Pope Francis on Saturday made an impassioned plea to Madagascans to protect the Indian Ocean’s unique environment from “excessive deforestation”, on the second leg of his African tour.
Weeks after a spike of fires in the Amazon, the Argentine pontiff told his hosts they should “create jobs and money-making activities which respect the environment and help people escape poverty”.
Madagascar — famed for its immense diversity of flora and fauna — is home to 25 million people, the vast majority of whom live in poverty on an income of less than two dollars a day.
More than half of its young people are out of work, even if many boast good qualifications.
The pope said there “were many causes driving excessive deforestation which benefits just a few people… and compromises the future of the country.”
The authorities should also ensure social justice, he added.
Madagascar’s British ambassador Philip Boyle told AFP the country loses around 200,000 hectares of forest each year, adding that “most of the tropical rainforest could disappear by 2040”.
he country’s economy is largely dependent on agriculture, the export of vanilla and cocoa in particular.
“The alarm has been raised by the pope and we are ready to take on the challenge,” environment minister Alexandre Georget told AFP.
He said Madagascar would do more to prevent forest fires, and use tree-planting drones and aerial seed bombing techniques to restore its forests.
“In six months we reached an objective of planting 40,000 hectares of land (98,000 acres), but this is pointless when there are forest fires” said Georget, adding that laws would be enforced and farmers made more aware of the issue.
Liberal-leaning president Andry Rajoelina was elected to a second term last year mainly on promises of jobs and housing.
“Corruption and inequality outrage us,” said Archbishop Desire Tsarahazana, addressing the pope in his welcome speech.
Hope for the young
At Antananarivo’s Soamandrakizay stadium, thousands of young people – mainly scouts – gathered for a vigil. They waited for hours in the heat.
“I am here to ask for the pope’s blessing to face the harsh realities of life, insecurity, poverty and corruption,” said 17-year old student Njara Raherimana, who travelled hundreds of kilometres for the event.
“All this gives me hope for change in my country,” echoed fellow student, Antony Christian Tovonalintsoa, who lives in the outskirts of the capital.
During the vigil, Pope Francis lauded the “joy and enthusiasm” of the singing crowd.
He encouraged the youth not to fall into “bitterness” or to lose hope, even when they lacked the “necessary minimum” to get by and when “educational opportunities were insufficient”
800,000 faithful expected
Sunday will mark the high point of Francis’ visit with a huge mass in the capital expected to be attended by some 800,000 faithful.
Many had already started setting up tents on the outskirts of the city on Friday, armed with posters of the Argentine pontiff.
Prospere Ralitason, a 70-year-old farm worker, arrived with some 5,000 fellow pilgrims from the central eastern town of Ambatondrazaka, 200 kilometres (125 miles) away.
“We are tired, but it’s worth making all these sacrifices to see the pope with our own eyes and receive his blessing,” he told AFP,
John Paul II
The last pope to visit was John Paul II 30 years ago.
“I was a lieutenant when I helped with the security of John Paul II in 1989. Today I am a divisional general and overseeing security for Francis’ visit to Madagascar,” said Samuel Rakotomalala.
Some 700 police officers will be deployed at the site, which is also equipped with 200 surveillance cameras and the 12,000 young scouts will also help out.
In June, 16 people were killed and dozens hurt in a stampede outside a sports stadium in the capital during a free concert.
Francis visited Mozambique earlier in the week. He is also due to travel to the island of Mauritius, which like Madagascar is situated off the eastern coast of Africa.
Tunisia ended Madagascar’s fairytale Africa Cup of Nations run in the quarter-finals on Thursday with a 3-0 win over the tournament debutants in Cairo.
Ferjani Sassi’s heavily deflected strike gave Tunisia the lead early in the second half at Al-Salam Stadium and Youssef Msakni squeezed home a second on 60 minutes.
Naim Sliti added a third in injury time to send Tunisia through to a semi-final showdown with Sadio Mane’s Senegal, with the Carthage Eagles into the last four for the first time since clinching their only title when they hosted the 2004 edition.
Tunisia boss Alain Giresse recalled Wahbi Khazri in attack as the lone change to the side that overcame Ghana in a last-16 penalty shootout, while Marco Ilaimaharitra returned from suspension as Madagascar fielded the same team used throughout the group phase.
