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.