Madagascar, better known as the eighth continent of the world, is one of the most precious landmasses on earth. Lying in the Indian Ocean, it detached from the African mainland 165 million years ago and developed into magnificent uniqueness through its wide range of biodiversity, large areas of forested lands, and its rare animals such as the Lemurs. In the 17th century, Madagascar started admitting the French presence and the latter settled in and took over the land by the end of the 19th century.
Official French colonialism was established in 1896 after a series of treaties that increased the French authority, while the Merina royal family was sent into exile in Algeria ("Why is Madagascar so poor? "). Colonialism, in the simplest words, is a system that claims authority on another foreign country and conquests its government. Nevertheless, in the case of Madagascar, not only did the French colonialism abolish the splendor of Mother Nature, but also is responsible for degrading Madagascar on social and economical bases.
Isolated from the African mainland for over sixty million years, the island of Madagascar is renowned for its tropical forests which support numerous endemic plants and animal species. However, Madagascar’s once prominent woods are degrading and are exhibiting the issue of deforestation. This issue is rooted in the detrimental policies of the French colonial state. From the annex of colonialism, the colonial government treated the forests as an exploitable resource merely to profit from and to increase the colony’s economical benefits.
As Claudia Randrup mentions in her thesis, logging and agricultural concessions implemented by the French turned natural resources directly into economic commodities especially when French entrepreneurs permitted the clearing of a significant amount of forests. French concessionaires granted land, on behalf of the colonial government, consequently to promote the colony’s economic viability, increase the profits from timber, and benefit from the exportation of Malagasy hardwood. Not only did the French exploit the good timber, but also they used the less aluable timber as construction material for railroads for example.
Adding to that, the colony practiced resource appropriation since it believed that the Malagasy natural resources should serve as means for industrialization and development -the French were aiming at civilizing the Malagasy nation. Attempts at regulating the concession by the forest service failed for several reasons: shortages in Labor, lack of will, illegal cut down of trees were overlooked, and the fines that were charged for violation of the permits were far lower than the actual damages.
These lead to the destruction of 70% of the forest between 1895 and 1925 (“WRM”). Claudia Randrup also mentions that the locals based their living on the forests. For forest habitants, forests played a significant role in various activities such as apiculture and charcoal production. For farmers, forested lands came as a second option for arable lands. For the Malagasy rebels against the colonial state, forests provided arboreal shelter from the French armed forces. Forests provided resources for survival, materials for construction, and opportunities for income as well.
Since forests also provide raw materials such as timber, fuel wood, food, etc. , when these needs are controlled suitably, the forests would not be endangered. But, when they are invalidly abused, forests are going to ultimately vanish and the Malagasy nation is going to suffer. The Malagasy nation ultimately did suffer from loss of forest resources as the French exploited the forests leading to deforestation and cash cropping, demolished habitats, made the forests inaccessible, changed the landscape because of the excessive mining and extraction, and shifted cultivation to coffee to export it as Kamil Kanji put it.
The state did set aside however lands for rice cultivation, but they were ineffective since the soil was deficient. Also, as a result of the French colonialism, Malagasies’ ties with forests weakened ( Randrup 50). This fact led the locals to seek wage work on plantations which they equated to slavery and distanced them from their environment. Eventually, this alientation rendered conservation measures difficult to implement in post colonialism times.
This difficulty was clearly depicted in the New York Times as it mentioned that Rosewood trees are illegally being cut down by Malagasy timber barons and the trunks are being exported to mostly china. Ndranto Razakamanarina, president of an association of Malagasy environmental groups and a policy officer with the World Wildlife Fund, said the government does nothing because it shares the $167 million being gained and that many of the ministers think they’ll be in office only three or six months, so they decide to make money while they can.
The timber mafia is corrupt, the ministers are corrupt (Bearak). Moreover, the country’s economy during the colonial era was directed to the exportation of rice and beef on a minimal scale while coffee constituted the largest fraction. Initially, before the colony’s settlement, coffee was merely restricted to the east coast and rice was the main source of nutrition. When the farmers realized the great profits the coffee trade generated, the restriction was removed to the forested areas and the country exhibited a shift in its cultivation.
This expansion left the island’s economy uneven, resulted in rice shortages because of the surplus labor demand in the field of coffee, and began to destruct the nation’s food security. As a response to tavy - shifting cultivation- the French Governor General banned its practice. The state claimed that the reason behind this ban was to salvage what was left of the nation’s forest while the real reason was that it served as a better mean to collect taxes.
In either case, the policy was ineffective because the Malagasy ignored it and burnt many square meters of forests to display their protest and fury(“WRM”). Another aspect of Madagascar’s wide aspect of biodiversity is the prickly pear cactus. The prickly pear cactus supplied a source of food for herbivores and for the growers of this plant. However, this plant was also used for defensive measures; for example, the Mahafale grew this cactus along walls and wrapped their villages in labyrinths of thorns to fend off unwelcomed trespassers.
