Now that Hery Rajaonarimampianina has been elected president of Madagascar, you’ve got to wonder how quickly and how far Antananarivo will fall off the broadcast news agenda. And that’s not just because this is finally a ‘good news story’ after five years of political and economic crisis. The real issue is going to be the length and complexity of Mr Rajaonarimampianina’s name? Can you imagine having to mention the Madagascar President in the course of a one-minute bulletin? Barring dreadful events in Madagascar, I think it’s probably safe to assume that kindly television and radio news editors will try and protect their presenters as much as possible and simply keep Mr Rajaonarimampianinaha off the airwaves.
That said, Mr Rajaonarimampianina’s victory – with 53.5 per cent of the vote – deserves to be talked about. Or at least, written about. He is backed by Madagascar strongman Andry Rajoelina, is a Canadian-educated accountant (and occasional poet) and despite allegations of ballot stuffing and misreporting, international observers have given a relieved thumbs-up and urged everyone to respect the people’s verdict. At least one European diplomat has been quoted by AFP to say that Mr Rajaonarimampianina “is a technocrat whose hands may be a little less dirty than many others”.
That’s not to damn him with faint praise. Sadly, that’s probably a ringing endorsement when it comes to Madagascar in the here and now. And by Madagascan standards, Mr Rajaonarimampianina’s name too is not quite as bad as it might be. Consider this. As the BBC put it some 15 years ago, “Madagascar has some of the longest and most difficult to pronounce names in the world”. It cited as typical examples – Razafindrandriatsimaniry, 24 characters, meaning the grandson of the prince or nobleman who envies nobody and Andrianatompokoindrindra, meaning the prince who is my real lord.
Then there is the very “father of names”, that of a 19th century king recognised by many as the father of the Madagascan people. Andrianampoinimerinatompokoindrindra comes in at 36 letters but there’s also a shorter (but still very long) version Andrianatompokoindrindra.
Irene Rabinur, professor of socio-linguistics at the University of Tana (even Madagascans who speak Malagasy have apparently shortened the 12-letter name of their capital Antananarivo to Tana) explains why names are long. Each part apparently has meaning and traditionally that one whopping name was the only one you had – no first name and surname for Madagascans.
But things are changing and perhaps the new President Rajaonarimampianina will encourage the world simply to call him Hery. Informality is the only way to go in this particular situation.