Madagascar (/ˌmædəˈɡæskər/; Malagasy: Madagasikara), officially
the Republic of
Madagascar (Malagasy: Repoblikan'i Madagasikara
[republiˈkʲan madaɡasˈkʲarə̥]; French: République de
Madagascar), and previously known as the Malagasy Republic, is an
island country in the Indian Ocean, off the coast of East Africa. The
nation comprises the island of
Madagascar (the fourth-largest island
in the world), and numerous smaller peripheral islands. Following the
prehistoric breakup of the supercontinent Gondwana,
Indian peninsula around 88 million years ago, allowing
native plants and animals to evolve in relative isolation.
Madagascar is a biodiversity hotspot; over 90% of its
wildlife is found nowhere else on Earth. The island's diverse
ecosystems and unique wildlife are threatened by the encroachment of
the rapidly growing human population and other environmental threats.
The first archaeological evidence for human foraging on Madagascar
dates to 2000 BC. Human settlement of
Madagascar occurred between
350 BC and AD 550 by Austronesian peoples, arriving on
outrigger canoes from Borneo. These were joined around AD 1000 by
Bantu migrants crossing the
Mozambique Channel from East Africa. Other
groups continued to settle on
Madagascar over time, each one making
lasting contributions to Malagasy cultural life. The Malagasy ethnic
group is often divided into 18 or more subgroups of which the largest
Merina of the central highlands.
Until the late 18th century, the island of
Madagascar was ruled by a
fragmented assortment of shifting sociopolitical alliances. Beginning
in the early 19th century, most of the island was united and ruled as
the Kingdom of
Madagascar by a series of
Merina nobles. The monarchy
ended in 1897 when the island was absorbed into the French colonial
empire, from which the island gained independence in 1960. The
autonomous state of
Madagascar has since undergone four major
constitutional periods, termed republics. Since 1992, the nation has
officially been governed as a constitutional democracy from its
capital at Antananarivo. However, in a popular uprising in 2009,
Marc Ravalomanana was made to resign and presidential power
was transferred in March 2009 to Andry Rajoelina. Constitutional
governance was restored in January 2014, when Hery Rajaonarimampianina
was named president following a 2013 election deemed fair and
transparent by the international community.
Madagascar is a member of
the United Nations, the
African Union (AU), the Southern African
Development Community (SADC), and the Organisation Internationale de
Madagascar belongs to the group of least developed countries,
according to the United Nations. Malagasy and French are both
official languages of the state. The majority of the population
adheres to traditional beliefs, Christianity, or an amalgamation of
both. Ecotourism and agriculture, paired with greater investments in
education, health, and private enterprise, are key elements of
Madagascar's development strategy. Under Ravalomanana, these
investments produced substantial economic growth, but the benefits
were not evenly spread throughout the population, producing tensions
over the increasing cost of living and declining living standards
among the poor and some segments of the middle class. As of
2017[update], the economy has been weakened by the 2009–2013
political crisis, and quality of life remains low for the majority of
the Malagasy population.
2.3 Environmental issues
3.1 Early period
Arab and European contacts
3.3 Kingdom of Madagascar
3.4 French colonization
3.5 Independent state
4.4 Administrative divisions
United Nations involvement
5.1 Natural resources and trade
5.2 Infrastructure and media
8.1 Ethnic groups
10.1 Sport and recreation
11 See also
14 External links
In the Malagasy language, the island of
Madagascar is called
Madagasikara [madaɡasʲˈkʲarə̥] and its people are referred to as
Malagasy. The island's appellation "Madagascar" is not of local
origin, but rather was popularized in the
Middle Ages by
Europeans. The name Madageiscar was first recorded in the memoirs
of 13th-century Venetian explorer
Marco Polo as a corrupted
transliteration of the name Mogadishu, the Somali port with which Polo
had confused the island.
On St. Laurence's Day in 1500, Portuguese explorer
Diogo Dias landed
on the island and named it São Lourenço. Polo's name was preferred
and popularized on
Renaissance maps. No single Malagasy-language name
predating Madagasikara appears to have been used by the local
population to refer to the island, although some communities had their
own name for part or all of the land they inhabited.
Main article: Geography of Madagascar
The terraced paddy fields of the central highlands of Madagascar
(left) give way to tropical rainforest along the eastern coast
(center) bordered by the shores of the
Indian Ocean (right).
At 592,800 square kilometres (228,900 sq mi), Madagascar
is the world's 47th largest country and the fourth-largest
island. The country lies mostly between latitudes 12°S and 26°S,
and longitudes 43°E and 51°E. Neighboring islands include the
French territory of
Réunion and the country of
Mauritius to the east,
as well as the state of
Comoros and the French territory of
the north west. The nearest mainland state is Mozambique, located to
The prehistoric breakup of the supercontinent
Gondwana separated the
India landmass from the Africa–South
America landmass around 135 million years ago.
India about 88 million years ago, allowing plants and
animals on the island to evolve in relative isolation. Along the
length of the eastern coast runs a narrow and steep escarpment
containing much of the island's remaining tropical lowland forest.
To the west of this ridge lies a plateau in the center of the island
ranging in altitude from 750 to 1,500 m (2,460 to 4,920 ft)
above sea level. These central highlands, traditionally the homeland
Merina people and the location of their historic capital at
Antananarivo, are the most densely populated part of the island and
are characterized by terraced, rice-growing valleys lying between
grassy hills and patches of the subhumid forests that formerly covered
the highland region. To the west of the highlands, the increasingly
arid terrain gradually slopes down to the
Mozambique Channel and
mangrove swamps along the coast.
The grassy plains that dominate the western landscape are dotted with
stony massifs (left), patches of deciduous forest, and baobab trees
(center), while the south is characterized by desert and spiny forests
Madagascar's highest peaks rise from three prominent highland massifs:
Maromokotro 2,876 m (9,436 ft) in the Tsaratanana
the island's highest point, followed by Boby Peak 2,658 m
(8,720 ft) in the Andringitra Massif, and Tsiafajavona
2,643 m (8,671 ft) in the
Ankaratra Massif. To the east, the
Canal des Pangalanes
Canal des Pangalanes is a chain of man-made and natural lakes
connected by canals built by the French just inland from the east
coast and running parallel to it for some 600 km
The western and southern sides, which lie in the rain shadow of the
central highlands, are home to dry deciduous forests, spiny forests,
and deserts and xeric shrublands. Due to their lower population
densities, Madagascar's dry deciduous forests have been better
preserved than the eastern rain forests or the original woodlands of
the central plateau. The western coast features many protected
harbors, but silting is a major problem caused by sediment from the
high levels of inland erosion carried by rivers crossing the broad
Köppen climate classification
Köppen climate classification map of Madagascar
Biogeographic timetable of
Madagascar over the last 200 million years
Geography of Madagascar
Geography of Madagascar § Climate
The combination of southeastern trade winds and northwestern monsoons
produces a hot rainy season (November–April) with frequently
destructive cyclones, and a relatively cooler dry season
(May–October). Rain clouds originating over the Indian Ocean
discharge much of their moisture over the island's eastern coast; the
heavy precipitation supports the area's rainforest ecosystem. The
central highlands are both drier and cooler while the west is drier
still, and a semi-arid climate prevails in the southwest and southern
interior of the island.
Tropical cyclones annually cause damage to infrastructure and local
economies as well as loss of life. In 2004
Cyclone Gafilo became
the strongest cyclone ever recorded to hit Madagascar. The storm
killed 172 people, left 214,260 homeless and caused more than
US$250 million in damage.
Main articles: Wildlife of Madagascar, Flora of Madagascar, Fauna of
Madagascar, Agroecology in Madagascar, Ecoregions of Madagascar, and
List of World Heritage Sites in Madagascar
The island's iconic traveller's palm (ravinala) features in the
As a result of the island's long isolation from neighboring
Madagascar is home to an abundance of plants and animals
found nowhere else on Earth. Approximately 90% of all plant
and animal species found in
Madagascar are endemic, including the
lemurs (a type of strepsirrhine primate), the carnivorous fossa and
many birds. This distinctive ecology has led some ecologists to refer
Madagascar as the "eighth continent", and the island has been
Conservation International as a biodiversity
More than 80 percent of Madagascar's 14,883 plant species are
found nowhere else in the world, including five plant families.
