Madagascar is one of the poorest countries in Africa, and it has periodically been beset by widespread political unrest. Norwegian dairy cows at one time were an important part of Norwegian aid. Today education takes prime place.

Facts about Madagascar

The flag for Madagascar
Life expectancy
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GNI pr capita
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Percentage poor people (below 1.25$)
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The flag for Madagascar

Bilateral assistance million kroner

Bilateral assistance million kroner

Bilateral assistance million kroner

Madagascar gained independence in 1960. Under Philibert Tsiranana (president 1960–1972) and the social democratic party (PSD) the country maintained close links with France, its former colonial power, and during this period it underwent robust economic development. Following riots and fighting in the capital city Antananarivo, the military forces took charge of the country in 1972. Many of the ties to France were severed, and the Soviet Union and radical African countries became its new partners.

In 1975, Vice Admiral Didier Ratsiraka  (president 1975–1993 and 1997–2002) took power. Early in his presidency Ratsiraka pursued a socialist policy and nationalised key parts of the economy. After the country was hit by an economic crisis in the 1980s, the economy was liberalised and Madagascar again turned to France and other western countries in pursuit of its foreign policy.

A democratic movement emerged in the late 1980s with demands for reforms, resulting in the introduction of a multi-party system in 1990. In 1992, Ratsiraka lost the election and resigned as president, only to be re-elected in 1996.

Norwegian agricultural mission with deep roots

Norwegian aid to Madagascar began in the 1960s. The aid was closely associated with Norwegian missionary activity, which had deep historical roots. The Norwegian Missionary Society (NMS) was established in Madagascar in as early as 1866. After independence NMS strengthened the diaconal, or non-proselytising, aspect of its missionary activity, and support to Malagasy farmers became an important part of the mission’s work.

In 1965, NMS helped to set up a practice-oriented agricultural college, modelled on the Tomb agricultural college in Østfold. The college was named Tombontsoa and is situated in the region of Vakinankaratra in the Central Highlands. In order to increase milk production in the region, the following year the Norwegian Red breed of cattle was introduced.

The FIFAMANOR agricultural project started in 1972 with support from Norad. Two farms were established to research and test new techniques. The project’s aim was to increase production of potatoes and various cereal varieties as an alternative to rice-growing, and to increase milk production.

Several Norwegian Red bull calves and heifers were shipped over, and thanks to selective breeding and cross-breeding between Norwegian Red and local zebu cattle, there are now many thousand dairy cattle with Norwegian Red genes in Madagascar.  There was a manyfold increase in milk production in the region of Vakinankaratra, and production of wheat and potatoes also increased.

In addition to its agricultural work, NMS has also been responsible for significant work in the areas of health and education. In conjunction with the Malagasy Lutheran church, NMS has contributed to the building of a number of schools and hospitals.

Escalation of Norwegian development aid, and a coup

In 2001 disagreement regarding the winner of the presidential elections in that year triggered a major crisis. The country was almost equally split between the supporters of the two candidates, the sitting president Ratsiraka and his challenger, Marc Ravalomanana (president 2002–2009). Ravalomanana was finally declared the winner, and Ratsiraka later went into exile.

In 2004 Norway strengthened diplomatic ties with Madagascar by establishing its own embassy in Antananarivo. In the same year, Madagascar was given the status of a partner country for Norwegian development aid, and President Ravalomanana visited Norway. Development aid was augmented, with a special focus on education and good governance.

Ravalomanana was re-elected in 2006, but in January 2009 a power struggle arose between the president and the mayor of Antananarivo, resulting in widespread riots and violence. In March 2009 Ravalomanana was forced to relinquish power. The takeover of power was condemned as a coup, and the country found itself isolated. Madagascar was, for example, suspended from the African Union (AU).

After several rounds of negotiations, a government of national unity was formed in 2011, along with a plan to implement elections. 2013 saw relatively peaceful elections, won by Hery Rajaonarimampianina, who was inaugurated as president the following year.

Support for education through the UN

Even before the recent period of political instability, Madagascar was one of the poorest countries in Africa, and belongs to the group of least developed countries (LDCs). Its economic growth has scarcely kept pace with its population growth, and it suffered a dramatic setback during the political crisis from 2009 to 2013.

The effect on the poor was especially severe. According to figures from 2012, 77 per cent of the population lived in extreme poverty and the country had a high proportion of undernourished children. Madagascar was ranked number 161 of 188 countries on the UN Human Development Index for 2017.

Much of the foreign aid was withdrawn in 2009 as a reaction to the coup against the elected president. Norway also froze its bilateral aid. Since 2000, education had taken over from agriculture as the most important individual sector for Norwegian development assistance. Norwegian support to education was channelled through UN organisations after the coup. The most important of these was UNICEF, which took charge of the educational content, while the International Labour Organization (ILO) was responsible for the construction of new school buildings and the World Food Programme for school cafeterias.

Norway focused its effort on three of the southernmost regions of the country, and helped to maintain opportunities for schooling there despite the political crisis and international isolation. In 2015 a new three-year agreement was signed with UNICEF for continued Norwegian support.

In the field of health, Norway supported the aid organisation Mercy Ships in 2016 with a lump-sum payment. The organisation collaborated with a university hospital in the city of Toamasina on the training of specialist personnel, renovation of water, electrical and sanitary facilities at the hospital, and procurement of equipment for the hospital’s operating theatre.

Through the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), Norway gave support to the implementation of the elections in 2013, amounting to more than NOK 7 million in 2018. In 2015, Norway entered into a three-year agreement with UNIDO, with funding provided from the grant allocation for women.

In the cultural sector, since 2008 Norwegian aid has provided annual support to the Madajazzcar music festival, one of Madagascar’s few national festivals. This support was discontinued in 2017 and support to the cultural sector is now channelled to the national platform for the promotion and development of contemporary performing arts, Association Des Médiateurs Culturels.

Published 28.08.2014
Last updated 05.02.2019