When it comes to memes, pineapple is the new orange, at least in Madagascar.
Social media in Madagascar has become quite pineapple-flavored over the past few days. Why the sudden fervor for the spiky fruit? Here is a bit of context on the current social situation on the Red Island.
Madagascar came up as the world's poorest country in one of the poverty indices published by the World Bank (and reported by media outlets such as Radio France Internationale). The criticism of the economic status of the country did not sit well with the president of Madagascar. He challenged observers, local media and citizens to “provide evidence that the country was getting poorer.”
Following that first tense exchange between the president and Malagasy netizens, another Malagasy community website, Tananews, posted a photo of First Lady Voahangy Rajaonarimampianina wearing a a green dress with a pineapple motif on the front. Tananews added a link and a comment with a hint of sarcasm that said, “Indeed, not everyone is poor in Madagascar.” The link showed that the dress was probably designed by high-end clothing brand Dolce & Gabbana that sold for US $7,745 on the website of the department store Neiman Marcus (it is unclear whether that is the actually cost of the dress that the first lady was wearing).
Tragically, all the jokes about pineapple came a few days after tragedy struck the country's independence day ceremony. A grenade exploded into the crowd watching the military parade in the national stadium, killing three people and injuring 91.
The whole conversation on “Pineapple-Gate” comes at a time when a major bill on freedom of speech and ethics online is being prepared by Malagasy authorities. The early returns from insiders on how the bill will shape up hint that it will severely restrict free expression online and will include heavy fines for any materials deemed to be libel. The bill should be submitted to the parliament for approval in the coming weeks.
Madagascar is a poor country but not the poorest -- which is currently the Democratic Republic of Congo. However, the problems facing the Great Island are daunting. The bubonic plague has resurfaced; it must be considered endemic. In the southeast of the island, top-equipped groups of bandits called Dahalo are spreading terror, Boko-Haram-like, but without any religious pretext. Two gangsters called Tsimifosa and Rebagna are directing a few hundred bandits in Anosy province. Equipped with kalashnikovs and SUVs, they pillage entire villages, steal zebu cattle and pickups "taxi-brousse". The 2014 and 2015 outbreaks of bubonic plague caused dozens of deaths, surfacing even in the outskirts of the capital Tananarive. More recently it showed especially in the eastern province of Tamatave. Poverty, dense population and poor sanitary conditions favor the plague.
Politically, the island nation has been dominated since the start of the century by the largest tribe, the Merina, and suffered from intratribal conflicts which spread insecurity and hamper economic development necessary in the face of still rapid population growth and environmental decay. The declining prices of raw materials are also affecting Madagascar: the huge nickel mine project "Ambatovy" started by the Canadian mining giant Sherritt in Tamatave province came to a grinding halt because of tumbling nickel prices.