The family Didiereaceae, composed of four genera and 11 species, is
limited to the spiny forests of southwestern Madagascar.
Four-fifths of the world's
Pachypodium species are endemic to the
island. Three-fourths of Madagascar's 860 orchid species
are found here alone, as are six of the world's nine baobab
species. The island is home to around 170 palm species, three
times as many as on all of mainland Africa; 165 of them are
endemic. Many native plant species are used as herbal remedies for
a variety of afflictions. The drugs vinblastine and
vincristine are vinca alkaloids, used to treat
Hodgkin's disease, leukemia, and other cancers, were
derived from the
Madagascar periwinkle. The traveler's palm,
known locally as ravinala and endemic to the eastern rain
forests, is highly iconic of
Madagascar and is featured in the
national emblem as well as the
Air Madagascar logo.
The ring-tailed lemur is one of over 100 known species and subspecies
of lemur found only in Madagascar.
Like its flora, Madagascar's fauna is diverse and exhibits a high rate
of endemism. Lemurs have been characterized as "Madagascar's flagship
mammal species" by Conservation International. In the absence of
monkeys and other competitors, these primates have adapted to a wide
range of habitats and diversified into numerous species. As of
2012[update], there were officially 103 species and subspecies of
lemur, 39 of which were described by zoologists between 2000 and
2008. They are almost all classified as rare, vulnerable, or
endangered. At least 17 species of lemur have become extinct since
humans arrived on Madagascar, all of which were larger than the
surviving lemur species.
A number of other mammals, including the cat-like fossa, are endemic
to Madagascar. Over 300 species of birds have been recorded on the
island, of which over 60 percent (including four families and 42
genera) are endemic. The few families and genera of reptile that
Madagascar have diversified into more than 260 species,
with over 90 percent of these being endemic (including one
endemic family). The island is home to two-thirds of the world's
chameleon species, including the smallest known, and
researchers have proposed that
Madagascar may be the origin of all
Endemic fish of
Madagascar include two families, 15 genera and over
100 species, primarily inhabiting the island's freshwater lakes and
rivers. Although invertebrates remain poorly studied on Madagascar,
researchers have found high rates of endemism among the known species.
All 651 species of terrestrial snail are endemic, as are a majority of
the island's butterflies, scarab beetles, lacewings, spiders and
Deforestation in Madagascar
Deforestation in Madagascar and Illegal logging in
Tavy (slash-and-burn) destruction of native forest habitat is
widespread (left), causing massive erosion (center) and silting of
Madagascar's varied fauna and flora are endangered by human
activity. Since the arrival of humans around 2,350 years ago,
Madagascar has lost more than 90 percent of its original
forest. This forest loss is largely fueled by tavy ("fat"), a
traditional slash-and-burn agricultural practice imported to
Madagascar by the earliest settlers. Malagasy farmers embrace and
perpetuate the practice not only for its practical benefits as an
agricultural technique, but for its cultural associations with
prosperity, health and venerated ancestral custom (fomba
malagasy). As human population density rose on the island,
deforestation accelerated beginning around 1400 years ago. By the
16th century, the central highlands had been largely cleared of their
original forests. More recent contributors to the loss of forest
cover include the growth in cattle herd size since their introduction
around 1000 years ago, a continued reliance on charcoal as a fuel for
cooking, and the increased prominence of coffee as a cash crop over
the past century. According to a conservative estimate, about
40 percent of the island's original forest cover was lost from
the 1950s to 2000, with a thinning of remaining forest areas by
80 percent. In addition to traditional agricultural practice,
wildlife conservation is challenged by the illicit harvesting of
protected forests, as well as the state-sanctioned harvesting of
precious woods within national parks. Although banned by
Marc Ravalomanana from 2000 to 2009, the collection of
small quantities of precious timber from national parks was
re-authorized in January 2009 and dramatically intensified under the
Andry Rajoelina as a key source of state revenues to
offset cuts in donor support following Ravalomanana's ousting.
It is anticipated that all the island's rainforests, excluding those
in protected areas and the steepest eastern mountain slopes, will have
been deforested by 2025. Invasive species have likewise been
introduced by human populations. Following the 2014 discovery in
Madagascar of the Asian common toad, a relative of a toad species that
has severely harmed wildlife in
Australia since the 1930s, researchers
warned the toad could "wreak havoc on the country's unique fauna."
Habitat destruction and hunting have threatened many of Madagascar's
endemic species or driven them to extinction. The island's elephant
birds, a family of endemic giant ratites, became extinct in the 17th
century or earlier, most probably due to human hunting of adult birds
and poaching of their large eggs for food. Numerous giant lemur
species vanished with the arrival of human settlers to the island,
while others became extinct over the course of the centuries as a
growing human population put greater pressures on lemur habitats and,
among some populations, increased the rate of lemur hunting for
food. A July 2012 assessment found that the exploitation of
natural resources since 2009 has had dire consequences for the
island's wildlife: 90 percent of lemur species were found to be
threatened with extinction, the highest proportion of any mammalian
group. Of these, 23 species were classified as critically endangered.
By contrast, a previous study in 2008 had found only 38 percent
of lemur species were at risk of extinction.
In 2003 Ravalomanana announced the Durban Vision, an initiative to
more than triple the island's protected natural areas to over
60,000 km2 (23,000 sq mi) or 10 percent of
Madagascar's land surface. As of 2011[update], areas protected by the
state included five Strict Nature Reserves (Réserves Naturelles
Intégrales), 21 Wildlife Reserves (Réserves Spéciales) and 21
National Parks (Parcs Nationaux). In 2007 six of the national
parks were declared a joint World Heritage Site under the name
Rainforests of the Atsinanana. These parks are Marojejy, Masoala,
Ranomafana, Zahamena, Andohahela and Andringitra. Local timber
merchants are harvesting scarce species of rosewood trees from
protected rainforests within
Marojejy National Park
Marojejy National Park and exporting the
wood to China for the production of luxury furniture and musical
instruments. To raise public awareness of Madagascar's
environmental challenges, the
Wildlife Conservation Society
Wildlife Conservation Society opened an
exhibit entitled "Madagascar!" in June 2008 at the
Bronx Zoo in New
Main article: History of Madagascar
Malagasy ancestry reflects a blend of Austronesian (Southeast Asian)
and Bantu (East African) roots.
The settlement of
Madagascar is a subject of ongoing research and
debate. Archaeological finds such as cut marks on bones found in the
northwest and stone tools in the northeast indicate that Madagascar
was visited by foragers around 2000 BC. Traditionally,
archaeologists have estimated that the earliest settlers arrived in
successive waves throughout the period between 350 BC and
550 AD, while others are cautious about dates earlier than
250 AD. In either case, these dates make
Madagascar one of the
last major landmasses on Earth to be settled by humans.
Early settlers arrived in outrigger canoes from southern
Borneo. Upon arrival, early settlers practiced
slash-and-burn agriculture to clear the coastal rainforests for
cultivation. The first settlers encountered Madagascar's abundance of
megafauna, including giant lemurs, elephant birds, giant fossa and the
Malagasy hippopotamus, which have since become extinct due to hunting
and habitat destruction. By 600 AD groups of these early
settlers had begun clearing the forests of the central highlands.
Arab traders first reached the island between the seventh and ninth
centuries. A wave of Bantu-speaking migrants from southeastern
Africa arrived around 1000 AD. They introduced the zebu, a type
of long-horned humped cattle, which they kept in large herds.
