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Democratic Republic of Madagascar

République Démocratique de Madagascar;
Repoblika Demokratika n'i Madagaskar

CAPITAL: Antananarivo

FLAG: The flag consists of a white vertical stripe at the hoist flanked at the right by two horizontal stripes, the upper in red, the lower in green.

ANTHEM: Ry Tanindrazanay Malala O (Our Beloved Country).

MONETARY UNIT: The Malagasy franc (fmg) is a paper currency. There are coins of 1, 2, 5, 10, 20, 25, 50, 100, and 250 Malagasy francs and notes of 50, 100, 500, 1,000, 2,500 5,000, 10,000, and 25,000 Malagasy francs. fmg1 = $0.00051 (or $1 = fmg1,960) as of 2005.

WEIGHTS AND MEASURES: The metric system is generally used.

HOLIDAYS: New Year's Day, 1 January; Commemoration of 1947 Rebellion, 29 March; Labor Day, 1 May; Independence and National Day, 26 June; All Saints' Day, 1 November; Christmas, 25 December; Anniversary of the Democratic Republic of Madagascar, 30 December. Movable religious holidays include Good Friday, Easter Monday, Ascension, and Pentecost Monday.

TIME: 3 pm = noon GMT.


Situated off the southeast coast of Africa, Madagascar is the fourth-largest island in the world, with an area of 587,040 sq km (226,657 sq mi), extending 1,601 km (995 mi) nnessw and 579 km (360 mi) esewnw. Comparatively, the area occupied by Madagascar is slightly less than twice the size of Arizona. It is separated from the coast of Africa by the Mozambique Channel, the least distance between the island and the coast being about 430 km (267 mi). The coastline of Madagascar is 4,828 km (3,000 mi). Madagascar claims a number of small islands in the Mozambique Channelthe Îles Glorieuses, Bassas da India, Juan de Nova, and Europacovering about 28 sq km (11 sq mi), which are administered by France.

Madagascar's capital city, Antananarivo, is located near the center of the island.


Madagascar consists mainly of a block of crystalline rocks. It is generally described as a plateau, rising sharply from the narrow plain of the east coast and descending in a series of steps to the strip of sedimentary rocks along the west coast. The high plateau is much indented and, on the eastern edge, cut by deep gorges and waterfalls.

There are numerous volcanic outcrops that produce heights over 1,800 m (6,000 ft); the highest point is Mount Maromokotro (2,876 m/9,436 ft) in the Tsaratanana Massif. The eastern coast is almost straight and has very few anchorages. Behind its coral beaches there is an almost continuous line of lagoons from Foulpointe to Farafangana. These are linked by manmade channels to form an inland waterway called the Pangalanes Canal. The island's major rivers flow westward and are navigable for about 160 km (100 mi) inland.


The climate of the eastern and northwestern coasts is dominated by the almost constant blowing of the southeasterly trade winds, which carry heavy rains during the austral winter (May to September). The central plateau and the western coast are sheltered from these winds but receive rain from the monsoon winds, which blow during the austral summer (October to April). Neither the trade winds nor the monsoons reach the southern part of the island, which consequently receives little rain and is, in places, a semidesert. The central plateau enjoys a tropical mountain climate with well-differentiated seasons. Generally speaking, the climate throughout the island is moderated by altitude, with the coast being hotter (average temperatures 2127°c, or 7080°f) and wetter than the plateau (average temperatures 1319°c, or 5567°f). Toamasina (Tamatave), on the east coast, has 284 cm (112 in) of rainfall annually, while Antananarivo, inland, has about 140 cm (55 in). Occasional cyclones have been devastating.


The flora and fauna of Madagascar have developed in isolation from those of Africa, and the flora is highly specialized. Scientists hold that Madagascar was originally covered with evergreen forests in the wetter areas of the east and north, which gave place to savanna on the plateau and semiarid vegetation in the south. Much of the original vegetation was destroyed by burning, so that the evergreen forest is now found only in a narrow strip along the steep eastern edge of the plateau, from north to south. Where the forest was destroyed, it was replaced by bush known as savoka, especially in the narrow east coast plain. There are a few small patches of deciduous forest in the northwest and west and mangrove swamps are general along the northwest and west coasts. Most of Madagascar is covered with a rather bare savanna-steppe, green in the wet season but brown and red in the summer. The greater part of the plateau has a covering of laterite and fertility is low. The extreme south is free of laterite, but lack of rainfall prevents the greater fertility from being of much practical use.

The fauna is remarkable chiefly because of the presence of 28 species of lemur, a lower primate largely confined to Madagascar. The island has 32 species of chameleon. Among the 172 species of birds, 105 are found nowhere else in the world. The same is true for about 80% of the island's flowering plants and more than 95% of its reptiles. Madagascar is also unusual in its lack of poisonous snakes and, except for recent introductions, useful mammals. As of 2002, there were at least 141 species of mammals over 9,000 species of plants throughout the country.


Erosion, caused by deforestation and overgrazing, is a serious problem in Madagascar. Many farmers burn off their old crops at the end of winter and damage surrounding forests. By 1994, 75% of Madagascar's forests had been eliminated. In 2000, about 20% of the total land area was forested. Water pollution, caused mainly by sewage, is also a significant environmental problem in Madagascar: only 34% of the people living in rural areas and 75% of all city dwellers have access to pure drinking water. The nation has 337 cu km of renewable water resources. The Ministry of Animal Husbandry, Water, and Forests is the chief government agency with environmental responsibilities. In 2003, only about 4.3% of the total land area was protected.

According to a 2006 report issued by the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN), the number of threatened species included 49 types of mammals, 34 species of birds, 18 types of reptiles, 55 species of amphibians, 66 species of fish, 24 types of mollusks, 8 species of other invertebrates, and 276 species of plants. Endangered species in Madagascar include the Alaotra grebe, Madagascar pochard, Madagascar fish eagle, and seven species of lemur. There are nine extinct species, including Delalande's coua and the Malagasy hippo. Worldwide trade in endangered and extinct species, estimated at between $10 and $20 billion in 1996, has created a market for Madagascar's exotic snakes and tortoises. The looting and smuggling of these species has decimated animal habitats and caused severe ecological harm.


The population of Madagascar in 2005 was estimated by the United Nations (UN) at 17,308,000, which placed it at number 57 in population among the 193 nations of the world. In 2005, approximately 3% of the population was over 65 years of age, with another 45% of the population under 15 years of age. There were 99 males for every 100 females in the country. According to the UN, the annual population rate of change for 20052010 was expected to be 2.7%, a rate the government viewed as too high. A Poverty Reduction Strategy Paper issued in 2005 sets access to contraception as a high priority. The projected population for the year 2025 was 28,177,000. The population density was 29 per sq km (76 per sq mi), with the western part of the country the least densely populated.

The UN estimated that 26% of the population lived in urban areas in 2005, and that urban areas were growing at an annual rate of 3.84%. The capital city, Antananarivo, had a population of 1,678,000 in that year. Other important cities and their populations are Fianarantsoa, 300,000; Toamasina, 230,000; Antsiranana (Diégo-Suarez), 220,000; Antsirabe, 220,000; and Mahajanga (Majunga), 200,000.


Since independence, government policy has been uniformly opposed to immigration in any form. The advent of independence led to some emigration of foreign nationals, but it was not until the early 1970s, when the government undertook policies of national control and nationalization of foreign businesses, that foreign residents began leaving in any appreciable numbers. Comorians numbered 60,000 in 1976, but after Comorian-Malagasy clashes in December of that year, about 16,000 were repatriated. As of 2000, there were only a small number of refugees in Madagascar, all of urban socioeconomic background.

Rural-to-urban migration is nearly 6% a year. In 2000 there were 61,000 migrants living in Madagascar. In 1999 and 2005, the net migration was zero. The government views the migration levels as satisfactory.


The Malagasy people are the result of the intermingling of immigrants. The original immigrants are believed to have been members of an Afro-Malagasy race that lived on the East African littoral. Later arrivals were Africans, Arabs, and, much more recently, immigrants from Europe, China, and India.

The general population can be divided into 18 tribes, with no single group holding a majority. Major ethnic groupings include the Malayo-Indonesian (including the Merina and related Betsileo) and the Cotiers (mixed African, Malayo-Indonesian, and Arab ancestrythe Betsimisaraka, Tsimihety, Antaisaka, and Sakalava). The Merina and Betsileo live in the central highlands and show evidence of Asian origin, while the coastal peoples, such as the Betsimisaraka, Tsimihety, and Sakalava, are of predominantly African origin. The Merina have been the ascendant group since the late 18th century. The course that colonialism took in Madagascar strengthened their domination of the political and intellectual life of the island. Resentment of the Merina and their dominant position by the other ethnic groups is still a source of social unrest.

The Indo-Pakistani community is commonly referred to as the Karana. There were about 20,000 Karana in the country in 2004. There are also significant numbers of French, Creole, and Comoran peoples.


The principal and official languages are French and Malagasy. Malagasy is a Malayo-Polynesian language which has different but mutually intelligible dialects and is spoken throughout Madagascar. The Merina dialect has come to be considered the standard literary form of the language. Instruction in French is preferred by the coastal peoples, as it avoids connotations of Merina cultural dominance.


About 50% of the Malagasy are traditional tribal religionists, some exclusively and others practicing in conjunction with Christian beliefs. Although there are many variations in detail, nearly all of these traditional Malagasy share certain basic religious ideas, the central one being belief in the soul and its immortality. Besides the almighty (Andrianahary or Zanahary), secondary divinities are recognized, especially the earliest inhabitants of the island (Vazimba), legendary kings and queens, and other great ancestors. The burial places and other places of special significance in the lives of these secondary deities are objects of veneration and pilgrimages, during which special rites are performed.

Christianity was introduced to the Malagasy in the early 19th century, and it is influenced to a large extent by traditional beliefs. According to a 2004 report, about 50% of the population were nominally Christian; most are Roman Catholics. The Reformed Protestant Church of Jesus Christ in Madagascar is the largest Protestant denomination. Other denominations include Lutheran and Anglican churches as well as congregations of Seventh-Day Adventists, Jehovah's Witnesses, and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. Muslims, concentrated mostly in the north and northwest, constitute just under 10% of the population. There is also a small number of Hindus among the Indian population.

The constitution allows for freedom of religion and this right is generally respected in practice. The Malagasy Council of Christian Churches is an organization of Roman Catholic, Reformed, Lutheran, and Anglican officials that participate in a number of national programs addressing a wide variety of political and social issues.


As of 2004, Madagascar's railway system largely consisted of four main railroads, all publicly operated, that operated 732 km (555 mi) of one meter, narrow gauge track. These run from Toamasina to Antananarivo, with a branch from Moramanga to Lake Alaotra; from Antananarivo to Antsirabe; and from Fianarantsoa to Manakara on the east coast.

There are about 49,837 km (30,969 mi) of motor roads on the island, of which 5,781 km (3,592 mi) were paved in 2002. The main roads radiate from Antananarivo to Mahajanga and Antsiranana, to Toamasina, to Fianarantsoa, and to Ihosy, from which one branch goes to Toliara (Tuléar) and another to Tolänaro (Fort Dauphin). The road from Antananarivo to Fianarantsoa is tarred, as are portions of the other main routes. In 2003, there were 70,705 passenger automobiles and 43,000 commercial vehicles in use.

The three major ports are Toamasina, Nosy Be, and Mahajanga; Toliara and Antsiranana are also important. There are at least 13 other ports, engaged mainly in coastal trade. There was considerable freight traffic along the Pangalanes Canal, which runs parallel to the east coast from Toamasina to Farafangana for a distance of 700 km (435 mi). The canal was closed in 1979, however, because of silting. However, dredging had begun by 1985. The merchant fleet consisted of nine vessels of 1,000 GRT or more, totaling 14,865 GRT in 2005.

In 2004, there were an estimated 116 airports, 29 of which had paved runways as of 2005. The principal international airport is at Ivato, near Antananarivo. Air Madagascar (the national airline), Air France, Alitalia, Aeroflot, Air Mauritius, and Air Tanzania also provide international service. Air Madagascar, which is owned partly by Air France, also services internal locations. In 2003, about 404,000 passengers were carried on domestic and international flights.


Madagascar had no human inhabitants until about 2,500 years ago, when immigrants came, probably from Indonesia via the East African coast. This wave of immigration continued for at least 1,000 years, and there was also an influx of African peoples. Additional immigrants from Africa, Arabia, and the Persian Gulf and, much later, from Europe, India, and China did little more than supplement a fully settled population.

The earliest written histories of the Malagasy are the sorabe, in the Malagasy language using Arabic script. A Portuguese ship sighted the island and sailed along the coast in 1500. In 1502, the island was named Madagascar by the Portuguese, after the island of the same name originally reported by Marco Polo. During the 16th and 17th centuries, attempts were made by the Portuguese, British, Dutch, and French to establish settlements. All these efforts failed, and Madagascar became the lair of pirates who lived on Nosy Sainte Marie and intermarried with the Malagasy.

Among the Malagasy themselves, three main kingdoms appeared: that of the Merina in the central plateau, that of the Sakalava in the west, and that of the Betsimisaraka in the east. Under King Andrianampoinimerina (r.17871810), the foundations were laid for the primacy of the Merina kingdom.

Andrianampoinimerina was succeeded in 1810 by Radama I, his son, under whose guidance the Merina kingdom extended its rule over the major portions of the island (especially over the Betsimisaraka kingdom and the south). Radama welcomed Europeans to assist in the modernization of the kingdom and to further his conquests. On Radama's death in 1828, he was succeeded by his wife, Ranavalona I, whose hostility to the innovations in her husband's reign led to a persecution of the Malagasy Christians and eventually to the expulsion of the Europeans after an Anglo-French bombardment of Toamasina in 1845.

Radama II, who succeeded his mother in 1861, was sympathetic to the French but was murdered in 1863. Shortly after this, Rainilaiarivony, who was to become prime minister and consort to three successive queens, took control of the government. The last three decades of Malagasy independence during the 19th century were marked by continued attempts of those opposed to innovation to undermine the prime minister's authority. He therefore slowed modernization and tried to retain independence by seeking British friendship against the French. The latter claimed a protectorate over parts of the Sakalava kingdom by virtue of treaties made in 1840, and disputes over this claim and over French properties on the island resulted in a war in 1883 which was ended in 1885 by a treaty giving the French control over Merina foreign policy.

The British recognized the French position under the terms of the Anglo-French Agreement of 1890, in exchange for French recognition of a British protectorate over Zanzibar. This exchange cleared the way for the French annexation of Madagascar in 1896. Malagasy resistance, especially in the south, was not finally overcome until 1904, however. Gen. Joseph Gallieni, governor-general from 1896 to 1905, opened the first government schools (hitherto all schools had been in the hands of the missions), established a free medical service for Malagasy, encouraged the study of Malagasy language and customs by the creation of the Malagasy Academy (Académie Malgache), and introduced new tropical crops in order to promote economic development. The impress of his policies remained substantial until the end of World War II. His successors, career colonial officials, struggled to promote economic growth, but World War I, subsequent economic difficulties in France, and the prolonged depression of the 1930s, together with the absence of easily exploitable resources, the distance of Madagascar from its main markets, and the shortage of labor, combined to impede their efforts.

During World War II, the Vichy French retained control of Madagascar until it was occupied in 1942 by British troops to prevent its naval facilities from being used by the Japanese. In 1943, French administration was restored under Gen. de Gaulle's Free French government. Madagascar became a French overseas territory in 1946. All Malagasy thus became French citizens, but only a limited number were accorded the franchise (mainly those with some education or experience of European ways in the French civil services or armed forces). A Territorial Assembly was established, with some control of the budget. It was composed entirely of members indirectly elected by provincial assemblies. The latter were wholly elected bodies, but there were separate electorates (and separate seats) for the French citizens of metropolitan status (including Europeans, Réunionnais, and some Malagasy given such status) and for Malagasy citizens of local status. Although the latter had a majority of the seats in both provincial and territorial assemblies, the number of seats assigned to the metropolitan electorate was most disproportionate to its numerical strength. This system was denounced by the nationalists, who had secured a majority of the Malagasy seats in the Territorial Assembly as well as the three Malagasy seats in the French National Assembly.

In March 1947, a rebellion broke out, and for a time the French lost control of the east coast. Europeans and loyal Malagasy were murdered and roads cut. The suppression of the rebellion required substantial forces and took more than a year. Loss of life was estimated at 11,000. The nationalist movement was disrupted by the rebellion and subsequent repressions, but was not destroyed. A period of reform beginning in 1956 resulted in abolition of the dual electorate system, placed Malagasy in important government positions, and led to the rebirth of serious political activity.

The End of French Rule

In the referendum of 28 September 1958, Madagascar overwhelmingly voted for the new French constitution and became an autonomous republic in the new French Community. As the Malagasy Republic, it became a sovereign independent nation on 26 June 1960 and on 20 September 1960 was elected to UN membership.

The constitution that was adopted in October 1958 and amended in June 1960 provided Madagascar with a strong presidential form of government. The president, Philibert Tsiranana, remained in power until May 1972, when there were riots throughout Madagascar. The protests were led by a nationalist, leftist coalition of students, teachers, laborers, and urban unemployed. The repression that followed these demonstrations led to the fall of the Tsiranana government on 18 May. Gen. Gabriel Ramanantsoa was immediately asked to form a nonpolitical "government of national unity," which was composed of 11 ministers (5 military and 6 civilian). Ramanantsoa effectively destroyed the coalition by raising the minimum wages, providing strike pay, annulling the head and cattle taxes, prosecuting corrupt officials, and introducing price and currency controls. The new government also broke diplomatic ties with South Africa, established relations with the Communist bloc, withdrew from the franc zone, and arranged for the withdrawal of French military forces under new cooperation agreements with France.

On 5 February 1975, following a period of social and ethnic unrest, Ramanantsoa was replaced as head of state by Col. Richard Ratsimandrava, who was assassinated in an attempted coup six days later. A military Directorate composed of 18 officers was immediately formed and assumed all governmental authority. The Directorate was superseded on 13 June by the all-military Supreme Council of the Revolution, headed by Didier Ratsiraka, who had been minister of foreign affairs in the Ramanantsoa government.

In December 1975, a draft constitution was approved in a referendum by 95% of the voters and the Second Malagasy Republic, to be called the Democratic Republic of Madagascar, was proclaimed. Ratsiraka was installed as president on 4 January 1976, thus remaining head of state.

The new regime accelerated growing state control of the economy, and Madagascar turned to the former USSR and the Democratic People's Republic of Korea for military aid. By 1979, however, growing economic difficulties forced Ratsiraka to develop closer ties with the West. Unemployment, inflation, and scarcities of basic foodstuffs caused serious rioting and social unrest in the early 1980s. Ratsiraka was elected to a new term as president on 7 November 1982. During 198687, the government was shaken by student protests against educational reforms, rioting in the port of Toamasina, attacks on Indo-Pakistani enterprises in four major urban centers, and famine in the south because of food-supply problems. By early 1987, the governing coalition appeared to be unraveling. On May Day, four of the parties called for the resignation of the government and early elections.

Democratization Unleashed

In July 1992, after seven weeks of pro-democracy protests, Ratsiraka finally agreed to dissolve the cabinet and begin talks with the opposition. He also offered to hold a referendum on a new constitution by the end of 1992. Although he rejected demonstrators' demands that he resign, Ratsiraka released Albert Zafy, a popular opponent, and offered to form a coalition government with opposition leaders. Protests continued, and government troops fired on demonstrators in Antananarivo, killing as many as 50. In August, Ratsiraka asked his prime minister, Guy Willy Razanamasy, to form a new government and to "install democracy." By November, Ratsiraka agreed to share power with a transitional government headed by Zafy, his main rival. Ratsiraka's Revolutionary Supreme Council stepped down from power.

The democratization process survived an attempted coup on 29 July 1992, led by a faction of the Active Forces known as the Lifeblood Committee. On 19 August 1992, a new constitution was approved by national referendum. Ratsiraka's supporters interfered with the voting, seeking greater provincial autonomy. However the interior peoples, especially the Merina, strongly supported the new constitution. This was followed on 25 November by a presidential election, which a team of foreign observers deemed free and fair. Zafy defeated Ratsiraka, but without an absolute majority. In a runoff election on 10 February 1993, Zafy got 67% of the vote to Ratsiraka's 33%. The president was installed in March, amid violent confrontations between Ratsiraka's supporters and government forces.

Parliamentary elections were held in June 1993 for the new National Assembly. Twenty-five parties won representation with Zafy's Forces Vives (FV) taking the largest block of seats48. Eight parties had more than five seats. The National Assembly elected Francisque Ravony prime minister55 votes to 45 for Roger Ralison (FV), and 35 for former Maoist leader, Manandagy Rakotonirina.

Communal (territorial) elections, the first step in creation of the Senate, were held in November 1995, but President Zafy's day in the sun was short-lived. He was impeached in September 1995, and then defeated by Ratsiraka in competitive elections in December 1996. On February 10, 1997, Ratsiraka became the second African head of state, after Mathieu Kérékou of Benin, to have lost and then reclaimed the presidency via competitive elections.

An extensive revision of the 1992 constitution was approved narrowly in a March 1998 constitutional referendum. International observers found the conduct of the referendum generally free and fair, but problems involving the compilation of voter lists, distribution of electoral cards, and other issues led to charges of fraud and manipulation. The revised constitution reduced checks and balances and strengthened the presidency at the expense of the National Assembly. Parliamentary elections held in May 1998 generally were free and fair, but there were credible complaints of electoral fraud. In November 1999, municipal elections were held for 1,392 mayoral posts and 20,000 council seats.

After 29 years of dormancy, the Senate reconvened in May 2001. However, a national crisis ensued following the 16 December 2001 presidential election when challenger Marc Ravalomanana claimed to have won the election outright over incumbent Didier Ratsiraka, thereby eliminating the need for a run-off. The official results gave Ravalomanana 46.2%, forcing him into a runoff with Ratsiraka (40.9%). Albert Zafy (Rasalama) claimed 5.4%, Herizo Razafimahaleo 4.2%, D. Rajakoba 1.8%, and P. Rajaonary 1.6%. With Ratsiraka refusing to step down, Ravalomanana and his supporters mounted strikes and protests culminating in Ravalomanana's siezure of the presidency in February 2002. Operating from his provincial fiefdom, Toamasina, Ratsiraka commanded his armed forces to lay siege to the capital, blowing up key bridges and cutting off foodstuffs and other critical supplies. The violence resulted in more than 70 deaths. US recognition of Ravalomanana in June 2002 was followed by international approval, forcing Ratsiraka in July 2002 to seek exile in France ending seven months of political and economic chaos in the country.

Ravalomanana's first 18 months in power were marked by his consolidation of power, which was countered by a reorganization of opposition parties. None of the opposition parties, however, presented a serious challenge to Ravalomanana's power. Indeed, the president's first moves were to punish supporters of the old government including the last prime minister, Andrianarivo, who was detained and put on trial. However, under pressure from Zafy's forces, Ravalomanana pardoned those serving sentences of less than three years and invited others to apply for amnesty. The influential Madagascar Council of Churches led the movement for reconciliation resulting in broad support for compromise.

In December 2002, the president's party, Tiako-I-Madagasikara (TIM) dominated national assembly elections, but in the November 2003 municipal polls, TIM's opponents gained 18 of 45 of the most important mayoral posts up for election. The results speak to the importance of local power bases in Madagascar.

Internationally, Ravalomanana was able to restore donor confidence in the economy, largely through the leadership of his prime minister, Jacques Sylla. Gradually, the administration established productive relations with African states that were expected to lead to Madagascar's admission to the Southern Africa Development Community (SADC). Moreover, Madagascar qualified as one of the first African states to be eligible for funding under the US Millennium Challenge Account (MCA). The MCA agreement was signed in early 2005. France and the United Kingdom have also been supportive of the Ravalomanana government.

Although Ravalomanana remained politically strong going into 2006, he was expected to face stiff challenges led by Albert Zafy, Richard Andriamanjato, a former parliamentary speaker, and the former chairman of the national council of churches, Edmond Razafimahefa. Nevertheless, the president rejected demands for a transition government leading into the presidential elections scheduled for late 2006, and also resisted European calls for a new electoral law and more independent elections commission. Analysts predicted that the president's party, TIM also could be vulnerable in the 2007 legislative elections because of its weak grassroots base that other parties have shown themselves capable of organizing.


The constitution of 21 December 1975, like that of the First Republic, provided for a strong presidential system of government. The president was elected for a seven-year term and was both chief executive and head of state. The president was assisted by the Supreme Council of the Revolution (Conseil Supreme de la RévolutionCSR), which was to be "the guardian of the Malagasy Socialist Revolution." The president, as chairman of the CSR, named two-thirds of its members outright and chose the other third from a list submitted by the National People's Assembly. The premier, the designated head of government, was appointed by the president and assisted by a cabinet.

The 19 August 1992 constitution of the Third Republic provides for a head of state, the president, who is elected by universal suffrage to serve a five-year term. The president chooses a prime minister from a list of candidates nominated by the national assembly. The prime minister appoints the Council of Ministers.

The constitution provides for a two-chamber legislaturea 160-member national assembly and a senate. Members of the national assembly are elected by universal suffrage82 by single-member and 34 by two-member constituenciesto serve four-year terms. The president appoints the remaining one-third. Regional assemblies elected by direct suffrage select two-thirds of the members of the 90-seat senate with the remaining one-third appointed by the president for a four-year term. Suffrage is universal at age 18.


Following World War II, the Democratic Movement for Malagasy Renewal (Mouvement Démocratique de la Rénouvation MalgacheMDRM), founded by several prominent nationalists, demanded that Madagascar be declared a free state within the French Union. The French, however, organized the island as an overseas territory, granting the vote to few Malagasy. In the wake of the 1947 rebellion, the leaders of the MDRM, whom the French accused of planning and leading the revolt, were convicted of treason and sentenced to death (later commuted to life imprisonment). Charges of French brutality in the suppression of the revolt, however, gained considerable sympathy for the nationalist cause.

After independence, the Social Democratic Party of Madagascar and the Comoros (Parti Social Démocrate de Madagascar et des ComoresPSD) became the dominant political organization in the Malagasy Republic. It was organized in 1957 under the leadership of Philibert Tsiranana, the son of a Tsimihety peasant, and advocated a gradual approach to independence. In the Assembly elections of September 1960, the PSD won 75 seats out of 107. In the 1965 and 1970 elections, it increased its representation to 104 seats. The PSD was supported principally by peasants and other conservative elements, and favored strong ties with France. Tsiranana, who became president in 1960, was reelected in 1965 and again in 1972, just prior to his overthrow. The only real alternative during this period was the pro-Soviet Party of the Congress of Independence (Ankoton'ny Kongresi'ny Fahaleorantenan MadagaskaraAKFM), founded in 1958.

Other parties represented regions, provinces, tribes, or religious groups, but displayed little national strength. The most significant of the regional parties was the Movement for the Independence of Madagascar (Mouvement National pour l'Indépendance de MadagascarMONIMA) which was led by Monja Jaona from Toliara. It represented the more radical intellectuals and landless peasants of the south. As a result of its armed opposition to the central government in April 1971, which was quickly and harshly suppressed, MONIMA became a truly left-wing opposition movement with support among students and urban radicals. Though MONIMA was banned, these elements led the series of demonstrations against the Tsiranana regime that resulted in its fall in May 1972. The ban on MONIMA was lifted in June.

After the assassination of the new head of state, Richard Ratsimandrava, in February 1975, all political parties were banned. The new constitution institutionalized the ban by providing for the creation of a sole party, to be called the National Front for the Defense of the Révolution (Front National pour la Defense de la RévolutionFNDR).

In effect, however, the FNDR became an umbrella group under which parties survived as "revolutionary associations." MONIMA withdrew from the FNDR in 1977 but returned in 1981, bringing to seven the number of parties in the FNDR. The chief party was Ratsiraka's Vanguard of the Malagasy Revolution (Avant-garde de la Révolution MalgacheAREMA). On 29 May 1977, it won control of almost all provincial and local bodies, and on 30 June 1977, in an election in which voters were presented with a single FNDR list, AREMA won 112 Assembly seats to 16 for the PCI and 9 for two other parties.

In the presidential election of 7 November 1982, President Ratsiraka won reelection with 80.17% of the vote. His sole opponent, Monja Jaona, leader of MONIMA, was removed from the CSR and temporarily placed under house arrest after he called for a general strike to protest the election results. In elections in August 1983, AREMA again won a commanding majority in the Assembly. MONIMA left the FNDR in 1987.

Since the democratic changes of 1992 and 1993, numerous political organizations have operated in Madagascar. In 1991, Albert Zafy founded the National Union for Development and Democracy (UNDD). Zafy was supported in the 1993 elections by Forces Vive (FV), an informal alliance that included the UNDD and the AKFMFanavaozana, a breakaway group from the MFM (Mouvement pour le pouvoir prolétarien).

