Madagascar Human Rights - History

Madagascar Human Rights - History

The constitution provides for freedom of expression, including for the press, but these “may be limited by the respect for the freedoms and rights of others, and by the imperative of safeguarding public order, national dignity, and state security.” The government sometimes restricted these rights. The communication code includes a number of provisions limiting freedom of speech and expression. The code also grants broad powers to the government to deny media licenses to political opponents, seize equipment, and impose fines.

The government arrested journalists and activists who had publicly denounced misbehaviors of public authorities. The government often used unrelated charges to prosecute them.

Freedom of Expression: Although the constitution provides for freedom of speech, the communication code restricts such speech when it infringes on the freedoms or rights of others, endangers public order, or is believed to undermine national dignity or the security of the state. The law restricts individuals’ ability to criticize the government publicly.

On June 24, the Court of Toamasina sentenced environmental activist Clovis Razafimalala to five years’ imprisonment (suspended) and fined him and three persons accused with him 50 million ariary ($15,500). He was held in pretrial detention since September 2016 for incitement to rebellion and looting, accused of having called for a riot against suspected rosewood trafficker Eric Besoa, a local power broker. Razafimalala announced during a press conference in Antananarivo on August 11 that he planned to submit an appeal to the Court of Cassation. He reiterated to press the absence of any evidence of his alleged participation in destruction of public files and property. Fellow activists and Amnesty International called the judgement intimidation meant to silence Razafimalala.

Press and Media Freedom: The communications code contains several articles limiting press and media freedoms. For example, Article 85 requires the owner of a media company to be the chief publisher. This article may permit the harassment of potential opposition presidential candidates, many of whom were also media owners.

Although defamation is not a criminal offense in the communications code, a separate cyber criminality law allows for the charge of criminal defamation for anything published online. It is unclear whether the cyber criminality law, which includes prison sentences for online defamation, has precedence over the 2015 communications code, as all newspapers are also published online. The fines allowed for offenses under the new communications code are many times higher than the average journalist’s annual salary.

The new code gives the communications ministry far-reaching powers to suspend media licenses and seize property of media outlets if one of their journalists commits two infractions of the code. Finally, the new code allows only state-owned radio and television stations the right to broadcast nationally, although this limitation was not always enforced.

The country had numerous independent newspapers. More than 300 radio and television stations operated in the country, although many shifted to live call-in shows in recent years to distance themselves from editorial responsibility for content. Many of them continued to have a national audience, in spite of the legal limitations set by the new code. Nevertheless, limitations on private media existed. In May 2016 Joel Ralaivaohita, vice president of the Association for Cyber Journalists, stated that reporters were expected to reflect the views of media owners. He also stated that new television or radio channels could open only if they expressed political views supporting the government.

Violence and Harassment: On May 5, under the order of the Court of Ihosy, gendarmes from Fianarantsoa arrested journalist Fernand Cello in Antananarivo. Cello was sued for check theft, forgery, and falsification of documents by the electricity company in Ilakaka, whose owner was reputed to be close to local authorities. A few days earlier, Cello had taken part in a press conference in Antananarivo denouncing illicit sapphire mining in Ilakaka and alleged the involvement of local authorities. On May 8, the Court of Ihosy placed Cello under committal order and refused a request for temporary release submitted by his lawyers for poor health. On September 27, he was sentenced to two years’ imprisonment, suspended, and fined 720,000 ariary ($220). His trial on the defamation charge was pending.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Journalists practiced self-censorship, and authors generally published books of a political nature abroad.

An online media outlet reported that, on February 27, on the way back from the airport in Mahajanga, a vehicle used by the security detail of President Rajaonarimampianina collided with a bus, causing five injuries. ‎Other elements of the security detail reportedly forced local journalists to erase all of their photos and footage, but journalists still decided to cover the stories. A private television used third party footage to illustrate its account.

Libel/Slander Laws: There were several reports of government authorities using libel, slander, or defamation laws to restrict public discussion.

On June 22, Antananarivo police questioned the publication manager and chief editor of the private newspaper Freenews after Senate President Honore Rakotomanana accused him of defamation. A few days before the police hearing, the newspaper issued an article accusing the president of the Senate of building a very expensive villa in a suburb of the capital city. Lalatiana Rakotondrazafy, owner of the newspaper and losing mayoral candidate in Antananarivo, claimed procedural irregularities in the investigation, asserting that a press offense, not qualified as a crime in the communications code, could not be handled by the criminal police. Rakotondrazafy was well known for her criticism of the ruling party.

