A Brief History of Madagascar

By Tim Lambert

Early Madagascar

Until about 2,000 years ago Madagascar was uninhabited. Then the 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.

Queen Ranavalona (1828-1861) tried to stop the spread of Christianity in Madagascar. She also tried to preserve independence from European powers. However, in 1890 Britain gave up all claims to Madagascar and recognized it as in the French sphere of influence. France formally annexed Madagascar in 1896.

Modern Madagascar

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 Ramanantsoa. He introduced socialism, which proved disastrous for Madagascar. In 1975 he was replaced by Didier Ratsiraka. He ruled until 1991. Unfortunately, Ratsiraka continued socialist policies that 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 Madagascar 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 but its economy is growing steadily. In 2024 the population of Madagascar was 29 million.


Last Revised 2024