Tunisia, the continent’s second-ranked side at 25th in the world, had reached the quarter-finals here without winning a single game following four successive draws.
After matches in Suez and Ismailia, this was a first Cairo outing for the Carthage Eagles, who controlled possession early but didn’t truly threaten until a sweetly struck Khazri free-kick was superbly flicked onto the bar by Madagascar goalkeeper Melvin Adrien.
Ghailene Chaalali forced Adrien to push an awkward low shot behind while Mouez Hassen, apologetic after his angry reaction to being substituted ahead of the shootout in the last round, was a largely untested bar from a long-range Ibrahim Amada effort.
Madagascar was trying to become the first newcomers since South Africa in 1996 to reach the semi-finals, but their hopes were effectively extinguished by the hour.
Khazri saw a goal disallowed for offside straight after half-time, but Sassi struck minutes later when his tame shot from the edge of the area hit Thomas Fontaine and spun past a helpless Adrien.
Msakni then promptly doubled Tunisia’s advantage, jumping on a rebound to slip the ball low beyond Adrien moments after he parried a shot from Khazri.
Charles Andriamahitsinoro, who scored twice for Madagascar in the group stage, looked to be through on goal after a long punt forward but failed to muster a shot. Amada was unable to reproduce his wonder strike from the DR Congo tie as he sliced wide from distance.
This was the first competitive meeting between the countries in almost two decades, and while Nicolas Dupuis has transformed Madagascar from a team once ranked 190th, Sliti’s injury-time goal ensured it was the end of a remarkable adventure for the ‘Barea’.
Africa Cup of Nations debutants Madagascar kept their remarkable run going on Sunday with a penalty shootout victory over the Democratic Republic of Congo after a 2-2 draw to secure a place in the quarter-finals.
Ibrahim Amada’s wonder strike put Madagascar ahead just nine minutes in at Alexandria Stadium but DR Congo responded swiftly as China-based forward Cedric Bakambu headed home his third goal in two matches.
Madagascar captain Faneva Andriatsima nodded the Indian Ocean islanders back ahead with a quarter-hour remaining only for Chancel Mbemba to haul DR Congo level at a corner in the final minute.
Marcel Tisserand and Yannick Bolasie both blazed over for DR Congo in the shootout as Madagascar prevailed 4-2 with their reward a meeting with four-time winners Ghana or 2004 champions Tunisia for a place in the semi-finals.
“I want to congratulate my players, particularly after we had to deal with that equaliser right in the last minute of normal time,” said Madagascar coach Nicolas Dupuis.
“We weren’t quite as good as we were against Nigeria. We lacked a bit of juice but our opponents created us a lot of problems for us.”
He added: “I think 25 million will be partying at home. We want to go as far as possible and enjoy it.”
Marco Ilaimaharitra’s suspension forced Dupuis to alter his line-up for the first time in the tournament with Rayan Raveloson deputising in midfield for a team that shocked Nigeria 2-0 to advance as group winners.
Britt Assombalonga replaced the injured Jonathan Bolingi in the lone change to the DR Congo side that trounced Zimbabwe 4-0, with captain Youssouf Mulumbu describing their qualification as a “miracle” following two opening losses.
Madagascan President Andry Rajoelina chartered a 480-seater plane to take fans to Egypt, and the travelling support were soon rejoicing when Amada blasted a sensational 25-yard strike that tailed away from Ley Matampi and flew in off the post.
The jubilant celebrations were halted midway through the first half though when Bakambu slipped free of the Madagascar centre-backs to glance in Glody Ngonda’s bending cross.
Mbemba smashed over as another left-wing cross found the Malagasy defence in trouble, but this was a far more balanced contest than the last meeting — a 6-1 triumph for DR Congo in a 2017 Cup of Nations qualifier.
That hiding was the darkest day in Malagasy football history but they have undergone a dramatic transformation, and nearly regained the lead 10 minutes after the break when Jerome Mombris embarked on a driving run, his shot spilled by Matampi with Charles Andriamahitsinoro agonisingly hitting the rebound wide.
A battling Madagascar eventually regained the lead against a nation ranked 59 places above them when Andriatsima flung himself at a Romain Metanire cross following a superb long-busting run from the right-back.
Bolasie’s tumble in the area provoked furious protests from DR Congo, with VAR not in use until the next round, but the Leopards conjured up another escape act in the 90th minute as an unmarked Mbemba headed in a corner to force extra time.