INTERNET FREEDOM

The government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet, and there were no credible reports the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority.

A 2014 cybercrime law prohibits insulting or defaming a government official online. According to Reporters without Borders, “the law’s failure to define what is meant by ‘insult’ or ‘defamation’ leaves room for very broad interpretation and major abuses.” The law provides for punishment of two to five years’ imprisonment and a fine of two million to 100 million ariary ($618 to $30,900) for defamation. Following criticism from the media and international community, the government promised to revise the law, but kept it unchanged in the new communications code.

Public access to the internet was limited mainly to urban areas. According to the International Telecommunication Union, 4.7 percent of the population used the internet in 2015.

Political groups, parties, and activists used the internet extensively to advance their agendas, share news, and criticize other parties. Observers generally considered the internet among the more reliable sources of information.

On March 7, the Court of Antananarivo sentenced Hiary Rapanoelina, an artist and administrator of a Facebook “gossip” page, to one year in prison. Based on an anonymous threat posted on the page, a parliamentarian and several artists sued Rapanoelina for defamation and for threatening to kidnap the child of the parliamentarian. The case was prosecuted under the cybercrime law, and Rapanoelina served six months in prison despite the complainants’ having withdrawn charges. On September 8, the court of appeal suspended the remainder of his one-year sentence and Rapanoelina was released.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

There were no government restrictions on academic freedom or cultural events.


Madagascar 2020

The COVID-19 pandemic had a devastating impact on access to food. Gender-based violence remained widespread, and increasing numbers of women and girls underwent unsafe abortions. A woman faced imprisonment for consensual same-sex relations. Tens of thousands of people, including hundreds of children, were subjected to prolonged pre-trial detention in appalling conditions. The right to freedom of expression was restricted, and the authorities imposed measures to prevent broadcasters from sharing information about COVID-19.

Background

On 22 March, the President declared a state of emergency in view of the COVID-19 outbreak. It was extended periodically until 18 October.


Madagascar Human Rights - History

The political situation in Madagascar is far from improving, after several unsuccessful attempts from national, regional and international mediators to resolve the political crisis during more than a year.

The cases of human rights violations have been much less publicised than the power struggles among the proponents of the political crisis, not only because such information is not of the kind that the authorities would like to publicise, but also because it has not attracted the attention of the international mediators involved in the protracted process for the resolution of the political crisis, nor that of the mainstream media.

Thus, very few local newspapers have reported on the ongoing campaign by human rights defenders for the immediate release of the so-called 'political detainees' who had been arrested by the police during the street demonstrations of September 2009 and had been waiting in vain for eighth months for their cases to be addressed.


Contents

The Malagasy government's anti-trafficking law enforcement efforts diminished over the years, as it reported no investigations or prosecutions of trafficking offenders. Anti-Trafficking Law No. 2007-038 prohibits all forms of human trafficking, though it only prescribes punishments for sex trafficking these range from two years' to life imprisonment, penalties that are sufficiently stringent and commensurate with those prescribed for other serious crimes, such as rape. Article 262 of the Labor Code criminalizes labor trafficking, for which it prescribes inadequate penalties of one to three years' imprisonment. Decree 2007-563 prohibits and prescribes minimal punishments of up to two years' imprisonment for various forms of child trafficking, including prostitution, domestic servitude, and forced labor. The government has yet to use its anti-trafficking law to punish traffickers. Poor coordination among ministries, a lack of data sharing between officials at regional and national levels, and the lack of a presidential decree codifying and mandating its use at the provincial level hindered the law's implementation. The government did not investigate or prosecute cases of forced labor during the reporting period. [1]

The Government of Madagascar nominally suspended the work of several employment agencies implicated in human trafficking during the year, but did not follow through on its commitment to conduct inspections of these businesses. In November 2009, the government instituted a ban on sending workers to Lebanon, but it was poorly implemented, possibly due to complicity of high-ranking government officials up to 10 labor recruitment agencies were reportedly owned by civil servants in the Ministry of Labor. Government officials also reportedly assist unlicensed recruitment agencies in obtaining fraudulent travel documents. Anecdotal evidence indicates there was also official complicity in permitting organized child prostitution rings to operate, particularly in Nosy Be. Local police remained hesitant to pursue child sex trafficking and child sex tourism offenses, possibly because of deep-rooted corruption, pressures from the local community, or fear of an international incident. The government took no action against official complicity in human trafficking during the reporting period. [1]

