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An update from Evaneos

The history and economy of the Red Island


A brief history of Madagascar

The Malagasy people are the result of a long mixing between populations come from Indonesia around 2,000 B.C.E. (imagine what the journey must have been like on the rafts of the period!) and from East Africa. Madagascar's first settlers divided into two distinct categories. The Vazimba - people of the forest - who were hunter gatherers, lived in the forest and the lands in the centre; and the Vezo - people of the coast - who were more inclined to fish, lived on the coasts.

The mixing of these two original populations would lead to the birth of 18 different ethnic groups on the Island, each with its own dialect and culture. I was very happy to have learned a few words during my stay in Antananarivo, so I was really disappointed when I realised that they were no use in the other regions...In the same way, my friends in the capital are incapable of understanding someone who lives in the bush on the south of the Island - as if people from London and Cornwall spoke different languages. You'll definitely notice the differences during your trip on the Great Island.

Numerous attempts at colonisation

Once the island was discovered by Portuguese explorers in 1500, numerous European countries tried to colonise Madagascar. The Portuguese in the 16th century, the Dutch towards the end of the 16th century, the English in the 17th and finally France, which made the island a protectorate in 1885. The country became independent in 1960 and became the Republic of Madagascar.

There then followed a period of political succession from the first president Tsiranana, to Captain Ratsiraka, Albert Zafy and Marc Ravalomanana until the last was deposed from power by the capital's mayor, Andry Rajaoelina, who instituted the "High Transitional Authority". After a long period of tension between supporters of Ravalomanana and supporters of Rajoelina, the Malagasy elected Hery Rajaonarimampianina as president.

An economy that is still developing

Madagascar is one of the poorest countries on the planet. The United Nations Development Programme classes the country in 143rd place out of 177 in terms of human development (HDI).

A major part of the country's economy is based on agriculture, which employs 70% of the active population. Rice growing occupies a large part of the cultivated ground but, paradoxically, the rice eaten there is not Madagascan rice, which is quite expensive, but Asiatic rice! Exports are basically coffee, vanilla, sugar cane and cotton.

Madagascan vanilla @FlickrccAndreaSchieber

Fishing is an important sector of the Madagascan economy, especially for prawns, which are excellent. I recommend you try eating prawns while looking at the sea on the beaches of Itampolo in the south of the Island...a real treat!

Madagascar's soil is rich in minerals and especially in rare earths that are indispensable to the construction of smartphones, solar panels and wind turbines. So the mining sector is also an important part of Madagascan industry.

Finally there is the tourist sector, which fluctuates according to the stability of the country's political situations, and which contributes to the Malagasy economy, especially when it helps local populations.

Simon Hoffmann
193 contributions
Updated 27 September 2015
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