By 1600, irrigated paddy fields were developed in the central highland
Betsileo Kingdom, and were extended with terraced paddies throughout
the neighboring Kingdom of
Imerina a century later. The rising
intensity of land cultivation and the ever-increasing demand for zebu
pasturage had largely transformed the central highlands from a forest
ecosystem to grassland by the 17th century. The oral histories of
Merina people, who may have arrived in the central highlands
between 600 and 1000 years ago, describe encountering an established
population they called the Vazimba. Probably the descendants of an
earlier and less technologically advanced Austronesian settlement
Vazimba were assimilated or expelled from the highlands by
Merina kings Andriamanelo,
Andrianjaka in the 16th and
early 17th centuries. Today, the spirits of the
revered as tompontany (ancestral masters of the land) by many
traditional Malagasy communities.
Arab and European contacts
A pirate cemetery at Île Sainte-Marie
Madagascar was an important transoceanic trading hub connecting ports
Indian Ocean in the early centuries following human settlement.
The written history of
Madagascar began with the Arabs, who
established trading posts along the northwest coast by at least the
10th century and introduced Islam, the
Arabic script (used to
Malagasy language in a form of writing known as
Arab astrology, and other cultural elements. European
contact began in 1500, when the Portuguese sea captain Diogo Dias
sighted the island. The French established trading posts along the
east coast in the late 17th century.
From about 1774 to 1824,
Madagascar gained prominence among pirates
and European traders, particularly those involved in the
trans-Atlantic slave trade. The small island of Nosy Boroha off the
northeastern coast of
Madagascar has been proposed by some historians
as the site of the legendary pirate utopia of Libertalia. Many
European sailors were shipwrecked on the coasts of the island, among
them Robert Drury, whose journal is one of the few written depictions
of life in southern
Madagascar during the 18th century. The wealth
generated by maritime trade spurred the rise of organized kingdoms on
the island, some of which had grown quite powerful by the 17th
century. Among these were the Betsimisaraka alliance of the
eastern coast and the
Sakalava chiefdoms of
Menabe and Boina on the
west coast. The Kingdom of Imerina, located in the central highlands
with its capital at the royal palace of Antananarivo, emerged at
around the same time under the leadership of King Andriamanelo.
Kingdom of Madagascar
Upon its emergence in the early 17th century, the highland kingdom of
Imerina was initially a minor power relative to the larger coastal
kingdoms and grew even weaker in the early 18th century when King
Andriamasinavalona divided it among his four sons. Following almost a
century of warring and famine,
Imerina was reunited in 1793 by King
Andrianampoinimerina (1787–1810). From his initial capital
Ambohimanga, and later from the Rova of Antananarivo, this Merina
king rapidly expanded his rule over neighboring principalities. His
ambition to bring the entire island under his control was largely
achieved by his son and successor, King
Radama I (1810–28), who was
recognized by the British government as King of Madagascar. Radama
concluded a treaty in 1817 with the British governor of
abolish the lucrative slave trade in return for British military and
financial assistance. Artisan missionary envoys from the London
Missionary Society began arriving in 1818 and included such key
figures as James Cameron, David Jones and David Griffiths, who
established schools, transcribed the
Malagasy language using the Roman
alphabet, translated the Bible, and introduced a variety of new
technologies to the island.
Radama's successor, Queen
Ranavalona I (1828–61), responded to
increasing political and cultural encroachment on the part of Britain
France by issuing a royal edict prohibiting the practice of
Christianity in Madagascar
Christianity in Madagascar and pressuring most foreigners to leave the
territory. She made heavy use of the traditional practice of
fanompoana (forced labor as tax payment) to complete public works
projects and develop a standing army of between 20,000 and 30,000
Merina soldiers, whom she deployed to pacify outlying regions of the
island and further expand the Kingdom of
Merina to encompass most of
Madagascar. Residents of
Madagascar could accuse one another of
various crimes, including theft, Christianity and especially
witchcraft, for which the ordeal of tangena was routinely obligatory.
Between 1828 and 1861, the tangena ordeal caused about 3,000 deaths
annually. In 1838, it was estimated that as many as 100,000 people in
Imerina died as a result of the tangena ordeal, constituting roughly
20 percent of the population. The combination of regular warfare,
disease, difficult forced labor and harsh measures of justice resulted
in a high mortality rate among soldiers and civilians alike during her
33-year reign. Among those who continued to reside in
Jean Laborde, an entrepreneur who developed munitions and other
industries on behalf of the monarchy, and Joseph-François Lambert, a
French adventurer and slave trader, with whom then-Prince Radama II
signed a controversial trade agreement termed the Lambert Charter.
Succeeding his mother,
Radama II (1861–63) attempted to relax the
queen's stringent policies, but was overthrown two years later by
Rainivoninahitriniony (1852–1865) and an alliance of
Andriana (noble) and Hova (commoner) courtiers, who sought to end the
absolute power of the monarch.
Following the coup, the courtiers offered Radama's queen Rasoherina
(1863–68) the opportunity to rule, if she would accept a power
sharing arrangement with the Prime Minister—a new social contract
that would be sealed by a political marriage between them. Queen
Rasoherina accepted, first wedding Rainivoninahitriniony, then later
deposing him and wedding his brother, Prime Minister Rainilaiarivony
(1864–95), who would go on to marry Queen
Ranavalona II (1868–83)
Ranavalona III (1883–97) in succession. Over the
course of Rainilaiarivony's 31-year tenure as prime minister, numerous
policies were adopted to modernize and consolidate the power of the
central government. Schools were constructed throughout the island
and attendance was made mandatory. Army organization was improved, and
British consultants were employed to train and professionalize
Polygamy was outlawed and Christianity, declared the
official religion of the court in 1869, was adopted alongside
traditional beliefs among a growing portion of the populace. Legal
codes were reformed on the basis of British common law and three
European-style courts were established in the capital city. In his
joint role as Commander-in-Chief,
Rainilaiarivony also successfully
ensured the defense of
Madagascar against several French colonial
Malagasy Protectorate and French Madagascar
Madagascar in World War II
A French poster about the Franco-Hova War
Bond of the French colony Madagascar, issued 7. May 1897
Primarily on the basis that the Lambert Charter had not been
Madagascar in 1883 in what became known as
the first Franco-Hova War. At the end of the war,
the northern port town of
Antsiranana (Diego Suarez) to
paid 560,000 francs to Lambert's heirs. In 1890, the British
accepted the full formal imposition of a French protectorate on the
island, but French authority was not acknowledged by the government of
Madagascar. To force capitulation, the French bombarded and occupied
the harbor of
Toamasina on the east coast, and
Mahajanga on the west
coast, in December 1894 and January 1895 respectively.
A French military flying column then marched toward Antananarivo,
losing many men to malaria and other diseases. Reinforcements came
Algeria and Sub-Saharan Africa. Upon reaching the city in
September 1895, the column bombarded the royal palace with heavy
artillery, causing heavy casualties and leading Queen Ranavalona III
Madagascar in 1896 and declared the
island a colony the following year, dissolving the
Merina monarchy and
sending the royal family into exile on
Réunion Island and to Algeria.
A two-year resistance movement organized in response to the French
capture of the royal palace was effectively put down at the end of
Under colonial rule, plantations were established for the production
of a variety of export crops.
Slavery was abolished in 1896 and
approximately 500,000 slaves were freed; many remained in their former
masters' homes as servants or as sharecroppers; in many parts of
the island strong discriminatory views against slave descendants are
still held today. Wide paved boulevards and gathering places were
constructed in the capital city of Antananarivo and the Rova
palace compound was turned into a museum. Additional schools were
built, particularly in rural and coastal areas where the schools of
Merina had not reached. Education became mandatory between the
ages of 6 to 13 and focused primarily on
French language and practical
Merina royal tradition of taxes paid in the form of labor was
continued under the French and used to construct a railway and roads
linking key coastal cities to Antananarivo. Malagasy troops fought
France in World War I. In the 1930s, Nazi political thinkers
Madagascar Plan that had identified the island as a
potential site for the deportation of Europe's Jews. During the
Second World War, the island was the site of the Battle of Madagascar
between the Vichy government and the British.