The Malagasy government made weak efforts to ensure that victims were provided access to necessary services and it did not operate specific victim assistance programs. The majority of trafficking victims identified in 2009 were assisted by NGO-run centers. Madagascar lacks procedures to proactively identify trafficking victims among vulnerable populations or refer victims for care. However, the Ministry of Health's local-level Child Rights Protection Networks – which grew through a partnership with UNICEF to include 761 communes in 2009 – brought together government institutions, law enforcement, and NGOs to partially fill this role. These networks coordinated child protection activities, identified and reported abuse cases, and assisted some trafficking victims in accessing social and legal services. Victims who returned from Lebanon were immediately confined to a psychiatric institution and not provided with appropriate social or legal services. Madagascar's honorary consul in Beirut made limited attempts to mediate with labor agencies and refer Malagasy victims to a Beirut-based NGO shelter. The government sent an official from its embassy in Paris to Beirut to research the abuse of Malagasy domestic workers in Lebanon, but did not take measures to initiate bilateral engagement with the Government of Lebanon regarding protection of and legal remedies for exploited workers. The government did not penalize trafficking victims for unlawful acts committed as a direct result of their being trafficked, but did not show evidence that it encouraged them to assist in the investigation and prosecution of their exploiters. The government did not provide legal alternatives to the removal of victims to countries where they would face hardship or retribution. [1]

The government's efforts to prevent trafficking decreased during the year, particularly in the area of public awareness raising. The President's Inter-Ministerial Anti-Trafficking Committee ceased functioning in early 2009. The government's Antananarivo-based Manjary Soa Center withdrew an unknown number of children from the worst forms of child labor and provided them with education or vocational training. Two additional centers opened in Toliara and Toamasina in 2009 and were the only programs fully funded by the government to combat child labor. Although nine Regional Committees to Fight Child Labor worked to increase coordination among government entities, NGOs, and ILO/IPEC under the framework of the National Action Plan for the Fight Against Child Labor, the Ministry of Labor's five child labor inspectors were insufficient to cover areas beyond Antananarivo or in informal economic sectors. The ministry conducted no complaint-driven child labor inspections and provided no information on incidences of child labor, if any, uncovered during regular inspections. The government continued to distribute to arriving international passengers fliers and a customs booklet containing a full-page warning of the consequences of child sex tourism. In 2009, the government charged a French national with rape and corruption of a minor after he paid for sex acts with several young girls. [1]


2018 Madagascar Human Rights Report

Madagascar is a semipresidential democratic republic with a popularly elected president, a bicameral legislature (Senate and National Assembly), prime minister, and cabinet. A presidential election was held November 7, with a two-candidate run-off on December 19. Independent observers judged the election as generally free and fair, despite irregularities in the campaign including allegations of voter suppression. The winner was not formally announced before year’s end. The National Assembly was elected in 2013. Nationwide municipal elections in 2015 allowed for the subsequent indirect election of the Senate. These elections were peaceful and deemed generally free and fair by international observers.

Civilian authorities at times did not maintain effective control over the security forces.

Human rights issues included arbitrary or unlawful killings by government security force agents torture by government agents arbitrary detention by government agents harsh and life-threatening prison and detention center conditions political prisoners substantial interference with the right of peaceful assembly pervasive corruption trafficking in persons lack of accountability in cases involving violence against women and children, in part from government negligence and use of child labor.

The government rarely prosecuted or punished officials who committed abuses, whether in the security forces or elsewhere in the government, and impunity remained a problem.


Violations of human rights in Madagascar

Item 3: Promotion and protection of all human rights, civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights, including the right to development. Written statement by CETIM.

Since independence in 1960, political life in Madagascar has been disrupted by several attempted coups. On 17 March 2009, the then mayor of the capital, Andry Rajoelina (1974), took power by force, plunging the country into an endless political crisis. Although the African Union tried to find a consensual and inclusive political agreement to end the crisis, a transitional regime, strongly dominated by the coup leaders and their allies, was established in 2010.

The period that followed was marked by chaotic management of the country. Corruption, insecurity, intimidation and poverty are the daily lot of the Malagasy. There is large-scale looting of public property and natural resources and this despite repeated calls from international bodies, including the ACP-EU Parliamentary Assembly1, to protect natural resources from misuse.

