Forgotten Conflicts: Organized Crime in Madagascar

January 5th, 2022

Trees in Madagascar

Madagascar is one of the poorest countries in Africa.[1] According to estimates of the World Bank, the gross domestic product declines steadily and has reached a level where it is less than it was in 1960 when the country gained its independence. The COVID pandemic also had a large impact on the economy of the country, resulting in an increase of poverty by 40 % since 2020. This economic instability, combined with the country’s numerous major political crises, has led to an erosion of institutional foundations, which has encouraged raids, looting and the development of an informal market. Yet, the attention of the media is preoccupied with the poverty that plagues the country, thereby neglecting the very concerning issue of organized crime in Madagascar that affects a great number of civilians on a daily basis. With this article, we want to shift the focus towards organized crime in order to highlight the facets of this phenomenon.

From white-collar crime to daily attacks on civilians

Since 2014, Madagascar has seen an increasing growth of armed militias. One of these militias on the rise are the Dahalo, which can be translated as “thieves”. They illustrate the evolution from white-collar crime towards violence with daily attacks on civilians ranging from stealing cattle to kidnappings and, more often than not, murder. Over the last years, the death toll of the Dahalo victims has grown into the thousands. The driving force behind their attacks is the theft of zebu, as zebu meat is on high demand in the Asian market. Indeed, it is estimated that 90% of all exported meat has been stolen, creating a large-scale informal market.[2]

Control of the threat through the creation of a military unit by the government

The government has taken three different approaches when dealing with the Dahalo. First of all, an Anti-Dahalo military unit was created in Mahabo in order to bring the threat under control. However, the army’s abuse of power increased the unpopularity of the security forces, achieving a counter-effect that led the civilian population to support the Dahalo.

Amnesty for former militia members for the removal of their comrades-in-arms

Another government approach is to offer amnesty to former Dahalo members in the hope that they will be more successful than the military in removing their fellow militia members. Former Prime Minister of Madagascar, Roger Kolo, had the idea to reintegrate the Dahalo into society. He hoped to use them to protect roads and villages in collaboration with the Fokonolona - a village council recognized in the 1975 constitution as a "decentralized collective of the state." The Fokonolona are responsible for the economic, social, cultural and municipal development at a local level.[3]

Arming civilians in defense of the community

The government’s final and preferred solution against the Dahalo threat also includes the Fokonolona. Each Fokonolona is allowed to establish a criminal code at the local level. Since 2009, many regions have agreed that civilians are allowed to arm themselves in order to defend the community. In Toliary and Antananarivo, the areas most affected by Dahalo raids, militias formed by civilians were equipped with 2,000 rifles by the government in 2015. This led to numerous clashes between the Dahalo and the Fokonolona, in which dozens of people died.[4]/[5]

However, the idea of transferring police powers to the Fokonolona should be viewed critically. This approach can be dangerous, as it represents a shift towards mob violence that further jeopardizes the already weak institutional framework of the government. A distinct possibility arises that the government will not be able to control and contain the self-defense militias in the future, which could result in a rapid increase of chaos and violence, rather than its decrease.

No potential for escalation despite various operations

In general, the deployment of state military personnel has increased due to the aforementioned evolution from white-collar crime towards violence over the last years. However, despite the military and Fokonolona operations against the Dahalo, the extent of the clashes does not seem to have the potential to escalate to a bigger conflict. Close monitoring of the situation by MBI CONIAS Risk Intelligence has shown that attacks and disputes between the conflicting parties stay on a constant level, and this will presumably continue to be the case for the foreseeable future. For more information, please contact us.

Our decades of experience in monitoring political conflicts below the threshold of war make MBI CONIAS data unique. This conflict emphasizes that the integration of non-violent conflicts into the MBI CONIAS approach proves to be highly relevant, as they have the potential to escalate to a violent conflict at any time.

About the author:
Konstantina Chalkiopoulou
CONIAS Risk Intelligence
Michael Bauer International GmbH