April 9, 2022
Ambassador Amy Hyatt currently serves as Chargé d’Affaires for two separate nations.
She is stationed in Madagascar but works—mostly virtually—with the island nation of Comoros, as well. In an hour-long informal and insightful chat, she described the challenges and strengths of both countries, and some of the challenges of working each—especially during the border-closing pandemic.
Both Comoros and Madagascar are among the poorest countries in the African region, but Comoros is emerging as an island paradise tourist destination and has maintained relative political stability with a well-functioning government since 2002. Madagascar, in turn, has a wealth of natural resources that could potentially create prosperity, but for a variety of reasons, including corruption and government mismanagement, it is the only non-conflict country to become poorer since gaining independence.
Madagascar has a population of around 28 million, centered mostly in the capital. Southern Madagascar is an arid zone of around 3 million people troubled recently by devastating drought and COVID. Around half of this population is suffering from extreme mal-nutrition and receiving little help from the local government. Ukraine is “the breadbasket” for Africa, and since the Russian invasion, those supplies have been cut off. The U.S. and other donor countries have contributed millions of dollars to feed the population over the years, but the “issues” are bigger than the donors can solve, and a major priority for the U.S. is to engage and help the local government with infrastructure and sustainable systems to reduce the extreme poverty and severe food insecurity in the South. She also added that the U.S. has spent 100’s of millions of dollars in aid through USAID to address famine, drought, and other challenges in Southern Madagascar, but that a “lack of capacity and attention” by the central government has impeded progress. She added “it is not a lack of money. 2020 ended with hundreds of millions of unspent funds from donors.”
Poverty and food insecurity have created additional major challenges for Madagascar. Climate change accelerated in Madagascar by rapid deforestation even in protected areas is a result of illegal lumbering by indigent individuals needing to raise money and by corruption at higher levels. Human trafficking is rampant; educational opportunities are sparse; and general criminal activity is out of control.
U.S. priorities for Madagascar include basic education and healthcare, emergency food aid in the south, preventing the trafficking of humans and of wildlife, promoting strong government engagement, rule of law, and economic development.
With a population of around 1 million people and a government that is attentive to their needs, Comoros is not facing the same critical issues as in Madagascar. Crime is much lower, the tourist industry is growing rapidly, and there is government stability. U.S. involvement in Comoros at this time is limited as they have not yet met all the criteria to receive U.S. funding support.
However, Comoros is making great strides in a variety of areas and could soon be eligible. The primary support that the U.S. is currently offering revolves around human trafficking. “At first Comoros did not recognize this as an issue for them because local people were not being trafficked.” However, Malagasy (Madagascar) women and children are being trafficked to and through Comoros and handed over to rich families for forced labor. Other U.S. involvement includes peacekeeping training for authorities, maritime security support, and human rights activities.
Basic primary education and technical skills are lacking in both countries (if equipment repairs are needed, they must wait for technicians to come in from outside the country) During the session CDA members with expertise in those areas connected with Ambassador Hyatt for follow-up talks.
We want to thank Ambassador Hyatt for her insightful and open discussion of very complex relationships and her clear dedication to the creation of strong relationships with our world partners.