Madagascar is an island nation located off the coast of East Africa in the Indian Ocean. According to homosociety, it has a total land area of 587,041 square kilometers and a population of 26.9 million people. The official language is Malagasy, although French and English are also widely spoken. The currency used is the Malagasy Ariary (MGA). The main religion practiced in Madagascar is Christianity, with approximately 55% of the population identifying as Christian. Madagascar has a rich cultural history, with many unique customs and traditions still practiced today. In terms of tourism, Madagascar’s stunning landscape and diverse wildlife attract many visitors each year. Additionally, it offers a wide range of activities such as diving, trekking and visiting local markets for souvenirs.
Madagascar’s history began when seafarers from Southeast Asia, especially Indonesia, came to Madagascar from the 100s onwards. In the 6th century, Arabs began to establish trading stations, and European plundering and piracy began in the 16th century. At the end of the 17th century the French founded trading stations on the east coast. In the 18th century, Madagascar was united into a state under the Merina kingdom, while Christian missionary activity became important in the 19th century.
In 1885 Madagascar became a French protectorate. Madagascar was an independent kingdom to the island became the French colony in 1896. In 1958, the country was declared an independent republic in the French community.
Madagascar became independent on June 26, 1960. See abbreviationfinder for geography, history, society, politics, and economy of Madagascar.
Madagascar’s older history is more closely related to Asia than to Africa, and a minority of the island’s population is of African origin. The island’s oldest history is little known, but is linked to the evolution of trade across the Indian Ocean. There are several views on when the island was inhabited; either as far back as before our time, or as late as the 600’s or 700’s.
- COUNTRYAAH.COM: Provides latest population data about Madagascar. Lists by Year from 1950 to 2020. Also includes major cities by population.
The colonization took place through considerable immigration from the east, especially from Indonesia and Malaysia, as a result of the northern parts of Madagascar being included in the trade network between Southeast Asia, Africa and Arabia. Different parts of the island were inhabited at different times, coastal areas first and inland later; to some extent also through migration from East Africa.
Several attempts at European colonization failed, largely due to an inhospitable climate, but coastal trading stations were run, including the French Fort-Dauphin (Tôlanaro), established in 1643, and the British Saint Augustine Bay colony, established in 1645. Pirates established bases on the coast in the north and west.
European interest in Madagascar was linked, among other things, to the development of a plantation economy in La Réunion and Mauritius, which thus needed labor and food, and which was largely – partly with coercion – obtained from Madagascar. In particular, France and the United Kingdom were looking to establish a foothold on the island, but also Portugal, from its Mozambique colony on the east coast of Africa, traded in Madagascar and entered into agreements with local rulers. Arab trade interests also conducted extensive activities against Madagascar, including through the purchase of slaves. British trading interests were most active and exported to slaves Barbados and Jamaica.
The battle for control of the export of slaves and the import of weapons contributed to the rise of the Merina kingdom in the Central Highlands Plateau (Imerina) in the 19th century. A number of smaller chiefs and kingdoms had emerged in Madagascar from the 16th and 16th centuries; first in the southeast, later also in other parts of the country. These lay largely in armed conflict with each other, which contributed to the supply of slaves. The first larger and centralized kingdom was Sakalava in the west, which grew in the 18th century. Centralized governance helped the country to emerge as a single Gassian nation.
Merina strengthened its position through an alliance with the British in 1820, banning the export of slaves, receiving missionaries, and modernizing. The alliance was broken and the marinas developed an independent and self-governing board with the establishment of industrial production – based on European technology and local forced labor. From the mid-1800s, the monarchy became constitutional, and the independent state established diplomatic contact with European states.
The founder of the modern Merina kingdom was Andrianampoinimerina, who ruled from 1792-1810. He gathered the small kingdoms that were then on the plateau of one merina kingdom, and expanded it. He settled in Antananarivo, which remains Madagascar’s capital. The successor, King Radama 1 (1810-1828), is considered Madagascar’s great modernizer and entered into a friendship and trade treaty with the United Kingdom. With British help he developed a modern administration with a strong army, welcomed missionaries and Christianity and established a school system.
Under him and his successor, Queen Ranavalona 1 (1828-1861), the kingdom of Merina was expanded to include most of the island, with the exception of Mahafaly in the south and Boina in the west. She wanted to secure Madagascar independence, but came into conflict with France when she banned trade with Mauritius and La Réunion, after which France bombed two coastal cities and then claimed the island.
There are different views on the importance of the Merina kingdom in terms of creating a common national identity. A common proposition is that the development of such was due to the expansion of the marinas, which brought the country together under one government, while others believe that the kingdom created contradictions that hindered the emergence of a common, gaseous identity – and which rather brought the rest of the population through opposition to the marinas. The kingdom was weakened from the mid-1800s, partly because of armed conflict with the Sakalavas and the Barracks.
In addition to fighting for power in Madagascar, the Merina kingdom met demands from the European powers, especially France. A French expedition took the island of Nosy Boraha as well as Tintingue and Fort-Dauphin in 1818-1819. In 1845, a British-French joint squadron from La Réunion and Mauritius attacked Tamatave. When defeated Sakalava chiefs retreated to the three small islands of Nosy Be, Nosy Faly and Nosy Mitso, they asked for French protection, which was welcomed in 1841.
