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Article

Sirio Canós-Donnay

The Mali Empire is one of the largest and most widely known precolonial African states. It has featured in films, video games, works of fiction, and its memory is still a profound force in the articulation of social and political identities across Mande West Africa. Founded in the 13th century in the south of modern Mali, it quickly grew from a small kingdom to a vast empire stretching from the Senegambia in the west to Ivory Coast in the south. Before its disintegration in the late 16th century, its connections to distant trade networks stretched from Europe to China and its rulers became famous across the Old World for their wealth. In the absence of indigenous written histories, knowledge of the Mali Empire has been based on a complex combination of oral traditions, medieval Arabic chronicles, European accounts, oral histories, and archaeology. Through a critical analysis of these sources, it has been possible to learn much about Mali’s history, including aspects its social organization, political structure, belief systems, and historical evolution. However, there is much we still do not know, including the location and nature of its capital(s).

Article

Sandra Swart

Animal history in Africa—the multi-species story of the continent’s past—as a separate subdisciplinary “turn” is both recent and tentative, but as an integrated theme within the broader historiography it is both pioneering and enduring. Historians of Africa have long engaged with animals as vectors of change in human history and, of course, at the same time, understood that humans were a key agent of change in animal histories too, especially in the long-lived and extensive writing on epizootics, livestock farming, pastoralism, hunting, and conservation. African animal histories should resist the imposition of intellectual paradigms from the Global North.

Article

Zachary Kagan Guthrie

Forced labor was central to the modern history of the Portuguese empire. It was widely imposed across Angola, Mozambique, São Tomé, and Guinea after the imposition of Portuguese colonial rule in the late 19th century and persisted within the Portuguese empire for decades after it had been abolished by other European powers. The brutal violence and far-reaching social disruption created by forced labor had a profound impact on colonized communities. It was one of the most important ways that individual subjects interacted with the Portuguese colonial state. Forced labor was also fundamental in structuring the economic, political, social, and ideological contours of the Portuguese empire: the colonial economy was deeply dependent on the exploitation facilitated by forced labor, and both the operations of the Portuguese colonial administration and the justification for its existence were closely intertwined with conscripting forced workers. Finally, the prevalence of forced labor in the Portuguese empire precipitated recurring international scandals, which did a great deal to define Portuguese colonialism in the eyes of the world. Studying forced labor has therefore become an important methodology for understanding the depredations of Portuguese colonial rule, its impact on the lives of the people it governed, and the economic and political organization of the Portuguese empire.

Article

The Sahel or Sahil is in a sense the “coast” of the Sahara and its cities major “ports” in trade circuits linking long-standing regional exchange in the products of different ecozones to the markets of the Mediterranean through the trans-Saharan trade. Despite botanical diversity and the capacity to support high concentrations of humans and livestock, the productivity of this region depends upon a single unpredictable annual rainy season. Long- and short-term fluctuations in aridity have required populations specializing in hunting, farming, fishing, pastoralism, gold mining, and trade to be mobile and to depend upon one another for their survival. While that interdependence has often been peaceful and increasingly facilitated through the shared idiom of Islam, it has also taken more coercive forms, particularly with the introduction of horses, guns, and a dynamic market in slaves. Although as an ecozone the region stretches all the way to the Red Sea, the political Sahel today comprises Senegal, Mauritania, Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger, and Chad—all former French colonies. France’s empire was superimposed upon the existing dynamics in the agropastoral meeting ground of the desert edge. Colonial requirements and transportation routes weakened the links between the ecozones so crucial to the success of states and markets in the region. Despite the abolition of slavery in 1905, France tacitly condoned the persistence of servile relations to secure requisitions of labor, food, and livestock. Abolition set off a very gradual shift from slavery to other kinds of labor patterns which nonetheless drew upon preexisting social hierarchies based upon religion, caste, race, and ethnicity. At the same time, gender and age gained in significance in struggles to secure labor and status. “Black Islam” (Islam noir), both invented and cultivated under French rule, was further reinforced by the bureaucratic logic of the French empire segregating “white” North Africa and “black” sub-Saharan Africa from one another. Periodic drought and famine in the region has prompted a perception of the Sahel as a vulnerable ecological zone undergoing desertification and requiring intervention from outside experts. Developmentalist discourse from the late colonial period on has facilitated the devolution of responsibilities and prerogatives that typically belong to the state to nongovernmental bodies. At the same time, competition over political authority in the fragmented postcolonial states of the Sahel has often reinscribed and amplified status and ethnic differences, pitting Saharan populations against the governments of desert edge states. External and internal radical Islamic movements entangled with black market opportunists muddy the clarity of the ideological and political stakes in ways that even currently (2018) further destabilize the region.