Following his defeat in the presidential elections of February 1993, Didier Ratsiraka created a new party, the Vanguard for Economic and Social Recovery (ARESAvant Gardes pour le Redressement Économique et Social). Ratsiraka turned on his former policies by proposing a federalist arrangement that would give more autonomy to the provinces. In the elections of 17 May 1998, which were credibly free and fair, Ratsiraka was leading AREMA, now named the Association for the Rebirth of Madagascar, which took 62 seats, LEADER/Fanilo 15, AVI 14, RPSD 11, AFFA 6, MFM 3, AKFM/Fanavaozana 3, GRAD/Iloafo 1, Fihaonana 1, independents 34.

In the municipal elections on 14 November 1999, AREMA captured three of the six regional capitals, having previously held just one. The biggest losers were established opposition party candidates such as former president Albert Zafy, who was beaten in his own political stronghold of Antsiranana. Marc Ravalomanana, a 50-year-old businessman and a principal donor of funds to the AVI centrist party, won the mayorship of Antananarivo, the capital city. Although the vote was marred by poor organization, almost all the 1,392 mayorships and 20,000 council seats were contested by at least two candidates. Many these were independents, which seemed to signal that local elections were no longer being run from national party headquarters in the capital.

In the 15 December 2002 parliamentary elections, Ravalomanana's I Love Madagascar (TIM), captured a combined total of 125 out of 160 seats in parliament. The election results (minus presidential appointments) were as follows: TIM 103, FP 22, AREMA 3, LEADER/Fanilo 2, RPSD 5, TTS 2, HBM 1, and independents 22. The opposition criticized the poll as manipulated by the president's party.

In the early run-up to the national assembly elections expected in early 2007, AREMA appeared fractured by Toamasina major, Roland Ratsiraka, nephew of former president Didier Ratsiraka, who has led a youthful wing of the party to reconciliation with the Ravalomanana administration. The most concerted opposition to TIM was expected from the Three National Forces (3FN) alliance, under the leadership of former president, Albert Zafy. The opposition was expected to make gains in the national assembly elections scheduled for 2007, however, Mr. Ravalomanana was expected to retain the presidency given that no opposition figure appeared to have the national appeal sufficient to unseat him.


Prior to the Ravalomanana regime, Madagascar was divided into six provinces, subdivided into 28 regions comprising 148 departments, and further divided into nearly 1,400 communes. At the local level were some 11,393 fokontany (village or urban neighborhood organizations) with an elected president and council. All levels of the Malagasy state were organized in hierarchical fashion within the jurisdiction of the Ministry of the Interior.

During the 1996 campaign, former president Didier Ratsiraka promised to draft laws that would make provinces autonomous. He subsequently sponsored workshops to gather input and share ideas with regional leaders. This controversial plan transfered power from the central government to the provinces and municipalities, and to administrative subdivisions for tax collection, service provision, and development planning. However, it was widely feared that provincial autonomy would threaten Madagascar's political unity.

Ravalomanana introduced a new structure that makes 22 new regions the main administrative units. Consequently, the power of the six autonomous provinces was greatly reduced, which was reflected in their shrinking budgets. While the regional leaders are centrally appointed, the municipal mayors, who exercise considerable power, are elected by direct popular vote.


The Malagasy judicial system is based on the French tradition. During the 1960s and 1970s the nation began a move from a bifurcated judicial system (customary courts for most Malagasy and local courts for foreign residents and urbanized Malagasy) to a single judicial system. At the top of the judicial system is the Supreme Court in Antananarivo. Other courts include the Court of Appeal, also in Antananarivo; courts of first instance for civil and criminal cases; ordinary and special criminal courts; and military courts. There are also a High Court of Justice to try high officials and a High Constitutional Court. Military courts presided over by civilian magistrates hear cases involving national security.

The traditional courts (dina ) continue to handle some civil disputes and recently have been used in criminal cases because of inconvenience and inadequacy of the formal court system. Decisions by dina are not subject to the formal procedural protections of the formal court system. In some cases, however, they may be challenged at the appeals court level. Dina's authority depends upon the mutual respect and consensus of the parties to abide by the ruling. Dina punishments are sometimes severe and include capital punishment.

The 1992 constitution guarantees an independent judiciary, and in practice the judiciary appears to be independent from the executive. In April 2002, a critical test of the judicial system occurred. With both Ratsiraka and Ravalomanana agreeing to a recount of the December 2001 polls, the High Constitutional Court declared Ravalomanana the winner. Ratsiraka defied the verdict, but Ravalomanana was sworn in for the second time on 6 May 2002 as Madagascar's fourth head of state.


As of 2005, the armed forces of Madagascar were composed of 13,500 active personnel, of which the Army accounted for over 12,500, the Navy 500 (including around 100 Marines), and the Air Force 500. The Army's equipment included 12 light tanks and over 37 artillery pieces. The Air Force operated 14 transport and 5 utility fixed wing aircraft, and 6 support helicopters. There were no combat aircraft. The Navy operated one amphibious landing craft and one logistics/support vessel. The paramilitary Gendarmerie National, which had a strength of 8,100, is the main force for the maintenance of public order and internal security. In 2005, the defense budget totaled $275 million.


Madagascar was admitted to the United Nations on 20 September 1960 and is a member of ECA and several nonregional specialized agencies, such as the FAO, IAEA, the World Bank, UNESCO, UNHCR, UNIDO, and WHO. It is also a member of the WTO, the African Development Bank, the ACP Group, the Arab Bank for Economic Development in Africa, G-77, the African Union, Indian Ocean Commission, and COMESA. Madagascar is a member of the Nonaligned Movement. In environmental cooperation, the country is part of the Basel Convention, the Convention on Biological Diversity, Ramsar, CITES, the Kyoto Protocol, the Montréal Protocol, the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, and the UN Conventions on the Law of the Sea, Climate Change, and Desertification.


Madagascar is a poor country, with over 70% of the population falling below the poverty level of $50 a year. Its agriculture-based economy supports a majority of the labor force. There are substantial mineral deposits; and industry, which accounted for 11% of GDP in 1999, is centered on food processing. Madagascar sponsored an Export Processing Zone in 1991 and important investments have been made in tourism. Government efforts to strengthen the market economy have been erratic, while corruption and political instability continue to constrain growth. The country's infrastructure remains poor, with inadequate roads preventing the transportation of agricultural products from farm to market. Railroads and the port system are also undeveloped, although the telecommunications system is being revamped. The IMF and World Bank in 2000 released tranches of the Poverty Reduction and Growth Facility, and Structural Adjustment Credit, respectively, to assist the country in reducing poverty and implementing market reforms conducive to private sector development. Also in 2000, Madagascar was approved to receive debt relief under the IMF/World Bank Heavily Indebted Poor Countries (HIPC) initiative.

The agricultural sector, which accounted for 34% of GDP in 1999, is prone to cyclone damage and drought. Rice is the staple crop although Madagascar has sought to diversify crop production by promoting maize and potatoes. Cassava, bananas, and sweet potatoes are also important. Export crops are coffee, vanilla, and cloves, with coffee the most important. A decline in world coffee prices by 2003 had stifled growth. The sugar sector has been revived with the help of French investments.

Economic growth has been very instable in recent years, dropping from 6.0% in 2001 to -12.6% in 2002, and up to 9.7% in 2003, and 5.3% in 2004. Inflation has followed a similar pattern, growing from 6.9% in 2001 to 16.1% in 2002, dropping to -1.2% in 2003, and surging up again to 13.8% in 2004. There are no available figures for unemployment.

Though Madagascar has a considerable diversity of minerals, their remote locations have discouraged extraction. Chromite, graphite, and mica are exported along with gems such as topaz, garnets, and amethysts. Private mining interests have been invited to develop Madagascar's gold deposits, as well as ilmenite, zircon, rutile, nickel, platinum, and bauxite. There has also been renewed interest in Madagascar's oil potential. Madagascar is rich in biodiversity, and many plants and animals found there exist nowhere else in the world. Hence, ecotourism is a sector of the economy with great potential for development.


The US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) reports that in 2005 Madagascar's gross domestic product (GDP) was estimated at $15.8 billion. The CIA defines GDP as the value of all final goods and services produced within a nation in a given year and computed on the basis of purchasing power parity (PPP) rather than value as measured on the basis of the rate of exchange based on current dollars. The per capita GDP was estimated at $900. The annual growth rate of GDP was estimated at 6.5%. The average inflation rate in 2005 was 10%. It was estimated that agriculture accounted for 28.7% of GDP, industry 16.5%, and services 54.8%.

According to the World Bank, in 2003 remittances from citizens working abroad totaled $16 million or about $1 per capita and accounted for approximately 0.3% of GDP. Foreign aid receipts amounted to $539 million or about $32 per capita and accounted for approximately 10.0% of the gross national income (GNI).

The World Bank reports that in 2003 household consumption in Madagascar totaled $4.54 billion or about $269 per capita based on a GDP of $5.5 billion, measured in current dollars rather than PPP. Household consumption includes expenditures of individuals, households, and nongovernmental organizations on goods and services, excluding purchases of dwellings. It was estimated that for the period 1990 to 2003 household consumption grew at an average annual rate of 2.4%. In 2001 it was estimated that approximately 61% of household consumption was spent on food, 4% on fuel, 2% on health care, and 2% on education. It was estimated that in 2004 about 50% of the population had incomes below the poverty line.


The labor force in 2000 (the latest year for which data was available) was estimated at 7.3 million persons. As of 2002, agriculture employed 78% of the workforce, with industry employing 6.7% and services 15.3%. Although a 2002 survey put Madagascar's unemployment rate at 4.5%, the country's actual rate may be far higher.

Both public and private sector workers have the right to establish and join labor unions of their choice. However, only 5% of the total force was unionized in 2002. Unions are required to register with the government, but authorization is customarily given. The law provides for collective agreements between employers and trade unions. Strikes are legally permitted.

Working conditions are regulated by the constitution and the labor code. The law sets the minimum working age at 14 (18 where the work is hazardous) but this minimum is enforced only in the small formal sector of the economy. In the large agricultural sector, many children work with their parents on family farms. The minimum wage was $25 per month in 2002, but this is not regularly enforced due to harsh economic realities. The standard legal workweek is 40 hours in industry, and 42.5 hours in agriculture.


Although Madagascar's economy is essentially agricultural, much of the land is unsuitable for cultivation because of its mountainous terrain, extensive laterization, and inadequate or irregular rainfall. Only about 5% of the land area is cultivated at any one time. Despite these figures, agriculture accounts for 25% of GDP and employs about 75% of the work force. Large-scale plantations dominate the production of sisal, sugarcane, tobacco, bananas, and cotton, but, overall, Malagasy agriculture is dependent mainly on small-scale subsistence farmers cultivating less than one hectacre (2.47 acres) of land.

A wide variety of food crops is grown. Rice is the staple of the Malagasy diet; production was an estimated 3,030,000 tons in 2004. Nevertheless, the yield is insufficient to meet the country's needs and in 1982, 1984, and 1990 cyclones severely damaged the rice crop. Cassava, bananas, and sweet potatoes are also important. Madagascar has sought to diversify staple crop production by promoting maize and potatoes. Other important food crops (with 2004 production figures) include cassava, 2,191,000 tons; sugarcane, 2,180,000 tons; sweet potatoes, 542,000 tons; potatoes, 280,500 tons; bananas, 290,000 tons; corn, 350,000 tons; and oranges, 83,000 tons.

In the 1980s, coffee regularly earned about 24% of total export revenues. After the collapse of the International Coffee Organization in 1989, however, coffee exports accounted for only 8.6% of Malagasy foreign trade earnings in 1992 (down from 35% in 1985); in 2004, it accounted for less than 1% of exports. Production was 85,000 tons in 1991 and about 65,000 tons in 2004.

Vanilla is the leading agricultural export, with production of 3,000 tons in 2004 and exports of 658 tons of extract (for a value of $64.2 million, 16% of total exports). International trade in natural vanilla is determined by agreements between producers (mainly Madagascar and the Comoros) and the principal importers by which export prices and traded volumes are fixed. The government does not encourage overproduction, since the international market demand is very sensitive because of competition from synthetic vanilla (vanillin). Madagascar is the world's major natural vanilla producer, accounting for about 75% of production.

Cloves are another main export crop, grown mostly by smallholders. Production follows a four-year cycle with twothree years of high output followed by one year of low production. Clove production amounted to 1,500 tons and exports totaled 12,585 tons in 2004, valued at $14.6 million. Other 2004 production figures for cash crops were seed cotton, 12,500 tons; peanuts, 39,000 tons; sisal, 17,000 tons; and cocoa, 4,500 tons. Pepper and cinnamon are other important export crops. Pepper and cinnamon exports in 2004 together amounted to 1,732 tons, valued at $1.1 million. The sugar sector has been revived with the help of French investments. The needs of the domestic market are served by five sugar refineries.

Production of cash crops has been discouraged by the low prices paid by state agencies, which sometimes have failed to collect crops or pay for them on time. In 2004, Madagascar's agricultural trade surplus was $28.5 million.


More than half the land is used for raising livestock. Cattle occupy an important place in the Malagasy economy. They are, however, more important as evidence of wealth than as sources of meat and dairy products. Only since the end of World War I has the consumption of meat become widespread among Malagasy, and now beef consumption is relatively high compared with other African countries. Cattle are employed to trample the rice fields and to draw plows and small carts. Most cattle are of the humped zebu type. Madagascar has vast natural pastures (60% of total land area) and is free of cattle diseases; there is, therefore, considerable potential for increasing production.

Estimates of the size of livestock herds vary considerably. Estimates for 2005 were cattle, 10.5 million head; hogs, 1.6 million; sheep, 650,000; and goats, 1.2 million. Total meat production was about 297,000 tons. Beef and live animals are exported. The population of cattle has remained steady because of a high young animal mortality rate resulting from traditional livestock-raising techniques.


Despite the island's long coastline, fishing is relatively undeveloped as an industry in Madagascar. On the east coast, with its stormy seas and absence of harbors, fishing is restricted mainly to the coastal lagoons and has been aptly characterized as virtually an extension of inland freshwater fishing. In the northwest, sardine and tuna are caught, and dried fish find a ready market. Dried fish also are prepared in the southwest. Lobsters, prawns, and shrimps are exported. Commercial maritime fishing is carried out by four joint-venture companies that operate along the northwest coast and account for most exports. The catch in 2003 was estimated at 152,238 tons, of which 32,500 tons were caught in inland waters. Vessels from European Union nations are allowed to take up to 11,000 tons of tuna and prawns a year. French investment has helped establish a tuna cannery.


The forested area of Madagascar is estimated to cover more than 11.7 million hectares (about 28.9 million acres), or about 20% of the land. The main objectives of forestry policy have been to arrest further destruction of the woodlands, to pursue a systematic reforestation program in the interests of soil conservation and the domestic demand for construction timber, and to continue to meet the domestic need for firewood, of great importance in view of the absence of petroleum or exploited coal deposits. Eucalyptus, introduced at the end of the 19th century, acacias (especially mimosa), and various kinds of pine have been extensively used in reforestation. Raffia is the only forest product exported in any quantity. Roundwood removals were estimated at 10,867,000 cu m (384,000,000 cu ft) in 2003; 99% was used for fuel.


Madagascar's mining sector is primarily known for its production of chromite (chemicaland metallurgical-grade), as well as for the production and export of phlogopite mica and high-quality crystalline flake graphite.

In 2003, output of chromite (marketable lumpy ore and gross weight concentrate) was 45,040 metric tons, up from 11,000 metric tons in 2002, but down significantly from the 131,293 metric tons produced in 2000, as a result of competition from South Africa. Graphite shipments (all grades) in 2003 totaled 2,000 metric tons. Output of mica (phlogopiute) in 2003 totaled 90 metric tons.

Deposits of gems (amazonite, amethyst, beryl, citrine, cordierite, garnet, sapphire, and tourmaline) have been exploited, as have those of ornamental stones (agate, apatite, and aragonite69% of total ornamental stone productioncalcite, jasper, and labradorite) and stones for electrical geodes (quartzindustrial, rose, and smokyand celestine). In 1999, Madagascar exported gemstones worth $15.18 million, a 212% increase over 1999, and 270% over 199574% were exported to Thailand. In 2003, amethyst, emerald, ruby and sapphire production totaled 100 kg, 15 kg, 1,000 kg and 6,000 kg, respectively.

Madagascar in 2003 also produced mine gold (almost all was produced by artisanal miners and smuggled out of the country), natural abrasives, feldspar, kaolin, marble, marine salt, and dimension stone. Industrial calcite, clays, sand and gravel, and stone were presumably produced as well. Bastnaesite and monazite were not produced after 1996, although large deposits occurred of both, as well as of pyrochlore, and contained fergusonite, xenotine, euxenite, and uranium.

Extensive prospecting has led to the discovery of recoverable deposits of iron ore (910 million tons of resources; the 360-million-ton deposit near Soalala was the most valuable), bauxite (330335 million tons in resources, in the southeastern part of the country), nickel (168 million tons; the largest resources were in the Ambatovy lateritic deposit), coal, copper, lead, manganese, platinum, tin, titanium, zinc, and zirconium. Madagascar's considerable mineral potential has remained unexploited; the main factors were the need for major infrastructure repairs, its poor power distribution systems, underfunded health and education facilities, and the inability to reform the economy and deal with chronic malnutrition, deforestation, land erosion, and population growth. One potentially positive development was the decision of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank in 2000 to grant Madagascar $1.5 billion in debt relief. In 2000, the Bureau du Cadastre Minier de Madagascar (BCCM) was established, to serve as a one-stop service for mining operators. An overhaul of mining regulations created a new system of strictly defined licenses and mining concessions. All mineral resources, except graphite and mica, were nationalized, and prospecting and exploitation was under state control.


Madagascar had no known reserves of oil, or natural gas as of 1 January 2005. Nor does the country have any recoverable coal reserves. As a result, Madagascar must rely upon imports to meet its fossil fuel needs, although the country does have a small refining capacity.

Madagascar's demand and imports of petroleum products in 2004 averaged 12,000 barrels per day. Petroleum refining capacity, as of 1 January 2005 averaged 15,000 barrels per day. In 2003, Madagascar had no imports or consumption of natural gas. However, it did import 0.01 million short tons of coal. Madagascar's only oil refinery was established at Toamasina in 1966.

Installed electrical capacity, as of 1 January 2003, amounted to 0.284 million kW, of which 63% in 2002 relied upon conventional fossil fuels. The remaining capacity in 2002 was hydroelectric. In 2003, electric power output came to 0.83 billion kWh, with consumption that year at 0.77 billion kWh. However, in 2002, hydropower accounted for 66% of the power produced.


Industry consists largely of processing agricultural products and textile manufacturing. The industrial centers are in the high plateau and near the Toamasina port. Industrialization has been severely hampered by inadequate internal transportation and a restricted local market. Industry accounted for 11% of GDP in 1999. Most plants operated at less than one-third of full capacity.

The majority of industrial enterprises process agricultural products: rice, sugar, flour, tobacco, tapioca, and sisal. In addition, there are some meat-packing plants. Urea- and ammonia-based fertilizers are produced in a plant that opened in 1985. Madagascar produces pulp for paper and cement. Other industrial enterprises include cotton spinning and weaving mills and three automobile assembly plants.

The government-owned petroleum refinery at Toamasina has a capacity of 15,000 barrels per day, but it has been operating at reduced capacity since it was hit by a hurricane in 1994. The petroleum sector was liberalized in 1996, and the state oil company SOLIMA was privatized in 2000. Oil and gas exploration holds great potential for the country.

The share that industry contributed to the GDP grew to 16.7% by 2004; agriculture contributed only 29.3%, but was the main employer in the country; services held a 54% share in the GDP. Other industries include meat processing, soap, breweries, tanneries, sugar, textiles, glassware, cement, automobile assembly plant, paper, petroleum, and tourism.


France is the leading supplier of scientific and technical aid to Madagascar, and there are French research institutes in the country to study geology, hydrology, tropical forestry, and veterinary medicine.

The National Center of Applied Research in Rural Development, founded in 1974 at Antananarivo, conducts research into agriculture, forestry, fisheries, zoology, and veterinary studies. Also in the capital is a government department of agronomical research, the National Institute of Geodesy and Cartography, and the Pasteur Institute, which is devoted to biological research. The University of Antananarivo, founded in 1961, has departments of sciences, agriculture, polytechnics, and health sciences, and an Institute and Geophysical Observatory. The University of Fianarantsoa, founded in 1988, has departments of mathematics, physics-chemistry, engineering, and computer science. The University of Mahajanga, founded in 1977, has faculties of natural sciences, medicine, and dentistry and stomatology.

In 198797, science and engineering students accounted for 25% of college and university enrollments. In 2000 (the latest year for which there is data available), research and development (R&D) expenditures totaled $15.332 million, or 0.12% of GDP. In that same year, the country had 47 technicians and 15 scientists and engineers per million people that were engaged in R&D.


Antananarivo, the capital and largest city, is the principal distribution center for the island. Toamasina, Mahajanga, Antsiranana, Toliara, and Tolänaro are the commercial centers for the provinces in which they are located. Distribution and packaging are being gradually modernized. Most general merchants in the small eastern communities are Chinese; most on the west coast are Indian. Domestic trade is small due to low-incomes of most residents and relatively high prices. Business is conducted in French and Malagasy. Advertising and marketing are not common.

Business hours vary, but generally are from about 8 am to noon and 2 to 5:30 pm on weekdays and from 8 am to noon on Saturdays. Banks are open 8 to 11 am and 2 to 4 pm Monday through Friday.


Madagascar consistently runs a trade deficit. Exports consist mainly of unprocessed agricultural products and some extracted minerals. Textiles are Madagascar's major export commodity (29%), followed by spices (14%), coffee (7.1%), and gemstones (6.5%). Other exports include preserved fruit (4.4%) and shellfish (4.1%).

Refined petroleum products were formerly imported in large quantities, but development of domestic refinery capacity altered this pattern. Madagascar now exports a small amount of petroleum products to East Africa and to other Indian Ocean islands. Crude petroleum still must be imported.

In 2004, exports reached $868 million (FOBfree on board), while imports grew to $1.1 billion (FOB). The bulk of exports went to the United States (35.8%), France (30.8%), Germany

Country Exports Imports Balance
World 766.0 1,091.1 -325.1
France-Monaco 299.7 177.5 122.2
United States 218.5 29.9 188.6
Germany 39.5 37.2 2.3
Areas nes 26.3 57.6 -31.3
Singapore 24.8 12.1 12.7
South Africa 16.2 77.5 -61.3
United Kingdom 15.8 11.9 3.9
Italy-San Marino-Holy See 13.8 36.1 -22.3
Japan 13.1 29.3 -16.2
Mauritius 10.6 37.9 -27.3
() data not available or not significant.

(7.7%), Mauritius (4.6%), and Italy (3.4%). Imports included capital goods, petroleum, consumer goods, and food, and mainly came from France (17.2%), China (9.7%), Hong Kong (6.6%), Iran (6.4%), Mauritius (6.2%), and South Africa (5.6%).


Madagascar's payments balance is chronically negative. Since private investment has been limited, the deficits have been covered by foreign aid grants, official loans, and the use of central bank reserves from good years. In 1981 Madagascar was refused credit by its suppliers because of worsening deficits. The IMF provided a standby loan in 1982, conditional on devaluation of the currency, increased agricultural sector investments, producer price increases for rice and cotton, and the imposition of a ceiling on the minimum wage. These measures had a positive effect, although export production continued to decline. Consequently, further standby credits were negotiated and, in the late 1980s, Madagascar's debt was periodically rescheduled conditional on further trade liberalization, tighter government spending controls, privatization of the state's banks, improvement of credit access, and the opening up of financial markets to foreigners. France and Germany canceled significant portions of Madagascar's debt at that time.

In 1997, the Paris Club approved a 67% debt reduction, but since the majority of the country's debt did not lie with the Paris Club, it retained an external debt of over $4.5 billion. In 2000, Madagascar qualified for $1.5 billion in debt service relief from the IMF/World Bank Heavily Indebted Poor Countries (HIPC) initiative. In 2001, the IMF approved a three-year $103 million loan to Madagascar.

The US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) reported that in 2000 the purchasing power parity of Madagascar's exports was $680 million while imports totaled $919 million resulting in a trade deficit of $239 million. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) reported that in 2001 Madagascar had exports of goods totaling

Current Account -439.0
     Balance on goods -254.0
         Imports -1,109.0
         Exports 856.0
     Balance on services -275.0
     Balance on income -79.0
     Current transfers 169.0
Capital Account 140.0
Financial Account -118.0
     Direct investment abroad
     Direct investment in Madagascar 13.0
     Portfolio investment assets
     Portfolio investment liabilities
     Financial derivatives
     Other investment assets -27.0
     Other investment liabilities -104.0
Net Errors and Omissions 52.0
Reserves and Related Items 365.0
() data not available or not significant.

$111 million and imports totaling $114 million. The services credit totaled $42 million and debit $61 million.

Exports of goods and services reached $1.3 billion in 2004, slightly increasing from the 2003 value. Imports grew from $1.8 billion in 2003, to $1.9 billion in 2004. The resource balance was consequently negative in both years, reaching -$491 million in 2003 and -$680 million in 2004. The current account balance was also negative, decreasing from -$268 million in 2003, to -$411 million in 2004. Foreign exchange reserves (including gold) grew to $467 million in 2004, covering around three months of imports.


Upon leaving the franc zone in June 1973, the government established the Central Bank of the Malagasy Republic (Banque Centrale de la République Magache). Also organized at that time were the Malagasy National Development Bank, an agricultural credit institution, and the National Investment Co., an industrial investment bank. In June 1975, the Ratsiraka government nationalized all private financial institutions. In December 1976, Bankin'ny Tantsaha Mpamokatra (BTM) was established as the national rural development bank, Bankin'ny Indostria (BNI) as the national industrial development bank, and Banky Fampandrosoana ny Varotra (BFV) as the national bank for commerce. There was also a savings bank and a postal checking account system.

Economic reforms in 1988 allowed private foreign investment in the banking sector for the first time since the banks were nationalized. In 1989, the Banque Nationale de Paris was the first French bank to open a private bank, the BMOI, since 1975. Financial sector liberalization has been a key condition of adjustment support.

In 2001, there were six commercial banks in Madagascar, including Banque Malgache de l'Océan Indien (BMOI) and BNI-Credit Lyonnais (BNI-CL), both controlled by European banking institutions; Union Commercial Bank (UCB) and State Bank of Mauritius (SBM), both controlled by Mauritian companies; BTM, controlled by the Bank of Africa; and the Bank of New York (BFV/SG). Total assets of the biggest bank, BNI-CL, were approximately $200 million in 1999. The International Monetary Fund reports that in 2001, currency and demand depositsan aggregate commonly known as M1were equal to $794.4 million. In that same year, M2an aggregate equal to M1 plus savings deposits, small time deposits, and money market mutual fundswas $1.0 billion. The discount rate, the interest rate at which the central bank lends to financial institutions in the short term, was 11%. There are no securities exchanges in Madagascar.


In June 1975, as part of the government's Malagasization program, all insurance companies were nationalized. Most of these had previously been French. Foreign companies now operate only as coinsurers. Some of the insurance companies doing business in Madagascar included, in 1998: Avotra Mutuelle Générale d'Assurances Malagasy, Caledonian Insurance Co., Compagnie

Revenue and Grants 2,895 100.0%
     Tax revenue 2,304.1 79.6%
     Social contributions
     Grants 492 17.0%
     Other revenue 98.9 3.4%
Expenditures 4,283.5 100.0%
     General public services 1,778 41.5%
     Public order and safety 366.4 8.6%
     Economic affairs 636.4 14.9%
     Environmental protection 168.7 3.9%
     Housing and community amenities
     Health 344.7 8.0%
     Recreational, culture, and religion 22.8 0.5%
     Education 885.4 20.7%
     Social protection 81.1 1.9%
() data not available or not significant.

Malgache d'Assurances et de Reassurances, and Mutuelle d'Assurances Malagasy.


In 2000, Madagascar started the preparation of a Poverty Reduction Strategy Paper (PRSP) under the Heavily Indebted Poor Countries (HIPC) initiative. By the end of the year, the IMF and the World Bank agreed that Madagascar had filled the requirements of the HIPC and together they reached a decision point for debt relief. As a result, various organizations, including the IMF, the Paris Club, and the African Development Bank awarded Madagascar grants or debt cancellations worth a total of $355 million dollars in 2001.

The US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) estimated that in 2005 Madagascar's central government took in revenues of approximately $703.6 million and had expenditures of $853 million. Revenues minus expenditures totaled approximately -$149.4 million. Total external debt was $4.6 billion.

