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Last Updated: Friday, 25 March, 2005, 16:28 GMT
Down to business in Madagascar
The BBC's Alastair Leithead returns to Madagascar to see what Marc Ravalomanana's presidency has done to the island, three years after reporting on the unrest that brought him to power.

Carrying rice paddy in Madagascar
Madagascar is marching ahead - but critics say the crisis remains

Malagasy people once called him the "yoghurt tycoon" or "the milkman" but now Marc Ravalomanana is referred to simply as "Mr President".

It took a six-month people's revolution in Madagascar to bring the dairyman turned politician to power and now critics say he is running the country like a business - his business.

Ministers in the Malagasy cabinet get a small monthly wage but a high-performance bonus - if they hit their targets.

And the country's provincial prefects have been replaced by regional managers on two-year, fixed-term contracts.

They all get grades - those with As get a pay rise, those with Cs get fired.

Candidate for change

That's the way Marc Ravalomanana is running his country, and accountability is something the World Bank and international donors lap up.

Marc Ravalomanana
One day, Madagascar will become like the developed countries, because there is no reason why it should still be poor
Marc Ravalomanana

That could be why they are throwing him so much money.

"This is a country and a government running itself as efficiently as it can. You can see the president has taken lessons from running a private business effectively, he's taken them on board and he's trying to apply them to the government," said James Bond, the World Bank's representative in Madagascar.

"The president is key and has been very astute at surrounding himself with a very good team, doing a fine job.

"But this is a country that is trying to change, not just a president - he was put in place by a popular movement so it's the Malagasy people who want change and they've selected a man who'll give them what they want."

The World Bank is giving up to $250m to the country every year, half in grants, half in loans.

It is helping to fight poverty along with debt relief and the millions given by other international donors.

Free primary education for all has increased attendance rates from 65% to almost 90%, and roads, schools and clinics are being built.

Crisis talk

But Didier Young from the NGO Care in Antananarivo believes little has changed for the poorest of the poor in the last two-and-a-half years.

Pastor Maxime Rafransoa
There is a crisis, but for the time being it's an economic and social crisis, not political, but I think it's coming
Pastor Maxime Rafransoa
"Things are improving in depth, so one day it's going to bear fruit. But for now in every day life, people, poor people, most people, don't see much change," he said.

"All this takes time, but good decisions have been taken and these good decisions will generate an improvement in people's lives in a few months, in a few years - nobody knows exactly when."

Opponents insist there is still a crisis and that Marc Ravalomanana is using his position to further his own business interests - something he denies, saying it is his children who now run the dairy business that made him his millions and was a springboard to the presidency.

But new bank notes do show the president's party logo and his company's colours.

Opposition parties are still weak after the crisis, but a breakaway group from his own church, the Church of Jesus Christ in Madagascar, or FJKM, are now speaking against him.

Schoolchildren in Madagascar
More and more children are receiving a schooling

"There are people dying of hunger. They eat maybe once in a day. Judges are striking, university lecturers are striking - even the rickshaw drivers in one city are on strike," said Pastor Maxime Rafransoa from Malagasy People Together, a movement, pointedly not a political party.

"There is a crisis, but for the time being it's an economic and social crisis, not political, but I think it's coming. Just ask the people on the street," he added, saying he wanted the president to stand down.

More to be done

Most of those on the street still support Marc Ravalomanana.

The beggars and those trying to earn a bit of money washing or guarding cars feel nothing has been done for them.

But a newspaper seller was quite positive: "Things go well, but in the countryside people have a hard time keeping body and soul together. He's trying to make people's lives better, but that's a long term project.

Many on the streets of Antananarivo still support Mr Ravalomanana

"Generally the president works hard," said a woman walking past the new South African-run supermarket.

"I'm not disappointed as there is now some hope, but he still has a lot to do to help poor people."

The president himself is confident, but knows there is much to be done: "One day, Madagascar will become like the developed countries, because there is no reason why it should still be poor."

"We have huge resources to create a better life for people."

Marc Ravalomanana is a man who still has energy and passion, and things are moving slowly forward.

Madagascar dinner party robbery
25 Jan 05 |  Africa
Q&A: Madagascar turmoil
05 Jul 02 |  Africa
Profile: Marc Ravalomanana
11 Mar 02 |  Africa
Country profile: Madagascar
19 Feb 05 |  Country profiles


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