Several agreements between Madagascar and France were signed in the 1860s, under King Radama 2 and Queen Rasoherina. Trade with Madagascar was crucial for the French-controlled islands of the Indian Ocean. Madagascar also established trade relations with the United States; slaves were also exported there. A British-Gassian agreement of 1847 formally ended the slave trade.
Madagascar is one of the few African countries that has had a close relationship with Norway for more than a hundred years. This is primarily related to the mission activity, which can be traced back to 1866 and still has a considerable scope through the Norwegian Missionary Company. An important feature of the Norwegian mission has been the fact that its schools and denominations maintained the Gaelic language under colonial rule, as French otherwise became more prevalent. Norwegian envoys now work within an independent Gaelic Lutheran church, and their activities are spread across areas such as education, health care and agriculture.
The Norwegian Otto Christian Dahl was one of the pioneers in research on Gassian language and cultural history. Much of the Norwegian mission has originated from the city of Antsirabe, and has, among other things, contributed to agriculture and village development. Madagascar has also been a market for Norwegian shipping, which began liner shipping on the island in 1912 and which has subsequently been engaged in both liner shipping between Europe and the islands of the Indian Ocean and coastal traffic on Madagascar.
Several European great powers showed interest in Madagascar, but France and the United Kingdom, in particular, quarreled over the influence and control of the island in the latter half of the 19th century. In 1890, the British recognized France’s dominant position in the country, and in 1895 the island was occupied by France. The following year Madagascar became a French colony. The occupation met with resistance, and the Menalamba rebellion in 1895–1997 is considered one of the first national voyages against colonial rule in Africa – but is also interpreted as a struggle against the repression of the Merina kingdom.
From 1905 the entire island was under French control, and French culture, schooling and governance were introduced. The nationalist struggle, especially from the Merina people, continued, and the establishment of a Franco-Gassian Advisory Assembly in 1924 did not satisfy the demand for internal autonomy.
From 1945, Madagascar elected delegates to the French National Assembly, and from 1946 the country became an overseas territory within the French Republic. The inhabitants were thus citizens of France, but only a few had the right to vote. Many opposers were imprisoned by the colonial power, and in 1947 there was a major uproar after colonial administration failed to follow the orders of the French authorities to abolish the system of forced labor. The revolt, which was linked to the nationalist movement Mouvement Démocratique de la Rénouvation Malgache (MDRM), aimed for gaseous independence and against colonial rule in general, and was turned down. The number of fatalities is estimated to be as high as 100,000, of which about 11,000 were killed directly in the French military action.
The years following the uprising were marked by repression, but also by the development of the country’s infrastructure and economy. In 1956, general voting rights were introduced.
Madagascar, in a 1958 referendum, elected independence within the French Union, and a self-governing Gassian republic was proclaimed on October 14, 1958, led by Philibert Tsiranana of the Party of Social Democrats (PSD). On June 26, 1960, Madagascar gained full independence with Tsiranana as the country’s first president. The only opposition of significance was the radical Party of the Congres pour l’Indépendance de Madagascar (AKFM), formed in 1958.
The PSD, which led a social democratic policy with broad foreign policy contacts, clearly won the elections in 1970, and Tsiranana was the only candidate for the presidential elections in 1972. But two weeks after his re-election, riots broke out in Antananarivo, and after three days of fighting Tsiranana of and transferred the power to the Chief of Defense, General Gabriel Ramanantsoa. All elected bodies were disbanded, and a more national and radical policy was pursued. The affiliation with other radical African states became closer, and cultural policy emphasized the use of the gaseous language. Madagascar withdrew from the franc zone and terminated the agreements on French military bases on the island.
In 1975, General Ramanantsoa transferred the power to Colonel Ratsimandrava, who was assassinated six days later. The vacuum was followed by a military council and eventually Colonel Didier Ratsiraka, who was elected president through a 1975 referendum, was re-elected in 1982 and 1989. In 1976, Ratsiraka organized the Avant-garde de la Revolution Revolution Malgache (AREMA) and launched a radical socialist politics, with increased nationalism and state participation in economic life. In 1984–1985, serious clashes occurred between kung fu practitioners and the police. In 1987, new riots took place, significantly spurred by unemployment and food shortages.
From the late 1980s, a strong democracy movement emerged in Madagascar, demanding real multi-party rule and free elections. The church also played an active role, and in December 1990 the Council of Gasses, the Conseil chrétien des élises de Madagascar (FFKM), invited all political groups to a conference to discuss the work for democracy. Here, a large part of the opposition gathered in an alliance, the Forces vives (FV), which initiated mass actions for democracy. The Democracy Movement organized a mass rally in Antananarivo for half a year, and clashes between protesters and the military led to hundreds more being killed.
