Madagascar is made up of a highland plateau fringed by a lowland coastal strip, narrow (c.30 mi/50 km) in the east and considerably wider (c.60-125 mi/100-200 km) in the west. The plateau attains greater heights in the north, where Mt. Maromokotro (9,450 ft/2,880 m), the loftiest point in the country, is located, and in the center, where the Ankaratra Mts. reach c.8,670 ft (2,640 m). Once a mosaic of forest, brush, and grassland, the plateau is now largely deforested. A national park was established in 1997 to protect the island's lemurs, rare orchids, and other unique wild species, products of the island's 80-million-year isolation from the mainland. Some three fourths of the island's plant and animal species are found only on Madagascar. A series of lagoons along much of the east coast is connected in part by the Pangalanes Canal, which runs (c.400 mi/640 km) between Farafangana and Mahavelona and can accommodate small boats. The island has several rivers, including the Sofia, Betsiboka, Manambao, Mangoro, Tsiribihina, Mangoky, Mananara, and Onilahy. In addition to the capital, other cities include Antsirabe, Antsiranana, Fianarantsoa, Mahajanga, Toamasina, and Toliary.
The inhabitants of Madagascar fall into two main groups—those largely of Malayo-Indonesian descent and those principally of African descent. Of the roughly 18 ethnicities, the main Indonesian groups are the Merina, who live near Antananarivo, and the Bétsiléo, who live around Fianarantsoa. The principal African groups are the Betsimisáraka, who live near Toamasina; the Tsimihety, based in the N highlands; the Sakalawa and the Antandroy, who live in the west; and the Antaisaka, who live in the southeast. There are small numbers of French and South Asians. All the people speak Malagasy, a language of Indonesian origin; it, French, and English are official languages. Over 50% of the people follow traditional religious beliefs; about 40% are Christian (equally divided between Roman Catholics and Protestants), and 7% are Muslim.
The economy of Madagascar is overwhelmingly agricultural, largely of a subsistence type; the best farmland is in the east and northwest. The principal cash crops are coffee, vanilla, sugarcane, cloves, and cocoa. The main food crops are rice, cassava, beans, bananas, and peanuts. In addition, large numbers of poultry, cattle, goats, sheep, and hogs are raised. Fishing and forestry are also important.
Industries include meat, seafood, and sugar processing; brewing; tanning; automobile assembly; and the manufacture of textiles, glassware, and paper. Tourism is also important. The chief minerals are chromite, graphite, coal, bauxite, salt, quartz, zircon, ilmenite, nickel, cobalt, industrial beryl and garnets, and both offshore and onshore oil. There is an extensive but degraded road system (now being repaired) and only a limited rail network. Toamasina and Mahajanga are the chief ports.
Madagascar carries on a relatively small foreign trade, and the annual value of imports is usually higher than the value of exports. The main imports are capital and consumer goods, petroleum, and food products. The leading exports are coffee, vanilla, shellfish, sugar, textiles, chromite, and petroleum products. The principal trade partners are France, the United States, and China. Madagascar relies heavily upon assistance from members of the European Union and international agencies.
Madagascar is governed under the constitution of 1992 as amended. The president, who is head of state, is elected by popular vote for a five-year term and is eligible for a second term. The government is headed by a prime minister, who is appointed by the president. There is a bicameral legislature. The Senate has 100 members, two thirds of which are selected by regional assemblies; the rest are appointed by the president. Members of the 160-seat National Assembly are popularly elected. All legislators serve four-year terms. Administratively, Madagascar is divided into six provinces.
The earliest history of Madagascar is unclear. Africans and Indonesians reached the island in about the 5th cent. A.D., the Indonesian immigration continuing until the 15th cent. From the 9th cent., Muslim traders (including some Arabs) from E Africa and the Comoro Islands settled in NW and SE Madagascar. Probably the first European to see Madagascar was Diogo Dias, a Portuguese navigator, in 1500. Between 1600 and 1619, Portuguese Roman Catholic missionaries tried unsuccessfully to convert the Malagasy. From 1642 until the late 18th cent. the French maintained footholds, first at Taolagnaro (formerly Fort-Dauphin) in the southeast and finally on Sainte Marie Island off the east coast.