Article

The modern Libyan state began to take shape within the Ottoman Empire from the mid-16th century onward. Libya’s path to independent statehood was violently interrupted in 1911 with the onset of an Italian conquest. Rome’s efforts to annex Libya through settler colonialism and ethnic cleansing were in turn disrupted by World War II. The United Nations (UN) helped to guide Libya to independence under the Sanusi monarchy in 1951, albeit in close collaboration with the United Kingdom and the United States. The Sanusi monarchy, founded in the eastern region of Cyrenaica in the late 19th century, faced substantial difficulties in its efforts to transform an incredibly vast, thinly populated, socially diverse, and seemingly resource-poor country into a modern nation state. Though the extraction and exportation of oil from the 1960s onward help to alleviate some of the financial constraints on the government, the increasing centralization of power within the monarchy eventually led to a military coup in 1969. Libya’s new regime, under the leadership of Mu‘ammar Al-Gaddafi, would eventually pursue a radical program involving centralized economic planning funded through oil sales, a baroque system of popular consultation, a terrifying array of “revolutionary” security institutions, military aggression in Chad, and confrontations with North Atlantic powers directly and indirectly. Though the Gaddafi regime was able to survive an array of domestic and international challenges for over four decades, a mass armed uprising in 2011, which precipitated a merciless civil war and foreign military intervention, led to its downfall. Subsequent international assistance and successive transitional authorities, however, were unable to address the spiral of insecurity that consumed Libya from 2012 onwards. A second civil war erupted in 2014, one fed not only by competing domestic visions for the future of Libya, but also by the competing ambitions of other states in the region.

Article

Founded in 1916, the School of African Studies at the University of London provided training in African, Asian, and Middle Eastern languages and history to colonial officers. Over more than a century, the transformation of African history at the SOAS from an imperial discipline to one centered on African experiences reveals challenges in the creation, use, and dissemination of ideas, or the politics of knowledge. The school, as the only institution of higher learning in Europe focused on Africa, Asia, and Middle East, has had to perform a balancing act between scholars’ motivation to challenge academic skeptics and racists who dismissed Africa and British governmental, political, and economic priorities that valued “practical education.” In 1948, the University of London took steps to create an international standing by affiliating several institutions in Africa. Over several decades, many historians preferred to teach in Africa because the climate in Britain was far less open to African history. SOAS convened international conferences in 1953, 1957, and 1961 that established the reputation of African history at the SOAS. Research presented at these meetings were published in the first volume of the Journal of African History with a subsidy from the Rockefeller Foundation. The first volumes of the journal were focused on oral history, historical linguistics, archaeology, and political developments in precolonial Africa, topics covered extensively at SOAS. SOAS grew considerably up until 1975, when area studies all over Britain underwent a period of contraction. Despite economic and personnel cuts, SOAS continued research and teaching especially on precolonial Africa, which has periodically been feared to be subsumed by modern history and not fitting into visions for “practical” courses. In the late 1980s, the school introduced an interdisciplinary bachelor of arts degree in African studies that requires African language study because so many students were specializing in Africa without it. This measure reveals the lasting commitment to engaging African voices. African history at the SOAS has also continued to be a humanistic enterprise, and in 2002, it was reorganized into the School of Religion, History, and Philosophies. It remains to be seen how Brexit might affect higher education. While cuts in education could hurt African studies more than other area studies as they often have, strained relations between Britain and continental Europe might make African countries more important to Britain in the coming years.

