By Patrick Ramamonjisoa and Karin Mende
On June 26, 2010, Madagascar marked 50 years of independence from France. Yet few people were celebrating.
The island nation has been in limbo since March 2009 when President Marc Ravalomanana was ousted from office by a military and political coup. The current regime has not been recognized internationally, and the consequences of losing foreign aid—often subject to criteria of good governance and respect for democracy— have been devastating.
Among the hardest of urban jobs, “cartmen” often pull a two-ton cart load several kilometres at a time.Multitudes roam the streets of Antananarivo, the capital of Madagascar, on a typical weekday afternoon. But concealed in the urban hussle and bussle is a discouraging trend. The political crisis has pushed increasing numbers into the informal sector, the part of the economy not subject to government rules, regulations or taxes. For every legitimate small-scale enterprise, more and more people are being forced to earn a living under difficult and dangerous conditions.
Most striking to an outsider, perhaps, are the men who lug heavy two-wheeled carts by foot.
Among the hardest of urban jobs, these “cartmen” transport produce and construction materials between wholesalers and retailers, often pulling up to a two-ton cart load several kilometres at a time. They are generally on the road as early as 1:00 or 2:00 in the morning to avoid traffic and often work late into the evening.
In December 2009, the United States suspended Madagascar from the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA), a preferential tariff scheme allowing several African countries to export their products at a better price on the US market. The loss of the AGOA instantaneously killed the competitiveness of a great number of export businesses, cutting some 200,000 jobs. Tourism, too, has been hard hit as scenes of plundering and violent police and military confrontations were broadcast by international media. Yet few have suffered like the cartmen.
Prior to the crisis, a hardworking cartman could earn the equivalent of $7 per day. But with the influx of men willing to work at any rate, a full day’s work now earns $3.
Anosibe in the south-west periphery of Antananarivo houses one of the capital’s largest markets where some of these men gather. Among the 600 registered cartmen in Anosibe, only a small number live with their families. Many spend their nights under cellophane tents or simply on their carts.
"Pray with us for committed missionaries who speak French, are willing to learn Malagasy...and who are willing to engage in spiritual warfare"“A true cartman remains a cartman all his life”, says one of the Anosibe veterans. This life is often short-lived, as some are killed or maimed under trucks wheels, or crushed by the weight of their load. To increase their earnings, many employ their sons and the activity thus becomes hereditary.
For many the spiritual outlook is similarly bleak. Of Madagascar’s 21 million inhabitants about 52 per cent are animistic, worshipping their ancestors and various other gods and godesses. A growing number (currently about 7 per cent) follow Islam. The rest (about 41 per cent) belong to either Catholic or Protestant churches. On Sundays many churches are full to overflowing, but few Cartmen are interested in giving up their one day of rest. “We send our wives and our children,” explains one man. “We are too tired.”
Country leader Karin Mende says AIM’s vision for Madagascar is to see “Madagascar transformed.” The Mission works with local Malagasy churches, partnering with various denominations to reach people like the cartmen. AIM’s ministries include medical work, teaching on HIV/AIDS, teaching English, youth work and theological education.
In addition to discipleship and community outreach, one of AIM’s major ambitions is to encourage the establishment of churches in Madagascar where none currently exist.
“Madagascar has 19 tribes of which a good number still don’t have a living Christian Church,” says Mende.
“Pray with us for committed people (foreigners or Malagasy missionaries) who speak French, are willing to learn Malagasy...and who are willing to engage in spiritual warfare,” she says. “The Bible tells us that those who the Son sets free, will be free indeed.”
For the cartmen of Anosibe—and the rest of Madagascar’s unreached—that would be a freedom worth celebrating.