total: 587,041 sq km
land: 581,540 sq km
water: 5,501 sq km
Total: 2,612 km
border countries (0):
Coastline: 4,828 km
Total: 4,828 km
tropical along coast,
arid in south
narrow coastal plain,
high plateau and mountains in the center
mean elevation: 615 m
elevation extremes: lowest point: Indian Ocean 0 m
highest point: Maromokotro 2,876 m
graphite, chromite, coal, bauxite, rare earth elements, salt, quartz, tar sands, semiprecious stones, mica, fish, hydropower
agricultural land: 71.1%
arable land 6%; permanent crops 1%; permanent pasture 64.1%
other: 7.4% (2011 est.)
10,860 sq km (2012)
Population – distribution:
most of the population lives on the eastern half of the island; significant clustering is found in the central highlands and eastern coastline
periodic cyclones; drought; and locust infestation
People and Society
Madagascar’s youthful population – just over 60% are under the age of 25 – and high total fertility rate of more than 4 children per women ensures that the Malagasy population will continue its rapid growth trajectory for the foreseeable future. The population is predominantly rural and poor; chronic malnutrition is prevalent, and large families are the norm. Many young Malagasy girls are withdrawn from school, marry early (often pressured to do so by their parents), and soon begin having children. Early childbearing, coupled with Madagascar’s widespread poverty and lack of access to skilled health care providers during delivery, increases the risk of death and serious health problems for young mothers and their babies.
Child marriage perpetuates gender inequality and is prevalent among the poor, the uneducated, and rural households – as of 2013, of Malagasy women aged 20 to 24, more than 40% were married and more than a third had given birth by the age of 18. Although the legal age for marriage is 18, parental consent is often given for earlier marriages or the law is flouted, especially in rural areas that make up nearly 65% of the country. Forms of arranged marriage whereby young girls are married to older men in exchange for oxen or money are traditional. If a union does not work out, a girl can be placed in another marriage, but the dowry paid to her family diminishes with each unsuccessful marriage.
Madagascar’s population consists of 18 main ethnic groups, all of whom speak the same Malagasy language. Most Malagasy are multi-ethnic, however, reflecting the island’s diversity of settlers and historical contacts. Madagascar’s legacy of hierarchical societies practicing domestic slavery (most notably the Merina Kingdom of the 16th to the 19th century) is evident today in persistent class tension, with some ethnic groups maintaining a caste system. Slave descendants are vulnerable to unequal access to education and jobs, despite Madagascar’s constitutional guarantee of free compulsory primary education and its being party to several international conventions on human rights. Historical distinctions also remain between central highlanders and coastal people.
25,054,161 (July 2017 est.)
Malagasy (singular and plural)
Malayo-Indonesian (Merina and related Betsileo), Cotiers (mixed African, Malayo-Indonesian, and Arab ancestry – Betsimisaraka, Tsimihety, Antaisaka, Sakalava), French, Indian, Creole, Comoran
French (official), Malagasy (official), English
Christian, indigenous religionist, Muslim
Malagasy people are of mixed Malayo-Indonesian and African-Arab ancestry. It is generally accepted that the first migrants appeared between 1,500 and 2,100 years ago. One migration theory asserts that what is considered the Malagasy mix arrived already blended having followed a coastal route over a long period with stops in India, the Arab peninsula, and eastern Africa. Another theory contends that the common elements the people share were developed from interactions over a period of time after the arrival of various immigrants groups.
The largest and most dominant of the groups is the Merina people, who are scattered throughout the island. The name Merina (Imerina) is said to mean Elevated People, deriving from the fact that they lived on the plateau. The second largest group is the Betsimisaraka (The Inseparable Multitude), who live generally in the east. The third most numerous group is the Betsileo (The Invincible Multitude), who inhabit the plateau around Fianarantsoa.
Other important peoples are the Tsimihety (Those Who Do Not Cut Their Hair), the Sakalava (People of the Long Valley), the Antandroy (People of the Thorn Bush), the Tanala (People of the Forest), the Antaimoro (People of the Banks), and the Bara (a name of uncertain origin). Smaller groups are the Antanosy (People of the Island), the Antaifasy (People of the Sand), the Sihanaka (People of the Lake), the Antakarana (People of the Rocks), the Betanimena (People of the Red Soil), who are now largely absorbed by the Merina, the Bezanozano (Those with Many-Braided Hair), and the Mahafaly (Those Who Make Taboos).
