconditionally, not only did Rajoelina balk, but a group of military leaders also convened to officially declare their opinion that Ravalomanana not be allowed to return, “in the name of maintaining domestic stability.” Since then, business seems to have gone on as usual.

Talk has turned to the contraband rose wood market that has been recently spotlighted due to a shipment that was stopped in Mauritius and connected to people in high places. Following the transitional government’s announcement that it would henceforth seize and sell all illegally obtained rosewood, the US government announced that it would not participate in the $52 million UN sponsored financial assistance for reforestation. The US statement said the regime’s selling of rosewood would legitimize its export as well as expressed concern that there was no guarantee that the de facto regime wouldn’t redirect those funds away from reforestation to compensate for reduced funding in light of international sanctions.

Election preparations have gone on and seem to be making good progress, although, an official election date has yet to be announced. It is thus far uncertain if Rajoelina intends to submit or shun international standards that have been set forth requiring at least nine months time be allowed for proper election preparation. It may be that Rajoelina simply wants to surprise his opposition by announcing an election suddenly or it may be that he wants to take the time to be in accordance with international standards without openly admitting that he is giving in to international pressure. However, Rajoelina has recently convened a special session of the senate in order to discuss electoral laws in which amnesty for political actors is speculated to play a part. Meanwhile, the African Union summit in Addis Ababa has approved the SADC amended version of the Road Map and again urged that political leaders in exile be unconditionally allowed to return.

Surveying on the coast

•8 July 2011 • Leave a Comment

Over a week in Tamatave now, and I’ve only got four days of work in. I started out strong, working Thursday, Friday, and Saturday. But I took Monday off to spend the 4th of July with the missionaries, Tuesday, I ended up using the weather as a lame excuse not to work, and Wednesday, I used no excuse at all other than not feeling like working. I did get fifteen surveys done yesterday, but then woke up with a pinched nerve in my neck today and lost yet another day. Tomorrow, hopefully, I’ll get back in the swing of it. At any rate, I plan on being done with surveys by next Friday or Saturday.

Working here is a lot different than in Tana. I feel like there is much more diversity here than in Tana. Yesterday, ninety percent of my respondents were Antesaka from the south east coast. Most were second or third generation immigrants to Tamatave as well.  I guess the difference is that in Tana, what diversity exists is a highlander/cotier mix, while here it is more often a cotier/cotier mix. Although, I still heard reference to a chef de Fokontany here who is supposedly Merina, while I have never heard of a cotier chef de Fokontany in Tana. I’ve notice a lower level of education among people here in general. However, they have a very different mindset than the Merina. I feel like, so far, fewer people have issues with the experiment portion of my survey. Many people in Tana refused to answer the questions stating that they couldn’t decide if they expected the hypothetical candidate to be successful or fair because they haven’t see yet if his policies are successful or fair. They have a hard time having an expectation rather than simply a wait and see attitude. Much remains to be seen though; I’ve only just begun here. We shall see what we shall see.

Independence day in Antsirabe, then off to Tamatave

•29 June 2011 • Leave a Comment

Last week, I stopped surveying short of my goal due to being sick. The 128 I have done will have to work for now because my calendar dictates I get things going in Tamatave. So, I took a three day vacation to spend the local independence holiday with a family I’m close to in Antsirabe. We had an awesome time. I spent most of my time with the three sons who are more or less my age. We did some cruising, ate some good food, and saw the city. We even met a couple cute French girls who were hanging out with a mutual friend. As it turns out, I already have a mutual friend with them from DC–small world! Monday, I came back up from Antsirabe, packed my things, and left that night for a Tamatave. The overnight bus ride to the coast is less than desirable but not the worst thing I’ve experienced in my life. It’s great to be here in Tamatave. I don’t remember my way around at all, but I’m enjoying exploring it again. Rather than mud and dust, here all you can find is sand, which can also get nasty dirty, but it’s not near as difficult as in Tana. I went down to the beach yesterday right before dusk and watched some fisherman pull in an empty net before the sun set. Today, I’m working on setting up my research and getting things organized so I can hit it hard tomorrow. I think one of my biggest challenge is going to be the language. I’ve forgotten the dialect here and it certainly takes some getting used to. Most can speak the official language, but I feel a lot more uncomfortable not knowing what’s being said around me. We’ll see how fast I adapt. The best thing about being her though is the rain. I love the rain and I missed the rainy season in Tana. Here, though, it rains in the winter, and it’s still warm enough that it’s an enjoyable experience. It’ll just make doing paper surveys a bit difficult but I’ll manage. Tomorrow I’ll find out how difficult it’s going to be to find my sampling areas and convince people to talk to me about politics.