Repression in southern Madagascar

Southern Madagascar consists of five administrative regions: Androy (476,000 inhabitants – main town: Ambovombé), Anosy (544,000 inhabitants – main town: Taolagnaro), Ihorombe (190,000 inhabitants – main town: Ihosy), Atsimo-Atsinanana (621,000 inhabitants – main town: Farafangana) and Atsimo-Andrefana (1,100,000 inhabitants – main town: Toliara). The population density is below the national average and more than 70% live in rural areas. Zebus are raised as a sign of wealth and prestige and are used during traditional ceremonies. Poverty affects children more severely in southern Madagascar, where over 65% of them are in a situation of extreme poverty.2 These children are deprived of their basic rights such as food, health, education, housing and security.

Since June 2012, the south of Madagascar, mainly the population of the Androy and Anosy regions, has been repeatedly targeted by police and armed militia. Indeed, under the official pretext of fighting against the custom of dahalo3, law enforcement and security forces conduct military operations using heavy weapons (assault rifles, rocket launchers etc.) and helicopters. In addition, a special force, with substantial manpower and material, has been specially created to carry out an operation named “Tandroka” (zebu horns) whose stated goal is to capture Remenabila, the dahalo chief. Colonel Rene Lylison, head of Rajoelina’s political police, has been put in charge.

During three “Tandroka” operations from September 2012 to April 2013, the security forces committed massacres in the Amboasary-South region, causing hundreds of casualties, including women and children killed by bullets. Suspected dahalo were summarily executed4. Young people, including minors, were accused of being thieves and were mutilated or tortured to death with the encouragement of the police. The police burned down twenty villages5. Following these operations, more than 3,000 people, completely terrified, fled either to the major towns or to the forest. Most of them are totally destitute – homeless and without food.

Despite these operations and the resources mobilized, the alleged leader of the “dahalo”, the famous Remenabila (of whose existence there is no proof ), is still elusive.
Areas rich in natural resources
Communities affected by these massacres are located in areas where there are much-coveted and exceptionally rich subsoil resources. In fact, this part of the country has considerable potential. In addition to cattle raising, mineral resources are significant and varied: they include industrial minerals (uranium, mercury, rare earths, mica, coal, ilmenite), precious and semi-precious stones (sapphire, emerald, rock crystal…), gold and also very high quality diamands. There is also oil. According to the testimonies of some local leaders, certain political and economic lobbies would like “to ‘get rid of’ a good part of the South’s population to facilitate the exploitation of the land and subsoil resources in this part of Island”.6 Given the people’s attachment to the ancestral lands that constitute their environment, it is obvious they will not give up easily unless they are up against very large-scale violent attacks. We are thus witnessing forced displacement and land confiscation. Land thus grabbed from its traditional owners is then often granted to transnational corporations (TNCs) for mining or agribusiness with the complicity of the national authorities.

Indeed, the current leaders have increased land grants and contracts with large TNCs and with other states, thus leading to large scale land-grabbing. This is forbidden during the transition period under the covenants contained in the Roadmap signed by A. Rajoelina and his entourage.7

Historically, the Malagasy land system has been based on two principles: first, land belongs to the person who farms it and, second, the right to land is established and recognized by the public authorities. Law 2005-19, adopted in 2005 under the presidency of Marc Ravalomanana, reformed land laws by abolishing the presumption of state ownership in force since the colonial era, a principle which had had the effect of excluding customary rights or other land control. In other words, now the state is no longer the presumed owner of unregistered land. The law recognizes that attested long-standing occupation of land is a presumption of ownership and entrusts the allocation and management of land titles to local authorities.

Problems with active TNCs in Madagascar

In Madagascar, the exploitation of natural resources is generally carried out by TNCs. The problems caused by TNCs operating in this country8 can be summarized as follows: disrespect of the law and corruption, lack of consultation with the populations concerned and the deprivation of their livelihoods hence wide spread human rights violations.

As already pointed out, most of the recently installed TNCs in Madagascar obtained their operating licenses either from the coup leaders or those in power during the transition period. Therefore, they have no legal base nor legitimacy to operate in this country. Moreover, these licenses have been obtained through extensive corruption of these political leaders.9

Besides the lack of consultation of the affected populations regarding mining development projects, pollution of farmers’ and live stock raisers’ living environment deprives them of their means of subsistence. In a country where more than one third of the population is already suffering from food insecurity (68% in the south), deforestation continues at a breathtaking pace.10 Environmental degradation has become a major issue.