These ethnic names do not stand for clear-cut cultural boundaries, for in many cases one group shades imperceptibly into another. Moreover, the conventional translations are by no means reliable, and most of the names themselves are of somewhat recent origin, probably crystallized and rigidified by the exigencies of colonial administration more than by the realities of indigenous culture. In many cases, these people represent endogamous and often non-unilinear descent groups.
The principal and official languages are French and Malagasy. Malagasy is a Malayo-Polynesian language which has different but mutually intelligible dialects and is spoken throughout Madagascar. The Merina dialect has come to be considered the standard literary form of the language. Instruction in French is preferred by the coastal peoples, as it avoids connotations of Merina cultural dominance. About 50% of the Malagasy are traditional tribal religionists, some exclusively and others practicing in conjunction with Christian beliefs. Although there are many variations in detail, nearly all of these traditional Malagasy share certain basic religious ideas, the central one being belief in the soul and its immortality.
In traditional Madagascar, education was not seen as separate from the other spheres of life. It emphasized the importance of maintaining one’s place in a hierarchical society, trained people in the proper observance of ritual and innumerable fady prohibitions, and, above all, taught respect for ancestors. Formal education in the modern sense first appeared when the missionary David Jones of the London Missionary Society established a school in Antananarivo in 1820. It was sponsored by King Radama I, and Jones’s first students were children of the royal family.
Education is compulsory for children between the ages of six and fourteen. The current education system provides primary schooling for five years, from ages six to eleven. Secondary education lasts for seven years and is divided into two parts: a junior secondary level of four years from ages twelve to fifteen, and a senior secondary level of three years from ages sixteen to eighteen. At the end of the junior level, graduates receive a certificate, and at the end of the senior level, graduates receive the baccalauréat (the equivalent of a high school diploma). A vocational secondary school system, the collège Professionelle (professional college), is the equivalent of the junior secondary level; the collège technique (technical college), which awards the baccalauréat technique (technical diploma), is the equivalent of the senior level.
The University of Madagascar, established as an Institute for Advanced Studies in 1955 in Antananarivo and renamed in 1961, is the main institute of higher education. It maintains six separate, independent branches in Antananarivo, Antsiranana, Fianarantsoa, Toamasina, Toliara, and Mahajanga. (Prior to 1988, the latter five institutions were provincial extensions of the main university in Antananarivo.) The university system consists of several faculties, including law and economics, sciences, and letters and human sciences, and numerous schools that specialize in public administration, management, medicine, social welfare, public works, and agronomy.
The national education system often has been at the center of political debate. As is the case throughout Africa, educational credentials provide one of the few opportunities to obtain employment in a country with a limited private sector, and the distribution of educational resources has continued to be an issue with explosive political ramifications. The lack of access is compounded by an education system that still rewards those who are the most proficient in the French language, despite the fact that the country is officially bilingual. As of 2015, it was estimated that only between 180,000 and 200,000 citizens could be considered truly fluent in the French language and that another 4 million citizens have received, at best, a passive high school-level competence in the language.
Madagascar’s GDP in 2017 was estimated at $10.56 billion USD, with a per capita GDP of $421.49. Approximately 69 percent of the population lives below the national poverty line threshold of one dollar per day. Over the last five years, the average growth rate has been 2.6% but is expected to have reached 4.1% in 2016, due to public works programs and a growth of the service sector. The agriculture sector constituted 29 percent of Malagasy GDP in 2011 while manufacturing formed 15 percent of GDP. Madagascar’s other sources of growth are tourism, agriculture and the extractive industries. Tourism focuses on the niche eco-tourism market, capitalizing on Madagascar’s unique biodiversity, unspoiled natural habitats, national parks and lemur species.
Extractive industries, particularly the mining sector, have been the largest driver of economic growth over the past few years, though the current slump in global demand for commodities has slowed activity in this sector over the past year. Nevertheless, a number of deposits have been identified for future commercial development – including iron ore, ilmenite, graphite, coal, and rare earth. The eventual development of these projects may present opportunities for U.S. suppliers of machinery and power generation equipment. Madagascar also has approximately 250 plus available oil exploration blocks, which it intends to auction off after the passage of its revised petroleum legislation, planned for later this year.
Over the past year, the sectors that have attracted the newest foreign direct investment have been the services industry (call centers, focusing primarily on the francophone market) and light manufacturing in the apparel industry. Madagascar’s eligibility for duty-free access to the United States under the African Growth and Opportunity Act was reinstated in June 2014, and the extension by the U.S. Congress of the AGOA legislation for a further ten years in July 2015 has prompted further investment in the Malagasy apparel sector. Malagasy exporters under AGOA have begun to diversify from apparel to include other products, such as accessories and handicrafts.
