Land of pirates, kings, slaves and settlers, Madagascar eventually gained its independence.
But its contemporary history seems as chaotic as its past times…
Madagascar, the world’s fifth largest island (587 295 km2), got separated from the African continent about 120 million years ago.
Although today the country is made up of several ethnic groups, its first inhabitants came from the Indonesian archipelago and from East Africa (bantu) 2000 years ago. It's true that the appearance of the Malagasy is reminiscent of the African and Indonesian facies.
Exceptional flora and fauna, but in danger
All the periods in the history of the planet can be found on this concentration of nature, which allows to observe reliefs and formations dating from the night of the times.
Its isolation over geological times has made its flora and fauna evolve in a unique way. Lemurs are just one example : 80 to 90% of the species on the island don't exist anywhere else in the world. But outside protected areas, intensive deforestation is a serious threat.
Land of pirates, kings and slaves
The first European to discover, by chance, this land off the coast of Africa, is a Portuguese, Captain Diogo Dias. But he just stays on the coast and doesn’t get into the territory.
The Europeans end up investing the country, for the worse : they introduce firearms, and slavery. Attracted by the goods of the French East India Company, piracy developed. They attack ships carrying goods from India to Europe.
Two rival ethnic groups, the Sakalavas in the west and the Merina (or mernes) on the rest of the island, control their respective kingdom.
Trade in the Indian Ocean is shared between the French and the English.
The Merina opened a time for the latter to extend their authority on the island : weapons against slaves. They allow the missionaries to spread their good words, while a beginning of industry emerges.
King Radama I established a fruitful collaboration with Europeans in terms of teaching. Fascinated by Napoleon, he went so far as to wear a uniform that owed him the nickname of “ parrot ".
Alcoholic and suffering from syphilis, he committed suicide in a delirium tremens crisis.
Ranavalona, the "female Caligula"
But if the King of Merina was very conciliatory with the Europeans, thus allowing his country to modernize, his widow (and first cousin), will be much less so…
Ranavalona means " calm and smooth as water ": nothing could describe the character less well.
" The Crowned Ogress ", the " Nero or Caligula female " takes power at her death (whereas no woman had previously occupied this position) and distrusts the sneaky influence of the English. Aware that her country needs their teaching and a new educational system – she herself is poorly educated – she instead rejects the Christianity of missionaries, which calls into question the royal “ heavenly ” power, based on the worship of the Malagasy gods and thus its own power.
These Christians preached equality, brotherhood, the abolition of slavery and mocked royal ideas.
Missionaries seek to capture the soul of my people in the name of their own ancestor.(...) I break their weapons, I reject their ships, but they secretly return to corrupt us from within.
Ranavalo, Reine cruelle. Pierre Sogno
She killed between 20,000 and 30,000 of her opponents a year, hunted down and massacred Malagasy converts to Christianity who were considered traitors to the homeland, and expelled the English.
If the defense of the independence threatened of the country legitimizes certain practices, others, exercised in the name of respect for the customs of the ancestors, are much less so : it would have restored the horrible custom of abandoning babies born on a bad day (I have found only one source on this subject so be careful…however this custom was abandoned in the 19th century) and revive the slave trade, among which the members of the hostile enslaved tribes.
Trials of the tanguin and sacrifices of zebus in bulk quantities, arbitrary executions and tortures, the queen well deserves her nicknames.
I feel no shame or fear about the customs of my ancestors.
It's possible to visit the Queen’s Palace in the capital Antananarivo, from where you can enjoy a panorama of the city and its rice fields from its 1430 m of altitude. Former royal garrison, the palace gave its name to the city, Antananarivo meaning the « City of the Thousand » (soldiers).
Jean Laborde, the Adventurer
Relations with Europeans were frozen for a while until a frenchman entered the sovereign’s fold – and, incidentally, into his bed – Jean Laborde. This self-taught adventurer, landed on the shores of the country at the age of 26 following a shipwreck, became the first consul of France and brought to the country in need of modernization of new industrial techniques. He produced soap, porcelain, metal tools, firearms, and built the queen’s palace in Antananarivo.
