Donors pledge 2.3 billion for Madagascar

By ELIZABETH BRYANT, United Press International  |  July 26, 2002 at 4:35 PM
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PARIS, July 26 (UPI) -- Foreign donors pledged $2.3 million over four years in development assistance for Madagascar Friday, following a meeting in Paris to discuss ways to resurrect the impoverished African island nation.

For its part, Madagascar's new government outlined an economic recovery program that included pledges to crack down on corruption, expand democratic institutions and take steps to make the country friendlier to private investment.

"Government authorities also announced their intention to renew their work on designing a comprehensive strategy to reduce poverty in the country," according to a statement issued Friday by the World Bank, which sponsored the Friends of Madagascar Donors meeting.

The "friends" in question are the powerful G-8 group of industrialized countries, along with the World Bank, the U.N. Development Program and representatives of roughly 100 private businesses attending the meeting.

Poverty, deforestation, floods and political turmoil have taken their toll on Madagascar, the world's fourth largest island. Per capita income is estimated at less than $800.

But Madagascar's economy took its biggest battering most recently, after December's tumultuous presidential elections.

The island was plunged into a political crisis after long-time strongman Didier Ratsiraka refused to accept defeat in the vote against businessman Marc Ravalomanana.

Mediation efforts by African leaders failed to diffuse the standoff.

But Ratsiraka left the island nation in July, and is now living in France. An effort to fly in French mercenaries to Madagascar -- reportedly to topple Ravalomanana -- failed after the French government ordered the plane turned back.

In early July, Paris essentially endorsed Ravalomanana as president, without explicitly saying so.

The country's prime minister, Jacques Sylla, attended the Paris donor meeting along top members of the new government. Sylla, who has been in Paris for several days, received pledges of assistance from the French government this week.

France, the island's former colonial power, is Madagascar's top bilateral donor, and trade partner.

Among other reforms, Madagascar's new government has vowed to hold legislative elections, and repair and install new infrastructure, and offer private businesses investment incentives.

The French government, in particular, has pledged assistance in helping reform Madagascar's judiciary, and developing the island's infrastructure.

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