SADC in Sandton

•16 June 2011 • 1 Comment

The SADC troika recently convened their extraordinary summit in Sandton, South Africa to discuss the previous meeting held in Gaborone regarding the situation in Madagascar and Zimbabwe. Their report came out Saturday saying that they would approve of the Road Map to end the crisis pending certain amendments but didn’t mention those amendments. They further urged that exiled political leaders should sign the road map, but should also be allowed to return to the country without condition and to participate in elections. Following the SADC declaration, certain military leaders convened and signed a declaration stating that they were against Ravalomanana returning as it would threaten “public order and security.” Andry however, later that day, announced that he would allow Ratsiraka to return but not Ravalomanana unless Ravalomanana was willing to be tried for “his crimes.” Andry further stated that he was going to adhere to the original Road Map drafted in Ivato under the direction of Chissano (SADC delegate to Madagascar). (The SADC troika has disapproved of Chissano’s version but Chissano saw no other possibility, so they have moved forward with his version, which has now resulted in the announced but unspecified forthcoming amendments.) Andry, however, insists that elections will be held in November despite the fact that even the original Road Map stipulates that elections be held under the supervision of international bodies i.e. UN, OIF, etc. These same bodies have insisted that the registration process requires six to twelve months in order to be credible. Without sufficient time to create the proper conditions for transparent elections these bodies will not observe the election, and it will be disregarded by the international community. The SADC is expected to draft a final version of the Road Map including new amendments and present it to the AU and the UN and later to Andry and other political leaders as a final option. If Andry persists in rebuffing the mediation efforts and moves forward unilaterally, further sanctions will follow, potentially including travel sanctions. Possible amendments could include stipulations for Andry to step down by a certain time before elections if he is to run or to step down by a certain time despite the lack of elections to prevent him from going on indefinitely.

Survey progress and wedding bells

•6 June 2011 • Leave a Comment

Wow, what a week! This week was my first full week of survey work. I went to a local print shop (consisting of one working copier), and had 120 copies made of my survey. (It took three hours to print, sort, and staple them) But I’m ready to work now. As of today, I have 57 surveys done, roughly one third of what I need in Tana. I’m getting about 10 done a day depending on how much time I’m able to spend in the area, so I should be done here in a couple weeks at most. Then I’ll take a quick vacation in the south and head to the east coast to continue my survey in Tamatave. I’m excited to see the numbers when I get all my surveys processed. Preliminary analysis indicates that my hypothesis is correct, that is, that ethnic bias is no longer a significant influence in politics. But the sample size is still way too small to take anything for granted.

Saturday, I took the day off to attend the wedding of a girl I baptized shortly after I first arrived in 2003. It was a riot. The government here doesn’t recognize any religious or traditional ceremony as legally binding so most people do three weddings: the traditional one called a vodiondry (butt of a goat) where the groom gives money to the bride’s father and the two exchange standard oratory, the legal ceremony, and a religious one. I had the privilege of attending not only the church service, but the legal ceremony, as well as the catered after-party. The legal ceremony only lasted about 15 minutes once we finally got in. There were so many weddings going on though that ours was an hour later than scheduled. We then went straight to the church for a more or less typical church wedding with vows, music, and speeches. The party was the best part though. I ended up seated with her brothers and some other close relatives, which made me feel like part of the family. It was really quite an honor. Over 200 guests were served a four-course meal on fancy dishes at a venue with an incredible view of the entire southwest side of the capital. There was a huge wedding cake, karaoke, dancing, and, of course, hundreds if not thousands of pictures. I mostly hung out with her brothers, which was fun. The older one is about my age and the younger one only a few years behind. We had a great time and later went out for brochettes and listened to some music before finally going home.


•27 May 2011 • Leave a Comment

Getting visa and permit paperwork has been a pain in the butt. I made three trips to the University talking to three different professors before getting my letter of authorization today. And that was after going to the Ministry of Higher Education only to be told that I need to go to the University. However, the professors were extremely helpful and interested in what I was doing. I now have three useful contacts of educated and interested men. The visa paperwork on the other hand was been frustrating though I’m only lacking one paper at this point. The Embassy of Madagascar in DC only mentioned needing a police report and a letter of recommendation. But when I went to the Ministry of Interior to extend my visa they told me that I needed a whole list of documents (12 or so). Of course they didn’t give me a copy of the list but instead directed me to where one was glued to the wall from which I could take notes. This list included certified copies of my passport, my ID cards, my host’s ID card, certificate of honor, and a letter to the Minister requesting the visa. I also needed a certificate of residence and foreign residency declaration. Many of these documents also required passport photos. I went out to what I thought was the district office to do the foreign residency declaration (a 1.5 hr trip) only to find out that the office was not there but back in town (45 min back). When I got back, I found out I have to have my certificate of residence before I can do the foreign residency declaration. So I went home and the next day went with my host, Lalari, to the Fokontany (community) office to get that. They, in turn, tell us that they can’t do it there, but that we have to go to the commune office. We get to the commune and find out they can do it as well as the foreign residency declaration, but I need to be registered in Lalari’s ID carnet at the Fokontany first, I need more passport photos, and four copies of a form they gave us. So, after getting some of my paperwork certified (stamped with several red ink stamps that Malagasy bureaucracy loves), Lalari runs to make copies while I go back to the Fokontany and home for passport photos. At the Fokontany they tell me they need a copy of my passport, so on my way home I grab that too at a nearby copy shop. Finally done with the Fokontany (after paying an unanticipated amount of money, probably illegally requested), I return to the commune where Lalari is waiting for me with the four copies of the form. I fill those out, go upstairs to pay, yet another unanticipated fee, and then back down to the lady in charge who stamps the form and sends me back up stairs to process the form. Fifteen minutes later, I am led back downstairs to get the mayor’s signature and I finally have a certificate of residence and foreign resident declaration form. Unfortunately, I forgot one form that needed certification with Lalari present, so we’ll have to go back on Monday. But other than that, I think I have all the rest of the paperwork depending on what they want from me to prove my academic situation. Lalari and his wife have been extremely helpful throughout this process; I owe them a lot.

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