Madagascar Brief History

My trip to Madagascar began with a dramatic explosion of a suspected bomb at Charles de Gaulle Airport in Paris!

Making a trip to Madagascar, the world’s fourth largest island and one of the world’s poorest countries, has long been part of my travel plans. When I found an organizer who offered, what I thought, a good mix of different activities, including visits to the national parks Tsingy de Bemaraha (which is on the UNESCO World Heritage List), Isalo and Ranomafana for walks and opportunities to see part of Madagascar’s unique flora and fauna, boat trips on the Tsiribihina River and in the Pangalanes canal, family stays in a highland village and the spectacular train journey from the highlands to the Indian Ocean, I booked this trip, which I combined with a week on my own. During this week, I visited, among other things, the Bara people’s large cattle market in the town of Tsiroanomandidy and the old royal castle in Ambohimanga.

During the trip, I traveled about 3,600 kilometers by car, 150 kilometers by boat, 160 kilometers by train and 150 kilometers on foot and thus got to experience a large part of the island and its unique environments. When I traveled on my own, I rode local minibuses, taxi-brousse, which are often overcrowded. At one point we were 26 people and several sacks of rice in a taxi-brousse built for 12 people. Crowded and exciting! During the official trip we went with our own cars and our own minibus, which is comfortable but limits contact with the locals.

According to Commit4fitness, traveling around Madagascar is not always easy as large parts of the country’s road network are in terrible condition, which makes transportation time consuming and often laborious. Traveling here is not a lazy thing to do! And “as icing on the cake” you can get flea bites, which happened to me in three rounds during this trip.

Madagascar history in brief

History of Madagascar, older

Researchers have not yet figured out how the first humans arrived in Madagascar. Possibly one or more groups of people emigrated from the area we today call Indonesia sometime during the first centuries after Christ and eventually moved on to Madagascar. If so, they probably came along the coast of India via the Arabian Peninsula to the east coast of Africa, where they mingled with the indigenous people, from where they eventually left the mainland and crossed the sea to Madagascar.

Signs that immigrants have taken this path include the fact that certain East African customs and a special type of East African cattle are scattered on the island. The earliest remains of villages date to the 8th century. The plateau was populated around the year 1,000. Somewhat later, Arabs set up small trading posts along the island’s west coast and in the north.

16th Century During this century, European ships occasionally visited Madagascar

18th century

During this century, several larger and smaller kingdoms were formed on the island. At the end of the 18th century, the king of the marina people, Andrianampoinimerina, united the four kingdoms on the central plateau and then began to expand his own territory, which led to the marina people dominating both economically and politically. Subsequent merina kings managed to conquer large parts of the island, often with the help of weapons they received in exchange for slaves by Europeans.

19th century

At the beginning of this century, British missionaries came to the country’s capital, Antananarivo, to teach the upper class English and translated the Bible into Malagasy. The Frenchman Jean Laborde was on good terms with the court and received permission to build up an industry for, among other things, the manufacture of weapons, gunpowder and porcelain. In addition, the Merina court also received other Frenchmen, who supported the construction of a Catholic church

During the reign of Queen Ranavalona I, 1828-1861, attempts were made to stop foreign influence and the intrusion of the new religion by banning European presence. However, this changed again when the queen died in 1861 when the door to the outside world was reopened. France and England competed to incorporate Madagascar into their respective colonial empires. The dispute was resolved through a treaty in which France gained sovereignty over Madagascar and England ruled over the island of Zanzibar. Madagascar thus became a French protectorate in 1895 and a French colony in 1896

20th century, beginning

The Madagascans who had been soldiers in the French army during the First World War had embraced socialist ideas and among them a nationalist movement emerged. To begin with, their demand was that the Madagascans be granted French citizenship, but eventually demands were made for independence.


As of this year, Madagascar was authorized to send representatives to the National Assembly in Paris

1947 Madagascar rebels against the French and about 80,000 people are killed

1956 Universal suffrage was introduced in the country

History of Madagascar, modern 1960 – 1999


Despite the French fear of riots in connection with Madagascar’s independence in June, it became a peaceful process of freedom. The country’s first president was the pro – French Philibert Tsiranana. Thanks to him, many French people were able to keep their assets and operations in Madagascar. French companies continued to dominate trade after independence and France was allowed to retain its military bases on the island. Although the process of independence proceeded peacefully, there were frequent unrest during the early 1960s


Due to his submission to the French, President Philibert Tsiranana was forced to relinquish power to Commander-in-Chief Gabriel Ramanantsoa, ​​who pursued a more left-wing and nationalist policy.