By the beginning of the 17th cent. there were a number of small Malagasy kingdoms, including those of the Antemoro, Antaisaka, Bétsiléo, and Merina. Later in the century the Sakalawa under Andriandahifotsi conquered W and N Madagascar, but the kingdom disintegrated in the 18th cent. At the end of the 18th cent. the Merina people of the interior were united under King Andrianampoinimerina (reigned 1787-1810), who also subjugated the Bétsiléo. Radama I (reigned 1810-28), in return for agreeing to end the slave trade, received British aid in modernizing and equipping his army, which helped him to conquer the Betsimisáraka kingdom. The Protestant London Missionary Society was welcomed, and it gained many converts, opened schools, and helped to transcribe the Merina language. Merina culture began to spread over Madagascar.
Radama was succeeded by his wife Ranavalona I (reigned 1828-1861), who, suspicious of foreigners, declared (1835) Christianity illegal and halted most foreign trade. During her rule the Merina kingdom was wracked by intermittent civil war. Under Radama II (reigned 1861-63) and his widow and successor Rasoherina (reigned 1863-68) the anti-European policy was reversed and missionaries (including Roman Catholics) and traders were welcomed again. Rainilaiarivony, the prime minister, controlled the government during the reigns of Ranavalona II (1868-83) and Ranavalona III (1883-96); by then the Merina kingdom included all Madagascar except the south and part of the west. Ranavalona II publicly recognized Christianity, and she and her husband were baptized.
In 1883 the French bombarded and occupied Toamsina (then Tamatave), and in 1885 they established a protectorate over Madagascar, which was recognized by Great Britain in 1890. Rainilaiarivony organized resistance to the French, and there was heavy fighting from 1894 to 1896. In 1896, French troops under J. S. Gallieni defeated the Merina and abolished the monarchy.Colonialism, Independence, and One-Man Rule
By 1904 the French fully controlled the island. Under the French, who governed the Malagasy through a divide-and-rule policy, development was concentrated in the Tananarive region, and thus the Merina benefited most from colonial rule. Merina nationalism developed early in the 20th cent., and in 1916 (during World War I) a Merina secret society was suppressed by the French after a plot against the colonialists was discovered.
During World War II, Madagascar was aligned with Vichy France until 1942, when it was conquered by the British; in 1943 the Free French regime assumed control. From 1947 to 1948 there was a major uprising against the French, who crushed the rebellion, killing between 11,000 and 80,000 (estimates vary) Malagasy in the process. As in other French colonies, indigenous political activity increased in 1956, and the Social Democratic party (PSD), led by Philibert Tsiranana (a Tsimihety), gained predominance in Madagascar.
On Oct. 14, 1958, the country—renamed the Malagasy Republic—became autonomous within the French Community and Tsiranana was elected president. On June 26, 1960, it became fully independent. Under Tsiranana (reelected in 1965 and 1972), an autocratic ruler whose PSD controlled parliament, government was centralized, the coastal peoples (côtiers) were favored over those of the interior (especially the Merina), and French economic and cultural influence remained strong. Beginning in 1967, Tsiranana cultivated economic relations with white-ruled South Africa.
In 1972, students and workers, discontented with the president's policies and with the deteriorating economic situation, staged a wave of protest demonstrations. At the height of the crisis Tsiranana handed over power to Gen. Gabriel Ramanantsoa, who became prime minister. In Oct., 1972, a national referendum overwhelmingly approved Ramanantsoa's plan to rule without parliament for five years; Tsiranana, who opposed the plan, resigned the presidency shortly after the vote.The New Madagascar
Ramanantsoa freed political prisoners jailed by Tsiranana, began to reduce French influence in the country, broke off relations with South Africa, and generally followed a moderately leftist course. In 1975, a new constitution was approved that renamed the Malagasy Republic the Democratic Republic of Madagascar. That same year, Ramanantsoa dissolved his government in response to mounting unrest in the military and internal disagreements regarding economic policy. Col. Ratsimandrava assumed power but was assassinated a month later and Lt. Comdr. Didier Ratsiraka was elected president in a referendum.