Other sectors that are potentially attractive for U.S. investors include energy, construction, agribusiness, fisheries and aquaculture, and tourism. The government recently passed legislation establishing the first ever regulatory framework for public-private partnerships, and it will seek foreign investment to rehabilitate and extend its dilapidated infrastructure in accordance with its five-year National Development Plan.
The legislative framework governing investment in Madagascar does not discriminate against foreign investors, nor does it prohibit limit, or condition foreign investments. Any natural person or legal entity, Malagasy or foreign, is free to invest in Madagascar, in accordance with the laws and regulations in force, and national treatment is not denied to foreign investors in any sector. Despite presenting challenges to investment akin to those encountered in many other developing countries, Madagascar remains a country of vast resources and potential.
GDP (purchasing power parity):
$39.81 billion (2017 est.)
$38.15 billion (2016 est.)
$36.62 billion (2015 est.)
note: data are in 2017 dollars
GDP (official exchange rate):
$10.56 billion (2017 est.)
GDP – real growth rate:
4.3% (2017 est.)
4.2% (2016 est.)
3.1% (2015 est.)
GDP – per capita (PPP):
$1,600 (2017 est.)
$1,500 (2016 est.)
$1,500 (2015 est.)
Gross national saving:
14.5% of GDP (2017 est.)
16% of GDP (2016 est.)
11.2% of GDP (2015 est.)
GDP – composition, by sector of origin:
services: 60.3% (2017 est.)
Agriculture – products:
coffee, vanilla, sugarcane, cloves, cocoa, rice, cassava (manioc, tapioca), beans, bananas, peanuts; livestock products
meat processing, seafood, soap, beer, leather, sugar, textiles, glassware, cement, automobile assembly plant, paper, petroleum, tourism, mining
Population below poverty line:
70.7% (2012 est.)
revenues: $1.292 billion
expenditures: $1.725 billion (2017 est.)
Agriculture employs the majority of Madagascar’s population. Mainly involving smallholders, agriculture has seen different levels of the state organization, shifting from state control to a liberalized sector. Rice is the main produce and main export crop of Madagascar. It is mainly planted in a terraced paddy system in the central highlands. Other major subsistence crops include cassava, corn, and sweet potato, while coffee, cloves, vanilla and other cash crops are exported. Agriculture in Madagascar is heavily influenced by the island’s rainfall, which is generally abundant on the whole East coast, decreases sharply on the highlands, and falls to less than 500 mm per year in the South and South-West. The main growing season starts with the first rains in October – November. The cropping calendar greatly varies from region to region, according to the very different climatic conditions, soils, and altitude.
Due to the large variety of soil types and climatic diversity, farmers are able to grow temperate crops such as apples, pears, plums, grapes and citrus fruits and tropical products such as mangoes and lychees, as well as a wide variety of other crops including coffee, cloves, sisal, maize, and tubers. Rice is the dominant food crop and is grown in the central plateau, eastern forests and lower river valleys and estuaries. Once self-sufficient, the country has been a net importer of rice since 1980. Cassava, maize, sweet potatoes and yams are other staple crops grown.
Producing 60 percent of the global supply, Madagascar is the largest producer of natural vanilla. Madagascar provides protection for its largest and most valuable export: to combat thefts, the movement of pods is strictly regulated, for example, pods cannot be transported at night, and there are harsh penalties for stealing vanilla. Some farmers also ‘tattoo’ their beans, stamping a unique mark on them while they are still on the vine. Vanilla producers are taking steps to create a fairtrade network on the island. An action plan has been drafted by vanilla producers and Fairtrade International has organized training to help them promote their business and collaborate with exporters. Coffee, cloves, and cocoa are also important cash crops. Although Madagascar only produces about 5,000 tonnes of cocoa a year on about 15,000 hectares, the beans are considered among the best quality in the world.
Livestock is also an important income earner for many farmers, with about 60 percent of rural families depending on livestock for part of their livelihood. Cattle, mainly zebu, are distributed throughout the island. Large numbers of pigs, sheep, goats, chickens, ducks, geese and turkeys are also kept by smallholders. However, the high prevalence of diseases, including Newcastle disease, anthrax, and African swine fever, severely constrain the sector. Natural hazards (cyclones, droughts, locust invasions) and destructive farming practices, which cause the soil to erode and soil quality to decline, limit crop production. Slash-and-burn agriculture – tavy or that sake – is the most common response to falling harvests but is one of the primary threats to Madagascar’s forests which leads to a vicious circle of deepening poverty and shrinking forest area.
population without electricity: 19,500,000
electrification – total population: 15%
electrification – urban areas: 37%
electrification – rural areas: 4% (2013)
Electricity – production:
1.508 billion kWh (2015 est.)
