U.S. relations with Madagascar (or the Malagasy government) predated French colonial rule. In the mid 1800s, the two countries concluded a commercial convention where they signed a treaty of commerce and navigation and later signed a treaty of peace, friendship and commerce in 1881 (1) (2). These treaties established economic relations between the two countries, which differed from the French’s desire to politically and socially dominate the Malagasy people. The treaties set boundaries intended to secure Malagasy sovereignty, but allowed the U.S. to pursue commercial interests within the country and its surrounding waters.
The U.S. recognized Malagasy independence from the French in 1960 and elevated the existing consulate status into an embassy. Friendly relations with the U.S. suffered in the 1970s due to the expulsion of the American ambassador from the country, closing of a NASA tracking station, as well as the nationalization of two U.S. oil companies (3). These actions taken by the government resulted from the burgeoning allegiance between the Malagasy government and the USSR. When Didier Ratsiraka was elected president in 1975, he started to establish a socialist system in response to public’s qualms against the influence of Western-capitalist interests in Madagascar (as part of the Malagasy experience during Philibert Tsiranana’s French supported administration). This illustrates the constraints on economic freedom placed on poorer countries by larger western nations and how these limitations can be counterproductive for both parties.
Due to economic policy failure, the decline in power of the eastern block, and lack of capital flow (as a result of strained ties between the U.S.), Ratsiraka reverted (was pressured to) away from pursuing socialist policies to ones more acceptable by the U.S., World Bank, and International Monetary Fund (IMF) as a means for the country to receive foreign aid.
Madagascar’s economy is largely supported by foreign aid and the two largest donors have been the U.S. and France. When the U.S. launched its new supplementary aid program, the Millennium Challenge Account (MCC), in 2004, Madagascar had eagerly been the first country to sign up. This program is designed to “advance American values by delivering development assistance that promotes sound policy reforms, create new opportunities for economic growth, and share learning that makes the discipline of development effective and results-focused.” (4)
The MCC pledged $11o M. to assist the Malagasy rural population in transitioning form agriculture to a market economy. The initiative to participate in this challenge was taken by President Marc Ravalomanana (3rd republic) who sought to improve the economic conditions of the Malagasy people from a systemic level. U.S. and general Western relations with Madagascar had significantly improved under the Ravalomanana administration. As a successful, self-made millionaire, Ravalomanana embodied the idea of an American success story. Having been a student in Sweden and Germany, Ravalomanana’s background influenced his pro-western policies. This led to better ties with the U.S.
The Millennium Challenge Account espoused a set of initiatives that would better solve the global poverty issue in comparison to the existing aid policies and programs. However, this program sets out to “advance American values” which further reinforces the idea of limited economic freedom placed by larger and more developed Western-capitalist countries on the global south. Rather than accepting aid under the conditions and suggested projects of the U.S., Ravalomanana used this program to reform the structures of inequality within Madagascar by consulting the most impoverished groups. (5)
After the 2009 coup that resulted in the expulsion of Ravalomanana, the U.S. and other international agencies placed economic sanctions and suspended direct aid to the government. The coup was seen as a set back to the country’s move towards a real democracy which conflicts with Western ideals. The sanctions placed led to a lack in capital flow, which harmed the economic growth progress made during the Ravalomanana administration. While the U.S. did not give aid directly to the government, it helped in providing health and food securities through NGOs. (6) While the intent to provide for the Malagasy public was there, these actions taken by the U.S. is a form of amelioration that exists with the work of the nonprofit sector. The U.S. saw that the problem was the Malagasy government yet it chose to view at the public’s problem as individual deficiencies rather than a systemic structure that guarantees some people these deficiencies. By ameliorating the worst aspects of these problems, nonprofits/NGOs are lessening the pressure for governments from reforming the systems that denies the people their basic rights. The sanctions and provisional aid policies taken by the U.S. during this period helped to facilitate this (government inefficiency).
(1) U.S. State Department, “A Guide to the United States’ History of Recognition, Diplomatic and Consular Relations, by Country, since 1776: Madagascar.” http://history.state.gov/countries/madagascar
(2)Snow, Freeman. 1894. Treaties and Topics in American Diplomacy. Boston Book Company
(3)(6) U.S. State Department, “U.S. Relations with Madagascar.” http://www.state.gov/r/pa/ei/bgn/5460.htm
(4) The Millennium Challenge Corporation. https://www.mcc.gov/about
(5) Africa Renewal. “Focusing Aid on Africa’s Own Priority.” http://www.un.org/africarenewal/magazine/july-2005/focusing-aid-africa%E2%80%99s-own-priorities