The military-backed Supreme Revolutionary Council (CSR), with Ratsiraka as its head, comprised the government's executive branch. Ratsiraka's Marxist-socialist government nationalized most of the economy and borrowed widely to pay for major investments in development. The nation fell into a crippling debt crisis. Ratsiraka's policies of censorship, regional divisiveness, and repression led to several coup attempts in the 1980s, while food shortages and price increases caused further social unrest. In foreign affairs, Madagascar under Ratsiraka strengthened ties with the United States and Europe and continued to distance itself from South Africa.
Ratsiraka was reelected in 1989 under suspicious circumstances and rioting ensued. Madagascar's political and economic upheaval prompted the government to establish a multiparty system and move toward the privatization of industry in the 1990s. After demonstrations and a lengthy general strike in 1991, Ratsiraka agreed to share power with opposition leader Albert Zafy in a transitional government. In a free presidential election held in 1993, Zafy overwhelmingly defeated Ratsiraka.
In 1995, Zafy won passage of a constitutional amendment allowing the president, rather than the national assembly, to choose a prime minister. With the economy deteriorating, protesters staged street demonstrations in Feb., 1996, and there were some calls for an army takeover. Dissatisfaction with Zafy led to his impeachment by the national assembly in July, 1996. In elections later that year, Ratsiraka came back to defeat Zafy, promising a program of humanistic and ecological development; he also announced plans for a referendum to revise the constitution. Elections in 1998 sent 63 members of Ratsiraka's AREMA party into the newly enlarged national assembly.
In the Dec., 2001, presidential elections, opposition leader Marc Ravalomanana claimed victory over Ratsiraka, but the government announced that he had won only 46% of the vote, forcing a runoff. Ravalomanana denounced reported results and proclaimed himself president, creating a standoff between his and Ratsiraka's supporters. Although Ravalomanana gained control of the capital, Ratsiraka moved his government to Toamasina and had strong support outside the capital and in much of the army.
A recount in Apr., 2002, which was negotiated by the Organization of African Unity (OAU) and agreed to by both candidates, declared Ravalomanana the winner, but Ratsiraka rejected those results. Forces supporting Ravalomanana gradually won control of most of the island (except Toamasina prov.) by early July, when Ratsiraka fled Madagascar. The African Union, the OAU's successor, initially refused to recognize the new government and called for new elections. In Dec., 2002, Ravalomanana's party won a majority in elections for a new legislature, and the African Union subsequently recognized the new government. Ratsiraka was tried in absentia and convicted on charges of embezzlement in 2003.
Ravalomanana moved to privatize state-owned companies and successfully sought international aid and foreign investment. His government, however, sometimes limited freedom of the press and other political freedoms. In 2005 the government banned the New Protestant Church (FPVM), a growing charimatic church that had split (2002) from the mainline Reformed Protestant Church of Jesus Christ (FJKM). The president, a lay leader in the FJKM, was accused of favoring one church over another in violation of the constitution, but the courts refused to overturn the decision.
The president was reelected in Dec., 2006, but the election was marred by the exclusion of a major opposition candidate, Pierrot Rajaonarivelo, who was in exile and was not allowed to return and register for the election. In addition, in November, there was an attempted coup against the president by a retired army general who was also not allowed to run; although it was unsuccessful, many of the presidential candidates called his a coup a move in defense of the constitution. In late 2006 and early 2007 Madagascar suffered its worst cyclone (hurricane) season in memory, with six storms hitting the country, affecting some 450,000 inhabitants. Legislative elections in Sept., 2007, again gave the president's party a majority of the seats.