Electricity – consumption:
1.402 billion kWh (2015 est.)
Electricity – exports:
1.158 billion kWh (2015 est.)
Electricity – imports:
0 kWh (2016 est.)
Electricity – installed generating capacity:
m 668,200 kW (2015 est.)
Electricity – from fossil fuels:
73.9% of total installed capacity (2015 est.)
Electricity – from nuclear fuels:
0% of total installed capacity (2015 est.)
Telephones – fixed lines:
total subscriptions: 148,585
subscriptions per 100 inhabitants: less than 1 (July 2016 est.)
Telephones – mobile cellular:
subscriptions per 100 inhabitants: 32 (July 2016 est.)
Internet country code:
percent of population: 4.7% (July 2016 est.)
In 2014, the manufacturing sector accounted for 8% of the gross domestic product (GDP). The share of the mining and quarrying sector in the GDP increased to 4.2% in 2014 from 3.4% in 2013 and 1.1% in 2012; the increase was primarily attributable to increased production at the Ambatovy nickel-cobalt project. In 2014, total exports were valued at $2.2 billion, of which nickel accounted for 27%; cobalt, 3.9%; and other minerals, including chromite, gemstones, graphite, ilmenite, mica, ornamental stone, rutile, and zircon, 5.1%. In 2007, total exports were valued at $1.3 billion, of which minerals accounted for 2.9%. Increased mineral exports were attributable to the startup of ilmenite, rutile, and zircon production in 2009, and cobalt and nickel production in 2012.
In 2014, total imports were valued at $3.3 billion, of which mineral fuels accounted for 22.1%, and mining and quarrying, 3.4%. In 2007, total imports were valued at $2.4 billion, of which mineral fuels accounted for 16.6%, and mining and quarrying, 0.3%. In 2012 (the latest year for which data were available), formal employment in the mining and quarrying sector was about 12,500 workers. An additional 500,000 workers were estimated to be employed in artisanal mining, including about 350,000 in the gold mining subsector. Madagascar’s mining and quarrying sector were governed by the Mining Code and its implementing decree. Exploration and production of petroleum were governed by the Petroleum Code and its implementing decree.
Most of Madagascar’s mining and mineral-processing operations were privately owned, including the gemstone, graphite, mineral sands, nickel, and salt mines and the cement plants. Artisanal miners produced gemstones, gold, and mica. State-owned Kraomita Malagasy SA (KRAOMA) was the country’s only chromite producer.
In recent years, Madagascar has produced a variety of gemstones that included aquamarine, emerald, and other types of beryl; demantoid, tsavorite, and other types of garnet; amethyst, citrine, and other types of quartz; and agate, amazonite, cordierite, jasper, labradorite, ruby, sapphire, and tourmaline. Most gemstones were exported prior to cutting and polishing.
In 2015, ammonium sulfate, cobalt, graphite, and nickel production is likely to increase. Madagascar could become one of the world’s leading graphite producers with the development of the Molo project. Ilmenite, rutile, and zircon production is likely to decrease in 2015; output could increase in the future with the development of the Ranobe Mine. Further growth in the mineral industry could result from the development of coal, petroleum, and rare-earths projects. The development of the mineral industry will depend on world market conditions and domestic political stability.
Banking and Finance
Madagascar has relatively rudimentary financial markets and a very low rate of bank penetration. High-interest rates, stringent requirements for collateral and guarantees, limited competition among banks, and reluctance to finance foreign trade or working capital even when secured by letters of credit make financing very expensive and difficult to access. The difficulty of increasing working capital through bank borrowing is a severe constraint on local firms’ ability to expand. Banks maintain that many prospective borrowers lack reliable and transparent balance sheets and that long-term financing is difficult because they lack a long-term deposit policy.
Only well-known and significant operators can get credit in Madagascar. The credit granted is mainly for the purchase of traditional agricultural products such as vanilla, coffee, and cloves. In case of pre-financing by foreign importers, local exporters still have to pay high interest rates to their banks. Generally speaking, the financing possibilities that are available to local firms are quite limited. The financial system is shallow and has so far fallen short of catalyzing funds for growth: domestic credit to GDP ratio remains low, and the economy remains largely cash-based. Access to credit is expensive and limited, especially for small and medium enterprises, and capital markets are undeveloped and hampered by relatively high interest rates.