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) reported that in 2002, the most recent year for which it had data, central government revenues were fmg2,895 billion and expenditures were fmg4,283.5 billion. The value of expenditures in US dollars was less than us$1 million, based on a official exchange rate for 2002 of us$1 = fmg 6,832.0 as reported by the IMF. Government outlays by function were as follows: general public services, 41.5%; public order and safety, 8.6%; economic affairs, 14.9%; environmental protection, 3.9%; health, 8.0%; recreation, culture, and religion, 0.5%; education, 20.7%; and social protection, 1.9%.


Indirect taxes produce much more revenue than direct taxes. The most important indirect taxes are import duties (ranging from 025%), a value-added tax (20%), customs fees (025%), and consumption taxes (from 010%). Import licenses are not necessary, and exports have been liberalized. Direct taxation consists of a graduated personal income tax with a maximum rate of 35%, a corporate profits tax at a flat rate of 35%, and a tax on income from transferable capital.


Between 1960 and 1972, most Malagasy production went to France, where it was sold at subsidized prices. In return, preferential treatment was given to French imports. This reciprocal arrangement guaranteed the Malagasy a reliable return for their exports and enabled the French to pay low import duties and virtually monopolize the Malagasy market. Similar trade agreements were arranged with some European Community countries.

Beginning in 1972, however, the government restricted imports as much as possible and began the progressive cancellation of preferential arrangements to ensure greater diversity in supply sources. Import constraints were tightened during the early 1980s because of a severe shortage of foreign exchange but were liberalized in 1986. In 1988, Madagascar began a three-stage comprehensive tariff reform to simplify and reduce rates. Imported goods were divided into five categories and taxed at rates of 1050%.

Customs duties continue to be an important source of revenue for Madagascar, as they are for many developing countries. The current tariff system, under a 2000 financial law, consists of four kinds of duties: an import tax (5% for crude materials, spare parts and inputs; 5-15% for capital goods; 25-30% for consumer goods; and up to 100% for some luxury items); custom fees of 0-25%; a consumption tax of 110%; and a value-added tax (VAT) of 20%.


Prior to independence, nearly all private investment was French. The investment code of 1973 required that the Malagasy government own at least 51% of most new foreign projects, especially those involving strategic sectors of the economy. Import duties on equipment, excise on products, and taxes on profits were reduced or waived. Priority was given to enterprises in the allocation of foreign exchange and in the sale of goods and services to the state and its enterprises. In 1974, the government embarked on a socialist course, nationalizing large foreign enterprises without compensation and imposing strict controls on imports, prices and foreign exchange. There was little private foreign investment under these restrictive policies. The economy contracted and productivity declined. In 1994, under the pressure and guidance of the IMF, the World Bank, and donor states, a new liberalized policy framework was instituted. In 1997, the government announced that 45 state enterprises were set for privatization by the end of 1998, but only two companies had been privatized by mid-1999. Nonetheless, public foreign investment is encouraged.

A new code that became operational in 1986 allowed some exporters tax holidays of up to eight years, and there were special incentives for small enterprises. Foreign investors had the right to transfer dividends freely. The investment code of 1990 provided further incentives to foreign private investors and was opposed by local businesses for that reason. Rules covering foreign exchange and the number of foreign employees were relaxed. Small- and medium-size companies were provided tax exemptions through the first ten years of operation.

A number of export processing zones were set up in Madagascar. These have attracted investors from Europe (50%, mainly French, and Germany and Italy), Mauritania (30%), and Asia (10%, mostly Hong Kong and Singapore). Between 1990 and 1992, 69 new foreign-financed businesses were established in Madagascar. Investment during 1999 focused on the telecommunications, petroleum, and mining sectors. The value of foreign direct investment in 1998 was around $16 million.

In 2005, the discovery of two kimberlites by a Canadian diamond exploration company may set the stage for major future investments in mining, and they might lead to the emergence of Madagascar as a major diamond producer.


The 19821984 development plan, more modest than the previous one owing to limited resources, called for a shift from social investments (especially education and health) to agriculture, industry, and infrastructure. The following 198487 plan called for spending centered mainly on transport improvements and agricultural development. The 198690 plan, which superseded the 198487 plan, had 30% of the budget coming from private sources and 40% from foreign sources. The plan called for investments of 47% in agriculture in the ongoing effort to achieve food self-sufficiency and crop diversification.

Antigovernment strikes, corruption, and a lack of commitment have limited progress on the reforms since the early 1990s. In March 1997, a World Bank structural adjustment credit of $70 million was approved; in July 1999, a $100 million credit, and $40 million from the International Monetary Fund (IMF). The GDP growth rate increased steadily since these credits were allocated to Madagascar. However, external debt remained at $4 billion throughout the decade. One good sign during this period was a decrease in inflation, from 45% in 1993 to 6.2% in 1998.

In 2000, Madagascar was approved for $1.5 billion in debt service relief under the IMF/World Bank Heavily Indebted Poor Countries (HIPC) initiative. In 2001, it negotiated a $111.3 million three-year Poverty Reduction and Growth Facility (PRGF) Arrangement with the IMF. The PRGF was due to expire in November 2004. Also in 2001, the Paris Club approved a debt cancellation of $161 million, and the African Development Bank (AfDB) approved a debt cancellation of $71.46 million and granted an additional credit of $20 million to fight HIV/AIDS and poverty. Foreign direct investment in Madagascar's export processing zone strengthened the country's balance of payments position from 19972001, real GDP growth rate averaged 4.75%, and inflation was limited. The government embarked on an agenda of regulatory reform and public enterprise in 2002. Poverty, however, remained a constraint on growth and development.

Economic growth in 2005 was expected to reach around 5.1%, lower than initial estimates predicted. This trend was the result of high energy costs, frequent power cuts, and reduced consumer spending. By 2006, the economy was predicted to make slow but steady progress. The expansion of the economy will likely be fueled by a good performance in a series of key sectors: agriculture, tourism, and mining.


Old age, disability and survivor's pensions are funded by 1% contributions by employees and 3.5% by employers. There is a National Social Security Fund that provides family allowances and workers' compensation for wage earners. Employed women receive 14 weeks of maternity leave at 50% of pay. An employment-related system for family allowances is available to residents of Madagascar or France.

Women enjoy a highly visible and influential position in society, occupying some important posts in business and in the public sector. Domestic abuse is not widespread and women have recourse when reporting abuse to authorities. A 2003 amendment to the penal code specifically prohibits domestic violence. Child labor persists.

Human rights are generally respected. Excessive pretrial detention is a problem in Madagascar, sometimes extending for periods that surpass the maximum sentence for the alleged offense.


All medical services in Madagascar are free. Each province has a central hospital and local clinics, dispensaries, and maternity-care centers are supplemented by mobile health units. The main hospitals are the Hospital Befelatnana (1,300 beds) and Fort Dauphin Hospital (80). Total health care expenditure was estimated at 2.1% of GDP. As of 2004, there were an estimated nine physicians, 19 nurses, and nine midwives per 100,000 people.

Malaria remains one of the major health problems. The strategies of the fight against malaria consist of early care of malaria cases, drug interaction for pregnant women, and eradication of adult insects in the central highlands where malaria is common. The major endemic diseases are malaria, leprosy, and schistosomiasis. Tuberculosis is also prevalent. approximately 47% of the population had access to safe drinking water and 42% had adequate sanitation.

As of 2002, the crude birth rate and overall mortality rate were estimated at, respectively, 42.4 and 12.2 per 1,000 people. The fertility rate in 2000 was 5.4. Only 19% of married women (ages 15 to 49) used contraception. The infant mortality rate in 2005 was 76.83 per 1,000 live births. The maternal mortality rate was 490 per 100,000 live births. Immunization rates for children up to one year old were: tuberculosis, 87%; diphtheria, pertussis, and tetanus, 73%; polio, 73%; and measles, 68%. Approximately 48% of children under five years of age were considered malnourished. Nearly 22.8% of schoolchildren suffered from goiter. The average life expectancy was 56.95 years in 2005.

The HIV/AIDS prevalence was 1.70 per 100 adults in 2003. As of 2004, there were approximately 140,000 people living with HIV/AIDS in the country. There were an estimated 7,500 deaths from AIDS in 2003.


Malagasy houses, although constructed of varying materials in different parts of the island (brick and wood in the plateau, thatch and leaves in the west, and often on stilts in the east), are always rectangular, sited northsouth, with the doorway opening to the west. In the central plateau, they are often two stories high and have outside terraces.

The rapid growth of towns after World War II created grave problems of housing and sanitation, especially in Antananarivo, whose situation on a rocky promontory aggravates the difficulties of overcrowding. In the late 1980s, the latest period for which information is available, the housing stock totaled 2,350,000 with 4.5 people per dwelling. According to a 1993 survey, about 59% of all households lived in a one-room dwelling. About 83% of all dwellings were owner occupied. Only about 4% of all households had modern toilet facilities.


Education is free and compulsory for five years. This is followed by four years of lower secondary education. Students may then attend a three-year program in either general upper secondary studies or technical school studies. The academic year runs from October to July.

In 2001, about 3.4% of children between the ages of three and five were enrolled in some type of preschool program. Primary school enrollment in 2003 was estimated at about 79% of age-eligible students. In 1999, secondary school enrollment was about 11% of age-eligible students. It is estimated that about 46.8% of all students complete their primary education. The student-to-teacher ratio for primary school was at about 50:1 in 2000; the ratio for secondary school was about 17:1.

The University of Madagascar in Antananarivo, established in 1961, also has campuses at Antsiranana, Fianarantsoa, Mahajanga, Toamasina, and Toliara. Also in Antananarivo are the Rural College of Ambatobe and the National Institute of Telecommunications and Posts. In 2003, about 2% of the tertiary age population were enrolled in some type of higher education program. The adult literacy rate for 2004 was estimated at about 70.6%, with 76.4% for men and 65.2% for women.

As of 2003, public expenditure on education was estimated at 2.9% of GDP, or 10.2% of total government expenditures.


The principal libraries are the National Library in Antananarivo, with 236,000 volumes, and the university library, with 195,000 volumes. Other important libraries include the National Archives (30,000 volumes), the Antananarivo municipal library (23,000), and the Albert Camus Cultural Center Library (35,000).

The palace of the queen in Antananarivo contains important art, archaeological, and historical exhibits, especially concerning the Merina kingdom. Other museums in the city are the Gallery of Fine Arts; the University of Madagascar's Museum of Art and Archaeology; the Folklore, Archaeology, Paleontology, and Animal Museum; the Historical Museum, and a natural history museum. There is also an oceanographic research museum in Nosy Be, a regional museum in Toamasina, and university museums in Fianarantsoa and Tuléar.


In 2003, there were an estimated 4 mainline telephones for every 1,000 people; about 1,800 people were on a waiting list for telephone service installation. The same year, there were approximately 17 mobile phones in use for every 1,000 people.

The government-owned Radio-Télévision Malagasy broadcasts in French, Malagasy, and English, and telecasts in French and Malagasy; Radio Madgasi Kara, also state-owned, broadcasts in French and Malagasy. There are a few privately operated stations for both radio and television. As of 2001, there were 2 AM and 9 FM radio stations and 1 television station. In 2003, there were an estimated 216 radios and 25 television sets for every 1,000 people. The same year, there were 4.9 personal computers for every 1,000 people and 4 of every 1,000 people had access to the Internet. There was one secure Internet server in the country in 2004.

In 2004, there were eight major daily newspapers. The largest (with 2002 circulation figures) were: Atrika (circulation 13,000), Imongo Vaovao (10,000), Madagascar Tribune (12,000), Maresaka (5,000), and Midi-Madagasikara (25,000). All are published in Antananarivo. Despite prior censorship of all print media, the press is independent and quite outspoken.


There are hundreds of cooperatives, and the Ratsiraka government has been encouraging fokonolona, or village organizations, to stimulate planned agricultural undertakings. Chambers of commerce, originally established in 1902, are located in a dozen towns. The national branch is the Chamber of Commerce, Industry, Art and Agriculture of Antananarivo, which serves as a multipurpose group for tourism and trade. There are also seven major employers' organizations.

Tanora Tonga Saina is the government-sponsored youth movement. There are also scouting programs and a number of religiously and/or politically affiliated groups for youth. There are branches of Junior Chamber and YMCA/YWCA. A variety of sports associations are also active.

There are national chapters of the Red Cross Society, UNICEF, and Habitat for Humanity.


Tourism has been encouraged by the government as a source of foreign exchange since the mid-1980s, with an exception for the years 1991 and 2002, when the industry suffered due to civil unrest. There has been renewed growth in tourism, however, and in 2003, Madagascar had 139,000 foreign visitors, a 125% increase from 2002. Hotel rooms numbered 9,325 with 16,700 beds and an occupancy rate of 40%. The average length of stay was four nights. Tourist expenditure receipts totaled $118 million.

Tourists are attracted to the city of Antananarivo, home to the largest open air market in the world. The hot springs town and resort of Antsirabe is also popular to visitors who enjoy boating and swimming.

Valid passports and visas are required. Certificates of vaccination against cholera and yellow fever are necessary of persons arriving from an infected area. Precautions against malaria are strongly advised.

In 2004, the US Department of State estimated the daily cost of staying in Antananarivo at $217. Daily costs of visits to towns and villages were estimated at $95.


The poet Jean-Joseph Rabéarivelo (190137) published several volumes of poetry (Volumes, Presques Songes, Sylves). Jacques Rabémananjara (b.1913), a founder of the MDRM, is well known for his verse play, Les Dieux Malgaches. Philibert Tsiranana (191078), a Tsimihety teacher, founded the PSD, and became Madagascar's first president in May 1959. Gen. Gabriel Ramanantsoa (190679) was head of state from May 1972 to February 1975. Adm. Didier Ratsiraka (b.1936) became head of state in June 1975 and president of the republic in January 1976. He served in that position until 1993, when he lost an election to Albert Zafy (b.1927), who was president until 1996. Ratskiraka was elected president once again in 1997, and served until 2002. That year, he and Marc Ravalomanana (b.1949) both claimed the presidency during an election controversy; Ratsiraka fled the country and Ravalomanana became president.


Two offshore islands, Nosy Boraha and Nosy Be, are considered by Madagascar as integral parts of the country.


Allen, Philip M. and Covell, Maureen. Historical Dictionary of Madagascar. Lanham, Md.: Scarecrow Press, 2005.

American University. Indian Ocean: Five Island Countries. 3rd ed. Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1995.

Campbell, Gwyn. An Economic History of Imperial Madagascar 17501895: The Rise and Fall of an Island Empire. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2005.

Covell, Maureen. Historical Dictionary of Madagascar. [computer file] Boulder, Colo.: netLibrary, Inc., 2000.

Feeley-Harnik, Gillian. A Green Estate: Restoring Independence in Madagascar. Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1991.

Harmon, Daniel E. Southeast Africa: 1880 to the Present: Reclaiming a Region of Natural Wealth. Philadelphia, PA: Chelsea House Publishers, 2002.

Roberts, Jonathan. Mythic Woods: The World's Most Remarkable Forests. London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 2004.

Stevens, Rita. Madagascar. Philadelphia, Pa.: Chelsea House, 1999.

Zeilig, Leo and David Seddon. A Political and Economic Dictionary of Africa. Philadelphia: Routledge/Taylor and Francis, 2005.

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Democratic Republic of Madagascar

Major City: Antananarivo

Other Cities: Antsirabé, Antsiranana, Fiananrantsoa, Mahajanga, Mananjary, Taolanaro, Toamasina, Toliary


This chapter was adapted from the Department of State Post Report dated March 1992. Supplemental material has been added to increase coverage of minor cities, facts have been updated, and some material has been condensed. Readers are encouraged to visit the Department of State's web site at for the most recent information available on travel to this country.


Madagascar is a fascinating island. The people, whose origins are a combination of Malay-Polynesian, African, and Middle Eastern, have developed their own culture and traditions that reflect that diversity as well as some unifying aspects, including a common Malagasy language.

Madagascar's long history as an isolated area has contributed to the development of a Malagasy psychology. Although politically associated with the African states, Madagascar is not African; it is not Asian; and in spite of more than 50 years of French colonization, it is not European.

It is thought that the island, as part of Gondwanaland, may have broken from the African Continent some 100 million years ago. Its isolation has led to the development of flora and fauna not found anywhere else in the world, making Madagascar a naturalist's dream.

Antananarivo, the picturesque capital of Madagascar, has proven to be a very special assignment for many Americans, although not an easy one. Americans must be resourceful to adjust to the isolated environment, the language and cultural barriers, and the difficulties of life in a developing country whose economy is severely strained. But the pleasant climate, the abundant fresh food, the flowers, the friendly and unique people, and the uniqueness of all aspects of Malagasy life make a visit here a fondly remembered experience.

The name of the country is the Democratic Republic of Madagascar. The word "Malagasy" is used as a noun only when referring to the people of Madagascar or the language they speak; e.g., the Malagasy speak Malagasy. All other uses of the word "Malagasy" are as adjectives; e.g., "The Malagasy community."



Antananarivo is the capital city and principal population center (about 2,000,000) of the Democratic Republic of Madagascar.

Centered geographically in Madagascar's central highlands, it has successively been a tribal, monarchical, colonial, and national capital since 1794. Known as Tananarive during the period of French colonization, the city's name was restored to its Malagasy spelling in 1975. For those who know it well, the city is fondly referred to as Tana.

European and traditional Malagasy elements mingle intimately in the streets. On a relief map, the city looks roughly like an enormous letter Y made up of steep, granite hills. Between these hills is the lower town (central district) with its European architecture and wide avenues. The heights are reached by webs of narrow streets or steep stairways and feature balconied, brick buildings clinging precariously to the steep slopes. Rice fields, marshes, lakes, and growing suburbs flood the vast and fertile plains surrounding the city.

Madagascar achieved independence from the French in 1960. Since that time, many of the buildings (in fact, much of the infrastructure) has not been changed or improved. Although new roads have been built, the majority of the old ones have not been repaired or upgraded. Since the capital's population has burgeoned, many of those who work and live on the streets lack housing. Public facilities are inadequate; walk gingerly, especially women climbing the many staircases.


Madagascar is almost exclusively an agricultural country. Antananarivo abounds with fresh, locally grown vegetables including potatoes, lettuce, cabbage, onions, cucumbers, cauliflower, beets, beans, carrots, avocados, and tomatoes. Madagascar's varied climate permits the growing of tropical fruits including papaya, mangoes, lychees, guava, and passion fruit, as well as temperate climate fruits such as apples, peaches, plums, and strawberries. Most fresh produce is seasonal and may not be available year round.

Beef is plentiful, but leaner than American prime. Fresh pork, chicken, duck, lamb, and veal are available. The quality is not uniform. Fresh fish, lobster, carp, oysters, and shrimp are available in the early morning at the downtown fish market.

Luncheon meat, sausage, ham, and bacon are available at a high price, but are not necessarily to American taste. Live turkeys can be bought, but require a great deal of fattening before they resemble the North American version.

Imported processed food, mainly from France, can be found on the local market. Also available are locally processed products including meat, vegetables, pineapple and passion fruit juice, flour, sugar, and spices. Three main supermarkets offer a varying supply of goods. Three or four varieties of cheese are made in Madagascar. Bread, long-life milk, pasteurized milk, and eggs are available. Canned beer, juice, candy bars, and chocolate from South Africa are sold in supermarkets. The local wine is quite good but varies considerably in quality and taste. There are about six varieties of Malagasy wine. French wine can be found on the market but is expensive (about $10 a bottle). Good quality beer, soft drinks, and soda and tonic water are bottled locally, but are not always available. Local liquor prices are high.

To obtain the best value for your dollar, experienced members of the community suggest shipping or ordering from mail-order houses the following foods and supplies: syrup; molasses; nuts; raisins; spices; baking powder and bicarbonate of soda; canned ham; tuna; canned bacon; shortening; cake mixes; peanut butter; flour; pasta products; powdered milk. cranberry sauce; olives; hors d'oeuvre needs such as crackers, toothpicks, and nuts; bartending supplies such as maraschino cherries, cocktail onions, bitters, and drink mixes; all paper products such as toilet paper, facial tissues, napkins, and paper towels; aluminium foil and plastic wrap; insecticides; American-style mustard and catsup; instant coffee; cleaning supplies such as soaps, silver polish, and sponges. Bring preferred brands of all personal needs such as razor blades, shampoos, deodorants, toothpaste, sanitary napkins, and tampons.


Cotton and other washable materials are suitable for summer clothing. A lightweight raincoat and umbrella are needed during the rainy season. Since homes in Antananarivo do not have central heating and are quite drafty, bring wool sweaters, long pants, and warm socks to ensure indoor warmth, and medium-weight jackets for outdoor wear. Fur coats are not worn. Evening wear is not formal in Antanananvo, and weekend clothing is casual.

Ready made blouses, skirts, and dresses are available, both in stores and in the marketplace. Prices are quite reasonable in the marketplace, where you always bargain. Tailors and dressmakers can make anything and good imported material can be found in the market. You can also order clothes by mail-order through the pouch. The rough cobblestone streets are hard on shoes, so bring a generous supply, particularly if you or your dependents cannot wear European-sized shoes.

Men: Wool suits are appropriate for winter; a sweater can be added when necessary. A dark suit is appropriate for evening occasions. If you have a dinner jacket, bring it for the occasional gala event. Formal wear cannot be rented; tails are never worn.

Women: Sweaters, skirts, or warm dresses with closed shoes are worn in winter. Evening wear varies and includes suits, tailored dresses, dinner dresses of rich fabrics, and long or short skirts. Long dresses are usually worn at the occasional dinner dance. Hats and gloves are rarely seen. Shorts are not worn in town during summer, but slacks are fine.

Children: Children's wear is much the same as in the U.S., but short pants are popular for boys. Remember to bring warm pajamas, bathrobes, and slippers for winter evenings.

Supplies and Services

The rule of thumb on personal and household products is to bring what you know, trust, like, and would miss if you lacked it! Bring a supply of toiletries; when available, the few products found in stores are expensive. Insect repellent is useful and recommended, especially around coastal areas. Bring stationery supplies, gift wrapping paper, ribbon, glue, tape, greeting cards, playing cards, shelf paper, nails, clothes-pins, small hardware items, kitchen utensils, flashlight batteries, coat hangers, car-care needs, household linens, gardening supplies, picnic equipment, and home repair tools. Local floor wax, scouring powder, and other cleaning supplies are available, but not of the highest quality. Cleaning products imported from France are expensive. To avoid the problems of dry cleaning, bring spot remover.

Bring a good supply of over-the counter medications and prescription medicines, as they are difficult to obtain here.

Infant furniture, baby bottles, and other supplies are expensive and of poor quality; most families import these items. Toys are expensive, and you may want to order items from the U.S. well in advance of Christmas and birthdays.

Most laundry is done in the home by servants. Dry cleaning is of marginal quality, expensive, and unreliable. Barbershop services are satisfactory; beauty shops may not always have hair-coloring products, so it's best to bring your own supply.

Repair services are scarce to nonexistent. Spare parts are usually not available and must be ordered from the U.S. or South Africa. Tailors and dressmakers are available at reasonable prices, but bring a supply of material and notions. Shoe repair is available but of poor quality and workmanship. Reupholstering of furniture is quite good if you provide the fabric. Local products are of poor quality. Imported items are expensive.

Religious Activities

The Roman Catholic, Anglican, Lutheran, Congregational, Baptist, Seventh-Day Adventist, and Greek Orthodox denominations are represented in Antananarivo. Most services are in the Malagasy language. There are also several mosques. French language services are available at three Catholic parishes and at the International Protestant parish of Andohalo. The Anglican Cathedral has monthly communion and a monthly vesper service in English. American missionaries (Baptist, Lutheran, Roman Catholic) are available for counseling.

Domestic Help

While it is not a necessity, it is helpful to hire domestics. Some families employ two domestics: someone to do the cooking and grocery shopping and a second person to do the housework, washing, and ironing.

Domestics usually work a 5½-day workweek and get 30 days paid vacation after being with an employer one year. It is customary to give a bonus at Christmas and/or presents. Salaries are usually less than $100 per month, and employers provide lunch, bus fare, and uniforms. Some servants will live in, but most do not because of the importance of family life in the Malagasy culture. All servants must be covered by work-accident insurance and social security. Annual physical examinations, including x-rays and tuberculosis testing, are recommended for all servants.

Extra help for cocktail or dinner parties can usually be arranged without difficulty.


Madagascar's school system, formerly based on the French system, is Malagasized, and would not be useful to American children.

The American School of Antananarivo was founded in 1969 as an independent coeducational school. It offers an American education from Kindergarten through grade 9. Music, art, French, and physical education are offered to all students. The grade school program is recognized and supported by the Office of Overseas Schools of the Department of State.

The academic year, which is divided into four quarters, is from early September through mid-June. The school day runs from 8:00 am to 2:30 pm. Children do not go home for lunch, but bring a snack and pack a lunch for school. Uniforms are not worn. Children wear the same clothes as they would in the U.S. All books and school supplies are provided by the school. Transportation is the responsibility of the family.

The school is located in the suburb of Ivandry, four miles away from Antananarivo. It has seven classrooms, a library/computer center/video center, an assembly/activities room, a large playground, and a playing field. The American School is accredited through the Middle State Association.

Several private primary and secondary schools are available with French instruction; some are Catholic supervised and provide Catholic religious instruction. Non-religious schools include the Ecoles Primaires Francaises for grades 1 to 5, and the French Government Lycee for older children.

It may be difficult for older children not fluent in French to transfer into the French system, and it takes time to learn the intricacies of French grammar and mathematics. Tutoring is available for about $8 an hour. American children find the French system more rigid, with more homework and less emphasis on sports and extracurricular activities.

Some parents send their older children to school in the U.S. or to boarding schools in other countries. Others employ a correspondence school system and teach their children at home.

Special Educational Opportunities

The Alliance Francaise offers a French language instruction program. Malagasy language instruction is also available. Lessons in music and ballet can be arranged. Swimming, tennis, horseback riding, and golf lessons are also available through one of the private sports clubs.


Most sports facilities are available only through membership in a private club. A Golf Club, about 15 miles from the city, has a good 18-hole course and a competent instructor who speaks English. Lunch and dinner are served in the clubhouse. and one large swimming pool is used from September to May.

The Association Culturelle et Sportive d'Ambohidahy (ACSA) in the city's center is a popular spot for lunch. The club offers tennis, squash, swimming, billiards, and bridge.

Club Olympique, about 5 miles from the city, offers good tennis courts, swimming, and excellent horseback riding instruction (in French).

The Hilton Hotel has a swimming pool with a nominal entrance fee.

Coastal waters of Madagascar offer snorkeling and scuba diving opportunities, but care must be taken to avoid sharks. The waters near Nosy-Be and Toliara (formerly Tulear) are considered safe. However, an airplane is required to get to the island of Nosy-Be. If you decide to drive to Toliara instead of flying, a four-wheel-drive vehicle is needed.

Registration and licenses for firearms and hunting are relatively simple formalities. Madagascar offers a variety of game, including duck, guinea fowl, partridge, quail, and pheasant. Wild boar and crocodile are hunted in remote places with rifle and shotgun.

Fishing is a common pastime in and around Antananarivo. Black bass and tilapia (a small, perch-like fish) are the usual catches, as is trout.

A number of interesting camping, hiking and picnic spots in the immediate area of Antananarivo are made more inviting by the lack of poisonous snakes and dangerous animals.

Bring all sporting equipment with you since it is scarce and extremely expensive here. Whites are generally worn on tennis courts, and are required at some clubs.

Touring and Outdoor Activities

The variety of climate, scenery, and vegetation found on Madagascar is fascinating and a constant challenge to photographers and nature lovers in search of orchids, animals, minerals, or scenery that is not found anywhere else on earth. Some treks require a four-wheel-drive vehicle, but a number of interesting spots can be seen within the 120-mile radius of paved highways near Antananarivo, or along the 350-mile hard surfaced road from the capital to Fianarantsoa.

A breathtaking but arduous 4-day trip can be made during the dry season to Toliara and Taolanaro (formerly Fort Dauphin) in the south. Both cities have beautiful beaches and shark-free swimming. Cottages may sometimes be rented from American missionaries in Taolanaro; adequate hotels are also available.

Nosy-Be, a beautiful island to the north-west of Madagascar, has good vacation facilities.

Mauritius, Nairobi, Reunion, and the Seychelles are the nearest vacation spots off the island and are serviced by Air Madagascar, Air France, and Air Mauritius. Mauritius and Reunion are served by Aix Madagascar and Air France.


Among the restaurants in Antananarivo, one can choose Malagasy, French, Vietnamese, Chinese, Indian, and Italian food.

Several nightclubs are in and around Antananarivo; several casinos are also available.

