Madagascar Social Classes

By | May 28, 2021

Urban-rural dualism

The majority of Madagascans live in the countryside, only 36.4% live in urban areas. The largest agglomeration area is the capital Antananarivo with approx. 1.8 million residents. The population density is highest here, followed by the highlands and the east coast and partially in the north, while only very low population densities are achieved in the west and south.

As in many African countries, in Madagascar, too, an urban living space correlates more frequently with more prosperity than a rural living space. According to pharmacylib, society shows great economic disparities. The slums around Antananarivo show a parallel world to the rich luxury villas of the upper class in the capital, the Malagasy elite, who have good salaries and fly to Paris for shopping. Begging children, prostitution and precarious living conditions are the result of many interlocking grievances in a society that shows a broad base of extreme poverty, a very small upper class and an almost completely absent middle class. Many people try to escape rural poverty by either looking for work in the metropolitan areas or by working in the informal sector. The population of the cities – especially Antananarivo – is growing steadily.

The picture is similar in other larger cities. However, the greater the distance from the centers, the more it becomes clear that people in rural areas today, as in the past, live relatively self-sufficient from agriculture and have only little mechanization. The social structures here are largely still stable. The Madagascans in rural areas can still be classified as economically poor. Farmers in the south are often affected by existential poverty; on the other hand, the highland areas that can be cultivated for rice cultivation in the central part of Madagascar are responsible for a better livelihood. But even here, farmers are not facing external shocks like cyclones with cyclones and floods for domestic crops as well as global price fluctuations for agricultural export products. And the usable area is decreasing – the population is growing, but the soil erosion is taking on serious traits and politics is promoting land occupation for larger agribusiness enterprises in order to stimulate the dynamism for exports. Only about a tenth of the population is covered by a social security system financed through taxes and duties in the event of risk and poverty as well as in old age. For the formal sector there is a pension fund (C.Na.PS), but the amounts paid out are extremely small and, on the other hand, only benefit a small part of the population, as most people work in agriculture or in the informal sector without any insurance.

The regional heterogeneity can be explained not only by the delimitation of different ethnic groups but also by the increase in rural poverty as a result of sociological traditions. A strong hierarchization of the rural population, superstition, witchcraft, fetish cult and other religious and animistic behaviors can slow down the development or dynamization of society and intensify intra-ethnic conflicts. The rivalry between the Merina and coastal tribes such as the Tsimihety has been smoldering for a long time. On the one hand, this has historical reasons due to the overwhelming power of the Merina kingdoms before the colonial era, but differences in origins are also responsible for conflicts, as the highland Madagascans have mostly Asian ancestors, the coastal residents African ancestry. The coexistence with Vazahas – the whites – and other minorities such as Chinese or Indians is not always harmonious. Many of the Madagascans living in the city or the agglomeration of Antananarivo categorically reject strongly traditional behavior and thus strongly limit their own class. Overall, this is problematic when it comes to elections or other national issues, because the division in society is great and is apparently getting bigger and bigger. Despite the equality of opportunity stipulated in the law. For all residents of Madagascar, even today, social reputation and individual freedom of movement depend on their origins going back many generations. This social pyramid of the privileged and the underprivileged offers hardly any permeability or opportunities for advancement. For example, a marriage between a member of the “andriana” – the noble class – and a woman of lower origin is possible for the higher-ranking partner, if at all, only with the loss of the family bond, the “fihavanana”. This is of immense importance for the social cohesion of Malagasy society.

Gender diversity / LGBTQI / homosexuality

In the constitution of Madagascar (Article 6) all people are treated equally regardless of their sexuality, religion, education etc. Homosexual activity or living together is legal from the age of 21, but same-sex marriages are not. Only heterosexual couples are allowed to adopt children. Even if the law is clear, homosexuality is not socially acceptable, is stigmatized and remains a taboo subject. Violence or discrimination against LGBTQI people will not be prosecuted. Homosexual prostitutes in particular are exposed to hostility, insults or even violence.

Madagascar Gender diversity