The occupation of
France during the
Second World War
Second World War tarnished the
prestige of the colonial administration in
Madagascar and galvanized
the growing independence movement, leading to the
Malagasy Uprising of
1947. This movement led the French to establish reformed
institutions in 1956 under the
Loi Cadre (Overseas Reform Act), and
Madagascar moved peacefully towards independence. The Malagasy
Republic was proclaimed on 14 October 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
26 June 1960.
Main articles: Malagasy Republic, Democratic Republic of Madagascar,
and Third Republic of Madagascar
Philibert Tsiranana, the first president of
Since regaining independence,
Madagascar has transitioned through four
republics with corresponding revisions to its constitution. The First
Republic (1960–72), under the leadership of French-appointed
President Philibert Tsiranana, was characterized by a continuation of
strong economic and political ties to France. Many high-level
technical positions were filled by French expatriates, and French
teachers, textbooks and curricula continued to be used in schools
around the country. Popular resentment over Tsiranana's tolerance for
this "neo-colonial" arrangement inspired a series of farmer and
student protests that overturned his administration in 1972.
Gabriel Ramanantsoa, a major general in the army, was appointed
interim president and prime minister that same year, but low public
approval forced him to step down in 1975. Colonel Richard
Ratsimandrava, appointed to succeed him, was assassinated six days
into his tenure. General
Gilles Andriamahazo ruled after Ratsimandrava
for four months before being replaced by another military appointee:
Vice Admiral Didier Ratsiraka, who ushered in the socialist-Marxist
Second Republic that ran under his tenure from 1975 to 1993.
This period saw a political alignment with the
Eastern Bloc countries
and a shift toward economic insularity. These policies, coupled with
economic pressures stemming from the 1973 oil crisis, resulted in the
rapid collapse of Madagascar's economy and a sharp decline in living
standards, and the country had become completely bankrupt by 1979.
The Ratsiraka administration accepted the conditions of transparency,
anti-corruption measures and free market policies imposed by the
International Monetary Fund, World Bank and various bilateral donors
in exchange for their bailout of the nation's broken economy.
Ratsiraka's dwindling popularity in the late 1980s reached a critical
point in 1991 when presidential guards opened fire on unarmed
protesters during a rally. Within two months, a transitional
government had been established under the leadership of Albert Zafy
(1993–96), who went on to win the 1992 presidential elections and
inaugurate the Third Republic (1992–2010). The new Madagascar
constitution established a multi-party democracy and a separation of
powers that placed significant control in the hands of the National
Assembly. The new constitution also emphasized human rights, social
and political freedoms, and free trade. Zafy's term, however, was
marred by economic decline, allegations of corruption, and his
introduction of legislation to give himself greater powers. He was
consequently impeached in 1996, and an interim president, Norbert
Ratsirahonana, was appointed for the three months prior to the next
presidential election. Ratsiraka was then voted back into power on a
platform of decentralization and economic reforms for a second term
which lasted from 1996 to 2001.
The contested 2001 presidential elections in which then-mayor of
Antananarivo, Marc Ravalomanana, eventually emerged victorious, caused
a seven-month standoff in 2002 between supporters of Ravalomanana and
Ratsiraka. The negative economic impact of the political crisis was
gradually overcome by Ravalomanana's progressive economic and
political policies, which encouraged investments in education and
ecotourism, facilitated foreign direct investment, and cultivated
trading partnerships both regionally and internationally. National GDP
grew at an average rate of 7 percent per year under his
administration. In the later half of his second term, Ravalomanana was
criticised by domestic and international observers who accused him of
increasing authoritarianism and corruption.
Opposition leader and then-mayor of Antananarivo, Andry Rajoelina, led
a movement in early 2009 in which Ravalomanana was pushed from power
in an unconstitutional process widely condemned as a coup d'état. In
March 2009, Rajoelina was declared by the Supreme Court as the
President of the High Transitional Authority, an interim governing
body responsible for moving the country toward presidential elections.
In 2010, a new constitution was adopted by referendum, establishing a
Fourth Republic, which sustained the democratic, multi-party structure
established in the previous constitution. Hery
Rajaonarimampianina was declared the winner of the 2013 presidential
election, which the international community deemed fair and
Main article: Government of Madagascar
Antananarivo is the political and economic capital of Madagascar.
Madagascar is a semi-presidential representative democratic
multi-party republic, wherein the popularly elected president is the
head of state and selects a prime minister, who recommends candidates
to the president to form his cabinet of ministers. According to the
constitution, executive power is exercised by the government while
legislative power is vested in the ministerial cabinet, the Senate and
the National Assembly, although in reality these two latter bodies
have very little power or legislative role. The constitution
establishes independent executive, legislative and judicial branches
and mandates a popularly elected president limited to three five-year
The public directly elects the president and the 127 members of the
National Assembly to five-year terms. All 33 members of the Senate
serve six-year terms, with 22 senators elected by local officials and
11 appointed by the president. The last National Assembly election was
held on 20 December 2013 and the last Senate election was held on
30 December 2015.
At the local level, the island's 22 provinces are administered by a
governor and provincial council. Provinces are further subdivided into
regions and communes. The judiciary is modeled on the French system,
with a High Constitutional Court, High Court of Justice, Supreme
Court, Court of Appeals, criminal tribunals, and tribunals of first
instance. The courts, which adhere to civil law, lack the
capacity to quickly and transparently try the cases in the judicial
system, often forcing defendants to pass lengthy pretrial detentions
in unsanitary and overcrowded prisons.
Antananarivo is the administrative capital and largest city of
Madagascar. It is located in the highlands region, near the
geographic center of the island. King
Andrianjaka founded Antananarivo
as the capital of his
Imerina Kingdom around 1610 or 1625 upon the
site of a captured
Vazimba capital on the hilltop of Analamanga.
Merina dominance expanded over neighboring Malagasy peoples in the
early 19th century to establish the Kingdom of Madagascar,
Antananarivo became the center of administration for virtually the
entire island. In 1896 the French colonizers of
Madagascar adopted the
Merina capital as their center of colonial administration. The city
remained the capital of
Madagascar after regaining independence in
1960. In 2017, the capital's population was estimated at 1,391,433
inhabitants. The next largest cities are
Toamasina (450,000) and
Main articles: Politics of Madagascar, Foreign relations of
Madagascar, and Human rights in Madagascar
Madagascar gained independence from
France in 1960, the island's
political transitions have been marked by numerous popular protests,
several disputed elections, an impeachment, two military coups and one
assassination. The island's recurrent political crises are often
prolonged, with detrimental effects on the local economy,
international relations and Malagasy living standards. The eight-month
standoff between incumbent Ratsiraka and challenger Marc Ravalomanana
following the 2001 presidential elections cost
Madagascar millions of
dollars in lost tourism and trade revenue as well as damage to
infrastructure, such as bombed bridges and buildings damaged by
arson. A series of protests led by
Andry Rajoelina against
Ravalomanana in early 2009 became violent, with more than 170 people
killed. Modern politics in
Madagascar are colored by the history
Merina subjugation of coastal communities under their rule in the
19th century. The consequent tension between the highland and coastal
populations has periodically flared up into isolated events of
Madagascar has historically been perceived as being on the margin of
mainstream African affairs despite being a founding member of the
Organisation of African Unity, which was established in 1963 and
dissolved in 2002 to be replaced by the African Union.
not permitted to attend the first
African Union summit because of a
dispute over the results of the 2001 presidential election, but
African Union in July 2003 after a 14-month hiatus.
Madagascar was again suspended by the
African Union in March 2009
following the unconstitutional transfer of executive power to
Madagascar is a member of the International Criminal
Court with a Bilateral Immunity Agreement of protection for the United
States military. Eleven countries have established embassies in
Madagascar, including France, the United Kingdom, the United States,
China and India.
