Jonathan Clayton: behind the story
Far from the popular image of a tropical Garden of Eden, Madagascar is a poverty-stricken island notorious for underage sex tourism. Tourist brochures cite its unspoilt rain forests, evolutionary marvels and isolated magnificent beaches but the country’s dark history is often overlooked.
Madagascar is no stranger to violent political upheavals. Since the island, the fourth-largest in the world, gained independence from France in 1960, it has been racked by coups.
The Malagasy are thought to be descendants of Polynesians who settled in the island more than 2,000 years ago. The people pay a lot of attention to their dead and spend much effort on ancestral tombs, which are opened from time to time so the remains can be carried in procession before being rewrapped in fresh shrouds.
Because of its isolation most of its mammals, half its bird species, and many of its plants, exist nowhere else on Earth.
In the early 1970s the military seized power. Several leaders came and went until Admiral Didier Ratsiraka took over. He moved towards a market economy but went into exile in the mid90s. Since then the country has lurched from crisis to crisis.