In Dec., 2008, in a feud that was as much personal as it was political, Antananarivo mayor Andry Rajoelina began leading demonstrations demanding the president's resignation after Rajoelina's radio station was briefly closed by the government. The protests, which tapped into popular discontent, led to street violence in late January and early February; also in early February Ravalomanana dismissed the mayor from office. Talks failed to resolve the conflict, and in March a military mutiny forced the president to resign; he went into exile. The new army chief handed the presidency to Rajoelina (though he was constitutionally too young for the office) in a de facto coup; Ravalomanana's ouster was denounced by the African Union, which suspended Madagascar. Ravalomanana's supporters, who mounted demonstrations in his favor, announced their own government in April; its prime minister, Manandafy Rakotonirina, was arrested.
Attempts by the United Nations and African Union to negotiate a settlement were initially unsuccessful, and in the June a Madagascar court sentenced the former president in absentia to four years in prison for abuse of office. In August, however, the four main political parties agreed to establish a transitional government leading to elections in 2010, but Rajoelina's move (September) to unilaterally appoint the government threatened the accord. In October, an agreement was reached concerning the government (with Rajoelina as president), but Ravalomanana refused to sign it because Rajoelina was not excluded from running for president. Negotiations over the makeup of the government continued, but in December Rajoelina abandoned the negotiations, barred opposition leaders (including members of the power-sharing government) from returning to Madagascar, called for parliamentary elections in Mar., 2010, and appointed a new prime minister.
See R. Kent, From Madagascar to the Malagasy Republic (1962) and Early Kingdoms in Madagascar, 1500-1700 (1970); C. P. Kottak, ed., Madagascar (1986); R. Stevens, Madagascar (1988); F. Allen, Madagascar (1990); K. Preston-Mafham, Madagascar: A Natural History (1991); P. M. Allen, Madagascar (1994); M. Covell, Historical Dictionary of Madagascar (1995); N. Garbutt, Mammals of Madagascar (1999); K. P. Middleton, Ancestors, Power and History in Madagascar (1999); P. Tyson, The Eighth Continent: Life, Death, and Discovery in the Lost World of Madagascar (2000); S. Goodman and J. P. Benstead, ed., The Natural History of Madagascar (2004).
Learn more about Madagascar with a free trial on Britannica.com.
Madagascar, or Republic of Madagascar (older name Malagasy Republic), is an island nation in the Indian Ocean off the southeastern coast of Africa. The main island, also called Madagascar, is the fourth-largest island in the world, and is home to 5% of the world's plant and animal species, of which more than 80% are endemic to Madagascar. They include the lemur infraorder of primates, the carnivorous fossa, three bird families and six baobab species.
The written history of Madagascar begins in the 7th century, when Arab Muslims established trading posts along the northwest coast and first transcribed the Malagasy language into Sorabe. During the Middle Ages, the chiefs began to extend their power through trade with Indian Ocean neighbors, notably East Africa, the Middle East and India. Large chiefdoms began to dominate considerable areas of the island. Among these were the Sakalava chiefdoms of the Menabe, centred in what is now the town of Morondava, and of Boina, centred in what is now the provincial capital of Mahajanga (Majunga). The influence of the Sakalava extended across what is now the provinces of Antsiranana, Mahajanga and Toliara.
European contact began in the year 1500, when Portuguese sea captain Diogo Dias sighted the island after his ship separated from a fleet going to India. The Portuguese continued trading with the islanders and named the island as "Sāo Lourenço" (St. Lawrence). In 1666, Francois Caron, the Director General of the newly formed French East India Company, sailed to Madagascar. The Company failed to establish a colony on Madagascar but established ports on the nearby islands of Bourbon and Ile-de-France (today's Reunion and Mauritius). In the late 17th century, the French established trading posts along the east coast.
From about 1774 to 1824, Madagascar was a favourite haunt for pirates, including Americans, one of whom brought Malagasy rice to South Carolina. Many European sailors were shipwrecked on the coasts of the island, among them Robert Drury whose journal is one of the only written depictions of life in southern Madagascar during the 18th century.
Beginning in the 1790s, Merina rulers succeeded in establishing hegemony over most of the island, including the coast. In 1817, the Merina ruler and the British governor of Mauritius concluded a treaty abolishing the slave trade, which had been important in Madagascar's economy. In return, the island received British military and financial assistance. British influence remained strong for several decades, during which the Merina court was converted to Presbyterianism, Congregationalism and Anglicanism.