In view of the foregoing, we request that:

European states immediatly stop weapons deliveries to Madagascar, a country in a state of political instability, increasing violence and wide scale human rights violations11
the home states of the TNCs take necessary measures to stop illegal looting of resources in this country
the United Nations support the efforts of the African Union to ensure security and the respect of human rights in Madagascar together, these institutions should support this country’s move toward democratic transition and the construction of social peace
the Special Rapporteurs on summary executions, torture and internally displaced people travel to Madagascar in order to investigate human rights violations there
the Human Rights Council investigate the situation of human rights in Madagascar.


Section 5. Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Abuses of Human Rights

Numerous domestic and international human rights groups generally operated without restriction, investigating and publishing their findings on human rights cases. Government officials were not always responsive to their views, but authorities allowed international human rights groups to enter the country, work, and consult freely with other groups. Authorities reacted to accusations of human rights abuses more frequently and positively than during previous years.

Some authorities reacted defensively to domestic and international criticism of the killing of escaped prisoners from Farafangana Prison in August (see section 1.a.).

Several domestic NGOs worked on human rights, but few had the capacity to work effectively and independently.

Government Human Rights Bodies: The CNIDH is composed of 11 commissioners, each elected by members of a different human rights organization and given a mandate to investigate cases of, and publish reports on, human rights abuses. The government dedicated a budget for the commission to operate. In addition some international organizations and diplomatic missions provided some equipment. The previous members’ mandate expired on October 13, and no new members were elected as of November COVID-19 restrictions delayed these elections. The CNIDH was independent and somewhat effective. The CNIDH issued several communiques highlighting human rights abuses perpetrated by government officials and launched investigations on outstanding incidents. Nevertheless, its actions were limited investigations did not lead to concrete sanctions or convictions.


Claiming Human Rights

The Republic of Madagascar is a member of the United Nations and the African Union. It has ratified many UN Human Rights Conventions (compare list on the right) and thus has made binding international commitments to adhere to the standards laid down in these universal human rights documents.

Madagascar is a Malagasy-, French- and English-speaking country in Southeast Africa. The country is an island in the Indian Ocean with an area of 587,041 square km off the south eastern coast of Africa opposite Mozambique. On a global scale, its population density is low. The capital of the country, which became independent on 26 June 1960 from France, is Antananarivo. Madagascar is a member of the regional economic communities SADC and COMESA.

With a Human Development Index of 0.54 Madagascar ranks 145 th of 182 countries ranked in the UNDP Human Development Report of 2009. Life expectancy of the 19.1 million inhabitants at birth is 61 years, population growth is 2.7 percent per year. GNI is 410 US-$ per capita. External debt is 22.7 percent of gross national income. Primary school enrolment is 98.5 percent.

In as far as Madagascar has ratified the Optional Protocols for UN Human Rights Conventions or has accepted the Competence of the corresponding UN Treaty Bodies (compare list on the right), the inhabitants of Madagascar and their representatives are able to invoke their human rights through these bodies.

All inhabitants of Madagascar may turn to the UN Human Rights Committee through procedure 1503, to the Special Rapporteurs for violations of specific human rights or to ECOSOC for women's rights violations.

Since Madagascar is a member state of UNESCO, its citizens may use the UNESCO procedure for human rights violations in UNESCO's fields of mandate.

Employers' or workers' and certain other organizations (not individuals) of Madagascar may file complaints through the ILO procedure in the cases of those conventions which Madagascar has ratified.

Since Madagascar is an AU member, its citizens and NGOs may file complaints to the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights.

They may also file complaints according to the EU guidelines (on Human Rights Defenders, Death Penalty and Torture) to Embassies of EU Member States and the Delegations of the European Commission.

In cases of human rights violations by multinational enterprises, they may also invoke the National Contact Point in an OECD member state.

Madagascar has joined the International Criminal Court, it may thus be called upon in case of severe crimes.


Madagascar: Environmental Activist Clovis Razafimalala Faces Harassment

Madagascar is home to a rich diversity of plant and animal life, much of which is unique to the region. Unfortunately, this puts many of Madagascar’s protected forests at risk. The famed rosewood forest, identifiable by its vibrant red bark, is routinely targeted by illegal rosewood trafficking[1]. As the world’s most trafficked wild product, rosewood has become a lucrative market for traffickers exporting the bark to be turned into luxury products sold to the wealthy.