Human rights in Madagascar
Human rights in Madagascar are protected under the constitution and
the state is a signatory to numerous international agreements
Universal Declaration of Human Rights
Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the Convention
on the Rights of the Child. Religious, ethnic and sexual
minorities are protected under the law. Freedom of association and
assembly are also guaranteed under the law, although in practice the
denial of permits for public assembly has occasionally been used to
impede political demonstrations. Torture by security forces
is rare and state repression is low relative to other countries with
comparably few legal safeguards, although arbitrary arrests and the
corruption of military and police officers remain problems.
Ravalomanana's 2004 creation of BIANCO, an anti-corruption bureau,
resulted in reduced corruption among Antananarivo's lower-level
bureaucrats in particular, although high-level officials have not been
prosecuted by the bureau.
Main article: Military of Madagascar
The rise of centralized kingdoms among the Sakalava,
Merina and other
ethnic groups produced the island's first standing armies by the 16th
century, initially equipped with spears but later with muskets,
cannons and other firearms. By the early 19th century, the Merina
sovereigns of the Kingdom of
Madagascar had brought much of the island
under their control by mobilizing an army of trained and armed
soldiers numbering as high as 30,000. French attacks on coastal
towns in the later part of the century prompted then-Prime Minister
Rainilaiarivony to solicit British assistance to provide training to
Merina monarchy's army. Despite the training and leadership
provided by British military advisers, the Malagasy army was unable to
withstand French weaponry and was forced to surrender following an
attack on the royal palace at Antananarivo.
Madagascar was declared a
France in 1897.
The political independence and sovereignty of the Malagasy armed
forces, which comprises an army, navy and air force, was restored with
France in 1960. Since this time the Malagasy
military has never engaged in armed conflict with another state or
within its own borders, but has occasionally intervened to restore
order during periods of political unrest. Under the socialist Second
Didier Ratsiraka instated mandatory national armed
or civil service for all young citizens regardless of gender, a policy
that remained in effect from 1976 to 1991. The armed forces
are under the direction of the Minister of the Interior and have
remained largely neutral during times of political crisis, as during
the protracted standoff between incumbent Ratsiraka and challenger
Marc Ravalomanana in the disputed 2001 presidential elections, when
the military refused to intervene in favor of either candidate. This
tradition was broken in 2009, when a segment of the army defected to
the side of Andry Rajoelina, then-mayor of Antananarivo, in support of
his attempt to force President Ravalomanana from power.
The Minister of the Interior is responsible for the national police
force, paramilitary force (gendarmerie) and the secret police.
The police and gendarmerie are stationed and administered at the local
level. However, in 2009 fewer than a third of all communes had access
to the services of these security forces, with most lacking
local-level headquarters for either corps. Traditional community
tribunals, called dina, are presided over by elders and other
respected figures and remain a key means by which justice is served in
rural areas where state presence is weak. Historically, security has
been relatively high across the island. Violent crime rates are
low, and criminal activities are predominantly crimes of opportunity
such as pickpocketing and petty theft, although child prostitution,
human trafficking and the production and sale of marijuana and other
illegal drugs are increasing. Budget cuts since 2009 have
severely impacted the national police force, producing a steep
increase in criminal activity in recent years.
Regions of Madagascar
Regions of Madagascar and Districts of Madagascar
A map of Madagascar's regions
Madagascar is subdivided into 22 regions (faritra). The regions
are further subdivided into 119 districts, 1,579 communes, and 17,485
Regions and former provinces
Alaotra Mangoro (11)
Amoron'i Mania (14)
United Nations involvement
Madagascar became a Member State of the
United Nations on 20 September
1960, shortly after gaining its independence on 26 June 1960. As
of January 2017, 34 police officers from
Madagascar are deployed in
Haiti as part of the
United Nations Stabilisation Mission in
Haiti. Starting in 2015, under the direction of and with
assistance from the UN, the World Food Programme started the
Country Programme with the two main goals of long-term
development/ reconstruction efforts and addressing the food insecurity
issues in the southern regions of Madagascar. These goals plan to
be accomplished by providing meals for specific schools in rural and
urban priority areas and by developing national school feeding
policies to increase consistency of nourishment throughout the
country. Small and local farmers have also been assisted in increasing
both the quantity and quality of their production, as well as
improving their crop yield in unfavorable weather conditions.
Economy of Madagascar
Economy of Madagascar and Tourism in Madagascar
A proportional representation of Madagascar's exports
Embroidered tablecloths are produced for sale to tourists at Nosy
During Madagascar's First Republic,
France heavily influenced
Madagascar's economic planning and policy and served as its key
trading partner. Key products were cultivated and distributed
nationally through producers' and consumers' cooperatives. Government
initiatives such as a rural development program and state farms were
established to boost production of commodities such as rice, coffee,
cattle, silk and palm oil. Popular dissatisfaction over these policies
was a key factor in launching the socialist-Marxist Second Republic,
in which the formerly private bank and insurance industries were
nationalized; state monopolies were established for such industries as
textiles, cotton and power; and import–export trade and shipping
were brought under state control. Madagascar's economy quickly
deteriorated as exports fell, industrial production dropped by
75 percent, inflation spiked and government debt increased; the
rural population was soon reduced to living at subsistence levels.
Over 50 percent of the nation's export revenue was spent on debt
The IMF forced Madagascar's government to accept structural adjustment
policies and liberalization of the economy when the state became
bankrupt in 1982 and state-controlled industries were gradually
privatized over the course of the 1980s. The political crisis of 1991
led to the suspension of IMF and World Bank assistance. Conditions for
the resumption of aid were not met under Zafy, who tried
unsuccessfully to attract other forms of revenue for the State before
aid was once again resumed under the interim government established
upon Zafy's impeachment. The IMF agreed to write off half Madagascar's
debt in 2004 under the Ravalomanana administration. Having met a set
of stringent economic, governance and human rights criteria,
Madagascar became the first country to benefit from the Millennium
Challenge Account in 2005.
Madagascar's GDP in 2015 was estimated at 9.98 billion USD, with a per
capita GDP of $411.82. Approximately 69 percent of the
population lives below the national poverty line threshold of one
dollar per day. Over the last five years, the average growth rate
has been 2.6% but is expected to have reached 4.1% in 2016, due to
public works programs and a growth of the service sector. The
agriculture sector constituted 29 percent of Malagasy GDP in
2011, while manufacturing formed 15 percent of GDP. Madagascar's
other sources of growth are tourism, agriculture and the extractive
industries. Tourism focuses on the niche eco-tourism market,
capitalizing on Madagascar's unique biodiversity, unspoiled natural
habitats, national parks and lemur species. An estimated 365,000
Madagascar in 2008, but the sector declined during
the political crisis with 180,000 tourists visiting in 2010.
However, the sector has been growing steadily for a few years; In
2016, 293,000 tourists landed in the African island with an increase
of 20% compared to 2015; For 2017 the country has the goal of reaching
366,000 visitors, while for 2018 government estimates are expected to
reach 500,000 annual tourists.
Natural resources and trade
Toy animals made from raffia, a native palm
Madagascar's natural resources include a variety of unprocessed
agricultural and mineral resources. Agriculture (including raffia),
fishing and forestry are mainstays of the economy.
Madagascar is the
world's principal supplier of vanilla, cloves and
ylang-ylang. Other key agricultural resources include coffee,
lychees and shrimp. Key mineral resources include various types of
precious and semi-precious stones, and
Madagascar currently provides
half of the world's supply of sapphires, which were discovered near
Ilakaka in the late 1990s.
Madagascar has one of the world's largest reserves of ilmenite
(titanium ore), as well as important reserves of chromite, coal, iron,
cobalt, copper and nickel. Several major projects are underway in
the mining, oil and gas sectors that are anticipated to give a
significant boost to the Malagasy economy. These include such projects
as ilmenite and zircon mining from heavy mineral sands near Tôlanaro
by Rio Tinto, extraction of nickel near
Moramanga and its
Toamasina by Sherritt International, and the
development of the giant onshore heavy oil deposits at
Exports formed 28 percent of GDP in 2009. Most of the
country's export revenue is derived from the textiles industry, fish
and shellfish, vanilla, cloves and other foodstuffs.
