There was a presidential election in Madagascar on Oct. 25. Thirty-three candidates were on the ballot, and nobody got a majority. According to the Malagasy constitution, the top two vote getters must go to a runoff on Dec. 20. The biggest vote went to Jean Louis Robinson, with 21.1 percent, with Hery Rajaonarimampianina second, at 15.9 percent. Madagascar is a huge island off the East Coast of Africa, with a population of 22 million. It was first settled two thousand years ago or more by travelers from Borneo, with later additions from the African continent. Madagascar has unique flora and fauna, much of which is now threatened by expanding human economic activities. For a long time an independent kingdom, Madagascar was seized by France in 1896, and exploited as a colony. When the French empire was fatally weakened by World War II and defeats in Vietnam and Algeria, and after a large-scale mass rebellion, Madagascar got its independence in 1960.
The first highly authoritarian government, headed by Philibert Tsirinana, was little more than a continuation of French colonial rule by another name, but that government was overthrown and subsequent ones tried, like other African countries, to disentangle themselves from European control by bidding for support from the Soviet Union and its allies, as well as China.
After the fall of Soviet and Eastern European socialism, Madagascar’s trade relations have followed the same pattern as those of most other African countries; that is, the country is stuck in a pattern of having to lure “foreign direct investment” focused on tapping the subsoil wealth, by accepting trade agreements favorable to its trading partners (of which France is still the largest), and unfavorable to ordinary Malagasy citizens. The country also depends on foreign aid from international donors.
Thus, Madagascar today is one of the richest nations in the region, and one of the poorest. It has vast natural resources (gold, nickel, cobalt, petroleum), but 92 percent of its people live on $2.00 per day or less. Like other nations in Africa, vast profits are obtained by foreign corporations through the exploitation of the subsoil wealth, while ordinary Malagasy citizens eke out a living through hardscrabble farming. Weather fluctuations cause frequent famines.