With the domination of the Indian Ocean by the Royal Navy and the end of the Arab slave trade, the western Sakalava lost their power to the emerging Merina state. The Betsimisaraka of the east coast also unified, but this union soon faltered.
France invaded Madagascar in 1883 in what became known as the first Franco-Hova War seeking to restore property that had been confiscated from French citizens. (Hova is one of three Merina classes: andriana - aristocracy, hova - common people, andevo - slaves. The term hova was wrongly used by the French to mean Merina.) At the wars end, Madagascar ceded Antsiranana (Diego Suarez) on the northern coast to France and paid 560,000 gold stripers francs to the heirs of Joseph-François Lambert. In 1890 the British accepted the full formal imposition of a French protectorate.
In 1895, a French flying column landed in Mahajanga (Majunga) and marched to the capital, Antananarivo, where the city's defenders were taken by surprise, as they were expecting an attack from the much closer east coast. Twenty French soldiers died fighting and 6,000 died of malaria and other diseases before the second Franco-Hova War ended.
After the conclusion of hostilities, in 1896 the French Parliament voted to annex Madagascar. The 103-year-old Merina monarchy ended with the royal family being sent into exile in Algeria. In December 1904, the Russian Baltic Fleet docked at Antsiranana (Diego Suarez) for coal and provisions before sailing on to its doomed encounter with the Japanese fleet in the Battle of Tsushima. Before leaving port the Russian sailors were required to put ashore the animals they had acquired, including monkeys, boa constrictors and one crocodile.
During World War II, Malagasy troops fought in France, Morocco, and Syria. Just before the fall of France, Germany planned to forcibly deport all of Europe's Jews to Madagascar in what was known as the Madagascar Plan. But action on the plan was never begun. After France fell to Germany, the Vichy government administered Madagascar. During the Battle of Madagascar, British troops occupied the strategic island in 1942 to preclude its seizure by the Japanese, after which the Free French took over.
In 1947, with French prestige at low ebb, a nationalist uprising was suppressed after several months of bitter fighting with 90,000 people killed. The French later established reformed institutions in 1956 under the Loi Cadre (Overseas Reform Act), and Madagascar moved peacefully towards independence. The Malagasy Republic was proclaimed on October 14, 1958, as an autonomous state within the French Community. A period of provisional government ended with the adoption of a constitution in 1959 and full independence on June 26, 1960.
Madagascar is divided into six autonomous provinces (faritany mizakatena), and 22 regions. The regions will be the highest subdivision level when the provinces are dissolved by 2009.
The regions are further subdivided into 116 districts, 1,548 communes, and 16,969 fokontany. The major cities have a special status as "commune urbaine", at the same level as the districts.
At , Madagascar is the world's 46th-largest country and the fourth largest island. It is slightly larger than France and it also is one of 11 distinct physiographic provinces of the South African Platform physiographic division.
Towards the east, a steep escarpment leads from the central highlands down into a ribbon of rain forest with a narrow coastal further east. The Canal des Pangalanes is a chain of natural and man-made lakes connected by canals that runs parallel to the east coast for some 460 km (about two-thirds of the island). The descent from the central highlands toward the west is more gradual, with remnants of deciduous forest and savanna-like plains (which in the south and southwest, are quite dry and host spiny desert and baobabs). On the west coast are many protected harbours, but silting is a major problem caused by sediment from the high levels of erosion inland.
Along the crest of this ridge lie the central highlands, a plateau region ranging in altitude from 2,450 to 4,400 ft (750 to 1350m) above sea level. The central highlands are characterised by terraced, rice-growing valleys lying between barren hills. Here, the red laterite soil that covers much of the island has been exposed by erosion, showing clearly why the country is often referred to as the "Red Island".
