On 11 July this year, a group of young people lined a main road in Antananarivo holding up signs that read “Protect your vote from corruption” and “Don’t sell your choice”. While this might be a common sight in many places, in the capital of Madagascar it was almost unheard of.
“It was my first time doing something like this, and the adrenaline was really high,” 25-year-old student Michaël R. explains. “We were even afraid of going to jail.”
A completely youth-led initiative
This was a scenario all too easy for Michaël to imagine, as he had recently been on a tour of the city jail. “I don’t know the right vocabulary to explain the conditions there.”
But, happily, the peaceful protest went ahead without interruption.
“Some police took photos of us, but we just showed them the placards with our message. We wore the mask of Anonymous as a symbol of free speech.”
Youth and Citizens for Integrity (YCI), the group behind this protest, was founded by 35 students who had bonded over their shared desire for change. They met during the first edition of the Integrity Bootcamp run by Transparency International – Initiative Madagascar (TI-MG) last year.
These young volunteers set themselves a mission of promoting good governance in their country. Michaël explains the importance of attending the bootcamp and receiving mentoring from TI-MG.
“I didn’t have the confidence to protest before. If we had done it without the presence of an organisation like TI-MG, it might not have worked.”
A bootcamp like no other
Michaël had first heard about the bootcamp from a Facebook message. Participants engage in fun activities and roleplays to examine typical situations of corruption or personal interest and develop possible responses, including peaceful marches.
“We learned 198 methods of nonviolent action,” Michaël says. “It was very inspiring. I had no idea there were so many ways to be an activist!” It was exactly this kind of realisation that the designers of the bootcamp hoped for.
“Anti-corruption work is very heavy, so you have to find innovative ways to talk about it,” explains Ketakandriana Rafitoson, the executive director of TI-MG. “The country needs enthusiastic agents of change. That’s why we started working with young people.”
Not so fed up
Ketakandriana’s team had started working in schools in 2018. They now have 13 clubs in high schools and universities across the country, and the journey has taught them a lot.
“We used to think that young people were fed up with politics,” she says. “But we discovered that actually they are very interested in politics. We discovered that there was hope.”
The clubs are run by youth volunteers, who spark discussions by showing short movies.
Masters student Sandie was one of the volunteers when she was in high school. “There are many forms of corruption that students face in their daily lives or at school,” she says. “It helps to have a space where they can speak to other young people and share their experiences."
Madagascar is not an easy place to protest or speak freely. “Recent elections showed how much politics and big money are intertwined – always those who have money win. Because of this, many Malagasy tend not to vote. So we are campaigning for capping finances and transparency from candidates, ” explains Ketakandriana.
It is work that comes with a lot of challenges. Ketakandriana goes on, “Anti-corruption whistleblowers are frequently judicially harassed in Madagascar, and many live in a permanent state of fear. We have to find safe but powerful ways to take a stand. Our vision is to create a peaceful resistance against corruption.”
Let them take the stage
Ketakandriana knows that change will not happen overnight. “But we are hoping that these people will become the good politicians of the future and be advocates in their own communities, creating change.” She laughs. “Sometimes we get tired with our work on research or laws or policy, but with young people you really feel it.”
We see young people as the voice of Malagasy citizens. Most people don’t dare to speak out – even if they see injustice or corruption. But those young people are courageous.
It’s that enthusiasm which makes her so hopeful. She believes young people can be the essential catalysts in a bigger movement for change.
“We see young people as the voice of Malagasy citizens. Most people here don’t dare to speak out – even if they see injustice or corruption. But those young people are courageous – and they come from all over the country.
“Let them take to the stage, instead of us.”
Solidarity across generations
The members of YCI have already started trying to take on the work for themselves.
“We are doing sessions in rural areas,” Michaël says, “to explain how people can actually take part in local governance structures. People are tired with politicians here – we're trying to encourage them to get involved again and be part of the change. We need solidarity – we need everyone to be active.”
His fellow activist Sandie agrees. “The Integrity Bootcamp showed me that young people can fight against corruption – but we can't do it alone. We have to all act together. That’s why we created this association.”
How have older people reacted to their efforts? “They found it a bit strange at first,” Michaël admits. “They were asking: ‘Why are young people trying to change us?’ But after we proved our intentions, they took part in our exercise, writing down the change they want, then considering a personal action they might take. For example: to approach the mayor and ask for something that benefits everyone.”
Just the first step
In September, the group will launch a new campaign. “We will be focusing on raising support for a new draft law to protect whistleblowers,” Michaël says, “because these are some of the few people who give important information about fraud or corruption to the public. We ensured that civil society organisations gave feedback on the draft law, and now we’re advocating for its adoption. We also launched a petition in support of it, and the Youth and Citizens for Integrity members are collecting signatures across the country.”
For Michaël personally, the July protest was just a first step.
“I felt liberated after,” he says. “It has inspired us to try more actions. We want to encourage more and more young people to join us.
“To other young people, I would say that it’s important not to give up. The action we take here now will have an impact in new 30 years. So try – because it’s not right to do nothing.”
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