About 140 million years ago Madagascar is believed to have detached itself from Africa to the west and India to the east. The numerous indigenous forms of the island testify to its isolation.
The first men to arrive on the island were most likely of Indonesian and Malay origin, from which descend those Malagasy ethnicities with the Asian-Indonesian features, such as the Merina. From Africa came migrations of Bantu peoples which thus gave rise to ethnic groups such as the Sakalava and the Bara.
The Arabs, who arrived in Madagascar before the Europeans, founded settlements mainly with the intent to market slaves. The Arab influences in the local populations have handed down elements in the Malagasy culture both in terms of some astrological practices and in names. The Malagasy ethnic groups of the Antemoro and Antanosy descend from the Arabs.
The Europeans came after the Arabs to Madagascar, even Marco Polo in the Million cites Madagascar as a mysterious and still unknown island. The island was sighted by Diogo Dias, taken off course by a storm; later Portuguese, French and Dutch tried to create settlements in Madagascar, with many difficulties due to diseases and other elements.
With colonialism and the consequent growth in the demand for slaves by Europe, the internal balance of the country became fragile, so much so that some Malagasy began to trade slaves for gold and weapons. These riches led to the formation of the first kingdoms, such as the kingdoms of Menabe and Boina in the west by the Sakalavas; while the kingdom of the Betsimisaraka was unified by the Zaina-Malata.
Subsequently the kingdom of Merina was added, unified under the reign of Andrianampoinimerina and the capital was located in Antananarivo. His successor Radama I, by making agreements with the British through which he obtained their military and economic support, hindered the presence of the French. Radama I became the first ruler of the Kingdom of Madagascar.
In the context of the colonial partition of Africa in 1885, the British renounced any claim to Madagascar, leaving the French completely free. In that same year France declared Madagascar its own protectorate.
In the Second World War, Malagasy troops also fought in France, Syria and Morocco. When France ended up in the hands of the Germans, Madagascar consequently came under the control of the Vichy government. In 1942 Madagascar was invaded by the British who guaranteed the maintenance of French sovereignty on the island.
In 1947 a revolt, brutally nipped, attempted to drive the French away. There is talk of about 100.000 victims. In 1958 the Republic of Madagascar was born within the Communauté Française and finally on June 26, 1960 Madagascar became independent with Philibert Tsiranana as its first president.
Tsiranana followed a pro-French policy causing discontent in the population. After a period of transition, new president Didier Ratsiraka was elected who changed the state and foreign policy in a pro-Soviet direction. His party was the only one legally recognized and press freedom was also significantly reduced.
In the 1980s the regime faltered, so Ratsiraka changed his policy until the first multi-party elections were called. Until 2001 Ratsiraka and his rival Albert Zafy took turns in power.
In 2001 the elections ended on charges of fraud and armed clashes. Marc Ravalomanana won. But in 2009 a new coup took place at the hands of opposition leader Andry Rajoelina.
The European Union, the African Union and the UN opposed the political victory achieved by force.
After years of transitional government that brought Madagascar to extreme poverty, the new president Hery Rajaonarimampianina was elected in January 2013.
In 2018, however, the outgoing president was not reconfirmed in the elections which saw a close head between the two previous presidents, namely Marc Ravalomanana and Andry Rajoelina. As of January 2019, the incumbent president is Andry Rajoelina; the country has rediscovered a stability it had long lacked, however it remains very poor with a percentage of over 70% of the population living below the poverty line. The economy is growing and the employment rate is rising, but the income per capita still remains among the lowest in the world. One of the leading sectors of the economy is tourism, blocked due to the Covid-19 pandemic, with serious repercussions on the socio-economic situation of the country.