The island's highest peak, Maromokotro, at 2,876 m (9,436 ft), is found in the Tsaratanana Massif, located in the far north of the country. The Ankaratra Massif is in the central area south of the capital Antananarivo and hosts the third highest mountain on the island, Tsiafajavona, with an altitude of 2,642 m (8,668 ft). Further south is the Andringitra massif which has several peaks over 2400 m (about 8,000 ft) including the second and fourth highest peaks, Pic Imarivolanitra, more widely known as Pic Boby (8,720 ft, 2,658 m), and Pic Bory (8,626 ft, 2,630 m). Other peaks in the massif include Pic Soaindra (8,594 ft, 2,620 m) and Pic Ivangomena (8,385 ft, 2,556 m). This massif also contains the Andringitra Reserve. On very rare occasions, this region experiences snow in winter due to its high altitude. There are two seasons: a hot, rainy season from November to April, and a cooler, dry season from May to October. South-eastern trade winds predominate, and the island occasionally experiences cyclones.
Madagascar is long isolation from the neighboring continents has resulted in a unique mix of plants and animals, many found nowhere else in the world; some ecologists refer to Madagascar as the "eighth continent". Of the 10,000 plants native to Madagascar, 90% are found nowhere else in the world.
Madagascar's varied fauna and flora are endangered by human activity, as a third of its native vegetation has disappeared since the 1970s, and only 18% remains intact.
The eastern, or windward side of the island is home to tropical rainforests, while the western and southern sides, which lie in the rain shadow of the central highlands, are home to tropical dry forests, thorn forests, and deserts and xeric shrublands. Madagascar's dry deciduous rain forest have been preserved generally better than the eastern rainforests or the high central plateau, presumably due to historically low population density and scarce water supplies.
Extensive deforestation has taken place in parts of the country. Slash-and-burn activity, locally called tavy, has occurred in the eastern and western dry forests as well as the on the central high plateau, reducing certain forest habitat and applying pressure to some endangered species. Slash-and-burn is a method sometimes used by shifting cultivators to create short-term yields from marginal soils. When practiced repeatedly without intervening fallow periods, the nutrient-poor soils may be exhausted or eroded to an unproductive state. The resulting increased surface runoff from burned lands has caused significant erosion and resulting high sedimentation to western rivers.
As a part of conservation efforts, the Wildlife Conservation Society has recently opened a Madagascar! exhibit at the Bronx Zoo. The New York Academy of Sciences recently published a Podcast about the Madagascar! exhibit, which details the fauna and flora of Madagascar and what types of projects the WCS is involved with in the country. The Podcast can be listened to here
Madagascar is represented in the FIPS 10-4 geographical encoding standard by the symbol MA.
Structural reforms began in the late 1980s, initially under pressure from international financial institutions, notably the World Bank. An initial privatization program (1988-1993) and the development of an export processing zone (EPZ) regime in the early 1990s were key milestones in this effort. A period of significant stagnation from 1991-96 was followed by 5 years of solid economic growth and accelerating foreign investment, driven by a second wave of privatizations and EPZ development. Although structural reforms advanced, governance remained weak and perceived corruption in Madagascar was extremely high. During the period of solid growth from 1997 to 2001, poverty levels remained stubbornly high, especially in rural areas. A six-month political crisis triggered by a dispute over the outcome of the presidential elections held in December 2001 virtually halted economic activity in much of the country in the first half of 2002. Real GDP dropped 12.7% for the year 2002, inflows of foreign investment dropped sharply, and the crisis tarnished Madagascar's budding reputation as an AGOA standout and a promising place to invest. After the crisis, the economy rebounded with GDP growth of over 10% in 2003. Currency depreciation and rising inflation in 2004 have hampered economic performance, but growth for the year reached 5.3%, with inflation reaching around 25% at the end of the year. In 2005 inflation was brought under control by tight monetary policy of raising the Taux Directeur (central bank rate) to 16% and tightening reserve requirements for banks. Thus growth was expected to reach around 6.5% in 2005.
Following the 2002 political crisis, the government attempted to set a new course and build confidence, in coordination with international financial institutions and donors. Madagascar developed a recovery plan in collaboration with the private sector and donors and presented it at a "Friends of Madagascar" conference organized by the World Bank in Paris in July 2002. Donor countries demonstrated their confidence in the new government by pledging $1 billion in assistance over five years. The Malagasy Government identified road infrastructure as its principle priority and underlined its commitment to public-private partnership by establishing a joint public-private sector steering committee.