Article

Colonial settlement at the southern tip of Africa was pre-dated by 150 years of occasional encounters with European mariners. They touched on the coast to refresh water barrels, barter for meat with the local pastoralists, and repair their crafts, or in some cases found themselves wrecked and desperate on the shores of the “Cape of Storms.” It became the “Cape of Good Hope” after fleets of European ships profiteered from the sea route to the resources of India and Asia, among them the Portuguese, Dutch, French, and British. The formal date for permanent foreign occupation of the Cape is 1652, when a Dutch East India Company (VOC, the Company) force anchored in Table Bay and, with some basic tools, materials, and supplies, set up camp. After the decline and bankruptcy of the VOC in the late 18th century, a brief military occupation by the British (1795–1802), and an interim Dutch (“Batavian”) administration (1803–1806), the Cape became a British colony. By 1820 the Cape Colony stretched northward as far as the Orange River, and eastward to the Fish and Tugela rivers. Colonial settlement expanded with the arrival of traders, pastoralists, missionaries, and emigrants and created volatile zones in which settlers and African hunter-gatherers, pastoralists, and farmers contested with one another over land and resources. The colonial project continued into the later 19th century, spurred by the discovery of gold and diamonds far inland where independent Boer republics and Griqua states had been established. British imperialism and the lure of mineral wealth led to wars of annexation. Following the Second South African (“Anglo-Boer”) War (1899–1902) and subsequent attempts to reunify the country, in 1910 the “Union of South Africa” became a self-governing dominion within the British Empire, gaining formal independence in 1934. Thus, colonial settlement at the Cape covers a 250-year period and a vast area (roughly equivalent to the Western Cape, Eastern Cape, Northern Cape Provinces, and parts of North West Province). From an archaeological perspective, studies encompass the city of Cape Town and sites fanning out from there chronologically and spatially, such as grazing grounds, military outposts, the towns and villages of the coast and hinterland, arable and pastoral farms, sites of conflict and interaction, missions, and mines.

Article

The Indian diaspora in Tanzania emerged in waves from the subcontinent. While its internal religious and cultural diversity has been a hallmark, the diaspora accreted into a political category and community identity through the crucibles of colonialism and nationalism. Its origins were more disparate. East Africa and western India—especially peninsular Gujarat and Kutch—were fused by the monsoon winds that drove premodern Indian Ocean trade, when small numbers of Indian merchants sojourned and settled across the sea. The diaspora received a fillip after the Sultan of Oman shifted his capital to Zanzibar in 1840, granting positions to Indians and attracting trade and migration, largely of Indian Muslims. Britain used the suppression of the slave trade—in which its Indian subjects had participated vigorously—as a wedge to declare a protectorate over Zanzibar and established Tanganyika on the mainland after German East Africa was ceded following World War I. This was a boom time for settlement from India, and while the migrants were mostly poor, they thrived in the transformation into an imperial diaspora, working within segregated colonial structures and attaining advantages denied to Africans. Indians—a majority of them Shia Muslims of several sects—numbered around 110,000 when African nationalism won independence in Tanganyika and Zanzibar in the early 1960s, and in the postcolonial period their privilege made them targets of public animosity and state action. While protected by the inclusivist first president of united Tanzania, the diaspora integrated into the new nation in limited ways. When socialist reforms nationalized housing and made business challenging in the 1960s and 1970s, almost half of the Indians left, largely to Canada and the United Kingdom. Those who remained suffered occasional moments of political pressure even after socialism collapsed, but in the early decades of the 21st century they continue to reside in urban centers as a secure but marked minority with lives revolving around commerce and diverse community institutions.

