By Tim Lambert

Until about 2,000 years ago Madagascar was uninhabited. Then Indonesian people arrived. About 800 AD the Arabs started sailing to Madagascar. The first European to reach Madagascar was a Portuguese called Diogo Dias in 1500. However at first Europeans showed little interest in the island although pirates used it as a base in the 17th century.

In the early 19th century a kingdom called Merina took over most of the island. Their king, Radama I established relations with the British and allowed Christian missionaries to preach to the people. However in 1890 Britain gave up all claim to Madagascar and recognised it as in the French sphere of influence. France formally annexed Madagascar in 1896.

When France surrendered to Germany in 1940 a puppet government was formed in Vichy. At first Madagascar was under the control of Vichy but in 1942 it surrendered to the British. After the war Madagascar was handed back to France. In 1947 the people of Madagascar again rose in rebellion against French rule but they were crushed. However in 1958 Madagascar became autonomous. It became completely independent on 26 June 1960. Philibert Tsiranana was the first president.

However he was forced to resign in 1972 and he was replaced by Gabriel Ramantsoa. He introduced socialism, which proved disastrous for Madagascar as it did for other countries. In 1975 he was replaced by Didier Ratsiraka. He ruled until 1991. Unfortunately Ratsiraka continued socialist policies which impoverished Madagascar even more. However in 1993 multi-party elections were held. However in 1997 Ratsiraka was elected president again. Marc Ravalomanana followed him in 2002. Ravalomanana was re-elected in 2007. However in January 2009 protests broke out against his rule. In March 2009 the army made Andry Rajoelina president. However presidential and parliamentary elections were held in 2013. Hery Rajaonarimampianina became president of Madgascar in 2014.

Meanwhile from the mid-1990s Madagascar abandoned socialism and the economy began to recover. However today Madagascar is still a very poor country. Today the population of Madagascar is 23 million.

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