In 2000, Madagascar embarked on the preparation of a Poverty Reduction Strategy Paper (PRSP) under the Heavily Indebted Poor Countries (HIPC) Initiative. The boards of the IMF and World Bank agreed in December 2000 that the country had reached the decision point for debt relief under the HIPC Initiative and defined a set of conditions for Madagascar to reach the completion point. In October 2004, the boards of the IMF and the World Bank determined that Madagascar had reached the completion point under the enhanced HIPC Initiative.
The Madagascar-U.S. Business Council was formed as a collaboration between the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and Malagasian artisan producers in Madagascar in 2002. The U.S.-Madagascar Business Council was formed in the United States in May 2003, and the two organisations continue to explore ways to work for the benefit of both groups.
The government of President Ravalomanana is aggressively seeking foreign investment and is tackling many of the obstacles to such investment, including combating corruption, reforming land-ownership laws, encouraging study of American and European business techniques, and active pursuit of foreign investors. President Ravalomanana rose to prominence through his agro-foods TIKO company, and is known for attempting to apply many of the lessons learned in the world of business to running the government. Some recent concerns have arisen about the conflict of interest between his policies and the activities of his firms. Most notable among them the preferential treatment for rice imports initiated by the government in late 2004 when responding to a production shortfall in the country.
Madagascar's sources of growth are tourism; textile and light manufacturing exports (notably through the EPZs); agricultural products and mining. Madagascar is the world's leading producer of vanilla and accounts for about half the world's export market. Tourism targets the niche eco-tourism market, capitalizing on Madagascar's unique biodiversity, unspoiled natural habitats, national parks and lemur species. Exports from the EPZs, located around Antananarivo and Antsirabe, consist the most part of garment manufacture, targeting the US market under AGOA and the European markets under the Everything But Arms (EBA) agreement. Agricultural exports consist of low-volume high-value products like vanilla, litchies and essential oils. A small but growing part of the economy is based on mining of ilmenite, with investments emerging in recent years, particularly near Tulear and Fort Dauphin. Mining corporation Rio Tinto Group expects to begin operations near Fort Dauphin in 2008, following several years of infrastructure preparation. The mining project is highly controversial, with Friends of the Earth and other environmental organizations filing reports to detail their concerns about effects on the local environment and communities.
Several major projects are underway in the mining and oil and gas sectors that, if successful, will give a significant boost to the Malagasy economy. In the mining sector, these include the development of coal at Sakoa and nickel near Tamatave. In oil, Madagascar Oil is developing the massive onshore heavy oil field at Tsimiroro and ultra heavy oil field at Bemolanga.
Starting in 1997, globalisation encouraged the government and President Ratsiraka to adhere to market-oriented policies and to engage world markets. External relations reflect this trend, although Madagascar's physical isolation and strong traditional insular orientation have limited its activity in regional economic organisations and relations with its East African neighbours. It enjoys closer and generally good relations with its Indian Ocean neighbours -- Mauritius, Réunion, and Comoros. Active relationships with Europe, especially France, Germany, and Switzerland, as well as with Britain, Russia, Japan, India, and China have been strong since independence. More recently, President Ravalomanana has cultivated strong links with the United States, and Madagascar was the first country to benefit from the Millennium Challenge Account (MCA). Madagascar is also a member of the International Criminal Court with a Bilateral Immunity Agreement of protection for the US-military (as covered under Article 98).
President Ravalomanana has stated that he welcomes relations with all countries interested in helping Madagascar to develop. He travels widely promoting Madagascar abroad and has consciously sought to strengthen relations with Anglophone countries as a means of balancing traditionally strong French influence. He has also cultivated strong ties with China during his tenure.