Soccer matches are played at the large stadium in Antananarivo on Saturday and Sunday afternoons during winter. Horse racing also takes place at the stadium on Sundays.

Dinner and a video show is a popular form of entertainment among the Americans.

The city has a small zoo featuring lemurs, birds, crocodiles, and tortoises indigenous to Madagascar, and a small anthropology museum is located within the zoo's perimeters. The Queen's Palace is now under renovation after a fire in November 1995.

The quality of the light, the hazeless skies, and wealth of subject matter make Antananarivo a delight to the photographer. Bring a good supply of all photographic needs. Film can be processed here; however, there are times when the paper and chemicals needed for developing film are not available. Some staff members prefer to send their film back to the U.S. via pouch for processing


ANTSIRABÉ , population around 220,000, is situated in the Ankaratra Mountains, in the central part of the country. Thermal springs are located in the area. Industries in the city include spinning and weaving, cigarette making, and food processing. An American Lutheran missionary school, founded in 1916, is in operation here.

ANTSIRANANA , once called Diégo-Suarez, is a harbor town at the northern tip of Madagascar. The deep-water port was a tactical asset to the Western allies in World War II, when they occupied the country.

The city's main industries are ship construction and repair. Other industries include soap and salt manufacturing, chemical production, and food processing. Today, the population is about 220,000. Antsiranana exports coffee and peanuts.

FIANANRANTSOA , with a population of nearly 300,000, is located in the rich agricultural region of southeastern Madagascar. The main crop is rice. Beans, peanuts, corn, cassava, potatoes, yams are also grown. Cattle herding is also important. It is about 200 miles south of Antananarivo on the island's main north-south road.

MAHAJANGA , once called Majunga, is a seaport town of nearly 200,000 in the northwest corner of Madagascar, on Bombetoka Bay. It is an important transshipment port, and was the base for the French expeditionary force in 1895. Like Toamasina, Mahajanga offers a different atmosphere from that found in Antananarivo, but lacks the hotel or recreation facilities to make it a vacation resort. Mahajanga is accessible by air, or by a one-day drive over difficult roads. Mahajanga's industries include the processing of agricultural products, meat canning, and soap, sugar, and cement manufacturing.

Situated near the Mananjary River about 150 miles southeast of the capital, MANANJARY has close to 15,200 residents. As a port city on the Indian Ocean, it directs shipments of olives, coffee, cacao, rice, and vanilla.

TAOLANARO , formerly Fort-Dauphin, is located at the southeast tip of the island on the Indian Ocean. It is a small town that offers attractive beaches, shark-free swimming, and a quiet holiday atmosphere. Taolanaro can be reached by air in two hours, or by car during the dry season in three days. The drive is a scenic but arduous trip. Cottages may be rented from American missionaries in Taolanaro.

TOAMASINA , formerly Tamatave, located on the east coast of Madagascar, is the principal seaport for the country. Founded by the Portuguese in the 17th century, Toamasina has a population of approximately 130,000. As the terminus of the railroad from Antananarivo, it ships coffee, pepper, cloves, and vanilla from its port to other parts of the world. Its industries include sugar refining, rum distilling, food processing, and meat packing. Graphite, quartz, and chromites are mined nearby. Toamasina was rebuilt after being destroyed by a hurricane in 1927. While it offers a change in altitude, climate, flora, and pace from the activities of the capital, Toamasina has little else in the way of recreational activities. The city can be reached in one hour by air or in 12 hours by train. There is no ocean bathing here because of sharks, but there are good beaches and modest hotel facilities at Foulpointe and Ambila, 30 and 60 miles, respectively, along the coast in opposite directions from the city.

TOLIARY (formerly called Tuléar) is a shipping center for marine products and the agricultural products of the interior. The city is located in the southeast on the Mozambique Channel. There are deposits of coal, mica, copper, and gold near Toliary. The estimated 50,000 residents enjoy year-round sunshine and white sand beaches.


Geography and Climate

Madagascar, the world's fourth-largest island, is situated in the Indian Ocean 250 miles across the Mozambique Channel from the southeast coast of Africa. Covering 230,500 square miles, it is 995 miles long and 360 miles across at its widest point. If it were transposed onto a map of the U.S., it would occupy the area from South Carolina north to New York and from the Atlantic Ocean west to the Appalachian Mountains.

A range of mountains that runs north to south the length of the island creates a distinct geographical division. Cliffs that lead sharply down through dense forests to narrow coastal plains lie to the east. The coastal climate is hot and tropical, with periodic cyclones that cause considerable damage. The descent from the central highlands is more gradual to the west, creating large plains and sweeping savannahs that gently end in a coastline of many inlets. In the south and southwest, these plains become semi-desert where the main vegetation is thorny scrubs and magnificent baobab trees. In the far north, the Tsaratanana Mountain massif (rising 9,468 feet) creates a wet, tropical climate, and separates Diego Suarez, one of the world's greatest natural harbors, from the rest of the island. Along the crest of this ridge lies a high plateau region with rice-growing valleys nestled among barren hills. Here, the crust of red laterite that covers much of the island has been exposed by erosion, showing why the country is known as "the Great Red Island."

Antananarivo lies at the center of the high plateau. It was built on and around steep hills that are surrounded by mountains averaging 6,000 feet in altitude. The city ranges in altitude from 4,046 feet in
the newer part of the city to 4,770 feet in the older sections. Antananarivo enjoys a temperate climate and has two main seasons for which there are more exceptions than rules. Winter is from May to early September, when temperatures average 69°F during the day and 35°F at night. Little rain falls at this time, but abrupt drizzles are frequent. Winter days have warm sunshine at midday, but mornings are brisk and evenings are quite chilly. Summer, from December to February, comprises the rainy season. Daily thunderstorms occur in late afternoon and occasionally in the morning. Cyclones along the coastal areas do not reach the capital, but can bring week-long periods of constant rain. Summer temperatures average 79°F during the day with hot midday sun and 59°F at night. Umbrellas are more useful in this climate than raincoats.


When the first immigrants to Madagascar arrived is uncertain, but it is assumed they came from Indonesia in the first century A.D. by way of southern India and east Africa. Immigrants landed on the eastern coast and spread throughout the island, resulting in the extinction of an aboriginal population. Successive immigrations occurred from Polynesia and the Arabian Peninsula in pre-Islamic times. The Islamic strain arrived later, bringing slaves from continental Africa, followed during the 16th century by Europeans, particularly pirates. The 20th century brought an influx of Chinese, Indo-Pakistani, and a large number of French colonialists. Present-day Malagasy are descendants of a truly mixed race, and the variety of their physical appearance mirrors the variety of their ethnic origins. Asian features predominate in the groups inhabiting the central highlands, whereas the coastal people show more evidence of African origin. As with many aspects of Madagascar, exceptions abound, and it is best not to generalize except to note that the Malagasy are a handsome people.

About 50% of the Malagasy are Christian, divided almost evenly between Roman Catholic and Protestant. An historical rivalry existed between the coastal people, Cotiers, considered to be underprivileged, and the Merina of the high plateau region who are still predominant in the civil service, business, and the professions. The announced goal of the government is that nationalism should overcome ethnic rivalries.

Most people (including Christians) practice a form of traditional religion combined with ancestor worship. They believe death is but a passage to another life from which the ancestors can advise and protect the living. This spiritual communion is celebrated on the high plateau by funeral rites during which tombs are opened for a day and the dead are exhumed so that the tomb may be cleaned, the shroud replaced, and the ancestor joyfully reunited with his family. Although the timing of exhumations varies across the island, the majority of Malagasy try to have the ceremony at least once every five years, funds permitting. These are very important and expensive occasions, since it falls to the family whose tomb is being opened to entertain all guests with food and drink; there is also the expense of new shrouds.

The principal language of the island is Malagasy, a soft, pleasant-sounding language grammatically akin to Indonesian. It is written in the Roman alphabet, using 21 letters. Regional dialects exist but are more a matter of vocabulary and accent than basic linguistic differences. This uniformity of language has been a major factor in creating a national sense of unity among people of diverse cultural characteristics. The Malagasy have had a greater difficulty in switching their thinking and speaking when saying numbers than nonmetric system users have had in attempting to adapt to the metric system. In the Malagasy language, 4,342 is said with the last, i.e., smallest valued, number first.

Many people speak French fluently in the larger towns, but official publications are frequently in both languages, as are the daily newspapers of Antananarivo. The influence of British missionaries during the 19th century resulted in a greater percentage of English speakers found in Madagascar than in former French colonies.

The population of 13 million, currently growing at 2.8% annually, comprises about 8,000 French nationals and sizable Indian and Chinese communities. More than 47% of the population is under the age of 14 years. More than 82% of all Malagasy live in rural areas, and agriculture comprises 41% of the gross domestic product. The country is 99% self-sufficient in agricultural food production. The average Malagasy has an annual per capita income of $223.

Public Institutions

Based on the 1992 Constitution, the executive branch of the Republic of Madagascar is composed of the Presidency and the Government. The President selects the Prime Minister from a list of names presented by the National Assembly; day to day management of government is performed by the Prime Minister and a 29-member Cabinet. The Senate and the National Assembly compose the Legislative Branch, which approves appropriations and bills proposed by the government; however, only the National Assembly with its 138 members is in place to date. The Judicial Branch is not fully implemented. The last presidential election was held in December 1996. Admiral Didier Ratsiraka was elected president, he nominated one Prime Minister and three Vice Prime Ministers. Elections of the National Assembly members and part of local government councils will soon take place.

Arts, Science, and Education

Like most developing countries, educational, scientific, and cultural activities in the Western sense are in a formative stage. The University of Madagascar is decentralized with different disciplines taught in the six provincial capitals, including Antananarivo. Public education, once based on the French system, has been Malagasized. Church-related primary and secondary schools are an important part of education, as they have been for over 150 years. Unfortunately, all levels of Malagasy schools suffer from a shortage of books and supplies. Although education is highly valued and most Malagasy remain in school for only 4-5 years, the overall literacy rate is estimated at 78%. Antananarivo has French-sponsored schools as well as an American-sponsored school.

Malagasy culture is ancient, rich, and varied. It plays a prominent and now reemphasized role in the life of the country. Several organizations, with the active support of the Government Ministry of Art and Culture, are working to preserve traditional music and dance and to record the popular history of the island.

Antananarivo has small museums of national history and anthropology, a tiny but popular zoo, and a botanical park. For more contemporary recreation, Antananarivo has a large sports complex. The French Cultural Center hosts interesting performing events each year. In conjunction with the National Library, the American Cultural Center holds occasional exhibits, forums, and lectures with visiting scholars.

Commerce and Industry

Agriculture forms the basis of the Malagasy economy. Including fisheries and forests, the agriculture sector employs 88% of the population and earns 80% of the country's export receipts. Rice is the most important staple food, with some 70% of the population involved in its cultivation. In recent years, Madagascar has had to import substantial quantities of rice, putting a serious dent in its limited foreign exchange earnings. The most important export crops are coffee, vanilla, and cloves.

Fish and seafood rival vanilla as Madagascar's second most important export earner. Principal production is dominated by food processing, textile, and apparel industries, and accounts for less than 15% of the gross domestic product. Principal mineral exports are chromite, graphite, and mica. Local stones and gems, from aqua-marines to tourmalines, are often breathtaking.

The government has backed away from its socialist policies of the 1970s and 80s and has embraced structural adjustment and free market economics. Recent enactment of a strong investment code and export processing zone legislation has positioned Madagascar to receive foreign investment, notably from France, Mauritius, South Africa, and southeast Asia.

Since 1996, the reform of the business and investment environments tackled the regulatory tax constraints impeding private sector development, particularly for small and medium sized local enterprises and foreign investors. It introduces a more transparent, security-enhancing legal framework and eliminates public enterprise monopolies.

The U.S. is the second-largest importer of Malagasy products after France and consumes most of the country's vanilla exports.



In Madagascar, one drives on the right side of the road, yielding the right of way to vehicles coming in from the left. Most major intersections and traffic circles have police directing traffic. If the policeman has his back to you at an intersection, you are required to stop. Seat belts, child safety seats, and motorcycle helmets are not required in Madagascar. If you are caught driving under the influence of alcohol, your car will be impounded for a few days, and you will have to pay a fine. If you are involved in an accident involving injuries and/or deaths, there is a mandatory court case. The losing party of the court case must then pay all costs.

Except for Antananarivo's main streets and a few well-maintained routes to outlying cities, most roads are in disrepair. For those traveling by road between cities, travel at night is not recommended. Roads tend to be narrow and winding with many one-lane bridges and blind curves. Most vehicles tend to drive in the center of the road unless another vehicle is present. Local practice is to blow the horn before going around a curve, to let others know of one's presence. Few pedestrian crosswalks or working traffic signals exist.

Travel within Antananarivo can be difficult with poor road signage and an abundance of one-way streets. Taxis are plentiful, and they are generally reasonably priced. Expect to bargain for the fare prior to getting into the vehicle. Most accidents are pedestrian-related, due to narrow roads and lack of sidewalks on many streets.

Rental cars generally come with a driver who is responsible for maintaining the vehicle and sometimes acts as a tour guide. Public transportation is unreliable, and the vehicles are poorly maintained. Rail services are very limited and undependable. The Malagasy presidential election in 2001-2002 has led to large demonstrations and a slowdown in the transportation system. However, arrangements can be made for a private train to travel to certain destinations.

Repair facilities exist for all French makes, most Japanese makes (Toyota, Mitsubishi, Isuzu), Chevrolet, Ford, Volkswagen, Mercedes-Benz, and BMW However, the vehicles shipped to developing countries are sometimes different from the models sold in the U.S. or elsewhere. There are no American automobile representatives here. Bring extra tires, spark plugs, fan belts, oil filters, fuel and air filters, oil, automatic transmission fluid, power steering fluid, brake fluid, etc., since these are usually unavailable and exorbitantly expensive, even if available. Two or three jerry cans and a funnel may also prove useful. A battery charger and a 12-volt air pump are useful, as gasoline stations do not charge batteries or provide air. Small, economical vehicles are preferred since gasoline (leaded only, regular or premium) is expensive. Diesel fuel is much less expensive than gasoline but is sometimes difficult to find.

Avoid bringing in vehicles with fuel injection engines, or computerized/digital controls, as repairs on such features are sketchy at best. Rule of thumb: If the feature is modern by American standards, service will be difficult or impossible to find.

International drivers licenses are recognized, but are only valid for one year and cannot be renewed for use in Madagascar.

Third-party auto insurance is obligatory and must be obtained from a company operating in Madagascar. It is not expensive. Driving in and around Antananarivo is hazardous. Great caution is required to avoid accidents, especially involving pedestrians, small children, and livestock. Drive with caution as you circumnavigate potholes, ox-carts, and pedestrians. City streets and several highways are paved, but are often in very poor condition.

Many suburban streets and country roads are unpaved, deeply rutted, and rocky. Consider installing heavy-duty shock absorbers and steel-belted radials on your car. Antananarivo's narrow, winding streets make maneuvering large cars difficult. The best vehicle for Tana's winding streets is a small, front-wheel-drive car with a relatively high clearance. Low-slung sporty models would ride too close to many of the local streets, inviting oil pan punctures, etc.

Some purchase four-wheel-drive vehicles; although not necessary for driving to and from work, they are essential for exploring some parts of the island.


Public transportation is inadequate and unsafe. Buses are crowded and rarely used by Americans.

Taxis are plentiful in Antananarivo and inexpensive-$1 or $2 for a ride within the main part of the city during the day. Taxis will take you from the city to the suburbs, but are difficult to find in suburban areas and in the evening.


Madagascar has three railway lines: Antananarivo to Antsirabe, Antananarivo to Toamasina, and Fianarantsoa to Manakara. Railway cars are spartan and usually crowded and subject to frequent cancellations.

Air Madagascar has almost daily flights to most provincial capitals.

For the adventurous, a network of taxibrousse (private cars in which you can rent a space) links Antananarivo to most towns.


Telephone and Telegraph

Local phone service is fair. Residential bills, average $12 per month plus any long-distance charges. Worldwide telephone communication is available 24 hours daily from home phones through the international operator. A 3-minute call to the U.S. costs about US$26, with each additional minute costing about US$9, if you use the local system. Telephone access changes on a daily basis with more and better companies offering a myriad of services.


Weekly international airmail deliveries are scheduled to and from Europe and the U.S. International mail to and from Europe takes about 5 days, and averages from 10 days to 3 weeks to and from the U.S.

Radio and TV

Antananarivo has ten radio stations. Malagasy is the major language broadcast but many have some news programs in French and English including VOA.

A shortwave radio is needed for other overseas broadcasts.

National Television, TVM, can be watched in most parts of the country. Reception difficulties may occur, however, because of weather and topography. Malagasy is the main language, but French and English are used for news broadcasts. Entertainment programs are often in French. Madagascar Television, MA-TV, is broadcast in UHF in the Antananarivo area. News is in French and Malagasy. A cable network, Televiziona Fialam-boly, TVF, broadcasts CNN, TNT, and two French stations. The signal is SECAM D K. In addition, two other stations have recently started.

Newspapers, Magazines, and Technical Journals

Virtually no English-language magazines or newspapers are sold in Madagascar. Some current French periodicals are available. European airmail subscriptions to Time, Newsweek, the International Herald Tribune, etc., arrive within 2-3 days of publication, but are expensive.

Several major independent newspapers are published in French and Malagasy daily except Sunday. At least one page is devoted to international news, usually articles taken from Agence France Presse or Novosti and from foreign government press services, including USIS.

The Malagasy Government Ministry of Information prepares a daily mimeographed news bulletin in French. A French language sampler of stories from the Malagasy press is published weekly. Other small Malagasy-language papers present local and international news from various political or religious points of view. Coverage of international events has improved in the past year.

The American Cultural Center library has about 4,000 books in the circulating collection, and 1,500 books and 60 periodicals in the reference room.

Madagascar University's Department of Modern Languages has several hundred volumes in English, but they are for student and faculty use. The National Library has 75,000 books, but few in English.

No English-language books are sold in Antananarivo. Major bookstores have stocks of French classics and paperbacks at high prices. Several Washington and New York bookstores accept mail orders for delivery by package pouch.

Health and Medicine

Health Concerns

Malaria, hepatitis, schistosomiasis, rabies, typhoid, intestinal parasites, cysticercosis, poison shark meat, and plague. Automobile accidents are common and local facilities poorly equipped. AIDS has been documented in low but growing numbers.

Medical Facilities

The Military Hospital has one French physician per Department, but no coverage during leave. Serious medical problems are evacuated to either South Africa or Reunion. Basic dental services are available. Have any dental work done prior to arrival.

Preventive Measures and Community Health

Yellow Fever immunization is required for transit through Africano YF here. Recommended are Hep A&B, Rabies, DT, Polio, Typhoid.

Malaria Prophylaxis Mephloquine (appropriate dose for age) given weekly or Doxycycline daily is recommended for longer stays. Although there are infrequent outbreaks of Malaria in the capital, there are cases. Insect repellent for adults (33%) available in the HU but 10% for children should be brought with you.

Fluoride Supplementation to prevent tooth decay is are recommended for children.

No blood bank facilities are recommended in the country.

Fruit and vegetables should be soaked in chlorine for 15 minutes. Avoid wading in fresh water to prevent shstosomiasis. Avoid strawberries grown in pig manure to prevent cysticercosis. Bring flea control for pets to avoid plague fleas. Avoid ingesting any shark meat to prevent ciguetera poisoning. Avoid under-cooked foods or cold foods eaten in restaurants.

Bring adequate supply prescription drugs plus forms to order more from your insurance plan, extra pair of glasses, lens prescription and sufficient contact lens supplies for tour. Sunscreen, insect repellent. Most over-the-counter medications are available from French companies.

The Clinique des Soeurs hospital has a fairly high standard of cleanliness, but suffers from a shortage of supplies and inadequate services.

Most problems requiring sophisticated diagnostic procedures or surgery are evacuated to Pretoria or Nairobi where regional medical officers are posted. South Africa offers excellent medical and hospital facilities, as does Kenya and the nearby island of Reunion.

Madagascar is suffering from a chronic shortage of pharmaceuticals. Bring any medications prescribed for you and your dependents.

Dentistry standards in Madagascar are not equivalent to U.S. standards, but some Americans have received adequate dental treatment here. Bring an extra pair of eyeglasses or contact lenses and leave your prescription on file in the U.S., should you need to replace them.

Antananarivo's temperate climate is subject to sudden changes and contributes to a high incidence of respiratory infections. Fluctuating temperatures linked with the high altitude and sudden rainstorms create a climate French physicians term "pleasantly unhealthful." Upon arrival, a brief period of sleeplessness may occur, but this should pass in a couple of days.

Antananarivo's water supply is from impounded surface water. The distribution system is quite ancient, and the possibility of illness from contaminated water is serious, especially during the rainy season. The sewage system is poor. Boil all water before using or use your distiller.

Infectious hepatitis is quite common, especially among the foreign population, and is usually transmitted by improper food preparation. It is advised to receive gamma globulin injections regularly at 6-month intervals. Bilharzia (schistosomiasis of both the mansoni and otobium types) exists in fresh water around Antananarivo. It is transmitted through a snail-borne fluke that enters the body through the skin. Therefore, you should stay out of still waters.

Long-life shelf milk in rectangular cartons is available and imported from France. All fruits and vegetables must be carefully washed and treated, as hygiene standards are poor. Fresh meat should be washed and thoroughly cooked to avoid contracting parasites.


As there is no direct commercial air service by local carriers at present, nor economic authority to operate such service between the United States and Madagascar, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has not assessed Madagascar's Civil Aviation Authority for compliance with international aviation safety standards.

For further information, travelers may contact the Department of Transportation within the United States at telephone 1-800-322-7873, or visit the FAA's Internet web site at The U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) separately assesses some foreign air carriers for suitability as official providers of air services. For information regarding the DOD policy on specific carriers, travelers may contact DOD at telephone (618) 229-4801.

Domestic and international air services operate regularly, but they are subject to delays and occasional breakdowns. Air Madagascar often changes in-country flight schedules, based on how full the flight is, with little or no prior warning to passengers. Overbooking is also common.

A passport and visa are required. Visas should be obtained in advance, although airport visas are available in Antananarivo, which is the only city with an international airport. Travelers who opt to obtain an airport visa should expect delays upon arrival. Evidence of yellow fever immunization is required for all travelers who have been in an infected zone within six months of their arrival in Madagascar.

Travelers may obtain the latest information and details on entry requirements from the Embassy of the Republic of Madagascar, 2374 Massachusetts Avenue, N.W., Washington, D.C. 20008; telephone (202) 265-5525/6; web site:; or the Malagasy Consulate in New York City, telephone (212) 986-9491. Honorary consuls are located in Philadelphia, San Diego and Houston. Overseas, inquiries may be made at the nearest Malagasy embassy or consulate.

U.S. citizens are encouraged to register at the U.S. Embassy in Antananarivo, where they may obtain updated information on travel and security in Madagascar. The U.S. Embassy is located at 14 and 16 Laiana Rainitovo, Antsahavola, Antananarivo. The mailing address is B.P. 620, 101 Antananarivo, Madagascar. The telephone number is (261) 22-200-89; the fax number is (261-20) 22-345-39.


Quarantine requirements differ according to the type of animal. A health certificate, issued within three days of arrival in Madagascar, from a veterinarian in the country in which the animal was located, must be provided. Dogs must have a valid rabies vaccination within the past six months.

Firearms and Ammunition

Importation of firearms or ammunition is strictly controlled by the Malagasy Government. Hunting firearms can be carried only in open season with possession of a hunting permit. For additional information, refer to 6 FAM 168.5.

Currency, Banking, and Weights and Measures

The official currency unit is the Malagasy franc (FMG). The rate of conversion, is about 5,400 FMG=US$1.

No limit exists on the amount of foreign currency you may bring into the country. However, customs officialsusually require declarations of all monies brought in, diplomatic personnel excluded. Conversion of all currencies is strictly controlled; Malagasy currency is not convertible. If any trips outside Madagascar are anticipated, you will find some dollars useful.

Madagascar uses the metric system of weights and measures.

Disaster Preparedness

Madagascar is prone to tropical storms. Storm season is generally January through the end of February. Storms primarily affect the eastern coast, although large storms may reach the capital of Antananarivo. Storms which affect the shipping ports may limit fuel and food supplies elsewhere in the country. General information about natural disaster preparedness is available via the Internet from the U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) at


The Ministry of Public Works (tel. [261] (20) 22-318-02) is Madagascar's authority responsible for road safety. During an emergency, visitors to Antananarivo can contact local police by telephoning 17, by dialing 22-227-35, or by dialing 030-23-801-40 (cellular). American citizens can also call the U.S. Embassy at telephone 22-212-57/58/59 if assistance is needed in communicating with law enforcement officials. Ambulance services are available in Antananarivo only with Espace Medical at telephone 22-625-66 or 22-219-72.

The major concerns for visitors to Antananarivo are street crime and theft from residences and vehicles. Although not generally violent, incidents involving violence by assailants, particularly when the victim resists, are on the rise. Walking at night, whether alone or in a group, is not considered safe in urban areas, including in the vicinity of Western-standard hotels. Organized gangs of bandits are known to patrol areas where foreigners who are perceived to be wealthy congregate. Wearing expensive jewelry or carrying expensive items such as cameras while on foot or while using public transportation is strongly discouraged. Valuable items should never be left in an unattended vehicle. Although crimes such as burglary do occur in areas outside the capital, the threat of confrontational crime is less common in rural areas. Night travel in private or public conveyances outside Antananarivo is discouraged due to poor lighting and road conditions.

The loss or theft abroad of a U.S. passport should be reported immediately to local police and to the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate. The pamphlets, A Safe Trip Abroad and Tips for Travelers to Sub-Saharan Africa, provide useful information on protecting personal security while traveling abroad and on travel in the region in general. Both are available from the Superintendent of Documents, U.S. Government Printing Office, Washington, D.C. 20402, via the Internet at, or via the Bureau of Consular Affairs home page at


Jan. 1 New Year's Day

Mar. 29Martyrs' Day

Mar/Apr. Easter*

Mar/Apr. Easter Monday*

May 1Labor Day

May/JuneAscension Day*

May 25African Liberation Day


May/JunePentecost Monday*

June 26 Independence Day

Aug. 15Assumption

Sept. 27 St. Vincent de Pauls Day

Nov. 1 All Saints' Day

Dec. 25 Christmas Day

Dec. 30 Republic Day



These titles are provided as a general indication of the material published on this country.


Andriarnirado Sennen. Madagascar Today. Editions Jeune Afrique (distributed in U.S. by Hippo-crene Books): Paris, 1979.

Astuti, Rita. People of the Sea: Identity and Descent Among the Vezo of Madagascar. Cambridge University Press, 1995.

Attenborough, David. Bridge to the Past. Harper & Brothers: New York, 1961.

Attenborough, David. Zoo Quest to Madagascar. Luttenworth Press: London, 1961.

Barbieri, Gian Paolo, Madagascar. Harper Collins, October 1995.

Bradt, Hilary. Guide to Madagascar .5th Edition. Globe Pequot, June 1997.

Brown, Merwyn. Madagascar Rediscovered: A History From Early Times to Independence. Shoe String: Hamden, 1979.

Burroughs, William S. Ghost of Chance. Serpents Tail, September 1995.

Dubois, Jean Jacques. Madagascar: Island of Smiles. Deiroisse: Paris, 1971.

Durrell, Gerald Malcolm. The Aye-Aye and L A Rescue Mission in Madagascar. Arcade, February 1993.

Gade, Daniel. Madagascar. M&WMarch 1996.

Gow, Bonar. Madagascar and the Protestant Impact. Holmes & Meier: New York, 1979.

Jerkins, M.D. Madagascar: An Environmental Profile. IUCN, 1987.

Jolly, Alison. A World Like Our Own: Man and Nature in Madagascar. Yale University Press: New Haven, 1980.

Kouwenhoven, Arlette. Madagascar, the Red Island. WINCO, February 1996.

Langrand, Olivier. Guide to the Birds of Madagascar. Yale University, 1990.

Lanting, Frans, Madagascar: A World Out of Time. Aperture, December 1990.

Madagascar & Comoros. Lonely Planet Publications.

Madagascar: Conservation of Biological Diversity. World Conservation Monitoring Centre. London, January 1988.

Mannoni, O. Prospero and Caliban: A Study of Colonization. Praeger: New York, 1964.

Marden, Luis and Albert Molday."Madagascar Island at the End of the Earth." National Geographic. October 1967.

McDowell, Barton and StevenRaymer. "Crosscurrents Sweep the Indian Ocean." National Geographic. October 1981.