Madagascar's main trading partner, although the United States, Japan
and Germany also have strong economic ties to the country. The
Madagascar-U.S. Business Council was formed in May 2003, as a
USAID and Malagasy artisan producers to support
the export of local handicrafts to foreign markets. Imports of
such items as foodstuffs, fuel, capital goods, vehicles, consumer
goods and electronics consume an estimated 52 percent of GDP. The
main sources of Madagascar's imports include China, France, Iran,
Mauritius and Hong Kong.
Infrastructure and media
Main articles: Transport in Madagascar, Telecommunications in
Madagascar, and List of newspapers in Madagascar
A news stand in Antananarivo
Madagascar had approximately 7,617 km (4,730 mi) of
paved roads, 854 km (530 mi) of railways and 432 km
(270 mi) of navigable waterways. The majority of roads in
Madagascar are unpaved, with many becoming impassable in the rainy
season. Largely paved national routes connect the six largest regional
towns to Antananarivo, with minor paved and unpaved routes providing
access to other population centers in each district.
There are several rail lines.
Antananarivo is connected to Toamasina,
Antsirabe by rail, and another rail line connects
Fianarantsoa to Manakara. The most important seaport in
located on the east coast at Toamasina. Ports at
Antsiranana are significantly less used due to their remoteness.
The island's newest port at Ehoala, constructed in 2008 and privately
managed by Rio Tinto, will come under state control upon completion of
the company's mining project near
Tôlanaro around 2038. Air
Madagascar services the island's many small regional airports, which
offer the only practical means of access to many of the more remote
regions during rainy season road washouts.
Running water and electricity are supplied at the national level by a
government service provider, Jirama, which is unable to service the
entire population. As of 2009[update], only 6.8 percent of
Madagascar's fokontany had access to water provided by Jirama, while
9.5 percent had access to its electricity services. 56% of
Madagascar's power is provided by hydroelectric power plants with the
remaining 44% provided by diesel engine generators. Mobile
telephone and internet access are widespread in urban areas but remain
limited in rural parts of the island. Approximately 30 percent of
the districts are able to access the nations' several private
telecommunications networks via mobile telephones or land lines.
Radio broadcasts remain the principal means by which the Malagasy
population access international, national and local news. Only state
radio broadcasts are transmitted across the entire island. Hundreds of
public and private stations with local or regional range provide
alternatives to state broadcasting. In addition to the state
television channel, a variety of privately owned television stations
broadcast local and international programming throughout Madagascar.
Several media outlets are owned by political partisans or politicians
themselves, including the media groups MBS (owned by Ravalomanana) and
Viva (owned by Rajoelina), contributing to political polarization
The media has historically come under varying degrees of pressure over
time to censor their criticism of the government. Reporters are
occasionally threatened or harassed and media outlets are periodically
forced to close. Accusations of media censorship have increased
since 2009 due to the alleged intensification of restrictions on
political criticism. Access to the internet has grown
dramatically over the past decade, with an estimated 352,000 residents
Madagascar accessing the internet from home or in one of the
nation's many internet cafés in December 2011.
Main article: Healthcare in Madagascar
Maternal mortality declined after 1990 but rose sharply after 2009 due
to political instability.
Medical centers, dispensaries and hospitals are found throughout the
island, although they are concentrated in urban areas and particularly
in Antananarivo. Access to medical care remains beyond the reach of
many Malagasy, especially in the rural areas, and many recourse to
traditional healers. In addition to the high expense of medical
care relative to the average Malagasy income, the prevalence of
trained medical professionals remains extremely low. In 2010
Madagascar had an average of three hospital beds per
10,000 people and a total of 3,150 doctors,
5,661 nurses, 385 community health workers,
175 pharmacists and 57 dentists for a population of
22 million. 14.6 percent of government spending in 2008 was
directed toward the health sector. Approximately 70 percent of
spending on health was contributed by the government, while
30 percent originated with international donors and other private
sources. The government provides at least one basic health center
per commune. Private health centers are concentrated within urban
areas and particularly those of the central highlands.
Despite these barriers to access, health services have shown a trend
toward improvement over the past twenty years. Child immunizations
against such diseases as hepatitis B, diphtheria and measles increased
an average of 60 percent in this period, indicating low but
increasing availability of basic medical services and treatments. The
Malagasy fertility rate in 2009 was 4.6 children per woman,
declining from 6.3 in 1990. Teen pregnancy rates of 14.8 percent
in 2011, much higher than the African average, are a contributing
factor to rapid population growth. In 2010 the maternal mortality
rate was 440 per 100,000 births, compared to 373.1 in 2008 and 484.4
in 1990, indicating a decline in perinatal care following the 2009
coup. The infant mortality rate in 2011 was 41 per 1,000 births,
with an under-five mortality rate at 61 per 1,000 births.
Schistosomiasis, malaria and sexually transmitted diseases are common
in Madagascar, although infection rates of AIDS remain low relative to
many countries in mainland Africa, at only 0.2 percent of the
adult population. The malaria mortality rate is also among the lowest
Africa at 8.5 deaths per 100,000 people, in part due to the
highest frequency use of insecticide treated nets in Africa.
Adult life expectancy in 2009 was 63 years for men and 67 years
Madagascar had an outbreak of the bubonic plague (also known
as the black death) that affected urban areas.
Main article: Education in Madagascar
Education access and quality were prioritized under Ravalomanana.
Prior to the 19th century, all education in
Madagascar was informal
and typically served to teach practical skills as well as social and
cultural values, including respect for ancestors and elders. The
first formal European-style school was established in 1818 at
Toamasina by members of the
London Missionary Society
London Missionary Society (LMS). The LMS
was invited by King
Radama I (1810–28) to expand its schools
Imerina to teach basic literacy and numeracy to
aristocratic children. The schools were closed by
Ranavalona I in
1835 but reopened and expanded in the decades after her death.
By the end of the 19th century
Madagascar had the most developed and
modern school system in pre-colonial Sub-Saharan Africa. Access to
schooling was expanded in coastal areas during the colonial period,
French language and basic work skills becoming the focus of the
curriculum. During the post-colonial First Republic, a continued
reliance on French nationals as teachers, and French as the language
of instruction, displeased those desiring a complete separation from
the former colonial power.
Consequently, under the socialist Second Republic, French instructors
and other nationals were expelled, Malagasy was declared the language
of instruction and a large cadre of young Malagasy were rapidly
trained to teach at remote rural schools under the mandatory two-year
national service policy.
This policy, known as malgachization, coincided with a severe economic
downturn and a dramatic decline in the quality of education. Those
schooled during this period generally failed to master the French
language or many other subjects and struggled to find employment,
forcing many to take low-paying jobs in the informal or black market
that mired them in deepening poverty. Excepting the brief presidency
of Albert Zafy, from 1992 to 1996, Ratsiraka remained in power from
1975 to 2001 and failed to achieve significant improvements in
education throughout his tenure.
Education was prioritized under the Ravalomanana administration
(2002–09), and is currently free and compulsory from ages 6 to
13. The primary schooling cycle is five years, followed by four
years at the lower secondary level and three years at the upper
secondary level. During Ravalomanana's first term, thousands of
new primary schools and additional classrooms were constructed, older
buildings were renovated, and tens of thousands of new primary
teachers were recruited and trained. Primary school fees were
eliminated and kits containing basic school supplies were distributed
to primary students.
Government school construction initiatives have ensured at least one
primary school per fokontany and one lower secondary school within
each commune. At least one upper secondary school is located in each
of the larger urban centers. The three branches of the national
public university are located at
Antananarivo (founded in 1961),
Mahajanga (1977) and Fianarantsoa (1988). These are complemented by
public teacher-training colleges and several private universities and
As a result of increased educational access, enrollment rates more
than doubled between 1996 and 2006. However, education quality is
weak, producing high rates of grade repetition and dropout.
Education policy in Ravalomanana's second term focused on quality
issues, including an increase in minimum education standards for the
recruitment of primary teachers from a middle school leaving
certificate (BEPC) to a high school leaving certificate (BAC), and a
reformed teacher training program to support the transition from
traditional didactic instruction to student-centered teaching methods
to boost student learning and participation in the classroom.