Madagascar goalkeeper Melvin Adrien kept his team level in extra time with a string of vital saves, the best an instinctive one-handed stop to repel another Mbemba header, while some desperate defending allowed the ‘Barea’ to take it to a shootout and add a further chapter to their Egyptian fairytale.
Madagascar coach Nicolas Dupuis hailed his team’s shock 2-0 Africa Cup of Nations victory over Nigeria that secured a place in the knockout rounds as a “dream” for the nation.
Goals from Lalaina Nomenjanahary and Charles Andriamatsinoro in Alexandria earned the Indian Ocean islanders a famous victory and saw Madagascar pip three-time winners Nigeria to top spot in Group B.
“I have to thank the players who made me proud and the people of Madagascar proud. It’s a real achievement for us,” said Frenchman Dupuis, who combines his role with a job at a lower-league club in his homeland.
“When I saw the group we were given we all put Nigeria as favourites. Nigeria are still a strong favourite for the tournament.”
Madagascar will face one of four best third-place finishers in the last 16 after becoming the first newcomers since Cape Verde in 2013 to survive the group stage.
“I find that the players are more and more concentrated,” said Dupuis. “But I have always played the same players and that’s going to be a major problem now.
“We’re going to have 10 of them resting at training. The main problem is that Marco (Ilaimaharitra) received a second yellow card and won’t be able to play in the next match.”
He added: “I really wanted to make the Madagascar people dream and we did but it came at a bit of a cost with all the effort we put in.”
Nigeria counterpart Gernot Rohr said he believed Madagascar were capable of creating further surprises, remarkable for a team that needed to come through a preliminary round just to reach the qualifying competition.
“You (Madagascar) can go very far now. You beat us, you beat Burundi, a team that’s not easy to beat. Anything can happen in knockout games. I think you’re capable of doing this again.”
Africa Cup of Nations newcomers Madagascar pulled off a stunning upset of Nigeria on Sunday with a 2-0 win over the three-time former champions to clinch a place in the last 16.
Lalaina Nomenjanahary gave Madagascar a shock 12th-minute lead in Alexandria after pouncing on ponderous defending, jolting a side ranked 63 places above them in the world.
Charles Andriamatsinoro sealed the victory in front of CAF president and Madagascar native Ahmad Ahmad with a heavily deflected free-kick on 53 minutes for his second goal in three games in Egypt.
The Indian Ocean islanders had to come through a preliminary round just to reach the qualifying competition but will advance as winners of Group B ahead of Nigeria, with Guinea hoping to progress as one of four best third-place finishers following a 2-0 win over Burundi in Cairo.
Defeat for Nigeria likely sets up an eye-catching clash with either holder Cameroon or four-time winners Ghana in the next round, while Madagascar will take on a team that finishes third from either Group A, C or D.
Having already qualified after back-to-back 1-0 victories, Nigeria coach Gernot Rohr made five changes to the side that overcame Guinea in their second game with Samuel Kalu handed his first start of the tournament following last week’s collapse in training due to severe hydration.
Yet after a comfortable start, Nigeria gifted their opponents a goal completely against the run of play when a poor pass from John Ogu put Leon Balogun in trouble, with Nomenjanahary pinching the ball on the edge of the area and coolly dancing round Ikechukwu Ezenwa to slot home.
Kalu bent a shot wide of the far post in response for Nigeria, whose penalty appeals were ignored when Ahmed Musa tumbled to the ground after trying to skip past goalkeeper Melvin Adrien on the half-hour.
French coach Nicolas Dupuis, who combines the role with his job at a lower-league club in his homeland, has worked wonders with a Madagascar side that qualified for a first Cup of Nations by finishing above Equatorial Guinea and Sudan.
Guinea faces an anxious wait
They doubled their lead early in the second half here when Andriamatsinoro’s set-piece flicked off substitute Wilfred Ndidi and left Ezenwa stranded as the ball sailed into the net.
Ndidi belatedly registered Nigeria’s first shot on target just before the hour with a curling effort straight at Adrien, although Anicet Andrianantenaina nearly bagged a third as Ezenwa smothered on the line after an inviting Andriamatsinoro cross.
While Madagascar became the first debutants to advance beyond the group stage since Cape Verde in 2013, they will be without midfielder Marco Ilaimaharitra for their next game after he collected a late yellow card, his second in three matches.
