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Useful Notes / Madagascar

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King Julien: Welcome to Madagascar.
Marty: Mada-who-ah?
Julien: No. Not who-ah. As-car.

A big island east of Mozambique, Madagascar is a unique East African country. Once upon a time, a long ago, the Indian subcontinent was firmly attached to Africa. They of course split, and most of the subcontinent drifted off to bang into Asia...but some bits and pieces of the old united continent remained, and Madagascar is the largest. Since this happened at about the same time as the Cretaceous-Paleogene extinction event (you know, the one that killed off the dinosaurs and something like 75% of all species then living), this meant that when life got back on its feet, the island developed its own biodiversity, completely different of the rest of the world.

The country is also unique culturally in Africa. Unlike the rest of the continent, Madagascar was settled by the Malagasy people, speakers of an Austronesian language, specifically part of the Malayo-Polynesian group who had come across the Indian Ocean in ships, much as their Polynesian relatives crossed the Pacific. The closest relatives to the Malagasy language are on Borneo (of all places). In any case, the Malagasy brought with them crops and livestock (e.g. bananas, taro, and pigs) from Southeast Asia, which is climatically quite similar to Madagascar and East Africa; it is hypothesized that contact with the Malagasy and their crops helped the Bantu colonize eastern and southern Africa (they had been having trouble before then, as their West African crops weren't always well-suited to the East African climate, and their cattle—their only large animal—kept succumbing to sleeping sickness).


The island has had all kinds of governments: a bunch of tribes, a kingdom, part of The French Colonial Empire and it was also administrated by the Vichy regime. Then it was taken by the Allies in the Battle of Madagascar.

After independence in 1960 it was governed by Philibert Tsiranana who, despite trying to disguise an authoritarian government as some sort of “benevolent schoolmaster” type of president, brought development to the country. However, his unpopular government was toppled and the country became an isolationist Soviet satellite until 1991.

A popular uprising in 2009 eventually devolved into the military taking command of the country and putting Andry Rajoelina, mayor of Antananarivo, in charge (the youngest head of state in Africa, not even having 40). The government is not recognized internationally, being regarded as an illegitimate coup d’état. The country was even suspended from the African Union, which is weird, considering the fact that a LOT of other presidents in Africa (including the actual president of the Union) are dictators too. Maybe they just like to keep the status quo.


Economically, Madagascar has gone from bad to worse, and most of the country barely lives on less than US$2 per day. Most of the money is made off the tourism industry; considering the island is like a completely different world, it's understandable.

Unfortunately, Madagascar is also known for having what amounts to an environmental holocaust. Despite its status as a biodiversity hotspot, with much of its flora and fauna found nowhere else on the planet, deforestation is rampant. This has caused widespread erosion as the island's reddish soil washes into the sea during rainstorms, making it look in satellite photos like the island is bleeding. It has also led to the extinction or endangering of many of its unique plants and animals.

It seems the people chose to forget they were once a French Colony, as now only a few people and some parts of the government still speak French. Most of the population speaks Malagasy, the local language. Theoretically, if you speak French, you can still manage to get around. There was a brief attempt in the 2000's to introduce English to the country, but was dropped by the military government.

World War II scholars might know of the Madagascar Plan. During the first years of the war, the Nazi government suggested that all the Jews in Europe could be deported to Madagascar, where they could presumably form their own Zionist society isolated from the rest of the world (with supervision of Germany, of course). Eventually it was all dropped, maybe because it sounded too cruel.

And no, there are no penguins on Madagascar.note  Also, contrary to what Pandemic and similar games might have told you, Madagascar is actually the world's capital of the plague, totaling several hundred cases and several dozen deaths every year—up to 85% of the world's total. Not to mention that if you somehow managed to close off all of the island's ports and airports, it would still leave several thousand miles of coastline unmonitored, rendering the country's borders as secure as a single sheet of wet one-ply toilet paper.

The Malagasy flag

The white vertical band and the red upper half drive from the colors of the Merina Kingdom, the island's last political entity prior to colonization, and also symbolize its roots in Southeast Asia (due to their visual similarity to the colors of Indonesia), and the green lower half symbolizes the Hova, the islands' caste of free commoners who were instrumental in the overthrow of French rule.


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