Public expenditure on education was 13.4 percent of total
government expenditure and 2.9 percent of GDP in 2008. Primary
classrooms are crowded, with average pupil to teacher ratios of 47:1
Main article: Demographics of Madagascar
In 2016, the population of
Madagascar was estimated at
25 million, up from 2.2 million in 1900. The annual
population growth rate in
Madagascar was approximately
2.9 percent in 2009.
Approximately 42.5 percent of the population is younger than 15
years of age, while 54.5 percent are between the ages of 15 and
64. Those aged 65 and older form three percent of the total
population. Only two general censuses, in 1975 and 1993, have
been carried out after independence. The most densely populated
regions of the island are the eastern highlands and the eastern coast,
contrasting most dramatically with the sparsely populated western
Ethnic groups of Madagascar
The regional distribution of Malagasy ethnic subgroups
The Malagasy ethnic group forms over 90 percent of Madagascar's
population and is typically divided into eighteen ethnic
subgroups. Recent DNA research revealed that the genetic makeup of
the average Malagasy person constitutes an approximately equal blend
of Southeast Asian and East African genes, although the
genetics of some communities show a predominance of Southeast Asian or
East African origins or some Arab, Indian or European ancestry.
Southeast Asian features – specifically from the southern part of
Borneo – are most predominant among the
Merina of the central
highlands, who form the largest Malagasy ethnic subgroup at
approximately 26 percent of the population, while certain
communities among the coastal peoples (collectively called côtiers)
have relatively stronger East African features. The largest coastal
ethnic subgroups are the Betsimisaraka (14.9 percent) and the
Sakalava (6 percent each).
Malagasy ethnic subgroups
Antankarana, Sakalava, Tsimihety
Betsimisaraka, Sihanaka, Bezanozano
Betsileo, Antaifasy, Antambahoaka, Antaimoro, Antaisaka, Tanala
Former Fianarantsoa Province
Mahafaly, Antandroy, Antanosy people, Bara, Vezo
Former Toliara Province
Chinese, Indian and Comorian minorities are present in Madagascar, as
well as a small European (primarily French) populace. Emigration in
the late 20th century has reduced these minority populations,
occasionally in abrupt waves, such as the exodus of Comorans in 1976,
following anti-Comoran riots in Mahajanga. By comparison, there
has been no significant emigration of Malagasy peoples. The number
of Europeans has declined since independence, reduced from 68,430 in
1958 to 17,000 three decades later. There were an estimated
25,000 Comorans, 18,000 Indians, and 9,000 Chinese
Madagascar in the mid-1980s.
A Malagasy child
Malagasy language and Languages of Madagascar
Malagasy language is of
Malayo-Polynesian origin and is generally
spoken throughout the island. The numerous dialects of Malagasy, which
are generally mutually intelligible, can be clustered under one
of two subgroups: eastern Malagasy, spoken along the eastern forests
and highlands including the
Merina dialect of
Antananarivo and western
Malagasy, spoken across the western coastal plains. French became the
official language during the colonial period, when
under the authority of France. In the first national Constitution of
1958, Malagasy and French were named the official languages of the
Madagascar is a francophone country, and French is
mostly spoken as a second language among the educated population and
used for international communication.
No official languages were recorded in the Constitution of 1992,
although Malagasy was identified as the national language.
Nonetheless, many sources still claimed that Malagasy and French were
official languages, eventually leading a citizen to initiate a legal
case against the state in April 2000, on the grounds that the
publication of official documents only in the
French language 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 remained the national language
while official languages were reintroduced: Malagasy, French, and
English. English was removed as an official language from the
constitution approved by voters in the November 2010 referendum.
The outcome of the referendum, and its consequences for official and
national language policy, are not recognized by the political
opposition, who cite lack of transparency and inclusiveness in the way
the election was organized by the High Transitional Authority.
Over the years,
Madagascar has had different language policies under
different influences of authority. The indigenous language of
Madagascar, Malagasy, was the predominant language on the island until
the French colonization in 1897. Malagasy has developed throughout the
decades from an oral language to a language that has a written system
(Latin orthography), a change that was enforced by King Radama I, in
1823. Following the French colonization, the language of instruction
and media changed from Malagasy to almost exclusively French.
Moreover, the first French governor-general, Gallieni, also encouraged
the French officials to learn Malagasy as well. After the advent of
the Malagasy independence, the Madagascans tried to reinstate Malagasy
as a language of instruction especially in secondary schools. However,
the language policy was inadequately planned and Malagasy was
struggling to surpass French as the language of instruction.
Madagascar has two official languages: Malagasy and French.
Madagascar managed to maintain the indigenous language, Malagasy, in
society and in schools despite the colonizing power. Malagasy and
French are both the language of instruction in primary and secondary
schools in Madagascar. The inclusion of the African language as a
medium of instruction is usually uncommon in other colonized African
Main article: Religion in Madagascar
Religion in Madagascar
Religion in Madagascar (2010) according to the Pew Research
Roman Catholicism (38.1%)
Other Christian (1.1%)
Folk religions (5.4%)
Famadihana reburial ceremony.
According to the US Department of State in 2011, 41% of Madagascans
practiced Christianity and 52% adhered to traditional religions,
which tends to emphasize links between the living and the razana
(ancestors). But according to the
Pew Research Center
Pew Research Center in 2010, 85% of
the population practiced Christianity, while just 4.5% of Madagascans
practiced folk religions; among Christians, practitioners of
Protestantism outnumbered adherents of Roman Catholicism.
The veneration of ancestors has led to the widespread tradition of
tomb building, as well as the highlands practice of the famadihana,
whereby a deceased family member's remains are exhumed and re-wrapped
in fresh silk shrouds, before being replaced in the tomb. The
famadihana is an occasion to celebrate the beloved ancestor's memory,
reunite with family and community, and enjoy a festive atmosphere.
Residents of surrounding villages are often invited to attend the
party, where food and rum are typically served and a hiragasy troupe
or other musical entertainment is commonly present. Consideration
for ancestors is also demonstrated through adherence to fady, taboos
that are respected during and after the lifetime of the person who
establishes them. It is widely believed that by showing respect for
ancestors in these ways, they may intervene on behalf of the living.
Conversely, misfortunes are often attributed to ancestors whose memory
or wishes have been neglected. The sacrifice of zebu is a traditional
method used to appease or honor the ancestors. In addition, the
Malagasy traditionally believe in a creator god, called Zanahary or
In 1818, the
London Missionary Society
London Missionary Society sent the first Christian
missionaries to the island, where they built churches, translated the
Bible into the
Malagasy language and began to gain converts. Beginning
in 1835, Queen
Ranavalona I persecuted these converts as part of an
attempt to halt European cultural and political influence on the
island. In 1869, a successor, Queen Ranavalona II, converted the court
to Christianity and encouraged Christian missionary activity, burning
the sampy (royal idols) in a symbolic break with traditional
beliefs. Today, many Christians integrate their religious beliefs
with traditional ones related to honoring the ancestors. For instance,
they may bless their dead at church before proceeding with traditional
burial rites or invite a Christian minister to consecrate a famadihana
reburial. The Malagasy Council of Churches comprises the four
oldest and most prominent Christian denominations of
Catholic, Church of Jesus Christ in Madagascar, Lutheran, and
Anglican) and has been an influential force in Malagasy politics.
Islam is also practiced on the island.
Islam was first brought to
Madagascar in the
Middle Ages by
Arab and Somali
Muslim traders, who
established several Islamic schools along the eastern coast. While the
Arabic script and loan words and the adoption of Islamic
astrology would spread across the island, the Islamic religion failed
to take hold in all but a handful of southeastern coastal communities.
Today, Muslims constitute 3–7 percent of the population of
Madagascar and are largely concentrated in the northwestern provinces
Mahajanga and Antsiranana. The vast majority of Muslims are Sunni.