In contrast, fellow newcomers Burundi bowed out without a single goal or point after a 2-0 loss to Guinea.
Burundi’s hopes suffered a huge blow when Christophe Nduwarugira was sent off on 12 minutes in the capital after a foul as the last man, and Mohamed Yattara stepped up for Guinea with both goals to leave them facing a nervous wait for a spot in the last 16.
At least 16 people were crushed to death and dozens injured in Madagascar on Wednesday at a stadium hosting national independence day celebrations in the capital Antananarivo.
The bodies of sixteen victims, including three children, were stored at the mortuary of HJRA hospital in the city, AFP journalists said.
Hospital director Oliva Alison Rakoto had earlier reported 15 dead and 80 wounded.
According to witnesses at the hospital, the accident occurred in the afternoon outside the Mahamasina stadium, where several thousand people had gathered for a concert following the traditional military parade held to mark the national holiday.
At the end of a military parade, security forces opened the gates to allow spectators to leave the enclosure, causing the crowd to mass outside the stadium, witnesses said.
The police then immediately closed the gates and blocked the crowd, witnesses said, causing a deadly pile-up.
“When the organizers opened the gate, we were in the front row, in the queue,” said Jean Claude Etienne Rakotoarimanana, 29, who suffered bruises from the crush.
“Suddenly people ran to get in front of us. They shoved us, some even punched us and pulled us,” he added, saying he then fainted.
In September 2018, one person was crushed to death while 30 others were injured in similar circumstances at the entrance of the same stadium during a football match between Madagascar and Senegal.
Super Eagles’ head coach, Gernot Rohr and team captain, Ahmed Musa have described Nigeria’s African Cup of Nations (AFCON) group B pairing as a ‘tough one’, insisting that the team must be at its best to get out of it.
Nigeria was drawn in group B with Guinea, Madagascar and Burundi for the tournament holding in Egypt between 21 June – 19 July 2019.
“It is a tough group and we have to be at our best and our fittest. Guinea has a young, tough team and we will have to be at our best against them. Burundi eliminated Gabon even with their Pierre Aubameyang. Madagascar was the first team to qualify. It would be a great showpiece of football, but it is important for our players to avoid injuries as the season heads towards the end.”
Also, Super Eagles’ captain Ahmed Musa said: “I think it is a tough group for the Super Eagles. It is important for us to stay fit and avoid injuries so that everyone would be in great shape in Egypt. We have a young team who have played at the World Cup but have not played at the AFCON. For me, we are ready for any country in Egypt. It would be an interesting experience.”
Rohr revealed that plans are in place for the team’s preparation with friendly games against “Ghana (in Nigeria), and maybe Senegal.”
The two top –placed teams in each group, as well as the best third –placed teams from four out of the six groups, will qualify for the knock-out rounds.
Nigeria will play its group games in Alexandria with fixtures against Burundi on June 22 (7pm), Guinea on June 26 (4.30pm) and Madagascar on June 30 (6pm).
GROUP A: Egypt, DR Congo, Uganda, Zimbabwe
GROUP B: Nigeria, Guinea, Madagascar, Burundi
GROUP C: Senegal, Algeria, Kenya, Tanzania
GROUP D: Morocco, Cote d’Ivoire, South Africa, Namibia
GROUP E: Tunisia, Mali, Mauritania, Angola
GROUP F: Cameroon, Ghana, Benin Republic, Guinea Bissau
Coach Gernot Rohr on #AFCON2019Draw. “Group B will be tough. Guinea 🇬🇳, Madagascar 🇲🇬 and Burundi 🇧🇮 are decent sides so we have to prepare well. We plan to play build up games vs Ghana(in Nigeria), and maybe Senegal.”#SoarSuperEagles#Team9jaStrong.
Madagascan President Andry Rajoelina used his inauguration speech on Saturday to pledge to fight corruption in a country where politics and business are widely seen as beset by graft.
Rajoelina regained power in the Indian Ocean by winning a second-round vote in December against Marc Ravalomanana after an election process in which both sides alleged they were victims of ballot fraud.
Rajoelina first ruled from 2009 until 2014 after he was installed by the army when then president Ravalomanana was ousted following violent protests.