Environmentalist Clovis Razafimalala is the coordinator of the Lampogno Network, a coalition of environmental justice organizations seeking to end the illegal rosewood trafficking in Madagascar. However, the “Rosewood Mafia” continue their illegal trafficking, seemingly with impunity, while environmental defenders like Clovis are arbitrarily detained for protesting the destruction of their ancestral lands.

On one such occasion last year, Clovis was arrested for leading an uprising at a protest he insists he did not attend. He was then charged with inciting a rebellion, destruction of public property, goods and documents, and arson, despite witnesses who could testify to his whereabouts. After 10 months of being arbitrarily detained, Clovis was tried in a surprise one day trial, acquitted of rebellion charges but given a five year suspended sentence for the other charges and released from prison. Despite gaining freedom, Clovis’ trial seems to have been marred by numerous fair trial violations.[2]

Amnesty International reports claim that Mr. Razafimalala was prosecuted on “trumped-up charges” in retaliation for his peaceful environmental activism. Other activists believe he was jailed for his outspoken criticism of a notorious rosewood trafficker.

Unfortunately harassment of environmental activists in Madagascar is not unique to Clovis. In 2015, fellow environmental activist Armand Marozafy was fined and arbitrarily jailed for 6 months for distributing and posting to Facebook a report on illegal rosewood logging. Augustin Sarovy was threatened with death before fleeing to Europe as an ecological refugee for denouncing timber trafficking in Madagascar.

These instances of judicial harassment and fair trial violations must not be tolerated. UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights and the Environment John H. Knox has repeatedly condemned the harassment and violence environmental defenders face, asserting the notion that human rights include the right to speak against environmental travesties without the fear of violence.

For more on judicial harassment of defenders, read the ABA Center for Human Rights report on Mr. Razafimalala's trial.

[1] In 1975, Madagascar ratified the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Flora and Fauna (CITES), which banned the trafficking of rosewood.

[2] Trials are normally held in the same town where a defendant is arrested, but Mr. Razafimalala was transferred to the City of Tamatave, some 250 miles away. No official notice from the Maroantsetra court has been disclosed that would justify the Court of First Instance in Tamatave taking control of his case. The defense did not call any witnesses who would have been able to corroborate Mr. Razafimalala’s innocence, partly due to how far away the trial was being held from Mr. Razafimalala’s hometown and due to the fact the entire trial took place over a single day. The trial date itself was not known until it had already happened, giving defense nor witnesses warning as to when to appear.


17 amazing facts about Madagascar, the island it took humans 300,000 years to discover

Madagascar celebrates its independence today

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T o mark the country’s independence day (June 26), here are a few things you might not have known about Madagascar.

1. It’s the world’s fourth largest island

Madagascar is big. It’s 226,917 square miles to be precise, making it the fourth largest island on the planet (and bigger than Spain, Thailand, Sweden and Germany). The UK is a rather puny 93,410 square miles in comparison. Which is the world’s largest island? Take the quiz below to find out.

2. With a big population

There are 26.2 million Malagasies, making it a more populous country than Australia, Sri Lanka, The Netherlands, Romania and Greece.

3. But it wasn’t even discovered until 500AD

Madagascar was only colonised by human settlers relatively recently - perhaps as late as 500AD - some 300,000 years after the first appearance of Homo sapiens in Africa.

4. It had a mad queen

Fans of the Flashman series of novels may well have heard of Ranavalona. She thwarted European efforts to gain sway over Madagascar during her 33-year rule, but also focused her energies on brutally eradicating Christians, neighbouring kingdoms and political rivals. So widespread were the purges, and the use of slave labour to construct a vast palace and public works, that the island’s population fell from five million to 2.5 million between 1833 and 1839. One way Ranavalona maintained order was the tangena ordeal, by which the accused was poisoned, and then forced to eat three pieces of chicken skin. Death, or the failure to regurgitate all three pieces, indicated guilt. Others opponents were simply thrown into vast ravines.

The remains of her palace, the Rova of Antananarivo, can still be seen in the capital.

5. It’s paradise for wildlife lovers

According to Conservation International, just 17 countries are considered “megadiverse”. Each possesses a vast number of different species – many found nowhere else. And Madagascar, thanks largely to being undisturbed by humans for so very long, is one. Among its resident animals are more than half the world’s chameleons and dozens of species of lemur.

