Country Spotlight: Madagascar

The largest African island, Madagascar is known by name but little beyond that. With 22 million inhabitants, its highest exports are knitted sweaters ...

Feb 15, 2014

The largest African island, Madagascar is known by name but little beyond that. With 22 million inhabitants, its highest exports are knitted sweaters and vanilla. Its history is rich; what started as an alliance of kingdoms enriched by pirate trade became the Kingdom of Madagascar in the 16th century. The kingdom prospered for just under three centuries until it was colonized by the French. While it was the British who had originally claimed the country, they allowed the French to colonize Madagascar in exchange for Zanzibar. In 1947, a group of spear-wielding Malagasy nationalists attacked French military bases and plantations. The French colonialists’ oppressed rebelling nationalists, a move that led to the country’s bloodiest conflict and resulted in an estimated 100,000 deaths. Madagascar did not achieve independence until the 1960s during a period of widespread European decolonization.
The Island:
Madagascar was the one of the last places in the world to be settled by humans, due to its isolation from other landmasses. According to Discovery News, recent archeological discoveries and genetic research indicate that 30 women, mostly of Indonesian descent, first arrived on the island between 200 BCE and 500 CE. Other places, such as the Fertile Crescent, saw increased pressure from human population that led to their extinction, but in Madagascar plants and animals were able to reproduce and evolve freely. As a result, the island became one of the most biologically diverse places on the planet. Ring-tailed lemurs and Baobabs are just two examples of the 12,000 species endemic to Madagascar.
The Politics:
Amid the economic recession that spread across Africa in 2009, Madagascar faced political turmoil. After Andry Rajoelina was elected mayor of Antananarivo, Madagascar's capital, he became a vocal critic of then-President Marc Ravalomanana. Tensions grew between the two politicians and their respective political factions, culminating in the government-led closure of the television company owned by Rajoelina, Viva TV. The mayor then organized a series of anti-government rallies that grew increasingly violent and led to the torching of several state buildings. The government eventually asked the military to intervene in the riots. As a result of political gridlock and rising tensions in the streets, the military issued an ultimatum on March 10, 2009: If the politicians did not solve the political crisis, they would take over. Facing mounting political pressure and dwindling support, Ravalomana offered a nationwide presidential election. However, on March 16, less than a week after the military’s ultimatum, the presidential palace was stormed by the military-backed opposition. Rajoelina declared, “I proclaim I will now rule Madagascar and set up a transitional government.” Elections would not be held until early this year, bringing Hery Rajaonarimampianina to the presidency.
Andres Rodriguez is editor-in-chief. Email him at
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