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Basic Data
Official Country Name: Republic of Madagascar
Region: Africa
Population: 15,506,472
Language(s): French, Malagasy
Literacy Rate: 80%
Number of Primary Schools: 13,325
Compulsory Schooling: 6 years
Public Expenditure on Education: 1.9%
Foreign Students in National Universities: 678
Educational Enrollment: Primary: 1,638,187
  Secondary: 302,035
  Higher: 26,715
Educational Enrollment Rate: Primary: 92%
  Secondary: 16%
  Higher: 2%
Teachers: Primary: 44,145
  Secondary: 16,795
Student-Teacher Ratio: Primary: 37:1
  Secondary: 18:1
Female Enrollment Rate: Primary: 91%
  Secondary: 16%
  Higher: 2%

History & Background

Scientific evidence suggests that Madagascar originated from a severe earthquake that separated it from Africa about 200 million years ago. This separation from continental mainland caused the island to drift 250 miles northeast and settled for about 35-45 million years. The distance between Madagascar and the East African coastline is 1,000 miles. It is separated by Mozambique Channel, which is part of the Indian Ocean. The island is 228,880 square miles; it has a mountainous central plateau, coastal plain and a moderate or tropical climate. The original inhabitants of Madagascar are Austronesianas and Arabs. The human settlements were made about 2,000 years ago. Austronesians from Southeastern Asia were the first to arrive. Theoretically, ethnographic evidence shows that their materials culture of looms, smelting knowledge, canoes, architecture, food crops, and agricultural were known. Bantu-Kiswali speaking peoples of Eastern Africa, who may have brought the Austronecians with them, are linguistically and culturally proficient Kiswahili users.

Around A.D. 900, trade flourished between Eastern African peoples and the inhabitants of Madagascar. This may have influenced the evolution of the earliest site at Mahilaka on the West Coast. The fact that this site consisted of stone buildings and mosques characterize it with early mixed cultural integration between Africans, Arabs and Austranesians. The inhabitants of Madagascar had a low level of technology, which they used for the construction of simple arts and crafts, buildings, fishing, agriculture, and trade. They largely lived on nature's bounty. This made it possible for each of the three tribal races to avoid segregation by encouraging cooperation in order to combine efforts and obtain the available resources for their survival. As a result, an incredible synthesis of tradition, religion, language and genetics developed to create Madagascar's cultural uniformity and linguistic homogeneity for centuries. The main language which all the 18 tribal communities use is Malagasy.

The Asiatic and Austronesian element of the population is predominantly found in the central highland, which they inhabited since the thirteenth century A.D. Out of 14 million people, the Merino number about 3 million and the Betsilio 1.5 million. Both groups are rice growers who use irrigation for farming. The rest of the population consists of the African coastal peoples who rely on fishing and trade. Numerically, the Betsioni-Sakalava (1.5 million), the Tsimihety (1 million) and the Sakavala (1 million) are the largest groups. Before Madagascar became a French colony, the Merino had established and empire that existed for over 200 years, from the sixteenth to nineteenth centuries. The Merina state had large fortresses that were the central institutions governing smaller forts and states on the island.

In Madagascar, 50 percent of the people are adherents of traditional African religion. These religions are naturalistic because their followers emphasize the spiritual linkage between the living and the dead. Followers believe the dead join their ancestors in a variety of ranks of divinity. The ancestors are intensely concerned with the well being or bad luck of their living descendants. Within the Merina and Betsileo communities, the reburial of the famadihana (turning over the dead) is a highly celebrated ritual. In this ritual of reburial, the remains of the dead are exhumed and wrapped up in new silk attire. They are festively and ceremoniously reburied to display awe and honor and to perpetuate the dead's appeasement. The appeased will not develop retaliatory, ghostly, and punitive ramifications on the living.

Forty percent of Madagascar's citizens are Christians who are evenly divided into Catholics and Protestants. In spite of their Christian beliefs, most Christians incorporate the cult of the dead with their religious practices and beliefs. They celebrate their dead in church before they hold traditional burial ceremonies. Occasionally, they invite religious ministers to witness the ritual of famadihana.

Historically, an intense rivalry has existed between the largely coastal, under privileged Catholics (Cotiers) and the predominantly Protestant Merina who dominate the bureaucracy, corporate sector, and the professions. While authority seems to be highly centralized, attempts are underway to decentralize both authority and resources for the six provinces of Madagascar. Historical and cultural realities are regarded as important educational experience upon which modern scientific learning on the island is rooted.

Constitutional & Legal Foundations

On their exploratory sea voyage to India, Portuguese explorers first visited Madagascar in 1500. English, French, and other European maritime nations also began to explore. Though this did not materialize in immediate European settlement on the Island, it was through this contact that firearms were introduced and used by the Merina to create their centralized empire. The power base of the empire was in the central Plateau within the island. For instance in 1794, King Andrianampoinimerina used this power to unite all the tribes in Madagascar. The king gave land to every subject, banned "slash and burn" forestry, and as it was mentioned earlier, introduced irrigation and rice production in the central plateau. Slash and burn was the traditional and destructive way of cutting forests, bushes and thickets and burning them to give way for cultivation of cereals. The method destroyed humus-making bacteria and exposed the soil to erosion and extermination of certain species of fauna and flora. However, in itself, this was agricultural education.

After the death of the King Andrianampoinimerina, his son, King Andrian-Ramada inherited the throne. Among his major accomplishments, he constructed a pro-western foreign policy agenda that enabled the island to establish diplomatic relations with major European powers. King Andrian-Ramada invited Protestant and Roman Catholic missionaries from England and France. The missionaries, particularly the Protestants, built schools, churches and started their evangelistic work on the island. They taught the king's children about literacy, arithmetic, hygiene and the gospel of Jesus Christ. Ramada was an early beneficiary of missionary education.

Later, with the effort of more dynamic missionaries biblically centered Christian education was introduced into Madagascar in 1820. Ramada was one of the students in the Antana Narivo School. King Andrian-Ramada died in 1828. When his wife, Queen Ranavalona, inherited the throne, she expelled all the missionaries and executed a large number of opposition elements. Though she earned the title of "wicked queen," she was an effective empress. During her reign, Imerina missionaries built schools that brought literacy to 15,000 people. Queen Ranavalona died in 1860 and several weak dynastic rulers came after her. This weakness invited the French to attack Madagascar in 1883. The French fought for three years. Eventually Madagascar lost the war and became a French protectorate. In other words, the French domestically and diplomatically ruled Madagascar, although it was legally and officially not a colony. In 1895, the French massively invaded the island, conquered it and made it their full-fledged colony. The Merina monarchy was abolished and French rather than Malagasy became the official language of the island. With this conquest at hand, a new era of western imperialism had begun. The third, French Republic (1870-1914) witnessed France's new attitude in the acquisition of new colonial spheres of influence in Asia and Africa. Like the Americans and the British, the French wanted to use their republican and enlightenment ideas of progress and scientific learning in order to pacify and uplift the colonized peoples. This conception was viewed as France's universal mission commonly called mission civilisatrice. To colonize and govern Africa effectively, the colonized did not only become subjects with more duties than rights, but the violent exploitative and suppressive manner in which colonization was introduced appeared to defeat mission civilisatrice.

Based on France's colonial mission, the mission civilisatrice, the functionalist role of the French empire was to introduce education, modern science, architecture, medicine, technology and other elements of civilization in the colonies. Between 1895 and 1914, republican ideological and imperial ideas influenced French colonial decision making in West Africa and in Madagascar. This happened in two distinctive ways. First, on the basis of the 1789 universal and revolutionary ideas of "equality, liberty and fraternity," all people within the empire and outside it had the right to basic freedoms. In the light of the freedoms, Africans and the Malagasy in particular, needed to be free from all forms of oppression of which domestic and long-distance slavery, feudalism, ignorance and disease were classic. This kind of emancipatory declaration was issued during the early stages of colonization in order to prepare the subjects for an idealistic vision of democratic life. Second, the French imperial system continued to spread its republican ideological liberalism in order to improve public opinion. What they said and promised was to civilize and uplift the dispossessed races of humankind. What they practiced was conquest, enslavement, greed, national pride, and oppression in the name of civilizing the "other." They behaved this way in order to perpetuate colonial hegemony. Hegemony was strengthened by emphasizing difference as opposed to similarities between and among ethnic groups, races, sexes, classes, and gender for the purpose of rationalizing the principle of divide, conquer and rule.

The dual public education systems provided indigenous schools that offered vocational, practical, and nonprofessional education for the Malagasy, and elite schools modeled on those in France for the children of French citizens. Prior to World War II, the Malagasy were not intended to train for leadership and responsibility. However, after World War II educational reforms helped to prepare nationals for leadership and responsibility. After conquering, dividing, and starting to govern, colonial rulers felt that one of their special obligations was to liberate Africans from aspects indigenous domination and prepare them for a higher level of civilization. Since the mission civilisatrice could not be decreed or imposed, maintaining peace and security would enable the rulers to patiently and strategically improve the moral and material advancement of Africans. Improvement of African standards of living required sizable investments in communications; medicine and hygiene; elementary, secondary, and professional education; and agriculture. The ultimate goal was that civilized Africans would understand the essence of liberty, and create laws that would protect the rights and freedoms of the individual. Between 1895 and 1914, the third republic attempted to end feudal vestiges in West Algeria and Madagascar. The institution of hereditary chiefs and religious clericalism were viewed as aristocratic and antiquarian elements of pre-modernism which French republican liberation opposed with hostility. They opposed these institutions because they viewed them to be elements of tyranny from which African people needed to be liberated.

Historians, political scientists, and sociologists call French colonial rule direct rule. It was direct because the French directly imposed their metropolitan constitutional, theoretical, and philosophical ideas of governance on traditional, pre-scientific, and undemocratic African people, their organizations, culture, and institutions. Africans viewed it with suspicion and disdain because this form of contact with the West was more barbaric and disruptive than they anticipated. Unlike the more successful English system of indirect rule through which traditional chiefs were used as instruments of policy formulation and implementation in Africa, French direct rule was in essence more inhumane than the traditional system they were replacing. Lack of enough colonial administrators made it difficult for the rulers to raise taxes, enforce slave labor, and administer the legal code. Though these institutions and organizations were built, they lacked resources to elevate their physical, economic, and social standards. As a result, during the First and Second World Wars, France's poor rapport with its colonies could not enable it to effectively recruit Africans for its own defense. The French claimed that they were being viewed wrongly because what they were doing was universally consistent with the spirit of mission civilisatrice, i.e., abolish feudalism, ignorance, poverty, disease, and uplift mass philosophical and constitutional life. As of 2001, these problems are more highly pronounced in Africa than when the French came and left.

The French mission civilisatrice claimed to attack problems such as feudalism, ignorance, poverty, and disease. However, the same French administrative system employed extraordinary and excessive elements of punishment, free and forced slave labor. Additionally, they made Africans subjects with duties rather than citizens who had rights. This has been viewed as a racist strategy used to deal with people who were different in the name of "equality, liberty, and fraternity" of all people.

The French empire denied women of the right to vote and reduced their role to that of reproduction and domesticity. The criteria for French citizenship included identifying their place of birth, residence, proof of devotion to France, occupation or profession in French colonial administration, knowledge of French language, good financial standing, high moral standards, having no criminal record, having never been bankrupt, certificate of middle school education and proof of payment of taxes by those who owned properly. In brief, most Africans who qualified for French citizenship were elite people who obeyed the law and owned property. Most subjects never qualified for French citizenship.

French colonial imperialism was more repressive and hypocritical rather than consistent with the principles of its republican ideology and the mission civilisatrice. For instance, French colonial officials used coercion to make Africans provide free labor and justified the behavior as an unpalatable but short-term expedient for the inculcation of the work ethic. Subjects were subjected to prestations (work taxes) that were similar to the feudal corvé in France. The 1912 decree legalized the prestations. This kind of forced free labor was oppressive colonial exploitation which parallels the feudal system (corvée) experienced by the French under the ancien régime.

Officially, the French ruled Madagascar for 64 years. Within this period, they abolished slavery and slave trade, sizably contributed to reasonable growth in education and health, and controlled epidemics. The French language was made official. To counteract the earlier influence of British Protestantism, Roman Catholic cultural and religious institutions were given preeminence in the country. These institutions included schools, churches, hospitals, and clinics. Economically, Madagascar's economy was developed and integrated with that of France. The colony became an exporter of raw materials such as rice, cloves, and minerals. Madagascar became an independent nation in 1960.

Educational SystemOverview

The foundation of modern Malagasy education is rooted in nineteenth century Protestant and Catholic colonial experience discussed earlier in the article. The modern education system of Madagascar is divided into elementary, secondary, adult and higher education levels. Because of the French policy of assimilation, educational institutions adopted French curricula, structures, standards and philosophical operational outlook. It is instructive to observe how each level has evolved and functions since independence.

Preprimary & Primary Education

Unlike the schooling systems of other countries in the world, elementary education takes 12 years in Madagascar. The Malagasy have adopted the same system but did not adapt it creatively and economically. Between 1960 and 1972, the social democratic party of Madagascar (PSD) government's policy of education emphasized expansion of the educational enterprise. It was thought that an expanded education which produced a large educated population could not only replace the expatriates, but such locally and culturally enriched educated people were essential for economic and political development of the nation.

In 1958 the Merina had a conspicuous advantage over other ethnic groups. The number of elementary school students in the Antananarivo region where the Merina are dominant was 110,500. There were 30,000 in either Toliary or Mahajanga provinces. Throughout the island, literacy was 65 percent among the Merina, 22 percent among the Betsimisaraka on the east coast, 22 percent among the Sakalava on the west coast, and 5 percent among the Antantroy in the south. The percentages of literacy in the less dominant geopolitical groups on the island were negligible. In the same regions, the percentages of those who were fluent in French were 25 percent, 6 percent, 5 percent, and about 2 percent, respectively. These percentages showed elements of extreme inequality in educational opportunity. To address this problem, the PDS government provided resources that enabled the country to raise its public primary school enrollment from 321,000 in 1958, to 942,000 in 1970. Since then education policy of expansion has remained the same. Children whose age is between 6 and 14 receive compulsory education. Those aged 6 to 11 are the ones who study compulsory primary education requirements. In 1994, 83 percent attended school, the literacy rate was 53 percent, and enrollment at public primary schools was 13,000. The number of private primary schools is not clear. Primary school takes 12 years to complete because of the repetition policy. Though girls' access to educational opportunity is equal to that of boys, more emphasis is placed on males to succeed. This is indicative of the patriarchal and cultural preferences of the indigenous society.

Secondary Education

The curriculum, structures, academic standards, and other values of the secondary school enterprise are modeled on the French high school education system. At independence, the colonial education system was inherited by the nation, which has taken significant strides to adapt the originally adopted academic menu. In 1972, there were 100,000 students in more than 300 secondary schools. In 1998 there were about 500,000 students in 2,000 secondary schools.

Secondary education takes seven years to complete. There are two levels of secondary school education system. The first level is the junior secondary level, which takes four years to complete. The students at this level are 12 to 15 years old. Those who do senior secondary level for three years are between 16 and 18 years old. At the end of their junior level, the students get their certificate. Alternatively, the senior level graduates receive the baccalauréat which is a high school diploma. Junior level graduates who go for vocational training receive professional certificate called college professionelle, while senior level secondary graduates who are admitted to the technical college (college technique ) receive a technical diploma called baccalauréat technique.

The junior secondary school curriculum consists of mathematics, natural science, Malagasy language, civics and religion, some French and English, history, geography and arts, and physical education. The course offerings, in terms academic load per week, vary from subject to subject in terms of their hierarchy in Madagascar's socioeconomic and political-psychological dynamics. The same cultural dynamic influences the structure and delivery mode of the senior secondary curriculum. The curriculum includes advanced mathematics, natural science, introduction to technology, French, malagache, history, geography, civics, religion, and physical education.

In both the primary and secondary schools, the ratio of students to teachers varies from city to city and from province to province. In addition, this ratio is also further influenced by economic and cultural ingredients within specific cities, counties, districts, and locations. In other words, parental and cultural attitudes toward school in the various administrative and politically established local units reinforce or discourage school attendance and thereby contributing to specific ratios in full-time equivalent measures. For instance parental and cultural attitudes regarding the education of males as opposed to that of females tend to perpetuate patriarchal elements of sexist traditionalism that favor female domesticity and reproduction rather than empowerment and social mobility.

Higher Education

Because Madagascar was a French colony, its post-colonial intellectual elite possessed academic credentials from a variety of French schools as well as the leading universities of Paris, Toulon, Marseilles, Montpellier, Pointers, and La Reunion. Similarly, after independence, these universities became the models for the six Malagasy universities at Antananarivo, Antsiranana, Fianaarantsoa, Toamasina, Toliara, and Mahajanga. These postsecondary institutions evolved from the Institute for Advanced Studies, which was founded in 1955. The Institute was conceived to be the original University of Madagascar in Antananarivo in 1961. There were five other provincial universities whose academic hearts were located at Antananarivo. Officially those five extensions became fully fledged academic institutions, complete with professional faculties, in 1988.

Philosophically, the University of Madagascar's reason for existence is rooted in the dynamic and synergistic fusion of the European, Continental (African), and Malagasy cultural and scientific heritage. The University's goals for rationalizing the heritage include but are not limited to:

  1. Maintaining adherence and loyalty to global academic standards.
  2. Ensuring the unification of the African continent.
  3. Using research, teaching, and scientific knowledge to dispel misconceptions about Africa, its culture, people, and heritage.
  4. Using a variety of resources for training people to develop skills that are essential for meeting the development needs of the nation.
  5. Training well-rounded human beings for nation building.
  6. Progressively evolving an excellent higher education system that can become a model for evaluation.
  7. Using science and technology for the advancement of human learning and solution of complex social, economic, and cultural difficulties.

With the exception of number seven above, the philosophical goals were developed by the 1962 "Tananarive Conference on Higher Education in Africa." The conference was organized by the government of the Republic of Malagasy, representatives from other African countries, and the United Nations Economic Commission of Africa (UNECA). The resolutions of Tananarive Conference were based on the 1961 planning recommendations of the UNESCO initiated Addis-Ababa Conference of African heads of state and ministers. The purpose of the 1962 Tananarive Conference was threefold: first, the conference was charged with the responsibility of identifying solutions to problems of choice and adaptation of the higher education curriculum. Second, the conference needed to identify probable solutions to the problems endemic in the administration, organization, structure, and financing of the higher education enterprise and to study the impact of those solutions on the educational-related ministries of economic planning, education, labor, and agriculture. Third, the conference needed to identify the most efficient ways of providing data to the specialized agencies concerned with international cooperation, development, and assistance of African institutions of higher learning. Eventually, the conference succeeded in constructing a scientific and cultural planning model of higher education that was loaded with Euro-American and African higher education concepts. The education model was adapted by all African ministries of education, including that of Madagascar.

At present, the university system of Madagascar has several faculties of which law, economics, sciences, letters, and human sciences are dominant. The university system has many schools that specialize in public administration, management, medicine, social welfare, public works, and agronomy. Schools are further subdivided into departments. For instance, at the University of Fianarantsoa, there are more than 20 departments, including architecture and urbanism, building public works, electronic engineering, geology, hydraulics, meteorology, mines, materials, metallurgic sciences, telecommunications, optical physics, applied physics, energetics, industrial relations, and international relations. The university has 200 faculty members, of whom 120 are permanent while the rest are irregulars who work in technical ministries and professional industries.

French is the language used in all universities. Students take eight to ten years to complete the first degree. The baccalaureate is required for admission to the university. In African countries, it takes five years rather than the eight to ten years it takes in Madagascar. In 1994, there were 40,000 students enrolled in the country's university system. It is believed that at the time, the actual institutional capacity was 26,000 rather than the 40,000. This was considered overcrowding, for which the system has been severely criticized. Of those who are admitted, only 10 percent matriculate. In other words, turnover, failures, and repetitions are increasingly and economically massive and unwarranted. They are unwarranted because they reflect faulty investment and poor economic planning, which negatively impacts the poor nation as a whole. Though reform measures are being implemented, they have not been substantially effective.

The university system offers diplomas, certificates, and degrees of all kinds. Though most students complete the first degree, a few study the graduate and doctoral programs that are necessary for elite professional careers in the nation's institutions and organizations.

Nonformal Education

In southern Africa, nonformal education is adult education (Toweet 1978) and lifelong learning that is essential for the promotion of personal, group, community, and national self-reliance. Throughout the last few hundred years, and more importantly, during the last 40 years, rationalization of nonformal education was carried out in a marginal and loosely organized way by individual racial group communities. These communities used adult education concepts, methods, and strategies to solve their social, economic and political problems. Although non-formal education is not growth-oriented, selective, and competitive, it is humanistic education (Brown 1978) because it is local, instrumental, and expressive in nature (Sagini 2000).

Forty years ago, Madagascar became a multicultural and democratic republic. The government established a new constitution and a variety of ministries, including the ministry of education, which integrated all forms of education throughout the nation. In addition, all forms of development including agriculture, mines, housing and the urban sector, health, and education were integrated with the entire national economic planning strategy. Under the colonial regime, nonformal education was marginalized, racially organized, and largely inconsequential. However, nonformal education, like preschool, elementary, secondary, and higher education, is currently a component of the national education policy that is managed and administered by the coordinating machinery under the Ministry of Education. Within South Africa and perhaps elsewhere in the African continent, nonformal education is education for adults who are nontraditional learners and students who are interested in self-actualization, regardless of when they achieve it. Adult education philosophy has evolved from cultural and nationalistic beliefs concerning "human dignity, equality and respect" (Mbekile 1978). It is an education policy that is used for the elimination of "poverty, disease and ignorance." One of the main goals of nonformal education is to enhance equality by working to eliminate the effects of educational social stratification, lessen the exploitation of the uneducated masses by the elite, and distribute educational services and resources more equitably. Methodologically, approaches to nonformal education are a product of a government's nationalistic goals as a development strategy that focuses on the nation's geographic features, climatic conditions, occupational demography, and cultural and regional differences. These nonformal education measures are directed towards both the urban and rural sectors of society. Notwithstanding the fact that the success of nonformal education will depend on public commitment and psychological and practical participation, the most important challenges to effective nonformal education are a lack of massive financial investment, a lack of enough qualified personnel to implement it, and the view that it is not essential and therefore inconsequential. Madagascar has yet to succeed in implementing a long-distance learning strategy. Though attempts are being made to strengthen it, lack of resources made it difficult to implement.

Teaching Profession

Teacher education is postsecondary professional education that senior level high school graduates train for and matriculate in. There are seven teacher training colleges in Madagascar that train teachers for primary schools. Secondary school teachers have degrees from the island's six provincial universities. Several other colleges that train people in agriculture, business and industry, and a variety of vocational activities are scattered all over the island.

Graduate students who prepare to be teachers in secondary schools attend training colleges to complete master of arts degrees. Their curriculum places an emphasis on reflection, observation, self-evaluation, experiential learning, and skill improvement.


Madagascar's modern education system is deeply rooted in its imperial past. Its scientific foundation originated in the French educational and colonial administrative philosophy. Its elitist character not only serves as a source of society's social stratificationit also prepares the legislative, professional, and corporate elite for the leadership of society's organizations and institutions. Other graduates of the education system work in the rural and vocational sectors. Most elementary school graduates work in the rural sector, while high school graduates enter technical and vocational institutions. A few who are more ambitious, competitive, and fluent in French graduate from colleges and universities and take up careers in teaching, law, business, medicine, and other professions.


Brembeck, Cole S. and Thompson, Timothy J. New Strategies for Education Development. Lesington, MA: Lexington Books 1973.

Brown, Lalage. "Recognition by Governments of the Importance of Adult Education in National Development Plans." Implementation of UNESCO: Recommendations on the Development of Adult Education. (February-March 1978): 27-34.

Buchmann, Claudia. "Family Structure, Parental Perceptions, and child Labor in Kenya: What Factors Determine Who is Enrolled in Schools?" Social Forces 78 (June 2000): 1349-1379.

Conklin, Alice L. "Colonialism and Human Rights, A Contradiction in Terms? The Case of France and West Africa, 1895-1914." American Historical Review (April 1998): 419-442.

DuBois, W. E. B. The Souls of Black Folk. New York: Penguin Group, 1995.

Fagan, Brian M., ed. The Oxford Companion to Archaeology. New York: Oxford University Press, 1996.

Knecht, Peter A., ed. Madagascar: Background Notes. Washington, DC: U. S. Department of State (April, 1994).

Mbakile, E. P. R. "The Recognition of Governments of the Importance of Adult Education in National Development." Implementation of UNESCO: Recommendation on the Development of Adult Education. (February-March 1978): 37-57.

Sagini, Meshack M. The African and the African-American University: A Historical and Sociological Analysis. Lanham, MD: University Press of America, Inc. 1996.

. Organizational Behavior: The Challenges of the New Millenium. Lanham, MD: University Press of America, Inc., 2001.

Toweet, Taitta. "Opening Address" Implementation of UNESCO: Recommendations on the Development of Adult Education. (February-March 1978): 7-11.

Meshack M. Sagini

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Democratic Republic of Madagascar
République Démocratique de Madagascar
Repoblika Demokratika n'i Madagaskar



Madagascar lies in the southern Indian Ocean some 400 miles off Africa's eastern shore. With a land area of 587,039 square kilometers (226,656 square miles) Madagascar is a little less than twice the size of Arizona. It is also the world's fourth largest island, with a coastline of 4,827 kilometers (3,000 miles). Madagascar's capital is Antananarivo (population 2 million), located on its central plateau 1,468 meters (4,816 feet) above sea level. Other major cities include Fianarantsoa (population 440,000), inland in the southern part of the island; Taomasina (population 330,000), the principal port, located on the eastern seaboard; Antsiranana (population 320,000), at its northern-most tip; and Mahajanga (population 295,000), site of the country's second international airport. Madagascar's highest point is a mountain called Maromokotro (2,876 meters or 9,436 feet), located in the Tsaratanana Massif region along the island's central spine.


Demographic statistics for Madagascar are scarce and often unreliable, but a mid-2000 estimate by the U.N. Population Fund places its population at around 15.9 million. Although relative to its size this figure is below the average of its sub-Saharan neighbors, growth is brisk. With an annual birthrate estimated at 42.92 per 1,000 of populationaround 3 percent per annum for the years 1995 to 2000the fragility of Madagascar's environment makes this expansion a significant concern. The average life expectancy at birth of 54.95 years is relatively high by sub-Saharan standards, but poverty and malnutrition are nevertheless endemic, sanitation is very poor, and disease (especially cholera and malaria) is an ever-present threat. Some 27 percent of Malagasy (the people of Madagascar) lived in urban areas in 1998, a population segment which was growing at the rapid rate of 5.6 percent a year as rural inhabitants quit the countryside for the cities.

Ethnically, Madagascar is an unusual mix. Its 2 largest ethnic groups are the Indonesian-descended Merina (26 percent) and Betsileo (12 percent), who are historically concentrated in the central highlands, including the capital. Other groups include the Arab-African Betsimisaraka (15 percent) and Tsimehety (7 percent) of the east and north, respectively; and the Antandroy, of more purely (Bantu) African origin, in the south (5 percent). The prevalence of a unified language, the Malay-Indonesian Malagasy, has tended to work against sharp ethnic divisions, though there is some on-going chafing against Merina political domination. Religiously, 52 percent of Madagascar's people hold indigenous beliefs, 41 percent are Christian and 7 percent Muslim.


Although possessed of a temperate climate and variety of natural resources, Madagascar remains one of the poorest countries in the world. Its economic problems are daunting, and have been compounded by many years of stagnation and decline. From 1971 to 1991 Madagascar dropped from the world's 30th poorest nation to its 10th poorest, with a fall in GDP per capita across the same period of 40 percent. Only in the late 1990s has Madagascar really begun to turn this trend around, but progress is expected to be slow, and major set-backs can still be expected.

Still predominantly agrarian, agriculture accounts for four-fifths of the workforce (mostly at subsistence level) and one-third of GDP. But population pressure combined with poor resource management has caused serious damage to Madagascar's ancient and highly delicate ecosystem, and deforestation and soil erosion are pressing concerns. By the late 1980s it was estimated that only 1 percent of the original wilderness remained.

Agriculture also suffers from droughts, locust plagues, and cyclones. A series of 3 particularly savage cyclones in early 2000 affected more than a million people and caused damage estimated by the World Bank to be near US$137 million. Growth, which had been forecast at 5.3 percent for 2000 (after a 4.7 percent rate in 1999), only reached 4.8 percent, leaving the country still crucially dependent on foreign aid and debt relief . The cyclones' devastating economic consequences, especially on cash crops such as coffee and vanilla, will be felt for years to come.