Article

Roman North Africa has traditionally been studied from a Mediterranean and colonialist perspective, in part reflecting the development of the field during the modern colonial era when archaeology was too readily recruited to the aid of modern imperial projects. The traditional approaches have emphasized the exogenous contribution to the emergence of North Africa as one of the richest and most important regions of the Roman Empire’s core territory. The corollary of this has been a lack of investigation of the cultural, political, and economic institutions of the autochthonous peoples of the region prior to the Roman conquest, with the partial exception of Phoenician coastal settlements. Such approaches are very outdated in the early 21st century and in need of revision, taking account of important new knowledge of North African peoples. The Garamantes, who were a people of the Libyan Sahara external to the Roman Empire, provide an excellent case study for an alternative approach that considers the story of Africa in the Roman Empire in its broader Maghrebian and Saharan context.

Article

In the last few decades, discussions concerning the presence of spirit possession and healing practices associated with Sudanic Africans in North Africa and parts of the Middle East, coined as “slave religion,” have highlighted the relationship of these practices to indigenous religions and belief systems of Sudanic Africa. Unlike in the Americas, where the Atlantic slave trade was primarily responsible for the diffusion of similar indigenous African religious practices such as candomblé, Vodou, Santeria, Obeah, and their variants, the history behind Sudanic African spirit possession and healing practices in North Africa and the Middle East is much more complex. While increased enslaving activities during the late 18th century through the 19th century may have exacerbated the diffusion of the various Sudanic religious practices such as the Hausa Bori, the Zarma Holey, and the Zar cults to North Africa and the Middle East, their presence and practice outside their original milieu cannot be attributed solely to the slave trade. Interregional commerce, pilgrimage, voluntary migration, and elements of cultural unity underlying the Sudanic African religious and cosmological systems have all contributed at different historical time periods at varying scale to their spread and diffusion in North Africa and the Middle East.

Article

Resistance to slavery within African societies was as complex and heterogeneous as slavery itself. For enslaved Africans and their descendants taken by force to Europe’s colonies in the Americas, antislavery was an existential struggle. Among European states, Britain was among the first imperial powers to pass laws abolishing its slave trade (in 1807) and slavery in its colonies (in 1833). Antislavery was a transnational phenomenon, but Britain made suppressing the Atlantic slave trade an element of its foreign policy, employing a Royal Navy squadron to search for slave ships, pressing African leaders to sign anti-slave-trade treaties as a condition of trade and coordinating an international network of anti-slave-trade courts. And yet, for many leading British abolitionists, “Africa” was an ideological sandbox—an imagined blank space for speculation and experiment on the development of human societies and the progress of “civilization.” In the 18th century, early British critics of the transatlantic slave trade argued that “Africa” presented an unparalleled commercial and imperial opportunity. Although the slave trade—and the plantations in the Americas that slave ships supplied with labor—were profitable, some argued that slave-trading regions could, with enough investment, produce goods and commodities that would be many times more lucrative. Moreover, if Britain were the first European power to abolish the slave trade, it might also be among the first to gain a territorial foothold on African soil. Over time, these arguments coalesced into the concept of “legitimate commerce.” A combination of Christian teaching, slave-trade suppression, and commercial incentives would persuade slave-trading polities to give up the practice and instead produce other goods. Legitimate commerce intertwined with a theory of civilization that held that any society that enslaved people was so degenerate in its social development that nearly any reform or intervention was justifiable. By the end of the 19th century, antislavery became a justification for European conquest. There were at least three broad reform projects launched by British officials and merchants in Africa in the name of antislavery. First, drawing on critiques of the slave trade from the 18th century that emphasized the commercial potential of legitimate commerce, antislavery activists and politicians argued for replacing the slave trade with new kinds of export-oriented commerce. Second, in two colonies, Sierra Leone and Liberia, Britain and the United States experimented with the possibility of using Black people from the African diaspora as settlers and missionaries. In Sierra Leone, more than seventy thousand people, usually known as “Liberated Africans,” were repatriated from slave ships into the small colony. Third, in the mid-19th century, as the transatlantic slave trade declined, Britain and other European powers invested heavily in African plantation agriculture, particularly in cotton and palm oil monocrops.