In February, Gabriel Ramanantsoa handed over power to Richard Ratsimandrava following a police mutiny. Ratsimandrava was murdered just six days after taking power. After the assassination, a military council took office that put down the mutiny, had all political parties dissolved and introduced press censorship. In June, one of the members of the military council, Commander Didier Ratsiraka, was appointed the country’s new president.
Ratsiraka declared a socialist revolution, which meant that private and French-owned companies and French banks were nationalized. Great emphasis was placed on increasing popular influence through local city councils, so-called fokontany. His revolution was largely based on Marxist and Maoist ideas. Ratsiraka ruled the country, largely, as a dictator


Ratsiraka formed the party of the Malagasy Revolutionary Forces (AREMA), which became the core of the united front The National Front for the Defense of the Malagasy Socialist Revolution (FNDR). All parties wishing to participate in elections had to belong to and be approved by FNDR


Monja Jaona challenged Ratsiraka in the presidential election, but lost. He accused the regime of electoral fraud and was arrested when he tried to organize a general strike


Ratsiraka established contacts with North Korea and the Soviet Union and sought to build a position as a spokesman for the third world
Due to unemployment, corruption, crime and shortages of basic goods, violent demonstrations broke out in the southern coastal cities and proposals for changes in higher education led to strong protests from students. Opposition to the regime also grew among the parties of the united front


Ratsiraka was re-elected president but forced to relinquish the power front of the united front. The fall of communism in Eastern Europe increased the country’s dependence on French aid in
1990. As a result of the increasingly active opposition and strong pressure from donors, President Ratsiraka was forced to introduce multi-party systems. Several of the united front parties went into opposition to the government together with a number of newly started organizations. The parties loyal to the president joined AREMA and formed a new alliance, Madagascar’s militant socialist movement


A newly formed opposition alliance, the Living Forces Committee, organized mass demonstrations and general strikes. The alliance, led by, among others, surgery professor Albert Zafy, challenged Ratsiraka and his security services by ignoring demonstration bans and appointing a provisional government. During a peaceful demonstration outside the presidential palace in August, the president’s bodyguards shot dead at least one hundred protesters. After that, the demands for a negotiated solution began to increase on the part of both the army and foreign donors.
Ratsiraka was forced to cooperate with the opposition and in October a transitional government was formed under the leadership of Albert Zafy. One of the first measures of the new government concerned a new constitution that was to be approved in a referendum. Ratsiraka, whose party held a strong position in the countryside, instead launched a proposal for a federal state. Shortly before the vote, Ratsiraka’s supporters occupied administrative buildings and radio and television stations in several provincial capitals, declaring that the provinces were now federal states.


In the referendum in August, the transitional government’s proposal was approved by a large majority


In the presidential election, Albert Zafy won over Ratsiraka. Francisque Ravony was appointed Prime Minister


In the September referendum, it was decided that the president would have the right to appoint a prime minister


The government was forced to resign in May after a no-confidence vote in parliament. President Zafy appointed lawyer Norbert Ratsirahonana as prime minister, but vetoed almost every member of the government he appointed. The conflict between the president and parliament escalated, and in July of that year, Zafy was ousted by parliament for violating the constitution.
Nyval was elected president in November. Albert Zafi’s main opponent was the former dictator Ratsiraka, who won the election. He immediately began trying to improve relations with international donors


Domestically, things went worse when confrontation was created by President Ratsiraka postponing the planned parliamentary elections in August


Ratsiraka called for a referendum in March on a number of amendments to the constitution that would strengthen the president’s power at the expense of parliament and give the provinces greater independence, which was approved by a narrow majority. The opposition’s attempt to oust Ratsiraka by a vote of no confidence before the referendum failed
When parliamentary elections were held in May, Ratsiraka’s party AREMA received 63 of the 150 seats and also the support of 19 members of coalition parties. Tantely Andrianarivo was appointed Prime Minister


The politically inexperienced business leader Marc Ravalomanana was elected mayor of the capital Antananarivo, which quickly became popular.

Madagascar Brief History