In a restaurant in San Francisco – or so I am told – there’s a sign stating that the furthest inhabited spot on the planet from that city is Fort Dauphin in Madagascar. Our flight from Paris to Madagascar lasted 11.5 hours. The island of Madagascar is separated from continental Africa by the Mozambique Channel, an arm of the Indian Ocean that is 260 miles wide at its narrowest point. So Madagascar is remote.
Madagascar is also large – it is about as long as the distance from the Gulf of Mexico to the Canadian border in Minnesota.
In evolutionary terms, Madagascar’s remoteness underlies its unique and wonderful flora and fauna. In economic terms, Madagascar’s remoteness and size make international and internal air travel vital to the tourist and business sectors of its economy. International passenger traffic is dominated by Air France. Air Madagascar, 90% government-owned, has some international routes and is the sole internal carrier. Roughly 250,000 tourists visit Madagascar each year, and my guess is that most take also at least one internal flight rather than make long journeys on the country’s inadequate roads (see post about “N7”). For instance, it takes about an hour to fly from Toliara to Fort Dauphin, but about three days by road (in seasons of the year when the road is passable at all).
Air Mada’s current strike is therefore very disruptive – and moreover comes just as the main tourist season is building up. At Manga Guesthouse we met a French family struggling to figure out how to reorganize their vacation. We feel it was providential that we had chosen to be driven from Tana to Toliara. Our driver was arranged through Transmalala, a small travel business run by Alain, the husband of the Treasurer of the diocese of Toliara. Alain is most concerned about the potential impact of the strike on his business.
Alain is very justifiably concerned. Press reports suggest that a prolonged strike could overwhelm the precarious finances of Air Mada. It is sad to think that whatever good may come of our efforts to assist the development of handcrafts in Toliara could be dwarfed by the impact of an adverse outcome of the Air Mada strike.