Article

The Maghrib, “land of the setting sun” in Arabic, is the region of northwest Africa consisting of the countries of Tunisia, Algeria, Morocco, Libya, and, often, Mauritania. Even in flat, desert regions and plains of the Maghrib, the dominant geographical feature of the Maghrib is the Atlas Mountain range, looming over the horizon. These mountains not only create the geographic conditions for the desert, in terms of human geography, but they also form a massive, natural backbone and fortress from southern Morocco into Tunisia. For most of classical history the Atlas Mountains have been a great stumbling block for rulers. This changed in the early 12th century with the coming of the Almohads, who controlled the mountains and turned them into the heart of their empire. Before the Almohads, no power, not even the Romans, could claim to control the mountains. Instead, successive rulers tried to go around the range or to build fortifications at mountain passes, often in vain. Originating within the Atlas Mountains and maintaining their power all along its spine and into the southern Sierra Nevada of Iberia, the Almohads were the first to use the Atlas Mountains to their advantage. In doing so, they created the first unified, single polity across the Maghrib, originating too the idea that the Maghrib could be a politically united geographical space. Connections with Sahara and the Mediterranean could also now be strategically controlled. This era of Almohad unification, however, did not last long, a short fifty or sixty years from 1147 to the first decades of the 13th century, when the Almohad empire faced defeat from external forces and began a process of breaking apart into successor dynasties. Despite many later attempts to revive the Almohad model, no subsequent power was able to effectively restore the Almohad Empire’s reach across the Maghrib. Nonetheless, that unlikely and extraordinary success created the dream, or memory, of unification, one that continues to influence the people of the Maghrib.

Article

Hilary Jones

The idea of race shaped the encounter between Africa and Europe from the “age of discovery,” through the height of colonial rule in the 20th century, and on into the age of independence, decolonization and the birth of the postcolonial nation. Race, understood today as a social construct rather than a biological fact, emerged as an ideological framework in Western thought to rationalize difference. In the 16th and 17th centuries, religion and color stood as markers of difference. The Atlantic slave trade furthered the notion of African inferiority by defining African people as “heathen” and therefore suitable for enslavement. By the 19th century, scientific racism advanced the idea of blackness as biologically and culturally inferior to whiteness, which in turn served to justify colonial conquest under the guise of “civilizing dark Africa.” Colonial rule, moreover, relied on ethnicity as a means of categorizing African peoples. Using the idea of “tribe” to characterize and govern African peoples furthered the objectives of European imperialism by taking a complex landscape of social, cultural, political, and linguistic identity and establishing a rigid and fixed system of classification. African women stood at the intersection of racialist thinking about Africa and the construction of a colonial social order that used race and ethnicity as means of defining and controlling African populations. Women like Sara Baartman became the symbolic projection of racial and ethnic difference for Europe; at the same time, customary marriages between African women and European men in Atlantic Africa defined cross-cultural trade and gave rise to multiracial communities. As European imperialism gave way to colonial bureaucracy, the fluidity of interracial unions gave way to policies that sought to police the boundaries between black and white in the colony; children of mixed racial ancestry did not fit neatly into the ethnic or racial categories erected by colonial regimes. Far from being passive receptacles of racial and ethnic thinking, African men and women used these categories of European knowledge as tools for their own purposes. African women, in particular, developed their own strategies for engaging with European merchants and officials in the age of encounter, and for navigating the evolving landscape of colonial rule, whether defying colonial boundaries by entering into intimate partnerships with European men, or rejecting European suitors.