“Nobody will be above the law, we will restore the values of the rule of law,” Rajoelina said after being sworn in by nine constitutional court judges at a sports stadium in the capital Antananarivo.
Madagascar is ranked 155 of 180 countries on the Transparency International index.
Rajoelina also pledged to boost growth in one of the world’s poorest countries, saying: “we will build industries in each provincial capital to create jobs.”
The ceremony was attended by President Hage Geingob of Namibia and President Edgar Lungu of Zambia, as well as former French president Nicolas Sarkozy.
In the run-off vote, Rajoelina took 55.7 percent and Ravalomanana won 44.3 percent.
Ravalomanana petitioned the Constitutional Court over alleged voting irregularities but later accepted defeat.
The two rivals were banned from running in the 2013 election as part of an agreement to end recurring crises that have rocked Madagascar since it gained independence from France in 1960.
Rajoelina, 44, is a former events planner and successful entrepreneur with slick communication skills.
Both candidates spent lavishly on campaigning, with promises and handouts distributed liberally to voters.
Madagascar went to the polls on Wednesday to elect a new president, with the three front-runners all former heads of state facing-off amid efforts to defuse a political crisis.
Attempts by the most recent president, Hery Rajaonarimampianina, to change the large Indian Ocean island’s electoral laws backfired, sparking nearly three months of sometimes violent protests in the capital Antananarivo.
The demonstrators forced Rajaonarimampianina to accept a “consensus” government tasked with organising the election in the poor country with a history of coups and unrest.
Nearly 10 million voters are eligible to cast ballots for one of 36 candidates who, in addition to the three front-runners, include two ex-prime ministers, pastors and a rock star. Polling stations opened at 0300 GMT and are due to close by 1400 GMT.
Short queues of early voters formed at several polling stations in the capital
“I’ve come here to do my duty by voting. I want a president who gets me out of poverty,” said Eline Faraniaina, an unemployed 60-year-old, casting her ballot at a vocational college.
One presidential contender must win 50 per cent of votes cast or a second round will be held on December 19.
Rajaonarimampianina is competing against two of his predecessors.
Marc Ravalomanana, a milk mogul, ruled from 2002 to 2009 and Andry Rajoelina, a former club night promoter nicknamed “the disc jockey”, succeeded him and was in power until 2013.
The trio staged massive rallies over the weekend in the capital, each attracting tens of thousands of supporters.
The former French colony has struggled to overcome political divisions after a disputed 2001 election that sparked clashes and a 2009 military-backed coup that ousted Ravalomanana.
Apart from protests earlier this year, Rajaonarimampianina’s term was mostly peaceful but anger over the past still simmers.
He has promised “a new phase” in Madagascar’s development if elected.
“I’m poor. I live hand to mouth, day to day. I don’t have anything to eat for tomorrow,” said Coledette, a mother-of-four angered by recent increases in the price of rice ahead of the poll.
The key battle will be between Rajaonarimampianina and the former presidents Ravalomanana and Rajoelina, according to analysts and the findings of a banned pre-vote poll seen by AFP.
If none of the hopefuls reaches the 50 per cent threshold this time, only two candidates will go through to a second-round vote.
“The big risk of this election is that it will return us to an era of crisis,” said Sahondra Rabenarivo, an analyst at the Malagasy Observatory on Public Life.
“It’s very important that the results are credible and that the third-placed candidate accepts them.”
Tensions are high between Ravalomanana and Rajoelina, who succeeded him with the backing of the army in the 2009 uprising.
Madagascar is one of the world’s poorest countries, according to World Bank data, with almost four in five people living in grinding poverty.
The main contenders — armed with significant campaign resources — have crisscrossed the island of 25 million by helicopter promising voters a better future.
“They should revive the country. Madagascar suffers malnutrition and is ravaged by cyclones,” said retiree Lili Rahaingo, 68, as she queued to vote in the capital.
Although there were bloody protests in April that left two people dead, campaigning has been peaceful.
Some candidates have however been accused of vote-buying. The head of Transparency International in Madagascar, Ketakandriana Rafitoson, was “disgusted” by what she says was the use of T-shirts, sewing machines and even floor tiles to secure votes.
Around 20 lower-profile candidates have alleged irregularities in the electoral roll and had unsuccessfully called for the poll to be delayed.
Both Ravalomanana and Rajoelina were banned from contesting the last elections in 2013.