The financial sector comprises 11 banks, seven financial establishments and 29 micro-finance institutions (three of which are currently suspended and awaiting reauthorization to operate). Only two banks (Bank of Africa and BFV-Société Générale) are fairly well established outside the capital. Madagascar’s financial sector is dominated by banks, the assets of which amount to 25 percent of GDP. Commercial banks hold 84 percent of total system assets but only offer basic savings and credit products to a select clientele. All commercial banks are now foreign-owned, and the subsidiaries of three large internationally active French banks have a combined market share of around 65 percent of assets.
The political and economic crisis has affected the quality of the banks’ portfolios. The proportions of non-performing loans and capital risk levels are fairly low but rising. Bad and disputed debts increased to 13.8% of gross loans at the end of June 2011. Export revenue (foreign currency) is derived chiefly from clothing and textiles, vanilla, cloves, fish and shellfish, and various food products. Some agricultural exports, particularly cloves and vanilla, have been threatened by world overproduction or by the manufacture of synthetic substitutes.
Madagascar, the 4th largest island in the world with a surface area of 587,014 km, has a worldwide reputation for the quality and diversity of its natural wealth of flora and fauna, of which the rate of endemicity is on average 80%. The country also enjoys great geomorphologic diversity such as the Tsingy de Bemaraha in the north, a UNESCO World Heritage site, or the Isalo Massif in the south. Madagascar has a tropical climate with many microclimates (humid, temperate and dry).
International travelers have always been attracted to Madagascar by its wealth of natural resources (fauna, flora, geomorphology, climate) and cultural resources. Tourism in Madagascar has been constantly growing over the last twenty years with an annual increase of 11.4%. Madagascar is increasingly positioning itself as a prime eco-tourism destination. This strategic move, made by the government and private operators at the end of the 90s, has lead, on the one hand, to a re-organization of the tourist product and a re-definition of related promotional activities and, on the other, to the rapid development of an eco-tourism customer base from new generating markets such as Japan, Australia and North America.
In the field of information and communication technologies (ICTs), Madagascar is currently showing a keen interest, within particular a firm willingness on the part of the government to draw up an ambitious national policy with the goal of integrating the country in the global information society by 2010. It is in this context that we are investigating the future of e-tourism in Madagascar and, in particular, the probability of a destination management system for Madagascar being set up.
Tourism is a relatively young sector but it quickly took hold as an essential area for Madagascar’s development by, for instance, becoming the main hard currency generator, overtaking other export products (coffee, vanilla, and fish) with tourist revenue (from international tourists) estimated at over $66 US million in 2002. That same year tourism, directly and indirectly, created 15,000 jobs. However, despite this encouraging picture, Madagascar is still far from reaching its full potential in terms of developing the tourism sector and attracting international visitors (estimated at 450,000 tourists a year according to Ministry of Tourism forecasts).
There is growing interest in the country as a tourist destination. The country has beautiful landscapes and the cultural resources to support tourism. These resources provide many opportunities for the development of both ecotourism and resort-based tourism. Despite its growth, the tourism industry is very small. It is much smaller than those of the neighboring Seychelles and Mauritius islands and is the smallest among the islands in the Indian Ocean.
Madagascar’s government has promoted tourism as an economic development strategy. With over 70% of the country living in poverty, tourism is seen as a way to reduce poverty and provide economic growth. Tourism is currently the second largest foreign exchange earner in the country, and the government hopes to increase this share. Still, in the early stages of development, there is the large potential for the tourist industry to grow as Madagascar’s infrastructure improves.
The history of Madagascar is distinguished clearly by the early isolation of the landmass from the ancient supercontinent containing Africa and India, and by the island’s late colonization by human settlers arriving in outrigger canoes from the Sunda islands between 200 BC and 500 AD. about 2,500 years ago, when immigrants came, probably from Indonesia via the East African coast. Outrigger canoes is a type of canoe featuring one or more lateral support floats known as outriggers, which are fastened to one or both sides of the main hull. Smaller canoes often employ a single outrigger on the port side, while larger canoes may employ a single-outrigger, double-outrigger, or double-hull configuration. The sailing canoes are an important part of the Polynesian heritage and are raced and sailed in Hawaii, Tahiti, Samoa and by the Māori of New Zealand. They are also very popular in Puerto Rico.