Article

Nikolas Gestrich

The Empire of Ghana is one of the earliest known political formations in West Africa. Within the context of a growing trans-Saharan trade, Arabic sources begin to mention “Ghāna,” the name of a ruler as well as of the city or country he ruled, in the 9th century. Repeatedly named in connection with fabulous riches in gold, Ghāna had acquired a preeminent role in the western Sahel and was a leader among a large group of smaller polities. Ghāna’s influence waned, and by the mid-14th century its ruler had become subordinate to the Empire of Mali. Over the course of a complex history of research, the Empire of Ghana became equated with the Soninké people’s legend of Wagadu and the archaeological site of Kumbi Saleh in southern Mauritania was identified as its capital. Yet between historical sources, oral traditions, and archaeological finds, little is known with certainty about the Empire of Ghana. Most questions on this early West African empire remain unanswered, including its location, development, the nature and extent of its rule, and the circumstances of its demise.

Article

Felicitas Becker and Michelle Liebst

Slaves, ex-slaves, and their descendants have taken multiple and complex routes toward emancipation in East Africa. Their experiences varied regionally, with status contests most clearly traceable in those areas where slavery had been most concentrated, especially on the coast. As scholars have established, the legal abolition of slavery did not lead directly to emancipation in East Africa, but it contributed to the quick erosion of slavery-based labor regimes around 1900. Ex-slaves pursued economic security and livelihoods through access to land and wage labor and sought to shed the stigma of slave origins by seeking religious affiliations, education, ethnic identities, and kinship ties. Routes to emancipation were highly gendered as female slaves within owners’ households lacked both political support and legal rights to their children. Moreover, male ex-slaves’ ambitions to assert their own patriarchal status by controlling women could be a major obstacle for ex-slave women’s search for emancipation. Although political independence in the 1960s encouraged the condemnation of slavery as an aberration from a different era, slavery-derived social differences linger, and people with a genealogy of slavery may face status implications in certain situations. Though East African societies, rural ones especially, are readily characterized as timelessly egalitarian, they struggle to this day with the legacy of slavery and incomplete emancipation.

Article

Augustin Holl

Chadic is above all a linguistic category. It includes a number of languages belonging to the Afro-Asiatic linguistic family and located almost exclusively in the Chad basin in North central Africa. Chadic languages are distributed in in three regional clusters, each divided in to part: Western Chadic with northwest and southeast sub-clusters, Central Chadic with southern and northern sub-cluster, and finally, Eastern Chadic with southwestern and northeastern sub-clusters. The history of settlement, expansion, and socio-cultural evolution of speakers of Chadic languages is intimately the consequences of climate change on Lake Chad and the Chad basin. Converging results of genomic research point to the Eastern African origins of Ancestral Chadic. Groups of Ancestral Chadic migrated along the tributaries of the Shari River, forming the Proto-Chadic Homeland in the southeast of the Mid-Holocene Lake Chad. These Early Chadic speaking communities drifted northeastward, northward, and northwestward, initially as pastoral nomadic groups, then sedentary mixed-farmers. The socio-political systems changed radically during the first half of the second millennium CE, from 1000 to 1500 CE, presiding over the emergence hierarchical and centralized polities in Western and Central Chadic areas.