In these times when Europeans are no longer in the odor of sanctify, it represents a huge boon for Franco-Malagasy relations.
The atmosphere relaxed, and missionaries tried to return to Madagascar, disguised as doctors. In 1857, the queen’s own son, Radama II, who had been secretly baptized, fomente a coup d'état under the influence of Laborde. Missed. All Europeans, including Laborde, were expelled.
In spite of the ruin of his possessions, Laborde really wished to inscribe his destiny in Mada (he even had his tomb built there). Waiting for only one thing; returning to the Red Island, he went into exile in Reunion Island and Mauritius, waiting for better days. Which will arrive with the death of the queen and the rise on the throne of his son Radama II. Laborde then becomes consul of France. Then began the first era of French colonization, with the French Company of Madagascar, up to that of the English, following the assassination of the young king. Laborde will die in Mada and receive a state funeral.
A contemporary Malagasy expression even quotes him : « Manao an’i Laborde tsy ho vazaha » qui signifie « Pretend Laborde is not vazaha (a white man) ». In other words, the naive person who believes that an individual can change
The king « traitor to his own country »
Radama II has a radically different policy from his mother. Much more liberal towards Europeans – that is to say, the French – he abolished the death penalty, freed slaves, proclaimed freedom of worship and reduced the length of military service. But his reforms, however fair they may be, are considered dangerous for sovereignty and out of step with the country’s economic realities. He was strangled two years later, accused of selling Madagascar to the Europeans, which was not entirely false : for example, he granted a French man the exclusive right to exploit the country’s north.
The French colonization and independence struggles
History will prove Queen Ranavalona right at least on one point : in 1896 Madagascar became a French colony. If colonization has enabled the country to acquire infrastructure (railways, medical school, road network) and to abolish slavery, it loots in exchange its resources : its wood, its spices, its vanilla. Malagasy rebels with weapons on several occasions, more than 89,000 men will be killed.
The Madagaskar Projekt
World War II. Germans are convinced to defeat France and the United Kingdom. The 3rd Reich must find a solution to its « Jewish » problem, that is to say, where to move these unwanted populations. If France becomes German, its colonies will also become, but among them there is a vast territory where could be shipped nearly 4 to 5 million European Jews : Madagascar. It was a great plan according to Himmler, Reinhard Heydrich, and Hitler himself. This could have been done if the United Kingdom hadn't put up so much resistance and prevented the Germans from taking control of the Atlantic shipping routes.
It was thus planned to transform 500,000 square kilometers of the island into a ghetto, where the Jews would have been parked after being robbed. The ships would then have replaced the trains, for a destination that is certainly just as bad.
The entry into war of Germany against the USSR definitively buries the Madagascar Plan : the deportations will be organized towards the East. And the Final Solution applied…
The Malagasy Republic : power struggles, schemes, and pathetism
In 1960, the Malagasy Republic was established and independence was proclaimed, along with many African countries. Philibert Tsiranana, the “ father of independence ” becomes the first president of the country. He lays the foundations for “Malagasy socialism”.
Between real fake dictators, electoral fraud and coups d'état, the country’s political aftermath is bleak and explains its current state of poverty. It’s clearly bullshit
Didier Ratsiraka, the red Amiral
In the land of corruption, elections are often controversial. From 1975 to 1991, Didier Ratsiraka ruled as a dictator over the Democratic Republic of Madagascar. His highly Marxist (so-called Red Admiral) policy is a disaster, the effects of which are still noticeable today. The economy collapsed, public debt is exploding, investors are withdrawing, economic activity is deteriorating, Madagascar is among the poorest countries in the world.