Unlike the film Madagascar, however, you won’t see any tigers, giraffes or hippo.

6. And birders

“Confined to one of the world’s most astonishing habitats, the long-tailed ground roller is unique and considered by birdwatchers to be one of the world’s most elusive species,” says Ed Hutchings. “The coastal town of Toliara, in south-west Madagascar, is surrounded by lagoons, mudflats, freshwater marshes and, most importantly, thickets of the bizarre Didierea madagascariensis. These huge octopus trees sprout from the sandy soil, giving an unearthly feel to the place.”

7. Some of its critters are just plain weird

There’s the giraffe-necked weevil, whose appendage helps it roll leaves into tubes for its eggs the aye-aye lemur, whose long middle finger helps it find grubs hiding inside trees and the Malagasy giant rat, which can leap three feet into the air.

8. Gerald Durrell was a fan

The naturalist’s last wildlife expedition was to Madagascar, a trip he recollects in his book The Aye-Aye and I. The tour operator Reef & Rainforest offers a 13-night tour roughly tracing his footsteps and taking in some of the remotest, wildest regions of the island. The tour promises “an almost guaranteed chance” to observe the elusive and nocturnal aye-aye in the wild.

9. It has a few World Heritage Sites

They are the Royal Hill of Ambohimanga, a 500-year-old burial site, the rainforests of the Atsinanana, which are home to many rare species of primate and lemur, and the Tsingy de Bemaraha Strict Nature Reserve, a labyrinth of limestone that covers a sizeable chunk of the island’s western half. It is utterly impassable, a maze of crooked canyons, caves, tunnels and spires, and relatively unexplored. The unique geology also means there are endemic species that have evolved to embrace life among the karst skyscrapers.

10. They consume quite a lot of marijuana

Almost one in 10 Malagasies smoke weed, according to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime – that’s a higher percentage than do so in The Netherlands. The countries ahead of it include France, Australia, the US and - top of the tree - Iceland.

11. It recently abolished the death penalty

The most recent countries to abolish capital punishment were Burkina Fasa (2018), Guinea (2017), Benin (2016), Madagascar (2015), Congo (2015), Gabon (2010) and Togo (2009). Remarkably, 54 countries still impose the death penalty, including Egypt, Japan, Cuba, China and the US.

12. But remains one of the world’s unhappiest places

The World Happiness Report (which aims to “redefine the growth narrative to put people’s well-being at the center of government efforts”), ranks Finland as the cheeriest place on Earth, out of 156 countries, followed by Norway, Denmark and Iceland. Madagascar is the 14th least happy country, it says. As one of the poorest places in the world, with a per capita GDP of $1,554 (putting it 179th out of 187 nations), and an average life expectancy of just 65.5 (in the UK, it’s 81.2), it’s not surprising.

13. Despite the poverty, luxury tourism has arrived

An über-luxury lodge was recently unveiled on Nosy Ankao, the largest of five islands off the north-eastern coast of Madagascar. Miavana (accessible only by helicopter) is a centre for “blue safaris”, with the chance to spot turtles, whales and dolphins on the agenda, along with scuba diving and fishing. There’s also a top notch spa. Start saving up, though – doubles cost from £3,220 a night.

14. There are hardly any railways

Considering its vast size, Madagascar has very few railways – just 854 kilometres of track, to be precise. Getting around the country typically involves a shared taxi (or “taxi-be” in Malagasy).

15. It was a haven for pirates

The island’s secluded coves, and the absence for centuries of European powers, meant Madagascar was once a safe haven for hundreds of pirates. One, Captain James Misson, supposedly founded an anarchist colony (Libertatia) there in the late 17th century, while Ile Sainte-Marie, four miles off Madagascar’s east coast, was simply referred to as “the island of pirates” on maps from the time. Countless brigands, including Captain Kidd, took shelter there when they weren’t looting booty. Some are buried in the island’s cemetery.

16. Men and women wear the same clothes

Lamba is the traditional garment worn by islanders – both men and women. It is a rectangular length of cloth wrapped around the body, and different designs are worn for different occasions.

17. Bare-knuckle fighting is a national sport

Moraingy is a form of bare-fisted combat sport, and it’s very popular throughout the island, as well as in Reunion, 300 miles to the east.


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