Over the past two thousand years, the island has received waves of settlers of diverse origins including Austronesian, Bantu, Arab, South Asian, Chinese and European populations. The majority of the population of Madagascar today is a mixture of Austronesian, Bantu, North Indian, Arab and Somali settlers. Centuries of intermarriages created the Malagasy people, who primarily speak Malagasy, an Austronesian language with Bantu, Malay, Arabic, French, and English influences. Most of the genetic makeup of the average Malagasy, however, reflects an almost equal blend of Austronesian and Bantu influences, especially in coastal regions. Other populations often intermixed with the existent population to a more limited degree or have sought to preserve a separate community from the majority Malagasy.
The earliest written histories of the Malagasy are the sorabe, in the Malagasy language using Arabic script. A Portuguese ship sighted the island and sailed along the coast in 1500. In 1502, the island was named Madagascar by the Portuguese, after the island of the same name originally reported by Marco Polo. During the 16th and 17th centuries, attempts were made by the Portuguese, British, Dutch, and French to establish settlements. All these efforts failed, and Madagascar became the lair of pirates who lived on Nosy Sainte Marie and intermarried with the Malagasy.
The Merina Kingdom
The Merina Kingdom, or the Kingdom of Madagascar, officially the Kingdom of Imerina (c.1540–1897) was a pre-colonial state off the coast of Southeast Africa that, by the 19th century, dominated most of what is now Madagascar. It spread outward from Imerina, the Central Highlands region primarily inhabited by the Merina ethnic group with a spiritual capital at Ambohimanga and a political capital 24 kilometers (15 mi) west at Antananarivo, currently the seat of government for the modern democratic state of Madagascar. The Merina kings and queens who ruled over greater Madagascar in the 19th century were the descendants of a long line of hereditary Merina royalty originating with Andriamanelo, who is traditionally credited with founding Imerina in 1540.
Andriamanelo (1540–1575), broke the tradition by launching a largely successful war to subjugate the surrounding Vazimba communities and force them to either submit to Hova dominance and assimilate, or flee. Andriamanelo was succeeded by his son Ralambo (1575–1612), whose many enduring and significant political and cultural achievements earned him a heroic and near-mythical status among the greatest ancient sovereigns of Merina history. Ralambo was the first to assign the name of Imerina (“Land of the Merina people”) to the central highland territories where he ruled.
Upon succeeding his father, Andrianjaka (1612-1630) led a successful military campaign to capture the final major Vazimba stronghold in the highlands on the hill of Analamanga. There he established the fortified compound (rova) that would form the heart of his new capital city of Antananarivo. Upon his orders, the first structures within this fortified compound (known as the Rova of Antananarivo) were constructed: several traditional royal houses were built, and plans for a series of royal tombs were designed. These buildings took on an enduring political and spiritual significance, ensuring their preservation until being destroyed by fire in 1995. Andrianjaka obtained a sizable cache of firearms and gunpowder, materials that helped to establish and preserve his dominance and expand his rule over greater Imerina.
Kingdom of Madagascar
Andrianampoinimerina’s son, Radama I (1810–28), allied himself with the British governor of the nearby island of Mauritius, Sir Robert Farquhar. In order to prevent reoccupation of the east coast by the French, Farquhar supported Radama’s annexation of the area by supplying him with weapons and advisers and giving him the title “King of Madagascar.” At the same time, Radama agreed to cooperate with Britain’s new campaign to end the slave trade. In 1817 he captured the east-coast town of Tamatave, from which he launched annual expeditions against the coastal populations. He eventually conquered almost the entire east coast, the northern part of the island, and most of the two large Sakalava kingdoms. Only the south and a part of the west remained independent. The French retained only the small island of Sainte-Marie.
In addition, Radama invited European workers, and the London Missionary Society spread Christianity and influenced the adoption of a Latin alphabet for the Malagasy language. Radama died prematurely in 1828; he was succeeded by his widow, Ranavalona I, who reversed his policy of Europeanization. She expelled Christian missionaries and persecuted Malagasy converts. A few Europeans maintained external trade and local manufacture, but eventually, they also were expelled. The British and French launched an expedition against Ranavalona but were repulsed at Tamatave in 1845. By the time of her death (1861)
Ranavalona was succeeded by her son, Radama II, who readmitted the foreigners. English Protestants and French Roman Catholics vied for supremacy, while business proprietors obtained excessive concessions. This policy led to Radama’s overthrow by the Merina oligarchy in 1863. The head of the army, Rainilaiarivony, a Hova, became prime minister and remained in power by marrying three queens in succession: Rasoherina, Ranavalona II, and Ranavalona III. He embarked on a program of modernization, and in 1869 he caused Protestantism to be adopted and suppressed the traditional Malagasy religion. European-style ministries were created and governors set up in the provinces. Villages were supervised by former soldiers. Education was declared obligatory and placed under the direction of the Christian missions. A code of laws was worked out that combined ancient customs with such Western practices as monogamy.