Malagasy soldiers used the cactus walls as well to kill the French officers in narrow alleys covered by cactus. So, to the French, the cactus was an enemy while it was a powerful ally to the Malagasy pastoralists who knew how to use it in defensive behaviors. Eventually, the French government was fed up from the cactus so they introduced a cactus foe into Madagascar: the cochineal insect (Kaufmann and Tsirahamba). This parasite infected the prickly pear cactus with parasitized cactus cladodes and withered the cactus species.
The cactus crisis affected the Malagasy nation especially the pastoralists to a great extent. In its absence, pastoralists weren’t able to feed their herds, thus they turned into native vegetation and the cutting of shrubs, brush, and trees. This cutting promoted the issue of desertification to an even greater extent. Another effect of the killing of the cactus is the conversion of pastoralists to wage laborers in search of a salary simply because there would be no food for the cattle to feed on so the cattle pass away.
Jeffrey Kaufmann argues in another work of his entitled “Forget the Numbers: The Case of a Madagascar Famine. ” that the elimination of the cactus species also indirectly affected numerous social relations. Other than being the main source of milk and meat, cows which fed on the cactus are social indications in the Malagasy society. For instance, donating a young cow to a newlywed couple finalizes their marriage. Cattles are even scarified as a sign of reverence when somebody dies. The more cattle the dead person receives, the more famous he is.
Thus, the French indirectly altered social life and rituals by infecting those cacti and killing the cattle. Furthermore, during the colonial era, Madagascar suffered from a kleptocratic regime, in which the island was fully controlled and ran for the bene? t of the colony which used its power to shift the island’s resources to itself. The French Kleptocrats pursued a divide-and-rule strategy in which the French ruler maintained authority in the weakly institutionalized polity while concurrently enforcing policies at the cost of the Malagasy nation (Acemoglu et al. 63) . Additionally, because the colony was expected to retain self-financing; rather than using the Malagasy raw material in infrastructure and social development, these were given less importance and the resources were used to fuel French industry (“Madagascar: Early French Colonialism”). The minimized economic development measures were centralized in the capital Tananarive which led to an imbalance in the economical development of the island as a whole and the divison of the island into provinces.
Kamil Kanji states that this inequality led to the delocalization of the locals to the industrialized areas under a coercive and repressive state rule. In addition, development of artificial national boundaries took place where in terms of a new constitution the French set, Madagascsar became a French territory within the French Union. But not only did the French culture invasion diminish the Malagasy identity, but also it granted the Madagascans a vaguely defined French citizenship rather than a citizenship based on clear basis (“Madagascar: Late French Colonialism”).
From the dawn of the French colonization and the implementation of the Kleptocratic regime, war, resistance and famine aroused (Jarosz 370). Though, through all the problems the Malagasy nation faced, the state’s main focus was to increase revenues and exports to European and African countries via imposing heavy taxes for example and to generate new French markets thus adapting an export-based economy. The deterioration of the economic situation in Madagascar persisted throughout the colonial time. Shortages of food continued to dominate while the black market prospered.
These social difficulties caused the emergence of ethnic tensions and hatred of the forced labor along with other reintegration issues. This tense situation inflicted a national rebellion but was eventually controlled from outside interventions. This struggle killed 180 non-Madagascan lives compared to 80 000 Madascans (“Madagascar: Late French Colonialism”). In addition to all the negative implications of the kleptocratic regime, Tracy Harden mentions that the french considered themselves as a class above their Malagasy counterparts thus, they created an inferiority/superiority complex.
Although local men labored all day, the better job opportunities and pay were granted to the French people. The Malagasy labored in the fields while the French were given higher positions of ruling. Another aspect of colonial corruption in Madagascar is the rate of population growth. Historians of Madagascar state that with the emergence of a strong Merina state in Madagascar in the 19th century, hindrances to population growth were overcome by means of internal security and developed health facilities. However, after the French invasion, this rate altered but this rate remained unknown.
On one hand, French colonial officials didn’t have the expertise to carry out a census, and on the other, the shaky political state of the country and the dodging of colonial tax collectors made statistics difficult to attain. However, the French officials always underestimated the population to excuse the low tax returns but most important to cover up the negative demographic impact of colonialism. The state’s policies served to help the spread of sexually transmitted disease, to lower fertility rates, and to cause more cases of miscarriages. (Campbell 445)
Katherine Coit mentions that even after the independence of Madagascar in 1960, the French horror lingered in the Malagasy air. A cholera epidemic struck Madagascar in 1999, where the affected people proliferated rapidly in the major cities as well as in the rural villages. It took the epidemic a year to reach a fatality rate of 5 percent when it should have been less than 1 percent. The main reasons for increasing the sick cases were otiose strategies to stop the contagion, polluted Malagasy water, lack of proper sanitation, an uneducated poor population, and the nature of Malagasy funeral rites.