Muslims are divided between those of Malagasy ethnicity, Indians,
Pakistanis and Comorians. More recently,
Hinduism was introduced to
Gujarati people immigrating from the Saurashtra
India in the late 19th century. Most Hindus in Madagascar
speak Gujarati or
Hindi at home.
Main article: Culture of Madagascar
Each of the many ethnic subgroups in
Madagascar adhere to their own
set of beliefs, practices and ways of life that have historically
contributed to their unique identities. However, there are a number of
core cultural features that are common throughout the island, creating
a strongly unified Malagasy cultural identity. In addition to a common
language and shared traditional religious beliefs around a creator god
and veneration of the ancestors, the traditional Malagasy worldview is
shaped by values that emphasize fihavanana (solidarity), vintana
(destiny), tody (karma), and hasina, a sacred life force that
traditional communities believe imbues and thereby legitimates
authority figures within the community or family. Other cultural
elements commonly found throughout the island include the practice of
male circumcision; strong kinship ties; a widespread belief in the
power of magic, diviners, astrology and witch doctors; and a
traditional division of social classes into nobles, commoners, and
Although social castes are no longer legally recognized, ancestral
caste affiliation often continues to affect social status, economic
opportunity and roles within the community. Malagasy people
traditionally consult Mpanandro ("Makers of the Days") to identify the
most auspicious days for important events such as weddings or
famadihana, according to a traditional astrological system introduced
by Arabs. Similarly, the nobles of many Malagasy communities in the
pre-colonial period would commonly employ advisers known as the
ombiasy (from olona-be-hasina, "man of much virtue") of the
southeastern Antemoro ethnic group, who trace their ancestry back to
The diverse origins of Malagasy culture are evident in its tangible
expressions. The most emblematic instrument of Madagascar, the valiha,
is a bamboo tube zither carried to
Madagascar by early settlers from
southern Borneo, and is very similar in form to those found in
Indonesia and the Philippines today. Traditional houses in
Madagascar are likewise similar to those of southern
Borneo in terms
of symbolism and construction, featuring a rectangular layout with a
peaked roof and central support pillar. Reflecting a widespread
veneration of the ancestors, tombs are culturally significant in many
regions and tend to be built of more durable material, typically
stone, and display more elaborate decoration than the houses of the
living. The production and weaving of silk can be traced back to
the island's earliest settlers, and Madagascar's national dress, the
woven lamba, has evolved into a varied and refined art.
The Southeast Asian cultural influence is also evident in Malagasy
cuisine, in which rice is consumed at every meal, typically
accompanied by one of a variety of flavorful vegetable or meat
dishes. African influence is reflected in the sacred importance
of zebu cattle and their embodiment of their owner's wealth,
traditions originating on the African mainland. Cattle rustling,
originally a rite of passage for young men in the plains areas of
Madagascar where the largest herds of cattle are kept, has become a
dangerous and sometimes deadly criminal enterprise as herdsmen in the
southwest attempt to defend their cattle with traditional spears
against increasingly armed professional rustlers.
A wide variety of oral and written literature has developed in
Madagascar. One of the island's foremost artistic traditions is its
oratory, as expressed in the forms of hainteny (poetry), kabary
(public discourse) and ohabolana (proverbs). An epic poem
exemplifying these traditions, the Ibonia, has been handed down over
the centuries in several different forms across the island, and offers
insight into the diverse mythologies and beliefs of traditional
Malagasy communities. This tradition was continued in the 20th
century by such artists as Jean-Joseph Rabearivelo, who is considered
Africa's first modern poet, and Elie Rajaonarison, an exemplar of
the new wave of Malagasy poetry.
Madagascar has also developed a
rich musical heritage, embodied in dozens of regional musical genres
such as the coastal salegy or highland hiragasy that enliven village
gatherings, local dance floors and national airwaves.
Madagascar also has a growing culture of classical music
fostered through youth academies, organizations and orchestras that
promote youth involvement in classical music.
The plastic arts are also widespread throughout the island. In
addition to the tradition of silk weaving and lamba production, the
weaving of raffia and other local plant materials has been used to
create a wide array of practical items such as floor mats, baskets,
purses and hats. Wood carving is a highly developed art form,
with distinct regional styles evident in the decoration of balcony
railings and other architectural elements. Sculptors create a variety
of furniture and household goods, aloalo funerary posts, and wooden
sculptures, many of which are produced for the tourist market.
The decorative and functional woodworking traditions of the Zafimaniry
people of the central highlands was inscribed on UNESCO's list of
Intangible Cultural Heritage in 2008.
Among the Antaimoro people, the production of paper embedded with
flowers and other decorative natural materials is a long-established
tradition that the community has begun to market to eco-tourists.
Embroidery and drawn thread work are done by hand to produce clothing,
as well as tablecloths and other home textiles for sale in local
crafts markets. A small but growing number of fine art galleries
in Antananarivo, and several other urban areas, offer paintings by
local artists, and annual art events, such as the Hosotra open-air
exhibition in the capital, contribute to the continuing development of
fine arts in Madagascar.
Sport and recreation
Moraingy is a traditional martial art of Madagascar.
A number of traditional pastimes have emerged in Madagascar. Moraingy,
a type of hand-to-hand combat, is a popular spectator sport in coastal
regions. It is traditionally practiced by men, but women have recently
begun to participate. The wrestling of zebu cattle, which is
named savika or tolon-omby, is also practiced in many regions. In
addition to sports, a wide variety of games are played. Among the most
emblematic is fanorona, a board game widespread throughout the
Highland regions. According to folk legend, the succession of King
Andrianjaka after his father
Ralambo was partially due to the
obsession that Andrianjaka's older brother may have had with playing
fanorona to the detriment of his other responsibilities.
Western recreational activities were introduced to
Madagascar over the
past two centuries. Rugby union is considered the national sport of
Madagascar. Soccer is also popular.
Madagascar has produced a
world champion in pétanque, a French game similar to lawn bowling,
which is widely played in urban areas and throughout the
Highlands. School athletics programs typically include soccer,
track and field, judo, boxing, women's basketball and women's tennis.
Madagascar sent its first competitors to the Olympic Games in 1964 and
has also competed in the African Games.
Scouting is represented in
Madagascar by its own local federation of three scouting clubs.
Membership in 2011 was estimated at 14,905.
Because of its advanced sports facilities,
Antananarivo gained the
hosting rights for several of Africa's top international basketball
events, including the 2011 FIBA
Africa Championship, the 2009
Africa Championship for Women, the 2014 FIBA
Championship, the 2013 FIBA
Africa Under-16 Championship,
and the 2015 FIBA
Africa Under-16 Championship for Women.
Main article: Malagasy cuisine
Malagasy cuisine reflects the diverse influences of Southeast Asian,
African, Indian, Chinese and European culinary traditions. The
complexity of Malagasy meals can range from the simple, traditional
preparations introduced by the earliest settlers, to the refined
festival dishes prepared for the island's 19th-century monarchs.
Throughout almost the entire island, the contemporary cuisine of
Madagascar typically consists of a base of rice (vary) served with an
accompaniment (laoka). The many varieties of laoka may be vegetarian
or include animal proteins, and typically feature a sauce flavored
with such ingredients as ginger, onion, garlic, tomato, vanilla,
coconut milk, salt, curry powder, green peppercorns or, less commonly,
other spices or herbs. In parts of the arid south and west, pastoral
families may replace rice with maize, cassava, or curds made from
fermented zebu milk. A wide variety of sweet and savory fritters as
well as other street foods are available across the island, as are
diverse tropical and temperate-climate fruits. Locally produced
beverages include fruit juices, coffee, herbal teas and teas, and
alcoholic drinks such as rum, wine, and beer. Three Horses Beer
is the most popular beer on the island and is considered
emblematic of Madagascar. The island also produces some of the
world's finest chocolate; Chocolaterie Robert, established in 1940, is
the most famous chocolate company on the island.
Index of Madagascar-related articles
List of island countries
Outline of Madagascar
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