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Madagascar

Constitutional & Legal Foundations

On their exploratory sea voyage to India, Portuguese explorers first visited Madagascar in 1500. English, French, and other European maritime nations also began to explore. Though this did not materialize in immediate European settlement on the Island, it was through this contact that firearms were introduced and used by the Merina to create their centralized empire. The power base of the empire was in the central Plateau within the island. For instance in 1794, King Andrianampoinimerina used this power to unite all the tribes in Madagascar. The king gave land to every subject, banned "slash and burn" forestry, and as it was mentioned earlier, introduced irrigation and rice production in the central plateau. Slash and burn was the traditional and destructive way of cutting forests, bushes and thickets and burning them to give way for cultivation of cereals. The method destroyed humus-making bacteria and exposed the soil to erosion and extermination of certain species of fauna and flora. However, in itself, this was agricultural education.

After the death of the King Andrianampoinimerina, his son, King Andrian-Ramada inherited the throne. Among his major accomplishments, he constructed a pro-western foreign policy agenda that enabled the island to establish diplomatic relations with major European powers. King Andrian-Ramada invited Protestant and Roman Catholic missionaries from England and France. The missionaries, particularly the Protestants, built schools, churches and started their evangelistic work on the island. They taught the king's children about literacy, arithmetic, hygiene and the gospel of Jesus Christ. Ramada was an early beneficiary of missionary education.

Later, with the effort of more dynamic missionaries biblically centered Christian education was introduced into Madagascar in 1820. Ramada was one of the students in the Antana Narivo School. King Andrian-Ramada died in 1828. When his wife, Queen Ranavalona, inherited the throne, she expelled all the missionaries and executed a large number of opposition elements. Though she earned the title of "wicked queen," she was an effective empress. During her reign, Imerina missionaries built schools that brought literacy to 15,000 people. Queen Ranavalona died in 1860 and several weak dynastic rulers came after her. This weakness invited the French to attack Madagascar in 1883. The French fought for three years. Eventually Madagascar lost the war and became a French protectorate. In other words, the French domestically and diplomatically ruled Madagascar, although it was legally and officially not a colony. In 1895, the French massively invaded the island, conquered it and made it their full-fledged colony. The Merina monarchy was abolished and French rather than Malagasy became the official language of the island. With this conquest at hand, a new era of western imperialism had begun. The third, French Republic (1870-1914) witnessed France's new attitude in the acquisition of new colonial spheres of influence in Asia and Africa. Like the Americans and the British, the French wanted to use their republican and enlightenment ideas of progress and scientific learning in order to pacify and uplift the colonized peoples. This conception was viewed as France's universal mission commonly called mission civilisatrice. To colonize and govern Africa effectively, the colonized did not only become subjects with more duties than rights, but the violent exploitative and suppressive manner in which colonization was introduced appeared to defeat mission civilisatrice.


Based on France's colonial mission, the mission civilisatrice, the functionalist role of the French empire was to introduce education, modern science, architecture, medicine, technology and other elements of civilization in the colonies. Between 1895 and 1914, republican ideological and imperial ideas influenced French colonial decision making in West Africa and in Madagascar. This happened in two distinctive ways. First, on the basis of the 1789 universal and revolutionary ideas of "equality, liberty and fraternity," all people within the empire and outside it had the right to basic freedoms. In the light of the freedoms, Africans and the Malagasy in particular, needed to be free from all forms of oppression of which domestic and long-distance slavery, feudalism, ignorance and disease were classic. This kind of emancipatory declaration was issued during the early stages of colonization in order to prepare the subjects for an idealistic vision of democratic life. Second, the French imperial system continued to spread its republican ideological liberalism in order to improve public opinion. What they said and promised was to civilize and uplift the dispossessed races of humankind. What they practiced was conquest, enslavement, greed, national pride, and oppression in the name of civilizing the "other." They behaved this way in order to perpetuate colonial hegemony. Hegemony was strengthened by emphasizing difference as opposed to similarities between and among ethnic groups, races, sexes, classes, and gender for the purpose of rationalizing the principle of divide, conquer and rule.