The French began to extend their influence over the Sakalava, and the first “Franco-Merina” war (1883–85) ended with an ambiguous treaty: France was given a settlement at Diégo-Suarez and a resident at Antananarivo, but the institution of a protectorate was temporarily avoided. The succeeding period was marked by disorder and internal strife. In 1890 the British recognized Madagascar as a French protectorate, but Rainilaiarivony refused to submit to French suzerainty. In January 1895, French troops landed at Majunga, and on September 30, 1895, they occupied Antananarivo. The prime minister was exiled. The queen signed a treaty recognizing the protectorate and was maintained on the throne as a figurehead.
European colonial powers, primarily Britain and France, had ambitions to control Madagascar, a rich island with strategic importance in regard to the sea passage to India. The Merina Kingdom of Madagascar had successfully repelled multiple attempts by both European powers to seize control of the territory throughout the 19th century. The first significant European influence in Imerina was the arrival of a handful of British missionaries in the capital of Antananarivo in 1820 during the reign of Radama I, who invited them to establish schools and teach the Merina free populace to read. Several years into the reign of Queen Ranavalona I, which began in 1828, the monarchy became increasingly disapproving of the growing popularity of the Christianity that the missionaries had introduced, and encouraged them to cease teaching religion while continuing to provide technical and vocational training to create a cadre of skilled craftsmen. She successfully repelled French attacks on Foulepointe and other coastal cities. During several periods, Ranavalona’s restrictions on the practice of Christianity minimized European presence on the island.
Upon Ranavalona’s death, her son succeeded her as King Radama II in 1861. As the prince, he had already made concessions to Joseph-François Lambert, a Frenchman who had resided at Ranavalona’s court and assisted in the development of numerous resources. The Lambert Charter Radama had approved conceded significant tracts of land to Lambert in neglect of the island-wide significance attached to ancestral land. In addition, the French government received a letter purportedly written by the prince, requesting French military aid to depose his mother. The origins and authenticity of the letter are disputed, and the British alleged that it was crafted by Laborde (particularly since it was written in French, a language Radama did not know how to write) to support French military action on the island.
After a brief reign, Radama was strangled in an 1863 coup d’etat termed the Aristocratic Revolution. Radama’s widow Rasoherina was placed on the throne by Prime Minister Rainivoninahitriniony and his cabinet on the condition that the absolute power of the monarchy was ended and the majority of power over day-to-day governance and foreign affairs rested with the Prime Minister. The despotism of the prime minister led him to be replaced by his younger brother, Rainilaiarivony, who would govern Madagascar for 30 years until the capture of Antananarivo by the French military. Rainilaiarivony and successive queens Ranavalona II and Ranavalona III sought to maintain the sovereignty of Madagascar.
The Merina monarchy vigorously attempted to resolve the issue through negotiation and diplomacy, relying heavily on the support of their British and American trading partners. They sent ambassadors to England and France to resolve the claims, but the French government refused to accept anything less than the full terms of the treaty. This provided the necessary pretext for a French military invasion of the island, which took place in two waves between 1883-1895.
France invaded Madagascar in 1883, in what became known as the first Franco-Hova War, seeking to restore the canceled concessions. With the signing of the Treaty of Tamatave in January 1886, the war ceased. Madagascar ceded Antsiranana (Diego-Suarez) on the northern coast to France and paid a hefty fine of 10 million francs. The treaty included an ‘Instructive Letter’ which was to clarify the treaty, but which was never presented in the French Parliament when they voted to ratify the treaty. The treaty essentially gave France control over Malagasy foreign policy, and the French government used this to exert increasing control over the territory, but a Protectorate was not formally declared.
The terms and impositions of the treaty were not fully agreed upon by Rainilaiarivony. The situation quickly changed when the British recognized a French Protectorate of Madagascar in September 1890, in return for eventual British control over Zanzibar and as part of an overall definition of spheres of influence in Africa. Rainilaiarivony prepared to defend the island from French military invasion by sending Colonel Shervinton, his European military adviser, to purchase arms in Europe. Active hostilities commenced on December 12, 1894, when the French marines took possession of Tamatave. The defenders were stationed on the main road to the capital, to the south of the city. The French commander circled Antananarivo and executed a feint attack on the north of the city. General Duchesne entered the city on October 1, and Queen Ranavalona III signed the treaty that made Madagascar a full Protectorate of the French government. The Merina Kingdom was put under French protection in 1896, overseen by the first Resident-General, Laroche.
