Zebu are taken across the Bemaraha Plateau, in Madagascar, en route to being sold at market.
2022 Photo Contest, Africa, Long-Term Projects

The Zebu War



Riva Press
23 November, 2020

Zebu are taken across the Bemaraha Plateau, in Madagascar, en route to being sold at market.

The rural population of southern and western Madagascar face violence and the daily theft of their much-prized humped cattle, zebu, in a complex conflict of different human interests, underscored by environmental and economic issues. Zebu (Bos taurus indicus) were brought to Madagascar from the Indian subcontinent centuries ago. In rural areas, in addition to their role in agriculture and transport, zebu are a symbol of wealth and prestige, and are at the heart of many rituals. In urban areas they are highly valued for their meat, which is served in upscale restaurants.

Groups of men called dahalo (which roughly translates as 'bandits') have stolen zebu for decades, but only a few at a time as dowry gifts for a bride’s family and to prove their virility. Since the 1970s, zebu theft has increased in scale and violence as the focus shifted from ancestral traditions to the monetary value of the cattle. This shift in focus was a result of mounting rural poverty and a food crisis – a situation exacerbated by a 2009 military coup, ongoing drought, and environmental degradation. Organized armed dahalo groups now take hundreds of cattle at a time. Communities report entire villages being burnt down, kidnappings, and murder during cattle raids.

Government intervention has been harsh. In 2012, Amnesty International reported allegations of villages being burnt indiscriminately, and accused Malagasy security forces of indiscriminate acts of violence. In addition, deadly clashes occur between communities, and some villages have employed private security firms that do not hesitate to kill cattle raiders. Villagers often see government security forces as merely reacting to raids, rather than providing them with early warning or protecting them. They also complain of officials collaborating with dahalo and of judicial corruption that allows cattle thieves to go free. The situation is made even more challenging by the existence of zones rouges (red zones) covering much of the region – remote areas, too large and lacking sufficient infrastructure to be governable.

The photographer is himself a Malagasy citizen, and perceives zebu theft as an issue of real social concern in Malagasy rural life.

About the photographer

Rijasolo is a photojournalist and photographer born in France, currently based in Antananarivo, Madagascar-the country of his roots. Stemming from a trip to Madagascar in 2004, Rijasolo began his project MIVERINA, which strove to show how difficult it was to regain an intimate relationship with Madagascar. This work...

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Technical information
Shutter Speed





Canon EOS 5D Mark II

Jury comment

The project highlights the clashes between the armed zebu thieves, the government, and inhabitants of villages on the island of Madagascar. The jury chose this project because the multilayered editing and sequencing of the project highlights the ambiguity of good and bad actors, and underlines how the attempt to create solutions leads to more challenges. The imagery pays homage to a longstanding Malagasi photojournalism tradition, employing an epic visual style to bring dignity to a story. Furthermore, by portraying socio economic divides on the island, the photographer has created a work that is relevant for many contexts on the African continent.