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Although fairly isolated from the whole of Africa, Madagascar’s history is extensive and dates back to many centuries of mixed cultures, from European descent, to Indian, to the earlier and more predominant groups of Austronesians and Africans. However, the first recorded history of Madagascar comes from the 7th century when trading stops were set up. By the 16th century, this fourth largest island of the world was spotted by a Portuguese vessel making its way around the tip of Africa to India, and in the years to come was the host to many missionaries and settlements from European countries1).

From the 17th to the 18th century several indigenous tribes ruled the island. In the north and in the west, the autochthons from Sakalava tribes created a dynasty that would remain in power until its decline in the 18th century. This dynasty covered a greater portion of the island and was followed by the Merina family, a reign with intent of conquering the rest of the island2). It was established by Andrianampoinimerina, whose son Radama I became the successor at the early age of eighteen. He managed to expand the reach of the dynasty to over two-thirds of Madagascar with ancillary help from the British Empire. By cooperating with Britain, Radama received wide-ranging support from military training, uniforms, and arms in exchange for eliminating slaves as one of the country’s exports. During this time, the introduction of a set characters in the Malagasy language was seen as well as printing, crucial steps for future intellectual accomplishments. Many of the initiatives were later reversed during the reign of Queen Ranavalona, following the death of Radama, and the subsequent three decades are ruled intermittently by a series of queens. The Europeans were expelled from the country, only to return by the 1880’s with a newfound attitude of colonizing relentlessly.

Of the very few Europeans that remained in Madagascar following their expulsion was Jean Laborde, a Frenchman that becomes a great influence to the throne, persuasive enough to convince the ruler Radama II of permitting a French company to do business on the island. The French government soon after declared the northernmost region as French territory, bombarded the town of Tamatave, and coerced Madagascar’s rulers into allowing the French to oversee the foreign affairs. The imminent colonization of Madagascar became fully apparent after a inequitable treaty in 1885 compelling the Prime Minister to take up arms against the French. Nevertheless, it was to no avail, and the short-lived war of 1895 forced the King and Queen into exile in Algeria, and the Madagascar becomes one of France’s many African colonies3). The island flourished under France’s wing benefiting with railways, improved roads, and enhanced trade. The period from 1897 to 1960 was marked by France’s rule, utilization, and development of the island with more than 75% of trade strictly with France. World War II saw the control of the island go into the hands of the puppet Nazi government, the Vichy government, and then into the hands of the British, who after the war returned it to the re-established French government. Madagascar as a French province won placement into the French Union, guaranteeing the right to elect French deputies to the national assembly in Paris. An uprising by Democratic Movement for Malagasy Renewal gained ground in their cause, but not without heavy casualties numbering in the tens of thousands. France managed to suppress the nationalist uprising, but the island moved towards independence with the help of the French Overseas Reform Act. The self-governing Malagasy Republic was affirmed in 1958, while remaining a state in the French Community, an analogous replacement to the French Union, after a national referendum. The Social Democrat Philibert Tsirana was voted in as president of the nascent republic. In 1960, the country gained full independence after decades of French repression.

Post-colonial Madagascar saw much turmoil and tension after the twelve year presidency of Tsirana. Resigning as a result of an ailing condition, he appointed Major General Gabriel Ramanantsoa, who takes the country in another direction. Instead of seeking sponsorship and aid from the United States and other prominent democracies Ramanantsoa turned to the communists and the Soviet Union. In addition he enacted communist reforms, devastating the economy. Three years later in 1975, his successor took over lasting a short-lived three days in office before being assassinated in a military coup. Lieutenant Commander Didier Ratsiraka was selected as president and continued on with the disastrous policies, spoiling and worsening the country and its economy. In an about face, the Lieutenant Commander eyed a different course and transformed the economy to a free-market, only to cede his post as president after profound protest among divergent groups in 1991. Albert Zafy became elected in the ensuing elections, but remained politically weak and unable to guide the country out of economic troubles and woes. In 1996 he faced impeachment, but stood down, allowing his predecessor Ratsiraka to gain control of the presidency in another election. The legislative body was elected once again in 1998, and composed of mainly Ratsiraka’s own party. Intermittent violence arose from the 2001 presidential elections in which Ratsiraka’s victory was contested by the Marc Ravalomanana. He swore himself in twice in 2002.

Modern-day Madagascar is governed by a republic with the incumbent Ravalomanana as president and Charles Rabemananjara as the Prime Minister. The economy follows a policy backed by the World Bank, of privatizing business and liberalizing the economy spearheaded by the president. In the 1980’s one of the country’s main exports, vanilla, saw a decline after Coca-Cola switched its ingredients of its soft drinks. As a direct result, the economy took a turn for the worse, but returned to normal levels after the return of Coke Classic4). More recently, Britain removed its consulate in an effort to cut back unnecessary spending abroad, conterminously eliminating financial assistance to the country. In 2002, a world conference to aid Madagascar called “Friends of Madagascar” took place, with a total pledge of $1 billion dollars over a total of 5 years. That same year, the Madagascar-U.S. Business Council was formed with the main of initiative assisting each other’s economy. Further, the country is the first to benefit from the Millenium Challenge Account set up by the United States. Business ties with rest of the world including France, Germany, Switzerland, Britain, Russia, Japan, India and China have been developing since the political stir in 2001 and add promise to the country’s success.

As for the people of Madagascar, roughly half hold indigenous beliefs which tend to put emphasis on spiritual entities of the living and dead. The remaining half is chiefly Christian with a small Muslim minority. In regards to the education there are three main universities and of the population of twenty million, 70% is literate with a lead in the rate among men.

The health of the general population is poor. At birth the life expectancy is two years short of 60. Among the entire adult population, 1.7% is infected with HIV, totaling 140,000. There were over seven thousand deaths last year as a result. Still, the Malagasy face more severe health risks than HIV, from hepatitis A to typhoid fever. Nineteen-ninety saw a demoralizing outbreak of Malaria which caused thousands upon thousands of deaths. The risk for contracting disease is high primarily due to the unfortunate economic conditions of the country, which spends one percent of its budget on health care. In some areas the physician to citizen ratio is as alarming as 1 to 35,000. The gist of medical facilities are headed solely by individual doctor, and many more by aids, paramedics, and oftentimes midwives. Unfortunately for those who cannot undergo proper medical treatment, they are left to be treated in a traditional tactic of herbs and exorcism.

Nearly half of the country is below the poverty line. The upshot of such a large number is a lack in the basic privities and necessities of survival and overcrowding which leads to the fast spread of diseases close quarters. The country’s children experience malnourishment which is the reason why half of children under three grow abnormally slow. Another notable figure is that one in ten children dies before their first birthday. And although Women suffer from the same hard-scrabble conditions as their kids, they do not suffer from political backlashes or oppression. The constitution provides for equality to all people including women5). The only hindrances to general equality lies in the culture: in the traditions and customs of the people themselves. These are deeply entrenched problems that will take time in the process of democratization.

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