Article

Colonial wildlife conservation initiatives in Africa emerged during the late 19th century, with the creation of different laws to restrict hunting as well as with the setting up of game reserves by colonial governments. Key influential figures behind this emergence were aristocratic European hunters who had a desire to preserve African game populations—ostensibly protecting them from settler and African populations—so that elite sports hunting could persevere on the continent. These wildlife conservation measures became more consolidated at the turn of the 20th century, notably due to the 1900 Convention for the Preservation of Animals, Birds and Fish in Africa—an agreement between European imperial powers and their colonial possessions in Africa to improve wildlife preservation measures—and with the establishment of the Society for the Preservation of the Wild Fauna of the Empire in 1903. This Society, made up of aristocrats, hunter-naturalists, and former government officials, used the influence of its members to advocate for greater wildlife conservation measures in Africa. The wildlife preservation agenda of the Society was largely geared around restricting hunting praxis (and land access) for African populations, while elite European hunting was defended and promoted as an imperial privilege compatible with environmental outcomes. Starting in the 1920s, members from the Society played a key role in setting up Africa’s early national parks, establishing a key conservation praxis that would continue into the late colonial and postcolonial periods. After World War II, colonial wildlife conservation influence reached its zenith. African populations were displaced as national parks were established across the continent.

Article

Hamadou Adama

Ahmed Bâba (1556–1627) was among the most prolific and the most celebrated of Timbuktu scholars of the 16th and 17th centuries. During his childhood he was educated and trained in Arabic law and Islamic sciences by his father, Ahmad, and other relatives. His principal teacher, the man he named the regenerator (al-mujaddid), was the Juula scholar Mohammed Baghayogho al-Wangarî, whose teaching he followed for more than ten years. Following the Moroccan occupation of Timbuktu in 1591, he was exiled to Marrakesh in 1594, jailed for two years, then obliged to remain in the city for many years. He was widely known both for his teaching and for the fatwas (legal opinions) he issued. He was offered administrative positions but declined them all in favor of teaching. In 1608, he was permitted to return to his hometown, Timbuktu, where he continued to write and teach until his death in 1627, but he held no public office there. His special field of competence was jurisprudence. He was also recognized for his abilities in hadith and wrote several works on Arabic grammar. He is probably best known for his biographical compendium of Mâlikî (founded by Malik ibn Anas died A.D. 795 is orthodox school of Muslim jurisprudence predominating in Sudanic Africa and the Maghreb) scholars, Nayl al-Ibtihâj bi tadrîs ad-dibâdj, a valuable supplement for the Western Islamic world to Ibn Farhûn’s ad-Dibâj al-Mudhahhab. His work specifically addresses issues relating to the significance of racial and ethnic categories as factors in the justification of enslavement. In the Bilâd as-Sûdân, Ahmed Bâba influenced the debate over slavery by relying on interpretations of Islamic precedent, which was invoked to protect freeborn individuals from enslavement. By extension, he impacted the transatlantic slave trade on the basis of religious identification with Islam and the desire to avoid the sale of slaves to non-Muslims, especially Christian Europeans on the coast of West Africa.

Article

Jane Hooper

The French formally colonized Madagascar in 1896. After violently repressing resistance movements, the colonial government began efforts to transform the island into a profitable member of the French Empire by taxing their subjects and instituting a harsh forced labor regime. These exactions were resisted by Malagasy throughout the entire colonial period, culminating in a widespread revolt in 1947. In 1960 Malagasy held their first elections, but the French would continue to exercise political and economic influence over the island’s government for the next twelve years. Madagascar has been ruled by a series of strong presidents who were removed from office following popular unrest and military coups. The pro-French government of Philibert Tsiranana was forced out in 1972. In 1975 the new president, Didier Ratsiraka, implemented socialist policies in the country. After Madagascar experienced a sharp economic decline, Ratsiraka agreed to restructure the economy with the assistance of the IMF and World Bank in the 1980s. Since that period, leaders have struggled to deal with recurring environmental crises and to improve living standards for the island’s residents. The pro-business president Marc Ravalomanana was removed from office following mass protests in the capital, Antananarivo, in 2009. He was replaced by Antananarivo’s mayor, Andry Rajoelina. International groups, viewing such a move as unconstitutional, withdrew economic aid, an act that exacerbated economic crises in the country. Fresh elections were held in 2013 but the victor, Hery Rajaonarimampianina, has dealt with strong challenges from several ex-presidents.