Some news and updates before I begin, my visa finally turned up! So I am ready to head off this coming Tuesday! I’ve spent the whole week packing and repacking my bags, trying to get the correct weight. It was heartbreaking to realise that I could not take the six books that I have envisioned, especially since I have been holding back on reading some for 4 months now! I’ve had to narrow it down to three for the sake of ease, but they can always be posted over if I am desperate. Ironically, my first full day working with reef doctor will be Halloween!
Down to the cold, hard facts though, I wanted to split the history of Madagascar into two parts as the modern history is complex and fascinating enough that it deserves its own post!
By the turn of the 19th century, King Andrianampoinimerina had reunited the highly populous Merina Kingdom, located in the central highlands with its capital at Antananarivo. His son, Radama I, began to exert its authority over the island's other polities and was the first Malagasy sovereign to be recognised by a foreign power as the ruler of the greater Merina Kingdom. Of the following ruling monarchy, four of the seven rulers were women, running through a matriarchal line, with the first queen ruling for 33 years. Queen Ranavalona II and her Prime Minister, Rainilaiarivony, engaged in the process of modernisation through close diplomatic ties to Britain that led to the establishment of European-style schools, government institutions and public infrastructure. Christianity, introduced by members of the London Missionary Society, was made the state religion under her rule.
In 1890, the political wrangling between France and Britain over ownership of the island was resolved as Britain recognised France’s claim to authority, and the Malagasy Protectorate was formed, meant to control the foreign affairs of the kingdom, though it was unrecognised by the Madagascan government. The French launched two military campaigns known as the Franco-Hova Wars to force submission, finally capturing the capital in September 1895. This sparked the widespread Menalamba Rebellion against French rule that was crushed in 1897; the monarchy was held responsible and dissolved, and the queen and her entourage exiled to Reunion and later Algeria, where she died in 1917. In French Madagascar, Malagasy were required to fulfil corvée (unpaid, unfree) labour on French-run plantations, which generated high revenues for the colonial administration. Opportunities for Malagasy to access education or skilled positions within the colonial structure was limited, although some basic services like schools and clinics were extended to coastal areas for the first time. Though slavery was abolished by the French in 1896, freeing approximately 500,000 slaves, corvée labour was introduced to be the “stimulus required to make an inherently lazy people work” for instance, every male among the Hovas, from the age of sixteen to sixty, had either to pay twenty-five francs a year, or give fifty days of labour of nine hours a day. In an inherently poor country, many were forced to labour to be paid twenty centimes, “a sum sufficient to feed him”.
Many Malagasy were conscripted to fight for France in World Wars I and II, and during the latter Madagascar came under Vichy (Nazi-controlled French) control before being captured and held by the British in the Battle of Madagascar. In 1944, Charles de Gaulle gave colonies the status of overseas territory and the right to representatives in the French National Assembly; when a bill for Madagascar's independence was not passed, militant nationalists led an unsuccessful Malagasy Uprising (1947–1948), during which the French military committed atrocities that deeply scarred the population. The country gained full independence from France in 1960 in the wake of decolonisation.
Under the leadership of President Philibert Tsiranana, Madagascar's First Republic (1960–1972) was established as a democratic system modelled on that of France. This period was characterised by continued economic and cultural dependence upon France, provoking resentment and sparking the numerous student and farmer protests. This ultimately ushered in the socialist Democratic Republic of Madagascar under Admiral Didier Ratsiraka(1975–1992) distinguished by economic isolationism and political alliances with pro-Soviet states. As Madagascar's economy quickly unravelled, standards of living declined dramatically and growing social unrest was increasingly met with violent repression on the part of the Ratsiraka government. By 1992, free and fair multiparty elections were held, ushering in the democratic Third Republic (1992–2009). Under the new constitution, the Malagasy public elected three successive presidents, the final one ousted in the 2009 Malagasy political crisis by Andry Rajoelina in what was widely characterised as a coup d'état. Rajoelina then ushered in the Malagasy constitutional referendum, in 2010 and ruled Madagascar as president of the High Transitional Authority, without recognition from the international community.
On December 20, 2013, elections were held to elect a new president and return the country to constitutional governance. Madagascar has since started slowly improving and developing with the aid of the international community and a more stable government.
Next time; My travel troubles (if any) and first few days in Madagascar!