Other challenges include a limited and badly antiquated road system and rail network that are wholly unequal to the challenges of Madagascar's weather and terrain. The difficulty of transport, which in the monsoon months can leave large parts of the country inaccessible, is a major obstacle to commercial activity. But also inadequate is Madagascar's bureaucratic infrastructure . The civil service tends to be unresponsive and inefficient. And poor policing and corruption in the judiciary continue to render property and contract rights insecure. These factors are formidable disincentives for much-needed investment in the economy.

Madagascar's hope rests on energetic restructuring of its economy to reduce the national debt , stimulate the private sector , and encourage foreign development. Industries targeted as strategically central to this mission are Madagascar's fledgling manufacturing sector (especially garments and textiles) and its unique environment, with " eco-tourism " showing signs of real revenue promise.


Colonized by France in the 1890s, Madagascar gained its independence on 26 June 1960 after a violent separatist struggle. Its first president, Philibert Tsirinan, was toppled in May 1972. In the 3 years of military rule that followed, Tsirinan's foreign minister, Didier Ratsiraka, emerged as the principal strongman and took the presidency officially in June 1975. Declaring the Democratic Republic of Madagascar, Ratsiraka closed all foreign military bases, nationalized the country's major industries, and opened relations with the Soviet Union and China. A drastically worsening economic situation forced Ratsiraka's Avant-garde de la révolution malagache (Arema) government in the 1980s to seek international help and institute a new monetarist reform agenda. Although re-elected in March 1989, popular agitation for political liberalization had reached the point that, by 1992, Ratsiraka was forced to accede to a new pluralist, democratic constitution (pluralist societies are characterized by a variety of opinions voiced in a democratic context). In the first elections, under the constitution adopted later that year, he was voted out of office. He returned in 1996, however, after his successor, Albert Zafy, was impeached by parliament. The next presidential election is scheduled for 2001, and remains largely up in the air. Although the president's opposition is fragmented, and his IMF (International Monetary Fund)-sanctioned policies enjoy broad support, Ratsiraka himself is not especially popular; and he is also now very old. Madagascar has yet to resolve its unstable, and sometimes violent, political situation.

Madagascar's republic's laws are based on the French civil law system and traditional Malagasy rule, and a new constitution was adopted in 1998. The president of Madagascar is the chief of state and elected by direct vote for a 5-year term. The country now has a two-chamber legislature: the National Assembly and the Senate. The National Assembly is directly elected. The president and his cabinet appoint a prime minister. The country has nearly 30 active political parties.

Although the political consensus in Madagascar has generally favored fiscal discipline, it is only in the last 4 or 5 years that economic liberalization and monetary stabilization have been consistently and rigorously applied. Current policy is committed to minimizing inflation , servicing the national debt, stimulating the private sector, and diversifying the country's export base. The effects have been encouraging, with an average growth rate since 1995 of 3.2 percent.

Other initiatives include the divestment of state enterprises, with more than 40 slated for privatization , and the devolution of certain government powers to local councils, a measure to make government more efficient and accountable. Longer-term plans include reforming the justice system to combat corruption, and re-investing in education, which has become badly neglected in the last 20 years (falling from 4.4 percent of GNP in 1980 to 1.9 percent in 1998).

With tax evasion widespread, part of the new regime of fiscal reform has also been a more aggressive approach to taxation and revenue collection. This has seen revenues increase to 10 percent of GDP in 2000, but in an economy that is largely informal, the burden has tended to fall on the fragile business sector. Vocal protests from the Malagasy business community in 1999 forced the government to soften its stance and exposed the limits of fiscal reform. To bolster industry, plans are now afoot to reduce trade-based levies , currently the source of 60 percent of government tax revenue. Some of this shortfall will be picked up by the 20 percent value-added tax .


Underdeveloped and poorly maintained, Madagascar's inadequate infrastructure is a major obstacle to economic progress, restricting the exchange of goods and limiting development opportunities. The problem has been made even worse by an actual deterioration of the infrastructure in the 1970s and 1980s. As of 2000, only just over 11 percent of its 49,828 kilometers (30,968 miles) of roads are paved. During the rainy season, many of these are completely impassable, isolating large parts of the country. Rail is also in a perilous state, with a mere 885 kilometers (550 miles) of track, in 2 unconnected systems, and most of it in very poor repair. The introduction of private trucking licenses and the planned sale of the national railroad company should help, but the problem remains a fundamental one.

The poor condition of the land transport system has placed special emphasis on air and sea traffic. Madagascar has 15 ports, of which Tonmasina, Mahajanga, and Antsiranana are the most important. In theory, there are

Country Newspapers Radios TV Sets a Cable subscribers a Mobile Phones a Fax Machines a Personal Computers a Internet Hosts b Internet Users b
1996 1997 1998 1998 1998 1998 1998 1999 1999
Madagascar 5 192 21 N/A 1 N/A 1.3 0.12 8
United States 215 2,146 847 244.3 256 78.4 458.6 1,508.77 74,100
South Africa 32 317 125 N/A 56 3.5 47.4 33.36 1,820
Mozambique 3 40 5 N/A 0 N/A 1.6 0.09 15
aData are from International Telecommunication Union, World Telecommunication Development Report 1999 and are per 1,000 people.
bData are from the Internet Software Consortium ( and are per 10,000 people.
SOURCE: World Bank. World Development Indicators 2000.

211 airfields, but only 30 of these are paved. There is an international airport at Ivato, outside Antananarivo. Deregulation of the air market has seen considerable expansion, with the appearance of competitors pushing down prices and increasing volumes, especially between Europe and Asia. The first half of 2000 saw an 11 percent jump in European passenger numbers over the same period in 1999, and a 69 percent increase in Asian passengers. Deregulation plans include the eventual privatization of Air Madagascar.

Telecommunications in Madagascar are currently inadequate. The landline network has barely been extended since 1960, and the vast majority of telephones are concentrated in the capital. With foreign aid, the country has installed a new digital switching system, however. Privatization of the national telecommunications monopoly , Telma, is underway, but is unlikely to generate the investment capital necessary to expand radically the customer base. The mobile telephone market, however, is highly competitive, with 4 operators active. Thanks to the USAID-funded Leland Initiative, Internet services can now boast 10 Internet service providers (ISPs).

Madagascar has 7 hydro-electric power stations and together these contribute two-thirds of its power output. But electricity makes up only 5 percent of total energy production; 82 percent of primary energy supply comes from bagasse (sugar cane residue), firewood, and charcoal, the use of which carries a high environmental cost. The development of Madagascar's extensive coal reserves has so far been frustrated by the poor road and rail system. Oil exploration is underway, but the country remains import-dependent.


Madagascar remains a firmly agrarian society, with agriculture generating about 32 percent of GDP and 70 percent of export earnings (1999). But the industry is limited by the prevalence of subsistence production and its orientation towards the domestic market, whereas its traditional export-focused crops, such as coffee, cotton, and spices, have been hurt by waning international prices. While there has been fruitful diversification into newer crops such as cassava (tapioca) and bananas, as well as fishing and aquaculture, agriculture alone cannot sustain future growth. Sectors which have become increasingly important are manufacturing and tourism, whose potential to generate foreign exchange earnings have made their development a government priority. But while innovative and productive steps have already been taken to encourage these sectors, and economic liberalization has helped to stimulate competitiveness, the shortage of investment capital has made progress tentative and halting.


Agriculture forms the livelihood of the overwhelming majority of Malagasy. And yet, although agriculture is a vital export earner, the industry remains underdeveloped, accounting for only one-third of GDPa level below that of its agrarian neighbors. Despite half the country being cultivable, only 5 percent is currently used for crop production, and only 16 percent of this is irrigated; most farmers eke out a subsistence living on small family plots. Poor transport systems and highly limited access to credit have also inhibited commercial development and discouraged investment in cash crops.

The main staple crop is rice, occupying about two-thirds of all available cropland. Despite a long-standing government goal of rice self-sufficiency, however, Madagascar remains a net importer. Traditional cash crops most of which were introduced by the French in the 19th centuryinclude coffee, cotton, sugar cane, vanilla, and cloves. But pressure from other producing countries has undermined Madagascar's market share in these commodities and cut into export earnings. Coffee continues to hold its own, accounting for around 8 percent of exports (US$42.5 million, est. 1998), as does cotton (4.1 percent), traditionally the second most important export crop. But vanilla and cloves have been badly hit by sagging world prices, shrinking from a traditional one-third export share to around 5 percent in 1999. Non-traditional crops have fared better and include cassava (the second major crop in terms of land used), corn, sweet potato, and bananas.

With some 50 percent of all Malagasy land used for herding, livestock farming (especially Zebu beef cattle) is another important export earner, though ownership patterns and social imperatives inhibit full commercialization. Timber is also significant. Although Madagascar's native reserves have been largely cleared for farming, there is heavy international pressure to conserve what is left; about 260,000 hectares of pine and eucalyptus forests are currently under cultivation.

Fishing is growing in importance and shows considerable promise. Prawn and tuna exports in particular are valuable export earners, and production is expected by 2001 to have increased by 25 percent over its 1995 levels, with 20 percent more jobs created. Shrimp farming is also taking off; other products include tilapia, black bass, trout, and lobster.


Industry is a fledgling sector in Madagascar, providing only 13.6 percent of GDP (1998), but one showing definite potential. Mineral deposits are substantial and largely unexploited. Gold and chromite are both mined extensively, as are, on a smaller scale, graphite, mica nickel, ilmenite, and marble. Iron and bauxite, as well as semi-precious stones (especially sapphires) are being developed, and have a combined export potential of up to US$380 million. The industry is not without its problems, however. Many of Madagascar's deposits are inside national parks and hence off-limits to development. Low investment is also a hindrance, as isin the case of gold and gemstoneschronic smuggling.

Manufacturing is an area of some success, greatly stimulated by the formation of the export processing zone (EPZ) in 1996, which offers tax exemptions for export-focused industries. The project has grown to include 150 companies and has generated 80,000 jobs, producing 37.4 percent of Madagascar's foreign trade revenue. Its main products are clothing (48 percent), handicrafts (13 percent), and agro-processing (9 percent). Textiles are another important export, supported by Madagascar's cotton industry and low wage rates, and accounts for 15 percent of manufacturing production. Other products include plastics, pharmaceuticals, leather goods, footwear, and tobacco.



Madagascar's climate, beaches (4,827 kilometersor 3,000 milesof them), and unique ecology (Madagascar is home to many endangered species of flora and fauna) make tourism one of its most dynamic and promising sectors. The industry has the potential not only to create jobs and wealth, but to turn Madagascar's unusual and endangered environment into a productive asset. Interest is great, and two-thirds of the country's visitors come for eco-tourism. In 1998, tourists brought in US$92.2 million. But although visitor numbers are rising steadily (doubling since 1994), volume is still low.In 1997 Madagascar attracted less than a fifth of neighboring Mauritius's 536,000 visitors. Further development of the industry also faces significant difficulties. Air links to Europe and Asia are few and expensive, hotel facilities are sparse and inadequate, and investment is scarce. Government attempts to meet these obstacles have included rationalizing (removing inconsistencies and streamlining) the relevant laws, creating a coordinated tourist authority, and liberalizing the airline market.


Limitations in the financial sector continue to impede growth. The nation's assets are controlled by the central bank and 5 commercial banks, the largest of which, BNI-Credit Lyonnais, has a total asset base of US$200 million. Few Malagasy, however, qualify for these banks' services. The problem is especially acute in the rural areas where only 1.5 percent of small farmers have access to credit; the agriculture sector itself receives only 5 percent of total lending. High interest loan rates and fees have also discouraged business borrowing. The lack of a stock exchange and shareholding culture have further restricted financing options.


Few in Madagascar can afford more than the bare essentials, and steady depreciation of the currency has eroded purchasing power even further. This combined with the poor condition of the country's transport network means that trade tends to be localized and retailing minimal. However, the opening of the economy has expanded the range of goods available somewhat, especially in the main urban centers like Antananarivo.


Trade continues to run heavily in Madagascar's disfavor, with imports exceeding exports by more than US$200 million. Although there are signs the situation may be improving, the disparity remains debilitating.

The main trading partner is Madagascar's old colonial patron, France, which in 1998 took 39.6 percent of its total exports, at a value of US$349 million. France in turn supplied 24.1 percent of its imports, mostly machinery

Trade (expressed in billions of US$): Madagascar
Exports Imports
1975 .302 .366
1980 .401 .600
1985 .274 .402
1990 .319 .571
1995 .368 .499
1998 .241 .514
SOURCE: International Monetary Fund. International Financial Statistics Yearbook 1999.
Exchange rates: Madagascar
Malagasy francs (FMG) per US$1
Nov 2000 6,656.3
2000 N/A
1999 6,283.8
1998 5,441.4
1997 5,090.9
1996 4,061.3
SOURCE: CIA World Factbook 2001 [ONLINE].

(25.7 percent), textiles and clothes (16.1 percent), chemicals (13.2 percent), and transport equipment (10.6 percent). Other buyers of Malagasy goods are Mauritius (6.9 percent), the United States (5.9 percent), and Germany (4.4 percent). Germany was also the source of 7.3 percent imports, while Iranian oil accounted for a further 7.1 percent.

Under the Lomé Convention, Madagascar enjoys preferential entry to European export markets. It is also a member of the 20-nation Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa trade group (COMESA), whose long-term plans include monetary union and a common central bank. Madagascar has also applied to join the similarly aimed Southern African Development Community (SADC).


Madagascar's external debt stands at over US$3.3 billion, its annual deficit at around 4 percent of GDP (1999). This is some improvement over the previous 6 years, when the deficit had averaged in excess of 6 percent per annum, but it remains a heavy economic burden, and has put considerable pressure on its currency. Inflation has long been a problem, with an average of 60 percent as recently as 1994. But while efforts by Madagascar's central bank have seen this fall in 1998 to 6.4 percent, further progress is hindered by the high world oil price; and increased government spending saw this bounce back up to 14.4 percent in 1999.

Since the Malagasy franc was first floated in 1994 it has lost about half its value against the U.S. dollar. Although this has made imports more expensive, it has also enhanced Madagascar's export competitiveness. The Malagasy franc now sits at about 7,000 to the U.S. dollar.


Chronic poverty is Madagascar's foremost burden. Its wage rates are amongst the lowest in the world, and, according to a 1993-94 survey, 70 percent of the country

GDP per Capita (US$)
Country 1975 1980 1985 1990 1998
Madagascar 364 344 277 276 238
United States 19,364 21,529 23,200 25,363 29,683
South Africa 4,574 4,620 4,229 4,113 3,918
Mozambique N/A 166 115 144 188
SOURCE: United Nations. Human Development Report 2000; Trends in human development and per capita income.
Distribution of Income or Consumption by Percentage Share: Madagascar
Lowest 10% 1.9
Lowest 20% 5.1
Second 20% 9.4
Third 20% 13.3
Fourth 20% 20.1
Highest 20% 52.1
Highest 10% 36.7
Survey year: 1993
Note: This information refers to expenditure shares by percentiles of the population and is ranked by per capita expenditure.
SOURCE: 2000 World Development Indicators [CD-ROM].

lived below even Madagascar's own baseline poverty level, and conditions had not improved by the end of the century. Average per capita GDP sits at US$250 per annum (1999), low even for sub-Saharan economies, and one-hundredth of France's GDP per capita. Although the economy continues to grow, the effects remain unfelt by the majority of the population, for whom disease and famine are continual blights.

Poverty levels are not helped by skewed distribution. Traditional Malagasy society is highly hierarchical, with a rigid ranking system according to ethnicity, age, and gender. The effect has been to rigidify social structures and to leave Madagascar's richest 10 percent controlling 35 percent of the country's wealth. Corruption and patronage too tend to concentrate wealth in the hands of the elite, though the planned devolution of governmental power to the regions may go some way to expanding the political class.


The Malagasy workforce is estimated to be around 7 million strong. Unemployment is officially low around 2.8 percent in rural areas, 6.6 percent in the citiesbut these figures are likely to be significantly underestimated. Although the rate has been slowly falling,

Household Consumption in PPP Terms
Country All food Clothing and footwear Fuel and power a Health care b Education b Transport & Communications Other
Madagascar 61 8 4 2 2 5 18
United States 13 9 9 4 6 8 51
South Africa N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A
Mozambique N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A
Data represent percentage of consumption in PPP terms.
aExcludes energy used for transport.
bIncludes government and private expenditures.
SOURCE: World Bank. World Development Indicators 2000.

more than half the workforce is still underemployed . At least in the short-term, the down-sizing of the public sector is likely to see more jobs lost. Hardest hit are the young; 22 is the average age of the unemployed.

Despite Madagascar's poverty and falling government investment in education, literacy remains relatively high (by sub-Saharan standards). More than 90 percent of children enroll in primary school, and 16 percent go on to secondary school. The literacy rate is 72 percent for men and 52 percent for women. The result is a generally adaptable workforce.


c. A.D. 300-800. The first humans arrive in Madagascar, from Indonesia.

1642. French presence established.

1890. European powers recognize Madagascar as a French protectorate.

1944. Madagascar receives French overseas territory status.

1958. Madagascar becomes a self-governing republic within the French Community.

1960. Independence from France.

1972. Philibert Tsirinan, Madagascar's first president, is forced to resign after mass demonstrations.

1975. Didier Ratsiraka becomes Madagascar's second president.

1992. New Constitution enacted; Ratsiraka defeated in elections by Albert Zafy.

1996. Zafy impeached by parliament; Ratsiraka returns to office.

1999. Madagascar becomes eligible for U.S. debt relief.


Madagascar remains desperately poor, and its people afflicted with malnourishment, endemic poverty, and disease. And yet there are signs that some cautious optimism may be in order. Progress has been slow and painful, but real. After many years of government control, new free market policies have been implemented and the government is slowly putting the productive sectors of the nation into private hands. And while climatic factors remain a wild-card threat, on-going attempts to diversify the economy and address poverty levels will help to reduce exposure. But much will depend on continued international support.


Madagascar has no territories or colonies.


Brown, Mervyn. Madagascar Rediscovered: A History from Early Times to Independence. Hamden, Connecticut: Archon Books, 1979.

Covell, Maureen. Madagascar: Politics, Economics, and Society. New York: Frances Pinter, 1987.

Economist Intelligence Unit. "Country Profile: Madagascar, Mauritius, Seychelles, Comoros."<>. Accessed December 2000.

Economist Intelligence Unit. "Country Report: Madagascar."< GC>. Accessed December 2000.

U.S. Department of State. Country Commercial Guide: Madagascar. Washington DC: U.S. Department of State, 2001. <>. Accessed December 2000.

U.S. Library of Congress. "Country Studies: Madagascar (1994)." <>. Accessed December 2000.

Alexander Schubert




Malagasy franc (FMG). One franc equals 100 centimes. Coins come in denominations of 1, 2, 5, 10, 20, 25, 50, 100, and 250. Paper currency includes denominations of 500, 1,000, 2,500, 5,000, 10,000, and 25,000 FMG.


Coffee, vanilla, cloves, shellfish, sugar, petroleum products, clothing and textiles.


Manufactured and consumer goods, petroleum, food.


US$11.5 billion (purchasing power parity, 1999 est.).


Exports: US$600 million (f.o.b., 1998 est.). Imports: US$881 million (c.i.f., 1998 est.).

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Madagascar (măd´əgăs´cär), officially Republic of Madagascar, republic (2005 est. pop. 18,040,000), 226,658 sq mi (587,045 sq km), in the Indian Ocean, separated from E Africa by the Mozambique Channel. Madagascar is the world's fourth largest island. The country also claims several small islands including the French possessions of Juan de Nova Island, Europa Island, the Glorioso Islands, Tromelin Island, and Bassas da India. The capital and largest city is Antananarivo.

Land and People

Madagascar is made up of a highland plateau fringed by a lowland coastal strip, narrow (c.30 mi/50 km) in the east and considerably wider (c.60–125 mi/100–200 km) in the west. The plateau attains greater heights in the north, where Mt. Maromokotro (9,450 ft/2,880 m), the loftiest point in the country, is located, and in the center, where the Ankaratra Mts. reach c.8,670 ft (2,640 m). Once a mosaic of forest, brush, and grassland, the plateau is now largely deforested. A national park was established in 1997 to protect the island's lemurs, rare orchids, and other unique wild species, products of the island's 80-million-year isolation from the mainland. Some three fourths of the island's plant and animal species are found only on Madagascar. A series of lagoons along much of the east coast is connected in part by the Pangalanes Canal, which runs (c.400 mi/640 km) between Farafangana and Mahavelona and can accommodate small boats. The island has several rivers, including the Sofia, Betsiboka, Manambao, Mangoro, Tsiribihina, Mangoky, Mananara, and Onilahy. In addition to the capital, other cities include Antsirabe, Antsiranana, Fianarantsoa, Mahajanga, Toamasina, and Toliary.

The inhabitants of Madagascar fall into two main groups—those largely of Malayo-Indonesian descent and those principally of African descent. Of the roughly 18 ethnicities, the main Indonesian groups are the Merina, who live near Antananarivo, and the Bétsiléo, who live around Fianarantsoa. The principal African groups are the Betsimisáraka, who live near Toamasina; the Tsimihety, based in the N highlands; the Sakalawa and the Antandroy, who live in the west; and the Antaisaka, who live in the southeast. There are small numbers of French and South Asians. All the people speak Malagasy, a language of Indonesian origin; it, French, and English are official languages. Over 50% of the people follow traditional religious beliefs; about 40% are Christian (equally divided between Roman Catholics and Protestants), and 7% are Muslim.


The economy of Madagascar is overwhelmingly agricultural, largely of a subsistence type; the best farmland is in the east and northwest. The principal cash crops are coffee, vanilla, sugarcane, cloves, and cocoa. The main food crops are rice, cassava, beans, bananas, and peanuts. In addition, large numbers of poultry, cattle, goats, sheep, and hogs are raised. Fishing and forestry are also important.

Industries include meat, seafood, and sugar processing; brewing; tanning; automobile assembly; and the manufacture of textiles, glassware, and paper. Tourism is also important. The chief minerals are chromite, graphite, coal, bauxite, salt, quartz, zircon, ilmenite, nickel, cobalt, industrial beryl and garnets, and both offshore and onshore oil. There is an extensive but degraded road system (now being repaired) and only a limited rail network. Toamasina and Mahajanga are the chief ports.

Madagascar carries on a relatively small foreign trade, and the annual value of imports is usually higher than the value of exports. The main imports are capital and consumer goods, petroleum, and food products. The leading exports are coffee, vanilla, shellfish, sugar, textiles, chromite, and petroleum products. The principal trade partners are France, the United States, and China. Madagascar relies heavily upon assistance from members of the European Union and international agencies.


Madagascar is governed under the constitution of 2010. The president, who is head of state, is elected by popular vote for a five-year term and is eligible for a second term. The government is headed by a prime minister, who is appointed by the president. There is a bicameral legislature, consisting of a Senate and National Assembly. Two thirds of the senators are selected by regional assemblies; the rest are appointed by the president. National Assembly deputies are popularly elected. All legislators serve five-year terms. Administratively, Madagascar is divided into 22 regions.


Early History to the End of Native Monarchy

The earliest history of Madagascar is unclear. Africans and Indonesians reached the island in about the 5th cent. AD, the Indonesian immigration continuing until the 15th cent. From the 9th cent., Muslim traders (including some Arabs) from E Africa and the Comoro Islands settled in NW and SE Madagascar. Probably the first European to see Madagascar was Diogo Dias, a Portuguese navigator, in 1500. Between 1600 and 1619, Portuguese Roman Catholic missionaries tried unsuccessfully to convert the Malagasy. From 1642 until the late 18th cent. the French maintained footholds, first at Taolagnaro (formerly Fort-Dauphin) in the southeast and finally on Sainte Marie Island off the east coast.

By the beginning of the 17th cent. there were a number of small Malagasy kingdoms, including those of the Antemoro, Antaisaka, Bétsiléo, and Merina. Later in the century the Sakalawa under Andriandahifotsi conquered W and N Madagascar, but the kingdom disintegrated in the 18th cent. At the end of the 18th cent. the Merina people of the interior were united under King Andrianampoinimerina (reigned 1787–1810), who also subjugated the Bétsiléo. Radama I (reigned 1810–28), in return for agreeing to end the slave trade, received British aid in modernizing and equipping his army, which helped him to conquer the Betsimisáraka kingdom. The Protestant London Missionary Society was welcomed, and it gained many converts, opened schools, and helped to transcribe the Merina language. Merina culture began to spread over Madagascar.

Radama was succeeded by his wife Ranavalona I (reigned 1828–1861), who, suspicious of foreigners, declared (1835) Christianity illegal and halted most foreign trade. During her rule the Merina kingdom was wracked by intermittent civil war. Under Radama II (reigned 1861–63) and his widow and successor Rasoherina (reigned 1863–68) the anti-European policy was reversed and missionaries (including Roman Catholics) and traders were welcomed again. Rainilaiarivony, the prime minister, controlled the government during the reigns of Ranavalona II (1868–83) and Ranavalona III (1883–96); by then the Merina kingdom included all Madagascar except the south and part of the west. Ranavalona II publicly recognized Christianity, and she and her husband were baptized.

In 1883 the French bombarded and occupied Toamsina (then Tamatave), and in 1885 they established a protectorate over Madagascar, which was recognized by Great Britain in 1890. Rainilaiarivony organized resistance to the French, and there was heavy fighting from 1894 to 1896. In 1896, French troops under J. S. Gallieni defeated the Merina and abolished the monarchy.

Colonialism, Independence, and One-Man Rule

By 1904 the French fully controlled the island. Under the French, who governed the Malagasy through a divide-and-rule policy, development was concentrated in the Tananarive region, and thus the Merina benefited most from colonial rule. Merina nationalism developed early in the 20th cent., and in 1916 (during World War I) a Merina secret society was suppressed by the French after a plot against the colonialists was discovered.

During World War II, Madagascar was aligned with Vichy France until 1942, when it was conquered by the British; in 1943 the Free French regime assumed control. From 1947 to 1948 there was a major uprising against the French, who crushed the rebellion, killing between 11,000 and 80,000 (estimates vary) Malagasy in the process. As in other French colonies, indigenous political activity increased in 1956, and the Social Democratic party (PSD), led by Philibert Tsiranana (a Tsimihety), gained predominance in Madagascar.

On Oct. 14, 1958, the country—renamed the Malagasy Republic—became autonomous within the French Community and Tsiranana was elected president. On June 26, 1960, it became fully independent. Under Tsiranana (reelected in 1965 and 1972), an autocratic ruler whose PSD controlled parliament, government was centralized, the coastal peoples (côtiers) were favored over those of the interior (especially the Merina), and French economic and cultural influence remained strong. Beginning in 1967, Tsiranana cultivated economic relations with white-ruled South Africa.

In 1972, students and workers, discontented with the president's policies and with the deteriorating economic situation, staged a wave of protest demonstrations. At the height of the crisis Tsiranana handed over power to Gen. Gabriel Ramanantsoa, who became prime minister. In Oct., 1972, a national referendum overwhelmingly approved Ramanantsoa's plan to rule without parliament for five years; Tsiranana, who opposed the plan, resigned the presidency shortly after the vote.

The New Madagascar

Ramanantsoa freed political prisoners jailed by Tsiranana, began to reduce French influence in the country, broke off relations with South Africa, and generally followed a moderately leftist course. In 1975, a new constitution was approved that renamed the Malagasy Republic the Democratic Republic of Madagascar. That same year, Ramanantsoa dissolved his government in response to mounting unrest in the military and internal disagreements regarding economic policy. Col. Ratsimandrava assumed power but was assassinated a month later and Lt. Comdr. Didier Ratsiraka was elected president in a referendum.

The military-backed Supreme Revolutionary Council (CSR), with Ratsiraka as its head, comprised the government's executive branch. Ratsiraka's Marxist-socialist government nationalized most of the economy and borrowed widely to pay for major investments in development. The nation fell into a crippling debt crisis. Ratsiraka's policies of censorship, regional divisiveness, and repression led to several coup attempts in the 1980s, while food shortages and price increases caused further social unrest. In foreign affairs, Madagascar under Ratsiraka strengthened ties with the United States and Europe and continued to distance itself from South Africa.

Ratsiraka was reelected in 1989 under suspicious circumstances and rioting ensued. Madagascar's political and economic upheaval prompted the government to establish a multiparty system and move toward the privatization of industry in the 1990s. After demonstrations and a lengthy general strike in 1991, Ratsiraka agreed to share power with opposition leader Albert Zafy in a transitional government. In a free presidential election held in 1993, Zafy overwhelmingly defeated Ratsiraka.

In 1995, Zafy won passage of a constitutional amendment allowing the president, rather than the national assembly, to choose a prime minister. With the economy deteriorating, protesters staged street demonstrations in Feb., 1996, and there were some calls for an army takeover. Dissatisfaction with Zafy led to his impeachment by the national assembly in July, 1996. In elections later that year, Ratsiraka came back to defeat Zafy, promising a program of humanistic and ecological development; he also announced plans for a referendum to revise the constitution. Elections in 1998 sent 63 members of Ratsiraka's AREMA party into the newly enlarged national assembly.