The “Medecins Sans Frontieres”, an international French organization for medical humanitarian help, attempted to relieve the situation but the Malagasy government blocked this aid even when the president was not of great help in handling the situation and the prime minister delegated the problem to the minister of health. The minister of health blamed the disease on the ministry of hygiene and sanitation after a failed effort to control the disease. Upon taking action, she prevented the MSF from interfering and helping efficiently.
The WHO organization recommended mass vaccination but she didn’t respond to the recommendation but rather obliged everyone leaving Madagascar to get vaccinated. This step wasted vaccinations and was very useless in fighting the disease. The French doctors who had the expertise in treating cholera conditions were banned to go into the hospitals or even contact the patients. These doctors, however, realized that not only did the island lack basic sanitation conditions, but also lack a basic health infrastructure especially in hospitals.
In short, the government wasn’t effective at all in trying to prevent the spreading of cholera neither did it take initiative in improving sanitary conditions and protection of unaffected individuals. The root of the Malagasy government attitude is deemed to be the result of anti-colonialism. The government considered the coming aid as means of questioning the feasibility and effectiveness of it and putting the Malagasy doctor’s reputation at stake. The minister of health’s actions portrayed a sense of envy and her hesitation towards the French doctors showed ill Malagasy pride and anti-colonialism.
Also, further discussing the effects of post colonialism, the prevailing elite of Antanarivo have light brown skin and these have evolved a negative attitude towards the whites and the darker skin ethnic groups. The elite look down upon them as worthless human beings and maltreat them. This attitude avenge for the treatment their ancestors received from the French colonies back then. However, it’s quite interesting to note that the political opponents of the government welcomed the MSF and permitted them gratefully to help treat the feeble.
Another factor that caused friction between the French doctors and the Malagasy nation was the nature of funeral rites. The Malagasy had a special connection with the dead thus they were upset when they received the corpse wrapped up in plastic bags. The French were accused of taking out the brains and cutting the tongues of the dead as well. Such circulated information instilled fear in people and kept them away from treatment centers and infecting others (Coit 247-259).
On the other hand, as colonialism was introduced, The French Governor , General Joseph Gallieni, repressed slavery, set foundations for a free healthcare system , established a state schooling system and founded the Malagasy Academy. The educational system the French introduced in the island broadened their educational opportunities and exposed the young Malagasy to notions of nationalism and socialism. This system provided them with a new understanding and hope of national restoration. (“Madagascar: Early French Colonialism”). However, this benevolence prompted France to have full control over Madagascar.
Also, after the famine that was the result of killing the cacti, colonial officials recognized the problematic situation which aroused. For this reason, the French were propelled to import new species of prickly pear cacti which were resistant to the cochineal insect. The French worked hard to establish nurseries in the south and replant thorn-less cactus and pastoralist responded positively to the help and recovered to certain limits their cactus pastoralism. However, the newer plants reproduced more slowly, were not as juicy thus didn’t satisfy the pastoralists, and were less nutritious especially for late-term pregnant cows (Kaufmann 154).
Lucy Jarosz claims that colonial policies didn’t cause deforestation and that it invaded the island before the French took over and Kamil Kanji also claimed that colonialism was advantageous because it provided the island with infrastructure for economic development and other services. However, the cut down activities expanded after the declaration of the colonial state due to the exploitive policies, internal and external demand for wood, and the expansion of the coffee cultivation. The French was constructing railroads, thus the internal demand of timber intensified to a great deal causing on its way deforestation (Jarosz 375).
Also, the infrastructure wasn’t provided to advance the host country rather it is merely to enable the colonial power to abuse the Malagasy raw material and to facilitate the workforce of the economy (Kanji). As a result of colonial policies, Jennifer Cole mentions that Madagascar was fully degraded by becoming an importer of food rather than being self satisfied. The Locals were dismissed out of their original residence and the manipulative state gained control over all resources and exploited them. Fertile land was substituted with a tenacious monoculture, which is undesirable for almost all flora and fauna of the virgin forests.
However, the Europeans were not able to assimilate fully into the foreign land and they were not able to colligate their European identity through intermarriages to assure a French descend posterity (Pearson 409). It is realized that despite achieving independence in 1960, The Republic of Madagascar is still largely run like a colony (“Why is Madagascar so poor? ”). Despite very few positive effects of colonialism, the drawbacks were much more in number. Had the French never settled in Madagascar, it could have still been the African Paradise.