“Zones Rouges”: Violence in Madagascar’s Lawless South

By Janice Freeman

Cattle-raiding, formerly a long-standing cultural tradition in Madagascar’s rural south, has become increasingly violent and profit-focused, leading to the deaths of 17 individuals during one raid. Zebu, a prized humpback cattle in Madagascar, are the targets of these bandits, known in Malagasy as “dahalo,” who frequently sell the Zebu domestically and abroad.


The rise in zebu-raiding is due in part to increasing poverty rates in the rural areas in Madagascar’s south, where youth struggle to find employment and instead turn to raiding to earn an income. Now, instead of simply acting as a coming-of-age ritual, zebu-raiding is a structured activity, carried out by as many as 50, heavily-armed men.


It’s difficult to see this problem being solved by Madagascar’s national government. The leaders in Antananarivo have little access to or control over the “zones rouges,” or red zones, nor do their priorities lie with the remote southern populations. Corruption and a complete lack of good governance hinder the government’s power in the south, leaving these rural communities vulnerable to violence on behalf of the “dahalo.”


The community response has also been largely insufficient. Too scared to turn over the “dahalo” to the corrupt justice system, community patrols try to kill the bandits instead of apprehend them, fueling the violence and death toll in the region. Security forces do not assist the communities either, fearing that the “dahalo” will publicize their collusion with police and security.


Without significant security sector reform and an increase government attention to “zones rouges,” the raids could become even worse. Already the “dahalo” have increased the violence of their raids, frequently kidnapping women and burning down entire villages. This destruction creates even larger conflict and violence. These displaced villagers not only have to travel great distances to find another village in which to live, but they are frequently not accepted by the villagers in the host community. They may be denied access to the village or they may be greeted with a violent response.


While the remoteness of Madagascar’s “zones rouges” makes effective security and governance difficult to implement, it is critical that the government in Antananarivo make a significant attempt to improve safety and security in the area. Further, corruption needs to be addressed, as collusion between the “dahalo” and security forces is fueling continued conflict.