Madagascar: cattle thieves and village vengeance
McCaffrey Blauner, Staff Writer
September 14, 2012
Filed under World & Nation
How far would you go to protect the ones you love? How about to protect your cattle? More than 67 thieves now lie dead in the village of Fenoevo-Efita, Madagascar, buried in mass graves after farmers fought them off to keep their cattle.
Like in a scene out of “The Magnificent Seven,” locals decided to defend their livestock against the cattle rustlers — known locally as the dahalo — who had plagued them. When word arrived that the cattle thieves were en route, the villagers organized swiftly, taking up spears, machetes and farm implements in defense of their cattle.
“We were four hundred at the beginning, then others joined,” Marcelo, a 30-year-old cattle farmer, told Malaysian news website Sin Chew Jit Poh. When the dahalos finally arrived, they were greeted by an army of 3,000 people.
In Madagascar, cattle rustling has evolved from a common coming-of-age rite into a lucrative criminal enterprise. Zebu, a breed of humped cattle closely related to the Indian Brahman, are highly valued in parts of southern Madagascar. Often stolen, the Zebu are commonly exported for great financial gain.
Madagascar’s government has made attempts to combat this widespread practice. It suspended the export of Zebu on June 9, in hopes of putting pressure on cattle rustlers, and deployed security forces in the southwest forests of Madagascar to crack down on the hundreds of armed cattle rustlers who terrorize the region. Once a traditional rite that often preceded marriage, cattle rustlers are now frequently armed with automatic weapons, called “war guns” by the locals.
Despite what might appear to be substantial government efforts to combat cattle rustling, some Malagasy citizens have a significantly different take on the involvement of their government. Many local cattle owners accuse officials of corruption and complicity. Explaining why they did not simply send for the authorities when they heard the cattle rustlers were coming, Marcelo told Sin Chew Jit Poh, “the gendarmes (paramilitary police) are far, in Ranomafana, and we already had incidents with them.”
Marcelo and other locals allege that despite the government’s outward appearance of involvement, gendarmes have ignored prior requests for assistance.
“Security forces have been dispatched to deal with a possible revenge (attack) by the dahalos,” Lt. Col. Tahina Rakotomalala, head of operations for the country’s gendarmerie, told the Associated Free Press. Rakotamalala added that the killings were done out of “legitimate defense” and that the villagers involved will not be charged. However, the villagers still fear reprisal from the dahalo.
“We are going to eat, and then we, the women and children, are going to sleep in the forest,” said 55-year-old local Marie Ange.