Ranavalona and her cabinet were initially allowed to remain in government as ceremonial figureheads. French rule was challenged from the very moment of the capital’s capture by a popular uprising termed the Menalamba rebellion. The French government determined that a civil governor was incapable of ensuring order and submission of the Malagasy people, and so deposed the queen in 1897, dissolved the 103-year-old Merina monarchy, and installed a military government headed by Gallieni. Queen Ranavalona III was exiled to Réunion and later to Algeria, where she died in 1917 without ever being allowed to return to Madagascar.
The Fight for Independence
Nationalist sentiment against French colonial rule emerged among a group of Merina intellectuals. The group, based in Antananarivo, was led by a Malagasy Protestant clergyman, Pastor Ravelojoana, who was especially inspired by the Japanese model of modernization. A secret society dedicated to affirming Malagasy cultural identity was formed in 1913, calling itself Iron and Stone Ramification, Although the VVS was brutally suppressed, its actions eventually led French authorities to provide the Malagasy with their first representative voice in government.
Malagasy veterans of military service in France during World War I bolstered the embryonic nationalist movement. Throughout the 1920s, the nationalists stressed labor reform and equality of civil and political status for the Malagasy, stopping short of advocating independence. A number of veterans who remained in France were exposed to French political thought, most notably the anti-colonial and pro-independence platforms of socialist parties. Jean Ralaimongo, for example, returned to Madagascar in 1924 and became embroiled in labor questions that were causing considerable tension throughout the island
Among the first concessions to Malagasy equality was the formation in 1924 of two economic and financial delegations. One was composed of French settlers, the other of twenty-four Malagasy representatives elected by the Council of Notables in each of twenty-four districts. The two sections never met together, and neither had real decision-making authority. Only in the aftermath of World War II was France willing to accept a form of Malagasy self-rule under French tutelage. In the fall of 1945, separate French and Malagasy electoral colleges voted to elect representatives from Madagascar to the Constituent Assembly of the Fourth Republic in Paris.
In 1956 France’s socialist government renewed the French commitment to greater autonomy in Madagascar and other colonial possessions by enacting the loi-cadre (enabling law). The loi-cadre provided for universal suffrage and was the basis for parliamentary government in each colony. In the case of Madagascar, the law established executive councils to function alongside provincial and national assemblies, and dissolved the separate electoral colleges for the French and Malagasy groups. The Malagasy Republic was proclaimed on 14 October 1958, as an autonomous state within the French Community. A period of provisional government ended with the adoption of a constitution in 1959 and full independence on 26 June 1960.
Since regaining independence, Madagascar has transitioned through four republics with corresponding revisions to its constitution. The First Republic (1960–72), under the leadership of French-appointed President Philibert Tsiranana, was characterized by a continuation of strong economic and political ties to France. Many high-level technical positions were filled by French expatriates, and French teachers, textbooks, and curricula continued to be used in schools around the country. Popular resentment over Tsiranana’s tolerance for this “neo-colonial” arrangement inspired a series of farmer and student protests that overturned his administration in 1972.
Gabriel Ramanantsoa, a major general in the army, was appointed the interim president and prime minister that same year, but low public approval forced him to step down in 1975. Colonel Richard Ratsimandrava, appointed to succeed him, was assassinated six days into his tenure. General Gilles Andriamahazo ruled after Ratsimandrava for four months before being replaced by another military appointee; Vice Admiral Didier Ratsiraka, who ushered in the socialist-Marxist Second Republic that ran under his tenure from 1975 to 1993.
Ratsiraka’s dwindling popularity in the late 1980s reached a critical point in 1991 when presidential guards opened fire on unarmed protesters during a rally. Within two months, a transitional government had been established under the leadership of Albert Zafy (1993–96), who went on to win the 1992 presidential elections and inaugurate the Third Republic (1992–2010). The new Madagascar constitution established a multi-party democracy and a separation of powers that placed significant control in the hands of the National Assembly.
Opposition leader and then-mayor of Antananarivo, Andry Rajoelina, led a movement in early 2009 in which Ravalomanana was pushed from power in an unconstitutional process widely condemned as a coup d’état. In March 2009, Rajoelina was declared by the Supreme Court as the President of the High Transitional Authority, an interim governing body responsible for moving the country toward presidential elections. In 2010, a new constitution was adopted by referendum, establishing the Fourth Republic, which sustained the democratic, multi-party structure established in the previous constitution. Hery Rajaonarimampianina was declared the winner of the 2013 presidential election, which the international community deemed fair and transparent.