« Deplorable state of health, bankrupt economy, widespread misery : after the dream years, those of the nightmares had come? One thing was certain, I would soon know the director of this tragedy: President Ratsiraka. He was the great conductor of what is today considered a real disaster ! »
Father Pedro, Combattant de l’espérance (Fighter of hope)
The people no longer want him and rise up. He will have to cede power in 2001 to Marc Ravalomanana, in a strange atmosphere : between accusation of falsification of the election results and self-proclamation of the presidency, two sides, two potential presidents clash after the elections, each with its supporters. The former president would have to yield and go into exile in France (in Neuilly). He will be sentenced in absentia to 10 years of forced labor and 10 million Malagasy francs, but amnestied. This won't deter him from running again in the 2013 elections and winning them. Until he was dethroned by the mayor of the capital, Marc Ravalomanana.
The documentary of Public Senat channel retraces the episodes of the "7 months of chaos" during which the country was turned upside down :
Marc Ravalomanana, the (disappointed) promise of a new Madagascar
This industrialist, who for a time embodied the hope of renewal and real change in the country, is full of contradiction. He promises to democratize the country. This doesn't prevent him from controlling the Malagasy audiovisual sector and expelling foreign journalists who disturb him…The country is poor, but he wants to buy a $60,000,000 presidential jet and exempt his agri-food group, TIKO, from paying taxes. He creates organizations to fight corruption (laughter) and money laundering, but awards a contract to a company in his group, for a very very good price.
He had supporters of his opponent shot down in front of the presidential palace. His excesses are no longer tolerated. In 2009, the multiplication of bloody demonstrations and looting forced him to resign and go into exile. However, he managed to return home and was preparing for the election in late 2018.
Andry Rajoelina, the (p)résident dj
Andry Rajoelina, former DJ turned channel boss and mayor of Tana calls himself president of the « High Transitional Authority » after having carried out actions to fire Ravalomanana. He managed to extract 10 million euros from France (Sarkozy), to help the country. With many twists and turns worthy of an American political series, he will remain at the head of the country, which is still as poor, if not worse. Natural resources have never been so plundered. Elected in 18 January 2019 for a second mandate, he is the actual president of the country;
Hery Rajaonarimampianina, the traffickers' friend
Elected on 25 January 2014.
Well, it won’t be with this one yet… He has as skeleton in his closet than syllables in his name.
In 2015, members of Parliament tried to remove this former Red Admiral Finance Minister, but failed. In 2017, his special adviser, involved in several corruption cases (embezzlement of public funds, abuse of office and favoritism in the awarding of public contracts), was incarcerated.
In short, nothing changes….
Credit photo @La Tribune de Diego - 2018
The rose wood, a lucrative business
Madagascar has exceptional resources in its forests, sometimes threatened by cyclones and floods. But above all by the greed of men. Among these endangered species is rose wood, which is used in the manufacture of furnitures, musical instruments, and whose oil is used in the composition of certain perfumes. All harvesting, trade and export of this wood have been banned in Mada since 2010. However, President Rajaonarimampianina doesn't seem to be burdened with these ecological considerations and doesn't want to turn his back on the rich traffickers of this illegal trade, who supported his election, the very people who got rich in the same way during the Rajoelina era. So he turns a blind eye to their activities, which are very lucrative thanks to the Chinese market. Until there is no more Malagasy rose wood… We wonder what the Malagasy Minister of Ecology is made for.
The contemporary history of the island is hopeless. The leaders follow one another and are alike. Everything in their pocket, nothing for the people, beyond what the communication forces them to concede. As Rivo, a young Malagasy driver, explains, the situation improves before the elections and deteriorates afterwards.
Madagascar is still one of the poorest countries in the world. The wealth of the country’s natural resources is at odds with the poverty of its inhabitants. A corrupt political class to the bone, police officers fleeing to avoid bakshish, basements exploited by foreign companies but which Malagasy – apart from politicians – don't benefit.
Many Western investors land in Madagascar with the sole concern of profitability. They compete with each other to appropriate the country’s assets, despite the obstacles set by the Malagasy state; some corrupt officials, others try to intimidate them (…).
But also a crying lack of infrastructure, children having to walk for hours to get to school, the pest that still plagues in the summer…
Hard to believe in the 21st century.
Our driver improvised a pick-up for schoolchildren, to save them hours of walking under the sun.
It's less dangerous for a shepherd to keep lean sheep than for a king to have hungry subjects.