In the Dec., 2001 presidential elections, opposition leader Marc Ravalomanana claimed victory over Ratsiraka, but the government announced that he had won only 46% of the vote, forcing a runoff. Ravalomanana denounced reported results and proclaimed himself president, creating a standoff between his and Ratsiraka's supporters. Although Ravalomanana gained control of the capital, Ratsiraka moved his government to Toamasina and had strong support outside the capital and in much of the army.

A recount in Apr., 2002, which was negotiated by the Organization of African Unity (OAU) and agreed to by both candidates, declared Ravalomanana the winner, but Ratsiraka rejected those results. Forces supporting Ravalomanana gradually won control of most of the island (except Toamasina prov.) by early July, when Ratsiraka fled Madagascar. The African Union, the OAU's successor, initially refused to recognize the new government and called for new elections. In Dec., 2002, Ravalomanana's party won a majority in elections for a new legislature, and the African Union subsequently recognized the new government. Ratsiraka was tried in absentia and convicted on charges of embezzlement in 2003.

Ravalomanana moved to privatize state-owned companies and successfully sought international aid and foreign investment. His government, however, sometimes limited freedom of the press and other political freedoms. In 2005 the government banned the New Protestant Church (FPVM), a growing charismatic church that had split (2002) from the mainline Reformed Protestant Church of Jesus Christ (FJKM). The president, a lay leader in the FJKM, was accused of favoring one church over another in violation of the constitution, but the courts refused to overturn the decision.

The president was reelected in Dec., 2006, but the election was marred by the exclusion of a major opposition candidate, Pierrot Rajaonarivelo, who was in exile and was not allowed to return and register for the election. In addition, in November, there was an attempted coup against the president by a retired army general who was also not allowed to run; although it was unsuccessful, many of the presidential candidates called his a coup a move in defense of the constitution. In late 2006 and early 2007 Madagascar suffered its worst cyclone (hurricane) season in memory, with six storms hitting the country, affecting some 450,000 inhabitants. Legislative elections in Sept., 2007, again gave the president's party a majority of the seats.

In Dec., 2008, in a feud that was as much personal as it was political, Antananarivo mayor Andry Rajoelina began leading demonstrations demanding the president's resignation after Rajoelina's television station was briefly closed by the government. The protests, which tapped into popular discontent, led to street violence in late January and early February; also in early February Ravalomanana dismissed the mayor from office. Talks failed to resolve the conflict, and in March a military mutiny forced the president to resign; he went into exile. The new army chief handed the presidency to Rajoelina (though he was constitutionally too young for the office) in a de facto coup; Ravalomanana's ouster was denounced by the African Union, which suspended Madagascar. Ravalomanana's supporters, who mounted demonstrations in his favor, announced their own government in April; its prime minister, Manandafy Rakotonirina, was arrested.

Attempts by the United Nations and African Union to negotiate a settlement were initially unsuccessful, and in the June a Madagascar court sentenced the former president in absentia to four years in prison for abuse of office. In August, however, the four main political parties agreed to establish a transitional government leading to elections in 2010, but Rajoelina's move (September) to unilaterally appoint the government threatened the accord. In October, an agreement was reached concerning the government (with Rajoelina as president), but Ravalomanana refused to sign it because Rajoelina was not excluded from running for president.

Negotiations over the makeup of the government continued, but in December Rajoelina abandoned the negotiations, barred opposition leaders (including members of the power-sharing government) from returning to Madagascar, called for new parliamentary elections, and appointed a new prime minister. Subsequent attempts to restart negotiations and reestablish the power-sharing government failed, leading to a loss of foreign aid that contributed to deteriorating economic conditions. Dissatisfaction in the military with the situation led in 2010 to tensions between the military and the government and within the military. In Aug., 2010, Ravalomanana was convicted in absentia on murder charges arising the from killings of Rajoelina supporters by the presidential guard in Feb., 2009, and sentenced to life in prison. Also in August, Rajoelina signed an accord with 99 minor political parties that confirmed him as president and called for a constitutional referendum in November and legislative and presidential elections in 2011.

The new constitution was approved in Nov., 2010, but at the same time Rajoelina also faced an unsuccessful coup attempt by dissident army elements. In Nov., 2011, a new prime minister, Omer Beriziky, was appointed following a 10-party September agreement, brokered by the Southern African Development Community (SADC), on restoring a democratic government. Also that month, former president Ratsiraka, who objected to the agreement, returned to the country after nine years of exile. When Ravalomanana attempted to return in Jan., 2012, however, Madagascar closed its airspace and denied him entry, leading to tensions in the recently formed government as the former president's party protested the action.

An agreement in Jan., 2012 called for a presidential election in May, 2013; Rajoelina and Ravalomanana both agreed not to run. Subsequently, Ravalomanana's wife became a candidate, and Rajoelina also entered the race. The election date was pushed back first to July and then to August; in the latter month the election commission disqualified Rajoelina, Lalao Ravalomanana, and Ratsiraka from running and rescheduled the election again, to October.

Richard Jean-Louis Robinson, a cabinet minister under Ravalomanana, and Hery Rajaonarimampianina, a cabinet minister under Rajoelina, placed first and second after the first round (October) of the presidential election, in what was generally seen as a proxy contest between Ravalomanana and Rajoelina. The second round, in Dec., 2013, resulted in a victory for Rajaonarimampianina, who received more that 53% of the vote, but Robinson accused the government of fraud and irregulaties and rejected the result. Prior to the second round, military officers had been named governors of a third of the country's regions. Ravalomanana returned to Madagascar in Oct., 2014, and was arrested, but his sentence was lifted and he was released in 2015. In May, 2015, the president was impeached by the legislature, dominated by supporters of Rajoelina and Ravalomanana, but the constitutional court overturned the vote.


See R. Kent, From Madagascar to the Malagasy Republic (1962) and Early Kingdoms in Madagascar, 1500–1700 (1970); C. P. Kottak, ed., Madagascar (1986); R. Stevens, Madagascar (1988); F. Allen, Madagascar (1990); K. Preston-Mafham, Madagascar: A Natural History (1991); P. M. Allen, Madagascar (1994); M. Covell, Historical Dictionary of Madagascar (1995); N. Garbutt, Mammals of Madagascar (1999); K. P. Middleton, Ancestors, Power and History in Madagascar (1999); P. Tyson, The Eighth Continent: Life, Death, and Discovery in the Lost World of Madagascar (2000); S. Goodman and J. P. Benstead, ed., The Natural History of Madagascar (2004).

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Official name: Republic of Madagascar

Area: 587,040 square kilometers (226,656 square miles)

Highest point on mainland: Mount Maromokotro (2,876 meters/9,436 feet)

Lowest point on land: Sea level

Hemispheres: Southern and Eastern

Time zone: 3 p.m. = noon GMT

Longest distances: 1,570 kilometers (976 miles) from north-northeast to south-southwest; 569 kilometers (354 miles) from east-southeast to west-northwest

Land boundaries: None

Coastline: 4,828 kilometers (3,000 miles)

Territorial sea limits: 22 kilometers (12 nautical miles)


Madagascar is an island nation off the coast of Mozambique in southern Africa. It is the world's fourth-largest island, and one of its southernmost countriesthe most southerly part of the island lies below the Tropic of Capricorn. With an area of 587,040 square kilometers (226,656 square miles), it is almost twice the size of the state of Arizona.

Madagascar is famous for its unique wild-life and vegetation, which developed and diversified in isolation from the fauna and flora of mainland Africa. Many of these plant and animal species are threatened by the continuing loss of Madagascar's rainforest habitat through destruction and erosion.


Madagascar has no territories or dependencies.


Madagascar's climate is strongly influenced by southeasterly trade winds, and its temperatures are also moderated by altitude. The coastal areas are hottest, and the highest elevations of the plateau regions are the coolest. Temperatures range from 10°C (50°F) to 26°C (78°F) in July (the coolest month) and from 16°C (61°F) to 29°C (84°F) in December (the hottest month). The hot season between November and April is also the rainy season, while drier weather prevails throughout the rest of the year. Rainfall is heaviest on the eastern, or windward, side of the island, with an annual average of almost 380 centimeters (150 inches) occurring at Antongila Bay. Monsoons bring precipitation to the northwestern coast, which averages 211 centimeters (83 inches) of rainfall annually, compared with the arid southwest, where the average drops to a mere 36 centimeters (14 inches). Annual precipitation on the plateau falls between these extremes, averaging about 135 centimeters (53 inches).


The island can be broadly divided into three major regions: 1) a narrow coastal plain to the east; 2) a large central plateau that extends the entire length of the country; and 3) a hillier and less clearly defined coastal area to the west.


Madagascar is located in the southwestern part of the Indian Ocean, opposite Mozambique.

Sea Inlets and Straits

Madagascar is separated from the African continent by the Mozambique Channel, which is 400 kilometers (250 miles) wide. Madagascar's deepest coastal indentation is Antongila Bay, at the northeastern part of the island.

Islands and Archipelagos

Small volcanic islands, including Nosy Mitsio and Nosy Be, border the northwestern coast. The only such island to the east is Nosy Boraha, south of Antongila Bay.

Coastal Features

Sandy beaches cover most of the narrow eastern coastal plain. South of Antongila Bay, the shoreline is almost perfectly straight and it becomes relatively smooth once again to the north, terminating in a sharp point beyond the smaller Antsiranana Bay. The western coast is more irregular and indented. The northwest section is fringed with coral reefs, bordered by small islands, and broken up by a number of estuaries and bays, including Bombetoka and Ampasindava Bays. Farther south, the coastline, although curved, is smoother, with mangrove trees and small dunes at its edges.


Madagascar has a number of volcanic lakes, of which only a few are of significant size. The largest is Lake Alaotra in the northeast, on the Ankaratra Plateau. There is a large saltwater lake, Lake Tsimanampetsotsa, at the southwestern end of the island, near Toliara.


The short rivers on the eastern part of the island rush down the steep slopes of the escarpment that borders the coastal plain and either drain into the coastal lagoons or form rapids and waterfalls that cascade into the ocean. These rivers include the Mananara, Faraony, Ivondro, and Maningory. On the western part of the island, the rivers flow sluggishly westward across a broad coastal zone. The major western rivers include the Mangoky, Tsiribihina, Betsiboka, Onilahy, and Manambajo. The mouths of these riverswhich are longer and larger than those of the rivers in the eastare frequently blocked by sandbars.


Arid conditions produce a desert environment in the southernmost part of the island, which is characterized by spiny desert vegetation resembling that found at the same latitude on the African continent.


The coastal plain in the eastern part of the country is about 48 kilometers (30 miles) wide and is composed of alluvial soil. The sloping coastal region to the west ranges in width from 97 to 201 kilometers (60 to 125 miles).


Some of Madagascar's highest mountains are of volcanic origin, including those of the Tsaratanana and Ankaratra Massifs. In the north, the Tsaratanana Massif, which separates the northernmost region from the rest of the country, includes the country's highest point, Mount Maromokotro (2,876 meters/9,436 feet). The Ankaratra Massif, which occupies the center of the island, forms a watershed between three river basins; its highest point is Mount Tsiafajavona (2,642 meters/8,668 feet). To the south, the granite expanse of the Andringitra Massif rises to 2,658 meters (8,720 feet) at its highest point. The low Ambohitra Mountains at the northernmost part of the island contain a number of volcanic craters.


There are extensive caves underneath the expanses of jagged, needle-like limestone pinnacles, called tsingy, found in parts of the Ankaratra Plateau.


The central plateau has average elevations of 800 to 1,400 meters (2,500 to 4,500 feet), but it rises to heights of over 2,438 meters (8,000 feet) in several places. Wide areas of the plateau are covered by rounded hills of nearly uniform height, but there is still topographical diversity in these highlands, which include terraced valleys and rolling pastureland. Elevation is gradually steeper in the east, with the Ankaratra Plateau bordered by the sheer Cliff of Angavo (the Great Cliff). The descent is more gradual in the south and west.


Running parallel to the eastern coast for some 644 kilometers (400 miles) is a narrow, artificial waterway called the Pangalanes Canal that links a series of lagoons.


The lemur, Madagascar's most distinctive wildlife species, descended from primates thought to have reached the island by floating on logs millions of years ago. Lemurs on Madagascar evolved independently of monkeys and other primate species.



Eveleigh, Mark. Maverick in Madagascar. London: Lonely Planet, 2001.

Kottak, Conrad Phillip. The Past in the Present: History, Ecology, and Cultural Variation in Highland Madagascar. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1980.

Lanting, Frans. Madagascar: A World Out of Time. Photographs and text by Frans Lanting. Essays by Alison Jolly and John Mack. New York: Aperture, 1990.

Web Sites

The Living Edens. (accessed April 12, 2003).

Lonely Planet World Guide: Destination Madagascar. (accessed April 24, 2003).

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Basic Data

Official Country Name: Republic of Madagascar
Region (Map name): Africa
Population: 15,982,563
Language(s): French, Malayasy
Literacy rate: 80.0%
Area: 587,040 sq km
GDP: 3,878 (US$ millions)
Number of Television Stations: 1
Number of Television Sets: 325,000
Television Sets per 1,000: 20.3
Number of Radio Stations: 14
Number of Radio Receivers: 3,050,000
Radio Receivers per 1,000: 190.8
Number of Individuals with Computers: 35,000
Computers per 1,000: 2.2
Number of Individuals with Internet Access: 30,000
Internet Access per 1,000: 1.9

Located in the Indian Ocean east of southern Africa, Madagascar, the fourth largest island on earth, is known for its unique mammals, birds, and plants. Many of the 15 million Malagasy people are descendants of Africans and Indonesians.

An astonishing and little known fact of Madagascar's history involves the pre-Holocaust suggestion by Hitler's henchmen Hermann Goring in 1938 and Heinrich Himmler in 1940, that 4 million European Jews be forcibly emigrated to this distant and remote island. After the war, Madagascar gained independence from French colonialism (1960) and since then has had a checkered political situation with a series of military and civilian rulers.

Although Malagasy is the official language, French is most often spoken and written. An average of 88 percent of Madagascar's males and 73 percent of its females over the age of 15 can read and write. The major religions of Madagascar are indigenous beliefs (52 percent), Christianity (41 percent), and Muslim (7 percent). Widespread poverty in Madagascar reduces life expectancy to the mid-50s.

The major daily newspapers in Madagascar include Midi-Madagasikara, The Madagascar Tribune, and L'Express, all privately owned, written mainly in French and circulated from the capital, Antananarivo. Gazetiko, written in Malagasy, is also printed in Antananarivo. Maresaka, Basy-Vava, Imongo, and Vaovao are also published daily.

Weekly newspapers include the French Dans Les Medias Domains (In the Media Tomorrow), which has a large circulation in outlying areas while Lakroa N'Y Madagasikara, written mostly in Malagasy, is a Roman Catholic weekly which also reaches remote areas. Feon'ny Merina (Voice of the Merina) is a weekly newspaper in Malagasy and is directed at Merina people of Malay origin.

Monthly newsmagazines include the French Revue de l'Ocean Indien, which contains information and analysis relevant to the people of the Indian Ocean area. Political, legal and economic issues are covered monthly in the mostly French Jureco while every three months, Madagascar Magazine, entirely in French, deals with economic, commercial and cultural issues. Appearing every three months, Vintsy Magazine (two-thirds in Malagasy, one-third in French) deals with ecological issues while Antsa (half in Malagasy, half in French) is dedicated to artists and culture.

Madagascar's economy is primarily agricultural with some textile manufacturing and agricultural products processing. Economic growth and per capita incomes have sharply declined since the 1970s partly due to the government's lack of commitment. Persistent malnutrition and poorly funded education and health care are ongoing concerns.

Theoretically, press law is founded upon Article Ten of Madagascar's Constitution: "Freedom of opinion and expression, communicationand conscience shall be guaranteed to all and may be limited only in respect of the rights and liberties of others andto safeguard public order." More specifically, Article Eleven assures, "Information in all forms shall be subject to no prior restraint[however] conditions of freedom of information and its responsibility shall be determined by law and by codes of professional ethics."

In practice, human rights organizations point out that Madagascar's government has been known sometimes to pressure media personnel to avoid coverage of issues contrary to the government's interests. Likewise, politicians opposed to the ruling regime are denied access to state-run media. Journalists are strongly encouraged to practice "self-censorship."

In the late 1990s, the frequency and seriousness of censorship incidents increased in Madagascar. In 1998 the editor-in-chief of L'Express and a reporter were sentenced to three months in prison for contempt of court.

In 2000 a journalist was threatened with dismissal for his reports about government censorship of opposition politicians. Another journalist publicly disagreed with a local government official and was physically attacked by him. A radio reporter, beaten by a government official, was sentenced to prison for broadcasting negative information about the official. One journalist asserted that politicians use physical violence and intimidation rather than the courts to redress their grievances against journalists.

In 2001 journalists insisted that a member of the legislature's opposition party who was imprisoned for six months on an allegedly trumped up charge was really punished for criticizing the President. While reporting on government opposition rallies in early 2002, an editorial in the Midi Madagasikara urged the government not to "shoot the messenger" that reports the news and implored the public to fight for free media.

In the area of broadcast media, Madagascar has three main TV stations: RTM, Radio-Television Malagasy, state owned; RTA, Radio-Television Analamanga, privately owned; and MATV, Madagascar TV, privately owned. RTA and MATV broadcast mostly to Antananarivo and its nearby areas.

Radio news is broadcast from privately owned FM stations such as Radio Lazan Iarivo (Glory of Iarivo), Radio Korail, and Radio Antsiva; all three are based in Antananarivo. RNM (Malagasy National Radio) is state owned. Radio Don Bosco, a Catholic FM station, operates only in the capital area. Radio Feon'ny Merina, privately owned, targets Merina people of Malay origin, while Radio Tsioka Vao, privately owned, is known to be pro-government. In total the government owns 17 AM and three FM stations. In 2002 the news media exhorted the public to be aware that many radio journalists are forced to articulate a pro-government point of view.

The electronic media in Madagascar is disproportionately sophisticated in that each daily newspaper is available on the Internet, yet there are only two Internet service providers.

In the years to come, the uncomfortable relationship between Madagascar's unstable and volatile political situation and its independent journalists will define the extent to which vibrancy, openness, and fairness will characterize Madagascar's print, electronic, and broadcast media.


"Africa Countries: Madagascar," 2002. Available from

"Madagascar." CIA: The World Factbook, 2002. Available from

"Madagascar." World Press Freedom Review, 2002. Available from

Howard A. Kerner

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587,040sq km (226,656sq mi)



capital (population):

Antananarivo (875,200)



ethnic groups:

Merina 27%, Betsimisaraka 15%, Betsileo 11%, Tsimihety 7%, Sakalava 6%


Malagasy (official), French, English


Christianity 51%, traditional beliefs 47%, Islam 2%


Malagasy franc = 100 centimes

Island republic in the Indian Ocean, off the e coast of Mozambique. Madagascar, the world's fourth-largest island, lies 390km (240mi) off the se coast of Africa. In the w, a wide coastal plain gives way to a central highland region, mostly between 600m and 1220m (2000ft to 4000ft). This is Madagascar's most densely populated region and home of the capital, Antananarivo. The land rises in the n to the volcanic peak of Tsaratanana, at 2876m (9436ft). The land slopes off in the e to a narrow coastal strip.

Climate and Vegetation

Antananarivo lies in the tropics, but altitude greatly moderates temperatures. Winters (April to September) are dry, but heavy rain falls in summer. The e coastlands are warm and humid, while the w is drier.

Grass and scrub grow in the s. Forest and tropical savanna once covered much of Madagascar, but farming cleared large areas, destroying natural habitats and seriously threatening the island's unique and diverse wildlife.

History and Politics

Africans and Indonesians arrived more than 1400 years ago, and Muslims arrived in the 9th century. In the early 17th century, Portuguese missionaries vainly sought to convert the native population. The 17th century saw the creation of small kingdoms. In the early 19th century, the Merina began to subdue smaller tribes, and by the 1880s they controlled nearly all the island.

In 1896, the French defeated the Merina, abolished the monarchy, and Malagasy became a French colony. In 1942, the British overthrew Vichy colonial rule and the Free French reasserted control. In 1946–48 France brutally crushed a rebellion against colonial rule, killing perhaps as many as 80,000 islanders.

Malagasy became a republic in 1958, and achieved full independence in 1960. President Philibert Tsiranana's autocratic government adopted unpopular policies such as the advocacy of economic ties with South Africa's apartheid regime. In 1972, the military took control of government. In 1975, Malagasy was renamed Madagascar, and Lieutenant Commander Didier Ratsiraka became president. He proclaimed martial law, banned opposition parties, and nationalized many industries.

In 1992 Ratsiraka bowed to political pressure and approved a new, democratic constitution. In 1993 multiparty elections, Albert Zafy became president. Zafy was impeached in 1996, and Ratsiraka regained the presidency in 1997 elections. In 2000, floods and tropical storms devastated Madagascar. Political and ethnic violence followed the presidential elections of 2001, in which Marc Ravalomanana defeated Ratsiraka.


Madagascar is one of the world's poorest countries (2000 GDP per capita, US$800). Deforestation and overgrazing badly eroded the land. Farming, fishing, and forestry employ about 80% of the workforce. Food and livestock form 66% of all exports. The major cash crop is coffee. Madagascar produces about 66% of the world's natural vanilla. Other exports include cloves, sisal, and sugar. Madagascar's food crops include bananas, cassava, rice, and sweet potatoes. Madasgacar's 150,000 unique species of plants and animals may encourage eco-tourism.

Political map

Physical map


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Culture Name


Alternative Names

Malagasy refer to themselves and their language as Malagasy and their country as Madagasikara. French speakers refer to the people and the language as Malgache and the nation as Madagascar.


Identification. The official name of the country is the Republic of Madagascar (Repoblikan'i Madagasikara ). The extent to which Malagasy from different regions view themselves as sharing a unified culture is context dependent. In terms of international politics, they see themselves as Malagasy unless they are recent immigrants or members of one of the minority populations (i.e., Chinese, Indo-Pakistani, and Comorian). Domestically, however, in the political arena, there is a significant degree of regionalism that is loosely based on ethnicity.

A common regional division is between those ethnic groups living on the high plateau and the côtiers, who inhabit coastal areas (or live outside of the high plateau region). Historically, the largest ethnic group is the Merina located on the high plateau. The traditions of this group (e.g., turning the bones of the dead) represent many Malagasy, and are often portrayed in tourist documents as the primary island traditions. However, people who live in some outlying coastal regions do not identify with or observe these traditions. The highland/côtier division can be understood in terms of the historical domination by the Merina Empire, which was originally centered on Imerina (the current capital Antananarivo).

There are some common cultural practices that all Malagasy share. Consulting with, and reflecting upon, dead ancestors (razana ) guides the living in making choices about social, moral, and religious aspects of everyday life. The building and maintenance of tombs and observance of religious ceremonies related to ancestors are central to the way of life for most Malagasy. Another important commonality is that kinship terminology is consistent across different ethnic groups.

Location and Geography. Madagascar is located off the eastern coast of southern Africa in the Indian Ocean along the Mozambique Channel. It is the fourth largest island in the world with a landmass of 226,498 square miles (586,889 square kilometers) which includes its offshore islands. It is one thousand miles long (1,609 kilometers).

Regional ethnic divisions loosely coincide with geographically distinct locations. To some extent internal migration has resulted in sharing some customs such as spirit possession (tromba ). The West Coast is characterized by deciduous trees on dry, open savanna grassland sloping toward the sea. It was once, like much of the island, thickly forested. Sakalava is the dominant ethnic group in this region. They are involved in agriculture fishing, and cattle herding. The East Coast consists of several narrow bands of lowlands that lead to an intermediate zone of steep bluffs and ravines abutting a 1650 foot escarpment which provides access to the central highlands. The Betsimisaraka, the second largest ethnic group, is the most numerous group pursuing trading, seafaring, fishing, and cultivation. The Southwest is defined by the Ivakoany Massif to the east and by the Isala Roiniforme Massif to the north and includes the Mahafaly Plateau and the desert region. The arid southwest is inhabited by Antandroy and Mahafaly who pursue cattle raising and limited cultivation. The northern end of the island features the Tsaratanana Massif with an elevation of 9,500 feet. The coastline is very irregular. The Antankarana inhabiting this region are involved in cattle raising and tropical horticulture. The High Plateau (Central Highlands) contains a wide range of topographies: round eroded hills, granite outcroppings, extinct volcanoes, and alluvial plains and marshes. It is defined by an escarpment along the east coast and a more gradual slope along the west coast. The predominant ethnic groups are the Merina and the Betsileo. The capital, Antananarivo, located in this region, is the largest town, with over one million people, and is an ethnic melting pot. The Betsileo live south of the Merina and are considered the best rice farmers in Madagascar.

Demography. Madagascar's total estimated population in 1998 was 14,462,509. In 1998, the age structure of the population was 45 percent between 0-14 years; 52 percent 15-64 years; and 3 percent over 65 years. The annual population growth rate is 2.81 percent. Life expectancy at birth is 51.7 years for men and 54.1 years for women. The fertility rate is 5.76 children born per woman. The average population density is 36 inhabitants per square mile. Over 18 ethnic groups live on the island including: Merina 26.1 percent; Betsimisaraka 14.9 percent; Betsileo 12.0 percent; Tsimihety 7.2 percent; Sakalava 5.8 percent; Antandroy 5.3 percent; Antaisaka 5.0 percent; Tanala 3.8 percent; Antaimoro 3.4 percent; Bara 3.3 percent; Sihanaka 2.4 percent; Antanosy 2.3 percent; and Mahafaly, Antaifasy, Makoa, Bezanozano, Antakarana, Antambahoaka (less than 2 percent each).

Linguistic Affiliation. The official language of Madagascar is Standard Malagasy (Malagasy Official). This language can be traced to the Malayo-Polynesian language family. Standard Malagasy taken from the Merina dialect was the first dialect to be written in Latin characters and is considered the literary dialect. The most similar language found outside of Madagascar is Ma'anyan, a language spoken in Borneo. Both Malagasy and Ma'anyan are similar to languages spoken on the western Indonesian archipelago. There are twenty-two dialects of Malagasy. Many of the dialects borrow from Bantu languages, Swahili, Arabic, English, and French. The government claims that all Malagasy can speak the Standard dialect because that is what is taught in schools. However, given the multiple array of dialects, and varying levels of literacy depending on the degree of isolation of an area, one cannot assume that the Malagasy from one region can understand the dialects spoken in other regions.

French emerged as the dominant language during the colonial period (18961960) and Malagasy became secondary. In 1972 Malagasy returned to prominence in education and related cultural changes led to the rejection of French influence. However, by 1982 it was evident that the "Malagachization" of society was failing and the government began to use French again. Today both Malagasy and French are used in government publications. Comorian, Hindi, and Chinese are also spoken by some immigrants.

Symbolism. The flag, divided into three colors, is considered a national symbol and is found in all government buildings. A white rectangle, representing purity, is located on the left horizontal axis. Smaller red and green rectangles, signifying sovereignty and spirit, are placed on the horizontal axis, red over green. The motto is "Fatherland, Revolution, Freedom." The president is a symbol of national unity or ray aman-dreny (father and mother of the nation). The national anthem, Ry tanindrazanay malala ("Oh, My Beautiful Country that I Love"), is written in Malagasy Official. The song is intended to inspire sentiment and loyalty.

History and Ethnic Relations

Emergence of the Nation. The Malagasy people are of mixed Malayo-Indonesian and African-Arab ancestry. It is generally accepted that the first migrants appeared between 1,500 and 2,100 years ago. One migration theory asserts that what is considered the Malagasy mix arrived already blended having followed a coastal route over a long period with stops in India, the Arab peninsula, and eastern Africa. Another theory contends that the common elements the people share were developed from interactions over a period of time after the arrival of various immigrants groups.

