“Malagasy are very individualistic, but they have always organized to help each other,” said the anthropologist. “Together they build houses, help with the harvest, and so on. It looks like Marxism, but isn’t. They like to have their own things at evening—their homes, meals, beds. Socialism is possible here, but it must be a very Malagasy form of socialism.”
So far, the system seems neither Malagasy nor socialist. Until 1973 the country exported rice. Today Madagascar imports and subsidizes some 200,000 tons a year. Even so, a sort of rice rationing and black market exist. Once I watched townsfolk stand in long lines for their subsidized share. “One man sold rice here with a false measuring can,” a local resident complained.
And so it goes with other shortages—cooking oil, petroleum. Some town dwellers hire people to stand in line for them. Inflation is 14 percent. But at least three-fourths of the population engages in subsistence farming, unaffected by the new order.
The Madagascar government has nationalized the oil business, utilities, and most major industries like textile factories and bottling plants. One economist guessed that the government now controls 75 percent of the gross national product—up from 13 percent five years earlier.
Yet only land owned by absentee foreigners has been nationalized; some resident Frenchmen still own their land. No one has suggested expropriating Malagasy farms.
THE MARKET—called the Zoma—still seemed opulent: a crowded jumble of hawkers and customers on the lower streets of the capital. Here we were offered dried fish, fruit, buttons, caged birds, used shoes, zebu-horn spoons, bridal veils, curative herbs, and magic amulets so expensive they must have been potent. Women gracefully carried shopping bundles on their heads. Hucksters cried their sales pitch; beggars keened their woes; and invisible, omniscient pickpockets watched us all.
That is the eternal Zoma. But one day earlier this year, things abruptly changed.”I was in the Zoma when the trouble started,” a grim foreign businessman told me. “Everyone seemed good-natured at first. The soldiers and students were joking with each other. Then the line of soldiers began to advance, and I saw kiosk keepers folding up their wares and leaving. Those fellows know! So I left too. And a minute later I saw a student pick up some stones. . . .”
Soldiers fired their guns that day. Rumors ricocheted like bullets: 80 wounded eight dead? The government issued official figures later: five dead, 44 wounded.