In November 2004, after an absence of almost 30 years, Madagascar re-opened its embassy in London. On 15 December 2004 the Foreign Secretary, Jack Straw, announced the closure of the British embassy in Antananarivo to save £250,000 a year. He also announced an end to the DFID-funded Small Grants Scheme, the only aid Britain gave to this, one of the world's poorest countries. The embassy closed in August 2005 despite petitions and protests from African heads of state, a European commissioner, the Malagasy Senate, many British companies, 30 or so NGOs operating in Madagascar, and members of the public.
The British Embassy was previously closed (also for financial reasons) from 1975 to 1980. The Anglo-Malagasy Society are campaigning to have it re-opened once again.
Madagascar's population is predominantly of mixed Austronesian (i.e.South-East Asian/Pacific Islander) and African origin. Those who are visibly Austronesian in appearance and culture are the minority, found mostly in the highland regions. Recent research suggests that the island was uninhabited until Austronesian seafarers arrived about 1,500 to 2,000 years ago. Recent DNA research shows that the Malagasy people are approximately of half Austronesian and half East African descent, although some Arab, Indian and European influence is present along the coast. Malagasy language shares some 90% of its basic vocabulary with the Maanyan language from the region of the River Barito in southern Borneo.
Subsequent migrations from the East Indies and Africa consolidated this original mixture, and 36 separate tribal groups emerged. Austronesian features are most predominant in the Merina (3 million) ; the coastal people (called côtiers) are of more clearly African origin. The largest coastal groups are the Betsimisaraka (1.5 million) and the Tsimihety and Sakalava (700,000 each). The Vezo live in the southwest. Two of the southern tribes are the Antandroy and the Antanosy.
During the French colonial administration (1895-1960) and some time after independence, people were officially classified in ethnic groups. This practice was abandoned in the first census (1975) after independence, so any recent classification and figures for ethnic groups is an unofficial estimate. There is for instance no mention of ethnicity or religion in the national identity cards. Also, territorial divisions (provinces, regions) do not follow any ethnic division lines, despite an attempt by the colonial administration in the early 20th century. Ethnic divisions continue, and may cause violence, but their role is limited in today's society. Regional political parties are also rare, although some parties receive most of their support in certain areas.
Only two general censuses, 1975 and 1993, have been carried out after independence.
In 1993 (last census) there were 18,497 foreign residents on Madagascar, or 0.15% of the population.
No official languages were recorded in the Constitution of 1992. Instead, Malagasy was named the "national language". However, many sources still claimed that Malagasy and French were official languages, as they were de facto. In April 2000 a citizen brought a legal case on the grounds that the publication of official documents in the French language only was unconstitutional. The High Constitutional Court observed in its decision that, in the absence of a language law, French still had the character of an official language.
In the Constitution of 2007, Malagasy remains the national language, while official languages are reintroduced: Malagasy, French and English. The motivation for the inclusion of English is partly to improve relations with the neighbouring countries where English is used, and to encourage foreign direct investment.
About 45% of the Malagasy are Christian, divided almost evenly between Catholics and Protestants. Many incorporate the cult of the dead with their other religious beliefs and bless their dead at church before proceeding with the traditional burial rites. They also may invite a pastor to attend a famadihana. The Roman Catholic church is open to its members continuing these practices, while more conservative Protestant denominations tend to condemn them to be superstitions or demon worship that should be abandoned. Many of the Christian churches are influential in politics. The best example of this is the Malagasy Council of Churches (FFKM) comprising the four oldest and most prominent Christian denominations (Roman Catholic, Church of Jesus Christ in Madagascar, Lutheran and Anglican).
Islam in Madagascar constitutes about 7% of the population. The Muslim traders who first brought Islam in the 10th century had a deep influence on the west coast. For example, many Malagasy converted to Islam and the Malagasy language was, for the first time, transcribed into an alphabet, based on the Arabic alphabet, called Sorabe. Muslims are concentrated in the provinces of Mahajanga and Antsiranana (Diego Suarez). Muslims are divided between those of Malagasy ethnicity, Indians, Pakistanis and Comorians. The number of mosques in the south-east region has increased from 10 to 50 in the last ten years. Recently, several tribes in Madagascar have been converting to Islam. One particular occasion is the Intimor tribe of the southeast, of which 17,500 converted en-masse.