Nosy Be’s growing association with sex tourism, often involving underage participants (adult prostitution is not illegal, but sex workers have to be 18 and carry ID cards), is a cause of shame and deep concern for many islanders. But the lure of cash is hard to resist when jobs are so scarce and poorly paid. Some liaisons lead to long-term partnerships and legitimate businesses (foreign investors need a Malagasy business partner) and even marriage and emigration abroad.
In October 2013, a combination of simmering resentment and suspicion of corrupt officials erupted into mass protests and violence when the mutilated body of an 8-year-old boy was found washed up on Ambatoloaka beach. How the boy had died is unclear, but local rumours quickly spread that the police were protecting Europeans suspected of organ-trafficking or paedophilia and the police station in Hell-Ville was attacked, leading to two rioters being shot. A mob in Ambatoloaka then captured two foreigners – a French tourist and an Italian expatriate resident – subjected them to a night of violent interrogation, then bludgeoned them to death and burned their bodies on the beach in front of a large crowd.
The seismic impact of the killings led to travel advisories being issued and there was a serious depression in tourism across the whole island. Although most islanders recognize that the murders were a horrific case of mass hysteria and mistaken identity, there is still a somewhat subdued atmosphere in the island’s resort areas, and single male vazaha should be aware that they may arouse suspicion until they have settled in.