General background: Formerly an independent kingdom,
Madagascar became a French colony in 1886, but regained
its independence in 1960. During 1992-93, free presidential
and National Assembly elections were held, ending
17 years of single-party rule. In 1997, in the second
presidential race, Didier RATSIRAKA, the leader during
the 1970s and 1980s, was returned to the presidency.
The 2001 presidential election was contested between
the followers of Didier RATSIRAKA and Marc RAVALOMANANA,
nearly causing secession of half of the country. In
April 2002 the High Constitutional Court announced
RAVALOMANANA the winner.
Area comparative: Slightly less than twice
the size of Arizona.
Climate: Tropical along coast, temperate inland,
arid in south.
Terrain: Narrow coastal plain, high plateau
and mountains in center.
Population: 16,473,477 (July 2002 est.)
Ethnic groups: Malayo-Indonesian (Merina and
related Betsileo), Cotiers (mixed African, Malayo-Indonesian,
and Arab ancestry - Betsimisaraka, Tsimihety, Antaisaka,
Sakalava), French, Indian, Creole, Comoran
Religions: Indigenous beliefs 52%, Christian
41%, Muslim 7%
Language: French (official), Malagasy (official)
Government type: Republic
Legal system: Based on French civil law system
and traditional Malagasy law; has not accepted compulsory
Economic overview: Madagascar faces problems
of chronic malnutrition, underfunded health and education
facilities, a roughly 3% annual population growth
rate, and severe loss of forest cover, accompanied
by erosion. Agriculture, including fishing and forestry,
is the mainstay of the economy, accounting for one-third
of GDP and contributing more than 70% to export earnings.
Industry features textile manufacturing and the processing
of agricultural products. Growth in output in 1992-97
averaged less than the growth rate of the population.
Growth has been held back by antigovernment strikes
and demonstrations, a decline in world coffee prices,
and the erratic commitment of the government to economic
reform. The extent of government reforms, outside
financial aid, and foreign investment will be key
determinants of future growth.
Communication/Telephone system: System is above
average for the region.
Places of interest: Madagascar's teeming forests
are a naturalist's dream; they've preserved oddities
and developed specializations found nowhere else on
earth, and you can get among them in a spectacular
collection of accessible national parks.
Travel tips: People face food shortages caused
by drought, floods and a recent political crisis.
Terrorist activities are also high.