The Korean company stuck in the middle of Madagascar’s unrest

The Korean company stuck in the middle of Madagascar’s unrest

When violence erupted in the island nation of Madagascar two weeks ago, few would have guessed that South Korean conglomerate Daewoo Logistics was partly to blame (or at least, there to take the blame). Daewoo won claim to plant corn on a Qatar-sized portion of Madagascar last November. And a leader of the protests says the deal is one reason for revolt.

The island leased its land to Daewoo for free for 99 years, claiming the benefit of jobs for Madagascar and a boost in investor confidence. Madagascar was cultivating its image as an island haven for peace, tourism, and investment. That is, until the seeds of civil war sprung up last month. Now, Daewoo says its plans are on hold.

About two weeks ago, a feisty opposition party mayor (and former DJ), Andry Rajoelina, proclaimed the government illegitimate and made his own move for power. In addition to organizing mass protests, Rajoelina even claimed to be the true president, that is until the current holder of that job fired him. So far, 100 people have died in violence between protesters and government forces.

So it wasn’t that Daewoo didn’t see this coming; it just inadvertently contributed to the mess. Years of poverty and a less-than-stellar government were enough for most Malagasies, so watching their land handed freely to South Korea was a bit over the top. “They sold the country’s territory to foreign companies,” Rajoelina complained to French Radio. “For these [and other] reasons, we demand a transitional government.”

Now Daewoo’s corn-to-feed-Korea project and Madagascar’s government are both on the rocks. The opposition has named its own ministers and called for a general strike. But if Rajoelina gets his way (or even if he doesn’t), I’m guessing Daewoo won’t be the only company running for the coast.

Photo: WALTER ASTRADA/AFP/Getty Images