The dual public education systems provided indigenous schools that offered vocational, practical, and nonprofessional education for the Malagasy, and elite schools modeled on those in France for the children of French citizens. Prior to World War II, the Malagasy were not intended to train for leadership and responsibility. However, after World War II educational reforms helped to prepare nationals for leadership and responsibility. After conquering, dividing, and starting to govern, colonial rulers felt that one of their special obligations was to liberate Africans from aspects indigenous domination and prepare them for a higher level of civilization. Since the mission civilisatrice could not be decreed or imposed, maintaining peace and security would enable the rulers to patiently and strategically improve the moral and material advancement of Africans. Improvement of African standards of living required sizable investments in communications; medicine and hygiene; elementary, secondary, and professional education; and agriculture. The ultimate goal was that civilized Africans would understand the essence of liberty, and create laws that would protect the rights and freedoms of the individual. Between 1895 and 1914, the third republic attempted to end feudal vestiges in West Algeria and Madagascar. The institution of hereditary chiefs and religious clericalism were viewed as aristocratic and antiquarian elements of pre-modernism which French republican liberation opposed with hostility. They opposed these institutions because they viewed them to be elements of tyranny from which African people needed to be liberated.

Historians, political scientists, and sociologists call French colonial rule direct rule. It was direct because the French directly imposed their metropolitan constitutional, theoretical, and philosophical ideas of governance on traditional, pre-scientific, and undemocratic African people, their organizations, culture, and institutions. Africans viewed it with suspicion and disdain because this form of contact with the West was more barbaric and disruptive than they anticipated. Unlike the more successful English system of indirect rule through which traditional chiefs were used as instruments of policy formulation and implementation in Africa, French direct rule was in essence more inhumane than the traditional system they were replacing. Lack of enough colonial administrators made it difficult for the rulers to raise taxes, enforce slave labor, and administer the legal code. Though these institutions and organizations were built, they lacked resources to elevate their physical, economic, and social standards. As a result, during the First and Second World Wars, France's poor rapport with its colonies could not enable it to effectively recruit Africans for its own defense. The French claimed that they were being viewed wrongly because what they were doing was universally consistent with the spirit of mission civilisatrice, i.e., abolish feudalism, ignorance, poverty, disease, and uplift mass philosophical and constitutional life. As of 2001, these problems are more highly pronounced in Africa than when the French came and left.

The French mission civilisatrice claimed to attack problems such as feudalism, ignorance, poverty, and disease. However, the same French administrative system employed extraordinary and excessive elements of punishment, free and forced slave labor. Additionally, they made Africans subjects with duties rather than citizens who had rights. This has been viewed as a racist strategy used to deal with people who were different in the name of "equality, liberty, and fraternity" of all people.

The French empire denied women of the right to vote and reduced their role to that of reproduction and domesticity. The criteria for French citizenship included identifying their place of birth, residence, proof of devotion to France, occupation or profession in French colonial administration, knowledge of French language, good financial standing, high moral standards, having no criminal record, having never been bankrupt, certificate of middle school education and proof of payment of taxes by those who owned properly. In brief, most Africans who qualified for French citizenship were elite people who obeyed the law and owned property. Most subjects never qualified for French citizenship.

French colonial imperialism was more repressive and hypocritical rather than consistent with the principles of its republican ideology and the mission civilisatrice. For instance, French colonial officials used coercion to make Africans provide free labor and justified the behavior as an unpalatable but short-term expedient for the inculcation of the work ethic. Subjects were subjected to prestations (work taxes) that were similar to the feudal corvé in France. The 1912 decree legalized the prestations. This kind of forced free labor was oppressive colonial exploitation which parallels the feudal system (corvée) experienced by the French under the ancien régime.


Officially, the French ruled Madagascar for 64 years. Within this period, they abolished slavery and slave trade, sizably contributed to reasonable growth in education and health, and controlled epidemics. The French language was made official. To counteract the earlier influence of British Protestantism, Roman Catholic cultural and religious institutions were given preeminence in the country. These institutions included schools, churches, hospitals, and clinics. Economically, Madagascar's economy was developed and integrated with that of France. The colony became an exporter of raw materials such as rice, cloves, and minerals. Madagascar became an independent nation in 1960.

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Education Encyclopedia - StateUniversity.comGlobal Education ReferenceMadagascar - History Background, Constitutional Legal Foundations, Educational System—overview, Preprimary Primary Education, Secondary Education