Antananarivo (AFP) – “If I was to vote, I would definitely vote for the rubbish bins because at least they feed us,” scoffed Claudine Rajaonarison.
She had been scouring the streets of Antananarivo since 4:00 am for plastic to sell.
Rajaonarison, a 35-year-old mother of three, said she will not be voting for Madagascar’s next president in the November 7 poll. Not one of the 36 candidates has impressed her.
“The candidates are vying for power for themselves — not the wellbeing of the country,” she said, a large sack of rice on her shoulders as she struggled to sift through piles of rubbish with her children alongside a railway line.
She then washed her haul of two dozen plastic bottles to be sold for 1,000 ariary ($0.30), enough for 400 grams (14 ounces) of rice for her family who sleep outside surrounded by rats.
With a poverty rate of 76.2 percent, Madagascar, a former French colony, is one of the world’s poorest countries according to World Bank data.
It is the only country not rocked by war to have become poorer since independence according to researcher Francois Roubaud who co-authored “Enigma and paradox: Madagascar’s political economy”.
Presidential hopefuls rarely venture into the capital’s giant slums even when their campaigns are in full swing.
– ‘Vote for change’ –
One exception is minister-turned-candidate Paul Rabary.
“Vote for change and I promise you a better future,” he told passersby.
“We appreciate the candidates who come to see us like that, but the priority for us is that they increase wages once they’re in power,” said Jean Fabrice Rakotonihaina, a 19-year-old dustman employed by the local council.
“If the politicians did their jobs properly I wouldn’t be reduced to collecting rubbish — I’d be able to study for a better future.”
“Currently, because of a lack of resources, young girls don’t go to school and fall pregnant very early, at 12, 13 or 15” years old, said security guard Bruneau Rakotomanga, 43.
“The majority of electors are poor and it’s the poor who enable politicians to get into power, but once there, the fat vultures forget who helped them succeed,” he added angrily.
This year three former presidents — Marc Ravalomanana, Andry Rajoelina and Hery Rajaonarimampianina — are seeking voter’s approval.
– ‘It’s inhumane’ –
The trio of frontrunners have criss-crossed the southwest Indian Ocean island nation by helicopter.
But Paul Rabary has been travelling by foot and motorcycle to woo electors.
After spending three hours shaking hands in the impoverished Manjakaray district where he found crowds keen to receive free T-shirts and hats, Rabary could not hide his despair.
“It pains me that we have reduced our people to such a level,” chasing after T-shirts, scarves and hats, he said. “It’s inhumane.”
A rival, musician Zafimahaleo Rasolofondrasolo who is better known by his stage name Dama, blamed Madagascar’s poverty crisis on “a governing system concentrated in the hands of the elite.”
In Antananarivo’s May 13 square, home to an anti-government protest movement from April to June, 100 families gathered on October 17 to denounce hardships on the UN’s global anti-poverty day.
“Please save our home, save our livelihood, we don’t know where we’ll go once our home is demolished,” Justine Hanitrarivo told the crowd that day.
Her house lies in the path of a new motorway and is slated for destruction.
“We don’t have qualifications to get proper jobs. It’s the rubbish that has sustained us for 16 years,” the 43-year-old mother said.
“If the state orders us out, will they relocate us to another dump?”