National Identity. Malagasy history has been marked by both international and domestic tensions, some of which are present in contemporary society. During the eighteenth and nineteenth century there were four main kingdoms: Merina, Betsileo, Betsimisaraka, and Sakalava. Friction between the Merinas, the largest ethnic group, and the other ethnic groups during the pre-colonial period eventually resulted in domination by the Merina Empire. Ethnic groups that controlled regions outside of the high plateau were classified as a single group called côtiers even though they were made up of unaligned kingdoms. Two Merina monarchs were responsible for establishing political dominance over the island: King Andrianampoinimerina (reigned 1797-1810) and his son Radama I (r. 1810-1828) who succeeded him upon his death. Radama I was forward-thinking with an interest in modernizing along western lines. He organized a cabinet and invited the London Missionary Society to establish schools. The latter action was to have far-reaching effects. Successive Merina rulers embraced or rejected advances made by France to control the island. In 1894 France declared Madagascar a protectorate, and a colony in 1896. The colonial period was marked by the vacillating popularity of French influence over Merina elites. Nationalist sentiments against the French emerged resulting in various concessions made by France to give the Malagasy people greater control. This eventually led to independence on 20 June 1960. Political tensions between the main Malagasy groups (high plateau and côtier) still exists today and are characterized by the perception that the central government does not meet the needs of the côtiers. Each of Madagascar's presidents has struggled to achieve a viable cultural balance between the acceptance of western ways of life, most notably French, and the safeguarding of traditional Malagasy customs. That which has emerged as quintessentially Malagasy in the national sense is a constantly evolving product of all of these influences.

Urbanism, Architecture, and the Use of Space

Madagascar has a primarily rural population, with fewer people living on the west coast and more in the high plateau. The most crowded city is the capital, Antananarivo.

There are several distinct styles of architecture. A vast majority of government buildings in the capital and regional urban centers were built during the colonial period showing a French influence. However, there are two distinct traditional architectural styles evident in the country. The style of homes built on the high plateau differs markedly from homes found elsewhere due to a heavy reliance on local materials. Homes on the high plateau tend to be multistoried and are constructed of mud bricks that are plastered with a hard drying mud coat that is then painted. Verandas are often made of elaborate scrolled woodwork. The countryside in this region has homes enclosed by ancient mud walls and newly constructed brick walls. Homes in coastal regions are often built on a raised platform in areas with high rainfall and on the ground in drier areas. These homes tend to be much smaller with one or two rooms and are made of bamboo-like materials. The type of materials used signifies a past or present economic status. In most cases, manmade materials such as corrugated metal or cement are more desirable than natural materials as they last longer and signify greater prestige.

The situational aspect of homes and important buildings are considered very important. The most desirable direction for the primary roof line is north-south. Homes, cattle pens, family tombs, and the village are aligned in relation to this orientation. As recently as the 1950s it was common to find the interior furnishings of homes arranged in a traditional fashion in keeping with the Malagasy cosmological conception of the world being square and horizontal. For example, the bed was located in the northeast, the greeting place for guests in the northwest corner, and the cooking hearth in the middle of the western side of the house. Although some people still follow traditional customs of the placement of objects, the practice is in decline. Those in coastal regions that can afford to buy furniture tend to acquire a bed frame or sofa and wooden table. A single room serves multiple functions.

Food and Economy

Food in Daily Life. Rice is the staple of the Malagasy diet. It is usually accompanied by some form of kabaka (a protein dish such as fish, meat, chicken, or beans). In some parts of the island a side dish (romazava ) made of green leafy vegetables in broth is common. Generally, side dishes serve to add flavor to the rice rather than provide nutrients. Most Malagasy entrees are prepared in one of four ways: fried, grilled, boiled in water, or cooked with coconut juice. A spicy condiment known as lasary in Malagasy and made of chili peppers, green mangos, or lemons can be added to enhance flavor. Food is generally prepared in a kitchen that is physically separated from the main house for fire safety. Meals are served in the house, on the veranda, or on mats placed on the ground outside the house. Lunch and dinner leftovers are warmed for breakfast the following morning. Breakfast consists of rice and a tea made of local herbs or leaves and sweetened with sugar. Some alternate breakfast foods include boiled manioc, maize porridge, or fried cakes made of rice flour. Water is the usual beverage served with meals. Rano ampango (water boiled in the rice cooking pot) is sometimes served.

Food taboos (fady ) tend to be passed down within family groups and along ethnic lines. Some fady apply to daily life and some are observed during special circumstances such as pregnancy and lactation. Fady indrazana, taboos related to ancestral lineage, link Malagasy to their ethnic groups. For example, it is fady for most Sakalava to eat pork or eel. For Antandroy, sea turtle and cows without horns are taboo. When a man and woman from different ethnic groups marry, it is common for a woman to observe both her and her husband's fady indrazana as well as the fady which apply to both ethnic groups during pregnancy and lactation.

Vegetables such as carrots, cauliflower, cabbage, potatoes, peppers, and zucchini are available year round. Fruit such as pineapples, coconuts, oranges, mangoes, bananas, apples, and leeche are subject to seasonal availability. Although improved transportation in recent years has increased the availability of such foods to isolated regions, they are generally unaffordable on a regular basis. Therefore, although a wide variety of foods is available, a significant portion of the population remains undernourished.

Traditional Malagasy restaurants (hotely ) offer a plate of rice with a scoop of one of several kinds of stews. The geographical location of the hotely is often an indicator of what is offered. For example, hotelys along the coast will offer fish more frequently than those in the highlands. Restaurants in most major urban centers serve European-style Malagasy, French, Chinese, and Italian cuisine. French-style baguettes, pasta, and other non-traditional Malagasy cuisine can be found in villages near urban centers.

Food Customs at Ceremonial Occasions. For ceremonial meals and special occasions, extra meat is added to stews. Depending on a family's financial ability, traditional ceremonies such as burials, reburials, circumcision, tomb building, first hair cutting, and the coming out of the house of a newborn often involve the sacrifice of at least one zebu, a local breed of hump-back cow. Many families will serve one of several local alcoholic beverages such as palm wine, grain alcohol, rum, or beer. Family and friends assemble and participate in some aspect of ceremonial preparations. A person or family's adherence to ceremonial protocol pays respect to one's ancestors. The ultimate show of prestige is the ability to provide sacrificial cattle for ceremonies. The number of cattle slaughtered indicates the level of prosperity and the intent of honoring ancestors.

Catholics attempt to observe traditional practices and Muslims observe Ramadan.

Basic Economy. Agriculture is the basis of the economy providing approximately 80 percent of exports in 1993, which in turn constitutes 33 percent of the gross domestic product (GDP). The other two-thirds of the GDP were comprised of industry at 15 percent and services at 52 percent. Eighty percent of the labor force was employed in the agricultural sector in 1993. The majority of the population exists at subsistence level growing rice. Just over one-half of the total landmass supports livestock but only 16 percent of land under cultivation is irrigated.

Imports from France, Japan, Hong Kong, Singapore, and the United States included intermediate manufactures, capital goods, petroleum, consumer goods, and food.

Land Tenure and Property. There are two types of land tenure regimes in Madagascar: a customary system and a state system. Customary tenure systems are generally comprised of holdings and commons. Holdings consist of rice paddies or agricultural land, individual trees, and irrigation canals. Commons include pastureland, water resources (in some instances irrigation canals), and selected forest lands. State tenure systems are governed by written laws and regulations. Communities have clearly defined rules and procedures which resolve civil conflicts as well as disagreements over access to and control of resources. It is common in some places for customary and state tenure systems to be simultaneously applied. A right of passage law gives people the right to pass through private land. Recently there has been government movement toward creating local security teams to supervise adherence to land tenure laws.

Only Malagasy may own land. It is possible to lease land through either formal or informal channels. A formal lease can be short or long term and confer the indefinite right to occupy and use the land. Informal leasing commonly consists of a verbal agreement giving the user rights to the land. In return, the lessee gives one-third of the harvest or something of equivalent value to the owner. In 19841985, the average farm size was three acres.

Commercial Activities. Commercial activities in Madagascar vary by region. Although a significant proportion of the population lives at the subsistence level, many of these people sell modest surpluses of agricultural produce to purchase basic necessities, such as matches, soap, and petrol. Agrarian production includes coffee, vanilla, sugarcane, cloves, cocoa, rice, cassava, beans, bananas, peanuts, and livestock.

Major Industries. A European embargo on shrimp and fin fish production in 1997, resulting from concerns about adherence to internationally approved standards of hygiene, had a devastating impact on this relatively new and growing industry.

Major industries include meat processing, soap, beer, leather, sugar, textiles, glassware, cement, automobile assembly, paper, petroleum, and tourism. Tourism was one of the fastest growing industries in the 1990s with a significant increase in the number of hotel beds available in the capital, Antananarivo, and tourist destinations. Natural resources include graphite, chromite, coal, bauxite, salt, quartz, tar sands, semiprecious stones, mica, and fish.

Trade. Commodities exports to France, the United States, Japan, and Italy include coffee, vanilla, cloves, shellfish, sugar; and petroleum products.

Division of Labor. The division of labor by formal sector relative to gross domestic product is agriculture, 33 percent; industry, 15 percent; and services, 52 percent. The informal sector is focused primarily in agriculture.

Social Stratification

Classes and Castes. Society consists of a small elite class whose wealth, power, and influence is several generations old; a small bourgeois class; and a large lower class. The gross national product per capita was $250 in 1997. Madagascar experienced a negative growth rate in the latter part of the twentieth century which resulted in its decline in World Bank ranking based on GNP from the thirtieth poorest country in 1979 ($290 per capita) to the tenth poorest in 1991.

Changes in society since independence have resulted in the establishment of an elite class that overlaps with the pre-independence elite (based on connections to royal lineage and French patronage). Increased importance has been placed recently on access to state power for self-enrichment, resulting in an increase in the number of people who have acquired wealth through association with government. Distinctions between the old Merina elite whose wealth was generated from private industry and the new state based côtier elite is becoming blurred.

Malagasy identify themselves in large part by their ancestry. Numerous kingdoms populated the island prior to colonization by the French. Early Merina society was divided into four cast groups: andriana (nobles), hova (commoners), and mainty and andevo (slave groups). The Sakalava kingdom included a royal caste (ampanzaka ) and descendants of African slaves (makoa ). During French colonial rule attempts were made to undermine the royal power of the Merina and Sakalava. Prior to colonial influences, hereditary leaders had both social and political power, but this has softened in the post-colonial period. Although living royalty is recognized in some ethnic groups such as the Sakalava, their power is now limited to the local social sphere with political power managed by state-appointed functionaries. There is a basic split within most ethnic groups between those who are descended from free men and from slaves. The closeness of specific clan groups to royalty is a highly valued form of social prestige.

The differential access to education found in Madagascar dates back to imperial times. Descendants of nobles and key common families who controlled their land, slaves, and trade dominated nineteenth century Merina society. This "Merina bourgeoisie" has been perpetuated in contemporary society as slaves became sharecroppers, investments were made in land and small business, and favored access to education was transformed to preferred placement in high government position in colonial and post-colonial governments. This bourgeois class now includes the families of highly-placed politicians of non-Merina ethnic groups involved in post-colonial politics. A key focus of the 1972 uprising was reform of the educational system. Discontent focused on a structure of privilege. Some attacked the principle of privilege while others objected to being excluded from it.

Symbols of Social Stratification. Styles of dress vary by region but primarily follow western norms with males wearing pants and shirts and females wearing dresses or skirts and blouses. It is common for women to cover their lower outer garments with a traditional wrap (lamba ). Often an additional matching cloth will be used as a shawl to cover shoulders and head. Men may also wrap their lower half with a lamba rather than pants. A distinguishing feature of people of the high plateau is a white wrap worn for special occasions that both men and women drape over outer garments on their shoulders. Straw hats vary in style, indicating either where the hat was made or where the wearer is from.

Political Life

Government. Since independence from France in 1960, Madagascar has been a democratic republic. Since independence, while the country has struggled with economic and political insecurity, Madagascar has moved from post-colonial democracy, to a transitional military government, to a socialist regime, to a parliamentary democracy. The current constitutional framework was approved on 19 August 1992. Currently the president is elected by universal suffrage to a five-year term with a two-term limit. The bicameral parliament is comprised of a senate and national assembly. The prime minister is nominate by the parliament and approved by the president. The system is one of proportional representation which has resulted in many independent parties. In the 1993 elections more than one hundred twenty political parties supported four thousand candidates for one hundred thirty-eight seats.

An unwritten law regarding government relates back to the côtier -high plateau split. It is understood that when a president is elected from one group, then the prime minister will be appointed from the opposing group.

The country is divided into six provinces (faritany ) which serve as administrative subdivisions. The provinces are further divided into counties (fivondronana ), which in turn are divided into villages (fokontany ). The village is the smallest administrative unit, with a state-appointed president (usually already a state functionary such as a schoolteacher or nurse). The village president serves with locally appointed village elders (rayamandreny antanana ) on a local security committee. This system of government is called the fokonolona and handles all matter of civil concerns allowing for a limited degree of self rule. Tension continues between those wanting to maintain a centralized government and those wishing to give greater power to provincial administrators in an effort to decentralize.

Contemporary political connections can be traced back to pre-colonial monarchies ruled by Merina and Sakalava kings and queens. The only kings and queens who ruled over all of Madagascar, as compared to regional kingdoms, were Merina. This "old" power was confronted with the "new" post-colonial authority of Madagascar's three presidents since independence, all of whom are côtiers born of one of the minority ethnic groups found along the coast. This resulted from a political maneuver originally influenced by the French and Merina politicians who believed that a Merina president would never survive long in office given the historical ethnic tensions between Merina and most other ethnic groups which when combined outnumber the Merina population.

Leadership and Political Officials. There are two established parties that have adequate infrastructure and financial support to gain island-wide influence. The Vanguard of the Malagasy Revolution (AREMA) was initially represented as a coalition of pro-government parties. The Committee of Living Forces (CFV) is an opposition group composed of approximately sixteen parties.

Social Problems and Control. The Malagasy Penal Code is based on the French system and has been influenced by Malagasy customary law. The most severe punishments are death and forced labor for life.

There are three levels of courts. The lower courts oversee civil and criminal cases with limited fines and sentences. The supreme court is the highest court. The court of appeals is responsible for criminal cases with sentences of five or greater years. The constitutional high court reviews laws and monitors elections. A military court oversees cases involving national security.

Conditions in the national prison system are harsh. Cells that were built for one house as many as eight prisoners. The families of prisoners must augment insufficient food rations. Street crime in larger cities, including muggings and purse snatching, is on the rise. Penalties for drug trafficking are strict and involve jail sentences and fines. Local security counsels are the focal point of smaller village level crimes where self-policing is important.

Military Activity. In 1994 the military budget was an estimated $37.6 million (U.S.) which represented approximately 1 percent of the gross domestic product (GDP). The military consists of about twenty thousand army, five hundred navy, one hundred marine, and five hundred air force personnel. Military service begins at 20 years of age.

Social Welfare and Change Programs

A social security system reserves a portion of earned income for the retirement of every person who participates. Unfortunately, due to the subsistence nature of the economy, 96 percent of the labor force does not receive money wages, and only a small percentage of the population participates.

Nongovernmental Organizations and Other Associations

Since the liberalization of the economy and the strengthening of ties to the West in the early 1990s, there has been a noticeable increase in the number of foreign aid programs. A vast array of organizations have focused on environmental, health, and development issues. Environmental organizations such as Conservation International and the World Wildlife Fund have dealt with the loss of habitat and species extinction through educational programs and improvements to the management of protected areas. Social welfare organizations such as Care International, Catholic Relief Services, and the Red Cross have focused on educational efforts to improve, for example, the utilization of oral rehydration salts and family planning, and provide feeding programs to the nutritionally vulnerable. Bilateral organizations such as the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and other foreign agencies as well as multilateral organizations such as those funded by United Nations programs (e.g., UNICEF, UNDP, and UNESCO) are also involved in similar efforts.

Gender Roles and Statuses

The Relative Status of Women and Men. Recent laws have begun to emphasize the importance of equal treatment of men and women in certain spheres. Women are to receive the same wages as their male counterparts for the same work. In the political arena, an increasing number of women from the high plateau are entering politics. Although new laws improve the rights of women, men are still given greater consideration in social and religious roles. Men are generally the primary money earners. Although women frequently engage in petty commerce to supplement their household budget, they rely upon their husband's earnings. Even though men and women are capable of participating in all forms of activities, men focus their efforts on economic and women on household and familial activities.

Marriage, Family, and Kinship

Marriage. Traditional, civil, and church-sanctioned marriages are recognized, with one or more types applying in any given case. Regardless of the form of marriage, most unions today are formed by joint consent with the institution of arranged marriage decreasing in frequency. When a family does arrange a marriage, it is generally with the purpose of securing or strengthening familial and social relationships. Marriage patterns vary according to socioeconomic status and have political implications in that they are intended to preserve or increase wealth, power, and prestige. However, the majority of marriages are traditional in nature as are most divorces. Long after a union may have dissolved the children of that union give continued meaning to familial obligation.

Specific customs may differ by ethnic group. The Betsileo, for example, will arrange a marriage only after scrutinizing at least three generations of the family of the potential spouse. If satisfied with their findings, the family will then consult an astrologer to set a date. In the Bara, where it is common for cousins to marry, a grandmother can arrange a marriage by decree between the children of her children. Once she has died this marriage must be performed to avoid angering ancestors. For Bara a marriage is established after the sacrifice of one cow. Among some Sakalava in the northwest there is no ceremony to mark the marriage aside from moving in together.

In precolonial times polygyny was viewed as a sign of success. The institution of men maintaining more than one wife and household varies across the island and is generally refereed to as deuxieme bureau (second office) or vady aro, telo, or efetra (second, third, or fourth wife). It is estimated in some areas that more than 50 percent of adult men simultaneously maintain two or more wives and households at some point in their lives.

Divorce is a common occurrence. By the age of forty, most Malagasy have been involved in several successive marital unions. Reasons for the dissolution of marriages are fairly specific, including the infidelity of either spouse (although this does not always lead to divorce); neglect of duties as a husband (he does not provide adequate food); or neglect of duties as a wife (she does not care adequately for those in her charge or does not spend household money wisely). All property acquired during a marriage is considered the property of both and is divided equally if the union terminates.

Domestic Unit. Nuclear households usually are comprised of a male and female household head and the children from their union as well as any children fostered by either the man or woman. It is common to find single female-headed households but single male-headed households are extremely uncommon. Extended family households usually are comprised of an elder male and/or female household head, their unmarried children, and any number of grandchildren who are fostered to grandparents. When marrying, a woman tends to leave her natal home to live with her husband and his family. Some extended families may live in fenced compounds or clustered housing arrangements that house multiple family units.

The division of labor within a household is determined by age and, to some extent, by gender. Children begin playing at doing household tasks such as carrying water and collecting firewood at an early age and generally begin making modest contributions to household work by the time they reach age five. Both men and women learn to do all household tasks; however, women tend to dominate the domestic sphere, caring for family, meals, laundry, and shopping, while men dominate the professional sphere, often farming or fishing away from the home.

Inheritence. Customary inheritance practices pass land and household to male children and the contents of the household such as furnishings and jewelry along to female children. Although current law states that male and female children have equal rights to all of the family resources the cost of taking this to court is too prohibitive for most.

Customary land tenure practices traditionally resulted in land being passed from father to son. Daughters and other relatives inherited land only in the absence of sons. Although current law states that male and female children have equal rights of inheritance, it is still common for land to be given to male children.


Infant Care. Although child-rearing practices may vary somewhat by region, there are common themes between most ethnic groups. Newborn children are kept inside the house for a period of approximately seven days after birth, at which time a small ceremony is performed to celebrate the "coming out" of the child. It is common for mothers to provide foods such as tea to supplement their breast milk. To facilitate easy feedings, an infant sleeps with or near his mother and father until they are completely weaned. At that time the child begins to sleep with siblings. Children are carried on the back of their caregiver, attached by a traditional cloth (lamba ).

Child Rearing and Education. Primary caregivers for small children are the mother and/or father. However, many children will be fostered to other family members such as a grandparent, an aunt, or an uncle from a few months to a few years or for the child's whole life. Older children in a household are generally assigned the task of looking after younger children when an adult is not available. Children are taught from an early age what they are not allowed to do. They are told stories of disobedient children who are cursed by their parents. This preserves ancestral understanding in future generations.

Ceremonies specific to childhood that are focused on life events include the first hair cutting and circumcision. An astrologer will be consulted to choose an auspicious date for these ceremonies.

Education is compulsory from age 6 to 14. This can be difficult to enforce in more remote areas where children make important contributions to the agricultural work force of the household. Education is not seen as separate from other aspects of life. Learning the wisdom of one's elders is often as highly valued, if not more so, as school-based knowledge. Children are expected to be respectful of their elders and their ancestral customs (fomba ). Parents frequently attribute children's personality, particularly when misbehaving, to nature. Destiny, or vintana, a form of cosmology, is used to explain certain aspects of one's personality or future. It is dependent on time, days of the week, and month for interpretation. If one is born with a bad destiny, a diviner must be called upon to change it.

Higher Education. The degree to which higher education is emphasized is relative to its attainability and usefulness. There has historically been an unequal distribution of educational resources over the island which results in unequal representation in administrative and professional positions. The gradual expansion of educational opportunities has resulted in a rise in literacy from 38 percent in 1966 to 80 percent in 1991. Prior to the educational reform resulting from the 1972 uprising, a stratified educational system allowed a small proportion of students to attain a university education. Of these, many were not able to find work. As of the early 1990s, about 5 percent of the student population was able to pursue higher education. In spite of basic improvements, national spending on education has declined from 33 percent in the early 1980s to less than 20 percent in 1993, 95 percent of which was devoted to salaries.


There is some variation in etiquette between ethnic groups but there are idealized behaviors shared by many ethnic groups. With the exception of honored guests, when male and female family members eat together elder men are served first and tend to be given the choicest food. If male and female family members eat in separate groups, the eldest member of each group will be served first. These behaviors are easily identified during ceremonial meals but are much more relaxed in daily practice. Often the youngest children are served before older more dexterous children, so that they will have adequate food. Traditional social norms for interaction such as eating from a common pot that were prevalent as recently as the 1960s are beginning to give way to more Western behavior.


Religious Beliefs. An estimated 52 percent of the people hold indigenous beliefs; 41 percent are Christian (evenly divided between Roman Catholic and Protestant); and 7 percent are Muslim. However, many people hold a combination of indigenous and Christian or Muslim beliefs. The traditionally accepted supreme god is Zanahary (God on High) while Andriamanitra (the King of Heaven) is the Christian god. At the most fundamental level of traditional beliefs and social values is the relationship between the living and dead.

Religious Practitioners. A variety of traditional practitioners provide the functions of diviner, traditional healer, and/or astrologer. Clergy from either the Catholic or Protestant church are consulted alongside traditional practitioners. Illness, misfortune, financial hardships, and relationship problems are frequently connected to the discontent of ancestral spirits, making healers of all traditional practitioners.

Rituals and Holy Places. Burial tombs are a prominent feature of the landscape. The materials used vary depending on region, but the time and money used to construct and maintain them is significant and in many cases more costly than one's own household. The degree of elaboration of tombs reflects the level of privilege of the dead. People often live and work quite a distance from their ancestral tombs (tanindrazana ) with the latter maintaining strong sentimental attachment and a desire to be buried in their natal tombs. Among the Merina and the Betsileo of the high plateau, the ceremony of famadihana is an opportunity to reaffirm one's link with ancestors. Often the deceased are buried temporarily near where they lived. Later, sometimes after many years of planning, the bones are removed from the tomb, wrapped in a new shroud, and transferred to the ancestral tomb. At that time the family decides whether to place the bones in the tomb of the mother or the father depending on group allegiance regarding descent.

Ancestral tombs are considered sacred places particularly royal tombs. In the northwest, as elsewhere in the country, sacred places are abundant. Most villages have a sacred tree or other sacred place nearby.

Death and the Afterlife. Ancestral spirits are regarded as intermediaries between the living and either of the two supreme gods. The dead are viewed as having the power to affect the lives of the living. They are considered the most important members of the family, influencing lives on a day-to-day basis. Razana (ancestors) are the pulse of the life force and the creators of customs (fomba ).

Medicine and Health Care

There is one major government hospital and at least one private hospital in each of the main provincial cities. There are health clinics staffed by nurse midwives in rural areas. In 1993, the average distance to a health clinic was at least three miles; consequently, UNICEF determined that 35 percent of the population did not have adequate access to health resources. Although there were a number of new hospitals and health care centers built during the 1970s and 1980s, economic decline has lead to a deterioration of services between the late 1980s and early 1990s. As of 1994, only 2 percent of the national budget was allocated to health care. The decline in the adequacy of the health care system, coupled with a resurgence in some traditional healing practices due to the post-colonial Malagachization movement, has resulted in increased popularity of traditional healers, particularly in rural areas. Reliance on traditional healers is further motivated by economics because their fees are generally a fraction of the cost of Western treatment.

Traditional herbalists provide a wide array of local remedies for the treatment of specific illnesses. In cities, the local pharmacists may serve this niche. Many Western-trained doctors attempt to support the use of traditional healers, sometimes simultaneously with Western medicine, and focus on educating their patients to recognize when Western medical treatment would be most beneficial. For many Malagasy there is often a connection between ill health and ancestral discontent. A diviner may evoke the power of the ancestors to effect a cure. Sorcerers use amulets, stones, and other objects to cure. Astrologers understand destiny (vintana )so they are consulted to establish auspicious dates for important activities. There are also witch doctors who practice a form of black magic involving poisons and misfortune for one's enemies.

Secular Celebrations

The first of January is New Year's Day. Memorial Day is celebrated 29 March for those who died in the French Malagasy War of 1949. International Women's Day, when women are honored for their contributions, is 30 March. The third Thursday in May is Labor Day, an important holiday for workers. The unity of the Organization of United African Countries is celebrated on 25 May. Madagascar's independence from France in 1960 is celebrated on 26 June. The Celebration of the Dead is held on 1 November and is a day devoted to ancestors and their burial grounds that can involve the building of elaborate tombs. The Anniversary of the II Republic, which began in 1975, is celebrated on 30 December.

The Arts and Humanities

Support for the arts is understandably limited due to the poor economic conditions of the country. The Centre de Culture Albert Camus in Antananarivo hosts local and international performances and exhibits in the fine arts. Although there is little public funding for the fine arts there are many excellent individual artists. There is a growing market both internally and internationally for artisan goods. Hand-crafted objects are made in wood, leather, horn, metal, stone, mineral, clay, cloth, and feathers. Kabary is an elaborate and poetic form of discourse in which the speaker makes a critical point in a indirect fashion.

The State of the Physical and Social Sciences

The unique flora and fauna, coupled with a rapid rate of environmental degradation resulting in loss of habitat, has made Madagascar a popular focus for international physical and social scientists from the United States, France, and other European countries. The University of Madagascar has six main independent branches in Antananarivo, Antsiranana, Fianarantsoa, Toamasina, Toliara, and Mahajunga. Degrees are offered in law, economics, sciences, and letters and human sciences. Of importance is the Institute de CivilisationsMusJe d'Artetd'Archeologie at the University of Antananarivo. The Institute publishes the journal Taloha which includes articles by Malagasy and international social scientists. In addition, there are numerous schools that specialize public administration, management, medicine, social welfare, public works, and agronomy. An excessive number of university students in relation to capacity has resulted in an increasing number of degrees attained at foreign universities for those who can afford it.


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Lisa L. Colburn

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Madagascar A large island lying in the Indian Ocean off the eastern coast of Africa. It became separated from the main mass of Africa at a time when India was migrating northwards across the Indian Ocean, about 95 Ma. Madagascar is famous for the occurrence of primitive prosimians (lemurs) which survive there because of a lack of mammalian predators. Elsewhere, prosimians have been greatly reduced, probably as a result of competition with true monkeys and apes following their appearance in the Oligocene.

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The people of Madagascar are called Malagasy. The original immigrants to Madagascar are believed to have come from East Africa. More recently, immigrants have come from Europe, China, and India. There are about twenty distinct African ethnic groups now recognized on the island. The Merina have been the most powerful group since the late eighteenth century, and resentment of the Merina by the other ethnic groups is a source of social unrest.

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Madagascaralpaca, attacker, backer, clacker, claqueur, cracker, Dhaka, hacker, Hakka, knacker, lacquer, maraca, paca, packer, sifaka, slacker, smacker, stacker, tacker, tracker, whacker, yakka •Kafka •anchor, banker, Bianca, canker, Casablanca, Costa Blanca, flanker, franker, hanker, lingua franca, Lubyanka, rancour (US rancor), ranker, Salamanca, spanker, Sri Lanka, tanka, tanker, up-anchor, wanker •Alaska, lascar, Madagascar, Nebraska •Kamchatka • linebacker • outbacker •hijacker, skyjacker •Schumacher • backpacker •safecracker • wisecracker •nutcracker • firecracker • ransacker •scrimshanker • bushwhacker •barker, haka, Kabaka, Lusaka, marker, moussaka, nosy parker, Oaxaca, Osaka, parka, Shaka, Zarqa •asker, masker •backmarker • waymarker •Becker, checker, Cheka, chequer, Dekker, exchequer, Flecker, mecca, Neckar, Necker, pecker, Quebecker, Rebecca, Rijeka, trekker, weka, wrecker •sepulchre (US sepulcher) • Cuenca •burlesquer, Francesca, Wesker •woodpecker

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