During the 1700s the Merina ethnic group gained control of the central plateau and established a monarchy; with British help they eventually ruled most of the island. Their reign came to an end when French marines landed on the island in the 1880s and France instituted colonial rule.
Madagascar gained independence in 1960, but since then it has been plagued by assassinations, military coups and disputed elections. Here is a timeline of the major events in the island's turbulent history.
1946 - Madagascar becomes an Overseas Territory of France.
1947 - Thousands are killed when the French put down an armed rebellion in the east.
1958 - Madagascar votes for autonomy.
June 1960 - The Malagasy Republic (Madagascar) gains independence with Philibert Tsiranana as president.
May 1972 - Huge crowds led by students gather in Tananarive, the capital, to demand Tsiranana's resignation. Power is handed to army chief Gen Gabriel Ramanantsoa, who heads a provisional government.
December 1975 - Ratsiraka is elected president for a seven-year term in a national referendum. The country is renamed the Democratic Republic of Madagascar.
August 1991 - Mass demonstrations and civil service strikes start. Over 100,000 people march on the presidential palace and the presidential guard responds with gunfire and grenades.
October 1991 - Ratsiraka remains president but relinquishes power to Albert Zafy, head of the newly established High Authority of the State.
March 1993 - Zafy is elected president, defeating Ratsiraka.
April 1996 - Thousands demonstrate against Zafy amid calls for a military coup in the capital city, Antananarivo.
August 1996 - Zafy is impeached on allegations of corruption.
January 1997 - Ratsiraka makes a political comeback after the constitutional court finds that he won the presidential election in November 1996.
February 1998 - Members of the opposition, including Zafy, make an unsuccessful attempt to impeach Ratsiraka.
January 2002 - Daily protests pressure Ratsiraka's government for a recount of presidential election ballots. Madagascar's High Constitutional Court certifies that Ravalomanana got 46.2 percent of the votes and Ratsiraka got 40.8 percent - neither has the required majority of 51 percent. A runoff is set within two months but thousands of Ravalomanana's supporters take to the streets in protest. Ravalomanana calls for a national strike.
February 2002 - Ravalomanana declares himself president after two months of dispute. Ratsiraka declares martial law in the capital.
March 2002 - Ravalomanana forms a rival government and seizes the defence ministry - the last ministry controlled by Ratsiraka's government - and calls an end to the national strike. The Organization of African Unity (OAU) calls for a government of "national reconciliation" until a new ballot is held, but Ratsiraka rejects the proposal.
April 2002 - The Supreme Court annuls the disputed results of the December 2001 presidential election and after a recount hands the presidency to Ravalomanana with over 51 percent of the vote. Ratsiraka says he will not abide by the decision.
May 2002 - Ravalomanana is sworn in as president. The international community shows cautious support.
June 2002 - Ratsiraka flees to France. He returns and calls for fresh talks, but Ravalomanana rejects this.
July 2002 - Ratsiraka seeks exile in France, marking the end of the seven-month political crisis. In a show of support for the new administration, donors pledge US$2.3 billion in aid.
December 2002 - Ravalomanana's party, I Love Madagascar, wins 102 of the 160 seats in parliament in key elections, seen as a test of popular support for the president.
|Crowds waiting for the Election Results - February 2002|
July 2003 - After a year-long suspension Madagascar is readmitted to the African Union (AU).
December 2003 - Ratsiraka, still in exile, is sentenced to five years in prison for his role in the 2002 political crisis.
May 2006 - Opposition parties boycott talks with Ravalomanana ahead of presidential elections to be held in December.
November 2006 - Tensions flare briefly when an army general's call for Ravalomanana to stand down ahead of presidential elections the following month is "misinterpreted" as a coup attempt.
December 2006 - Ravalomanana wins the presidential election with 55 percent of the votes.
****The most recent crisis****
December 2008 - Andry Rajoelina, Mayor of Antananarivo and owner of the Viva TV station, airs an interview with exiled former president Ratsiraka; authorities promptly shut down the television station.
January 2009 - Thousands take to the streets demanding a new government. Dozens are killed as protests turn violent. Opposition leader Andry Rajoelina calls on Ravalomanana to resign as president and proclaims himself in charge of the country.
February 2009 - Rajoelina is sacked as mayor of Antananarivo. At least 28 people are killed when security forces open fire on an opposition demonstration in the capital. The country's defence minister resigns. Rajoelina and Ravalomanana meet to resolve the crisis but talks stall. The AU warns it will condemn any unconstitutional change of power.
March 2009 - Soldiers in a military camp outside Antananarivo mutiny and say they will defy government orders to repress civilians. Madagascar's army chief issues a 72-hour ultimatum to the feuding political leaders to resolve their disputes or face military intervention. Ravalomanana proposes a referendum as a solution; fearing further unrest he resigns, ceding power to the military. Rajoelina assumes power with military and high court backing. The AU and the Southern African Development Community (SADC) suspend Madagascar.
April 2009 - Security forces clash with supporters loyal to Ravalomanana.
June 2009 - Ravalomanana, in exile in South Africa since March, is sentenced in absentia to four years in prison for abuse of office.
August 2009 - International mediators broker a power-sharing agreement in Mozambique's capital, Maputo, between Madagascar's political rivals who agree to create an interim government to end months of violence. A second round of talks in Maputo ends without agreement on who should be prime minister, or hold other key cabinet posts.
September 2009 - Rajoelina unilaterally names a new "unity" government, amid wide international condemnation.
November 2009 - Madagascar's political rivals meet in the capital of Ethiopia, Addis Ababa, and agree on a transitional consensus government until fresh polls are held in 2010. Rajoelina retains the presidency but is flanked by two co-presidents.
December 2009 - Rajoelina distances himself from the power-sharing deal, boycotts new talks in Maputo, and announces a plan to hold parliamentary elections in March 2010. Opposition accuses Rajoelina of stalling on implementing a consensus government.
Jan 2010 - Rajoelina snubs the African Union's top diplomat, and again rejects calls for consensus government.
February 2010 - Rajoelina postpones the parliamentary election until May. The AU threatens Rajoelina and his administration with sanctions unless the power-sharing deal is implemented by 16 May 2010.
March 2010 - Rajoelina fails to implement power-sharing deal. The AU imposes targeted sanctions on Rajoelina and his administration.
This article also appeared in Pambazuka News 474 for which acknowledgement is made.