In the same year, a multi-party system was introduced, and a number of parties were formed, including the Union National pour le développement et la demokratie (UNDD), led by Albert Zafy. In 1991, the FV formed an alternative government, and in the power struggle between this and the sitting regime, President Ratsiraka had to give in. A transition board headed by Zafy took power and prepared elections. When the multi-party system was introduced in 1990, 120 parties lined up.
Ratsiraka lost to Zafy in the 1992 presidential election, but came back and won again in 1996. A new constitution gave the president expanded power; at the same time, a federal system was introduced, giving greater independence to the six provinces. In 2002, the country suffered its most serious constitutional crisis since independence. After the 2001 presidential election, there was disagreement over who won, with both President Ratsiraka and the top opponent, Marc Ravalomanana, announced that they had won. Ravalomanana declared himself president and resigned – without Ratsiraka relinquishing office. Ravalomanana was in Antananarivo; Ratsiraka established itself in the coastal town of Tamatave – and the country was far and away divided. Several provinces declared self-government with a view to establishing a federal state. The Gassian defense was also divided, and there was fear of civil war. After a new counting of votes, Ravalomanana was declared the winner of the election, with clashes between the parties as a result. Ratsiraka then went into exile, and in 2003 was sentenced to absentia for ten years of forced labor for corruption.
During the 2006 presidential election, Ravalomanana was re-elected. The election took place in peaceful forms, although the departed General Andrianafidisoa announced military takeover to prevent civil war, with a minor clash in a military base as a result. In a referendum in 2007, constitutional amendments that gave the president greater power were passed; at the same time, English was introduced as a third official language, next to Gassic and French. The president wrote a new election to parliament, where the reigning Tiko I Madagasikara (TIM) got a pure majority.
Madagascar has experienced political and social turmoil for several periods, and a power struggle between President Ravalomanana and the mayor of the capital Antananarivo, Andry Rajoelina, led a major uprising in January 2009. When the authorities in February dismissed the mayor after violent demonstrations, the unrest escalated. In March, Ravalomanana chose to step down, transferring power to a military triumvirate, which in turn gave power to Rajoelina. With support from the army and the Supreme Court, he was inaugurated as new president in March, promising to hold elections in October 2010.
Ravalomanana went into exile in Swaziland, and in June – in absentia – was sentenced to four years in prison and a $ 70 million fine for abuse of power. The change of power was generally perceived as a coup d’état and internationally condemned. Madagascar was suspended from the African Union and the regional cooperation organization SADC, and several countries froze aid to the country. The political crisis continued into 2009, even after a transitional government agreement was signed in August, after which Rajoelina formed a government dominated by its own supporters, to protests by, among others, Ravalomanana. A new power distribution agreement was signed in October, but rejected by Ravalomanana. A new agreement signed in November opened for the latter’s support by establishing two co-presidential positions, as a prerequisite for Rajoelina to continue as president. Former presidents Ratsiraka and Zafy also signed the agreement.
Madagascar is occasionally exposed to tropical storms, and in 2008 was hit hard by cyclone Ivan; in 2009 the cyclone Jade – both of whom claimed human lives and led to significant material destruction. Following the tsunami in 2004, efforts to establish an alert system were strengthened throughout the region.
Madagascar has a long history of foreign policy relations from before the colonial era – when the country in particular had close contacts with France, the United Kingdom and the United States. Close ties to the former colonial power of France were maintained after independence, although Madagascar – especially under Ratsiraka’s rule in the 1970s and 1980s – pursued a more radical foreign policy targeting the Indian Ocean region. At the same time, the country established close relations with the Soviet Union, partly at the expense of proximity to France. Ratsiraka held on to an alliance-free policy in principle. The strained relationship with France began to improve in the 1980s, when France was again allowed to use the naval base Antisiranana. The connections were further strengthened in the 1990s.
Not least because of Madagascar’s highly-pressed economy was the foreign policy course from the Ratsiraka regime greatly changed in the 1990s, with cooperation with South Africa, Israel, South Korea and Taiwan. At the same time, contact with several radical states was maintained. These contacts were not changed after Ratsiraka regained power, but relations with Taiwan were discontinued in favor of relations with China.
A dispute over the control of four uninhabited islands in the Mozambique Channel that France claimed was clarified in 2000, with agreement on joint administration from France, Madagascar and Mauritius. Madagascar joined the African Union in 2003 and the regional cooperation organization Southern African Development Community in 2006.
The change of power in 2009 was condemned by a number of countries, as well as by the UN and the EU. Madagascar was then suspended from the AU and SADC, while a number of countries froze aid to the country. Among states that recognized the new regime was Libya. In 2014, former finance minister Hery Rajaonarimampianina was elected president; this time, international observers considered the election credible.
Madagascar depends on foreign aid, which is estimated to make up about 60 percent of the state budget. The assistance is particularly received from France and the EU. Norway has also provided financial and technical assistance to Madagascar for a number of years, not least through the Norwegian Mission Company. In recent years, the most significant part of Norwegian aid to the country has been channeled to education, as well as to anti-corruption work.
Madagascar has also sought economic cooperation eastward to countries in Asia, including India and China, both seeking to strengthen their political and economic relations in Africa.