“The Experts Write the Laws in Madagascar.” The Role of International Actors in the Modernization of Malagasy Mining Code

Marcie Smith, Transylvania University

Madagascar: Ecology and Conservation


In the democratic nation-state, who makes the laws? Conventional wisdom and primary school textbooks would suggest that in sovereign democracies, such is the duty of legislators elected to their posts by the consenting citizenry. They identify a problem (or their constituents alert them to a problem), delegate research responsibilities to their legislative assistants, then a proposed solution is drawn up in the form of a bill, and the elected body publicly debates the proposed solution’s advantages and drawbacks. The dishevelled journalists of the fair and balanced press perch in the observation galleries, pen and pad in hand, describing the scene in shorthand for an article that will run in the newspaper which will be read the following morning over coffee by the hardworking, well-informed taxpayers of the country.

Certainly I have left out a few pivotal features of this process: lobbyists visit the offices of legislators to woo and cajole; constituents telephone or write letters, expressing their opinions and threatening to withdraw their support should the legislator cast a vote contrary to their priorities; votes are traded and deals are made among the legislators themselves; the nature of the problem itself changes and everyone scrambles to accommodate the new reality.

The process I have described – the dialogue between citizens and elected representatives in the development of policy – is the daily grind of democracy. Certainly it rarely plays out in such a well-ordered manner, but the description of its spirit is sound. The reach of law-makers is checked, for the interests of the citizens must be considered in the process of law-making (at least to a modest degree) if the delegate or congressperson has any desire to enjoy another term in office.

What happens though, when this relationship between Prince and Citizen - the line of communication - is disrupted, either by circumstances or a third party?

This study explores this question, but through the narrower frame of mining code in Madagascar. With increasing global resource scarcity, strategic use of natural wealth is becoming a political imperative. For Third World countries such as Madagascar, resources assume an ever greater significance, in that they often represent a singular means of weight in global politics. In Madagascar, the State is the legal owner of mineral property ; because Madagascar is a democracy, with ultimate power residing (at least in theory) with the populace, this means the country’s mineral wealth is the common property of the citizenry. The State is simply the mechanism used for the day-to-day management thereof.

The terms of use for all critical resources – water, oil, land, minerals, etc. – are delineated in laws and regulations. Laws exist (again, theoretically) to protect the vulnerable from the abuses of the powerful; this is the logic of the democratic state. Owners of capital have the advantage of wealth, but the citizenry has the trump card of the vote. Madagascar’s law contains provisions for the permitting of mineral rights to private companies for the task of extraction; this is because neither the citizens nor the state possess the infrastructure or human resources required to carry out such an endeavour .

In the law-making process described above, the Prince and the Citizen are not the only actors. Lobbies function as a third party that can powerfully influence the legislative process. Lobbies can represent any number of issues – labour, environment, industry, religion, etc. – and just because an organization engages in lobbying activities does not mean that they do not have other functions as well.

In the United States, laws exist to limit the sway of lobbies, which can have enormous financial resources and pose a potential threat to the citizen voice, which is rich in numbers but often poor in pocket. There are prohibitions and transparency requirements in regards to gift-giving to members of Congress, campaign financing, and so on.

This study seeks to examine the influence of lobbies and institutions/ organizations that engage in lobbying, specifically those with international leadership, in the process of mining law modernization in Madagascar between 1999 and the present. What is their role contrasted against that of the citizenry? What are their agendas (stated and hidden) and tactics? What is the scope of their power? These questions have implications for both democracy and sustainability in Madagascar: democracy, because such lobbies can overpower the citizen voice; sustainability, because the ultimate loyalty of international actors is not to the well-being of Madagascar, its people and resources, but rather to a faraway state, to profit, and/or to one narrow interest (i.e. conservation).