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Last Updated: Thursday, 31 March, 2005, 09:09 GMT 10:09 UK
Getting Madagascar back on track
In the second of a three-part series, the BBC's Alastair Leithead returns to Madagascar after reporting on the 2002 political crisis there to see how the new government is turning the economy around.

A train in Madagascar
The railway to the port is back in business

Three years ago the wide boulevard of Antananarivo's Independence Avenue was packed with protesters, chanting the name of the man they believed had won the election and calling for change.

Today the streets of the Malagasy capital are jammed with cars and the huge colonial-style railway station at the end of Independence Avenue is back in business.

Like many other companies on the island, the state railway was crippled by the six-month revolution that brought President Marc Ravalomanana's government to power.

But the company and the old dilapidated locomotives have been overhauled in the last three years.

'Seemed impossible'

The engines have been painted bright red and are now taking regular freight trips too and from the port on the renovated railway track.

Patrick Stevenaert, director general of Madarail in Madagascar
We are planning to introduce a passenger train
Madarail's Patrick Stevenaert

"When we took over it seemed just impossible," said Patrick Stevenaert, director general of Madarail, the new company that took over the state operator.

"We had one locomotive working when we took over in July 2003, and we have 12 today.

"Now we run a regular service, have a container depot, are renovating more locomotives and planning to introduce a passenger train."

'Investor friendly'

The railway company hopes to make a profit eventually, but for now it is benefiting from the coffers of the World Bank and international donors, who are queuing up to help out Madagascar - one of the world's poorest countries.

Women carrying stones to build roads in Madagascar
It makes some money for my family and helps my country too
Gertrude Razanamahefa
A road builder in Mahatsara

A government and a president with a business-orientated approach has certainly helped, and industry is also getting back on track.

Textile factories that were shut down in the crisis when blockades of the capital cut off the port, have now reopened.

Some 110,000 people are back in work and the industry is fighting hard, competing with Chinese producers.

"We are looking at investment codes and laws to simplify the work an investor has to do to set up business in Madagascar - in a few days you can now set up a company," said John Hargreaves from the association representing exporters.

"It's now an investor-friendly country," he added, even though it's still quite an administrative task.

Tower blocks

South African companies have been moving in, factories, offices, shops have been going up - even a tower block has been built.

A new building in Madagascar's capital, Antananorivo
New buildings are going up around the capital

Public-private partnerships are being set up and industries are being privatised.

Mining is a big hope for the economy, with billion dollar projects already being finalised.

Oil has been found off the north-west coast and exploration is still going on.

The government says a big mining company has already signed up and it could be worth a fortune.

But perhaps the biggest steps made to alleviating poverty have come with infrastructure building projects.

The Development Intervention Fund (FID) is building schools and clinics with World Bank and international funding, but it is also involved with a "social safety net" project.

"FID is a key to promoting development in this country," said Davida Rajaon, who heads the government-run body.

"It's a social fund, it's very close to the poor people - we fund them to build roads and bridges and so have all the services around them."

'Levelling the land'

And in Mahatsara, a couple of hours out of the capital, we found the road building in action.

Madagascar's President Marc Ravalomanana
We have built 6,000km of road in the last two years
Marc Ravalomanana
Madagascar's president

The men from the village were levelling the track and digging the drainage ditch, while the women each carried a large cobble stone on their head up to the top of the hill.

"It makes some money for my family and helps my country too," said Gertrude Razanamahefa.

"I earn about 7,500 Malagasy francs (70 cents) for working a morning and with that I can buy some rice and some clothes for my family."

Twenty-two-year-old Augustia Ratolojanahary was also pleased to be at work.

"I'm levelling the land from 0700 until 1200. Life is very hard here, but I'm very happy to have this job to earn a little money."

Bright future

So the project takes cash into the poor rural areas and also improves the country's infrastructure.

Road builders in Madagascar pose for a photo
The president is still popular three years after coming to power

"We have built 6,000km of road in the last two years," President Marc Ravalomanana boasts.

"We increased school attendance by making it free and handing out school packs with pens and paper for the children, and the economy last year grew by 5.3%."

But there's still a very long way to go.

The World Bank insists the future of Madagascar lies in its ability to attract local and international private investment.

To achieve that it needs political stability, and only when investment starts increasing will the country have a bright future.

There has been some criticism that most of the poor are still to see real improvements in their daily lives.

But the people do seem happier, their presidential choice is still popular and the country has come a long way in a very short space of time.

Down to business in Madagascar
25 Mar 05 |  Africa
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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