Madagascar was ruled by royalty until the French invaded in 1895. It remained a French colony until achieving full independence in 1960, following a bloody uprising thirteen years previously.
For most of the next forty years, a former military man named Didier Ratsiraka held tight to the reins of power. He imposed his own brand of Christian-Marxism but his socialist policies led to a spectacular collapse of the economy.
In the early 2000s, a businessman and former mayor of Antananarivo – Marc Ravalomanana – took over the presidency after achieving a narrow electoral victory, which Ratsiraka initially refused to accept.
There followed seven years of impressive economic growth for Madagascar under Ravalomanana’s leadership, accompanied by extensive development such as road building. The international community was impressed by the president’s resolve to triple the protected areas of the country to around 10%.
Sadly, during his second term in office, he began to abuse his position for personal gain and public opinion turned against him. A young former DJ named Andry Rajoelina seized this opportunity to topple Ravalomanana in a coup d’état. Rajoelina successfully forced Ravalomanana into exile and appointed himself leader.
Between 2009 and 2014, Madagascar had no internationally recognised government. Most international aid was stopped, living standards across the country dropped, the economy backpedalled and the security situation worsened.
Rajoelina’s stated aim was to organise democratic elections, but it soon became clear that he had no intention of giving up power. During those five years he dragged his feet and deliberately derailed plans each time election dates were set, whilst hurrying through constitutional changes that would favour him as a presidential candidate.
Eventually he realised that the international community would never accept him as rightful president, even if he were to win free and fair democratic elections. He decided to change tack and put forward a proxy candidate called Hery Rajaonarimampianina.
Elections went ahead in late 2013 and Rajaonarimampianina won, having spent eye-watering sums on campaigning (thought to have come from the sale of vast quantities of illegally logged rosewood timber to China). He assumed the presidency in January 2014, with Rajoelina presumed to have his eye on making a Putin-esque move to the prime ministerial position in due course.