Every newspaper shows the same blurry photograph of a little man dressed in jelly shoes, a cowboy hat and a blue rain jacket. Sometimes the photographs are framed in western-style WANTED poster.
Remenabila is said to be the boss of a multi-million dollar cattle rustling ring that has led the south of Madagascar into low-grade civil war. Every day, reports emerge of new deaths, the casualties being either 'dahalo', meaning bandits (the term has become synonymous with cattle rustlers), or civilians. Hundreds are said to have died as a result last year, and the value of the cattle stolen last year is well over $1million.
As far as I can tell, no one has definitively seen Remenabila - ever. No one knows exactly who he is. And no one knows where he is. In one of the poorest countries in the world, there is a $50,000 reward on this man's head ($10,000 for relevant information), and no one has come forward with anything. Yet he has become so much a part of the national discourse that politicians accuse the opposition of creating him to weaken their regime and, at the end of last year, the sanctioned and penniless Government that can't even pay for its hospitals funded a 3-month $500,000 military operation to catch him. It failed (obviously). But there were some winners. Human Rights Watch carried out an investigation of the human rights abuses committed during the operation, and the UN are now carrying out an investigation into the human rights abuses alleged in the Human Rights Watch report.
Needless to say, I became a bit obsessed by all this. But I thought that once I was actually in Madagascar it would make sense. To be honest now I'm here it's getting worse.
Finally, last night, someone spoke some sense. In terms of natural resources, Madagasar is one of the richest countries in the world. For a long time the cattle rustling dahalos have been propped up by corrupt individuals who use them as a smoke screen for the more lucrative smuggling of simpler things (minerals, rosewood, rare species, amongst others) elsewhere on the fabled isle. So the security forces divert their attention to the dahalos, while the illicit trade takes place and no one sees.
Given this context, Remenabila would be the ultimate smokescreen. Diverting the entire nation's attention to catching a man who does not exist, or at least not as they believe, is genius. The more they look, the less he is found, and the more attention diverted from elsewhere.
These aren't cattle rustlers but arcadian terrorists committing atrocities in the name of a man that doesn't really exist. "He's like the Loch Ness Monster", a source at Amnesty said.
I won't give up, but I will consider discrediting any interviewee who seriously thinks he thinks Remenabila can't be killed, which leaves me with Amnesty, right now.