Since immersing myself into History and stories, I’ve come across the word “polity” quite often. I later discovered that it translates to “politie**” in French. A lady pointed out that I frequently referred to current and past forms of governance as “régimes” in our conversations and asked why. I simply explained that it has been this way in our island for quite some time. Even though we seem to be practicing democracy in some aspects, it’s clear that the playbook for Madagascar’s path to achieving a higher stage of development is still unwritten. Most of the time, we stick to the same formula but add different colors and spices.
I don’t believe that a country with such a complex history and a population that has been segregated from the beginning will easily follow the same path as any other country in the world. My ongoing research on Malagasy origins has given me some clarity on how to understand our ideologies, traditions, and political practices. We progress as a “foko,” a collective entity. We have always functioned as a polity state. Even though history textbooks since the 18th century have highlighted our inclination towards messiah-like leadership, one can’t go very far without their tribe.
As today’s local headlines were filled with colorful and amusing Facebook posts from potential presidential candidates, I also paid close attention to radio updates on recent coups in French-speaking African countries. There have been seven successful military-led coups in the last three years. I wanted to challenge my Malagasy friends to list and locate them, and I know we would all fail miserably. Niger, Burkina Faso, Guinea, Chad, Mali, Sudan, Gabon. (Link: https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2023/8/30/mapping-africas-coups-detat-across-the-years). Some military authorities have been in power for more than two years now. This naturally brings to mind other states that were once military-ruled but eventually transitioned to democracy, such as Rwanda or Ghana.
We don’t learn about Africa in Malagasy schools, so there’s no reason for us to have knowledge of African culture or politics. That’s just how we were raised. So, when I read about Thomas Sankara and his time in Antsirabe, I was shocked by how much his experience in Madagascar influenced his career and perhaps his decision-making (Link: https://www.thomassankara.net/tag/madagascar/). Then, I took the time to learn about Jerry Rawlings, and the term “polity” came up again. Of course, we had our own dictators and seemingly pro-democracy autocrats, but no one was enlightened enough to build the country based on solid institutions. Why should they? In Ghana, Rawlings’ legacy may be controversial but remains positive:
“In terms of his personal legacy, Ghanaians are divided generationally in their opinions. For many younger Ghanaians, Rawlings is a towering figure, who set the country on the course of political stability and growing prosperity. For many older Ghanaians, he is remembered as a brutal military leader who unleashed retributive justice on Ghana during the brief period of “housecleaning” in 1979 when the country was run by the Armed Forces Revolutionary Council. Politicians and the rich were arrested and their assets stripped, while market traders found their goods confiscated when accused of selling above “control price”.
(…) Gyimah-Boadi also underlined that fundamental democratic rights, including habeas corpus and freedom of assembly, were increasingly respected. In addition, the relationship between government and the media improved and there was a concerted attempt to address impunity among lower ranking officials.”
Yesterday was nowhere near the milestone some people claim it should be. It was just another small step towards the next chaos or nothing at all. Personally, I’d prefer to see something happening, without bloodshed of course, but at least some progress towards something meaningful, rather than going in circles, dancing with ourselves for no reason. even if takes us to just act and thrive under a real polity*.
*Polity is a discernible political identity that consists of any group of people who possess a collective identity. This group will be under the authority of advance institutionalised social relations.
**thanks for the better translation from Nicolas Salliou https://twitter.com/NicolasSalliou/status/1699898787034964134?s=20