Madagascar: the Country
Madagascar is the fourth largest island in the World (after Greenland, New Guinea and Borneo) and is located 400 to 800 km southeast of the African continent, due east of Mozambique.
The island encompasses an area of approx. 587,000 sq. km, extending 1,570 km from north to south and up to 575 km laterally. The interior largely consists of highlands inter-dispersed with plateaus, with the margins characterised by low-land and coastal plains. The highest point is in the far north of the island at 2,876 m above sea-level.
Madagascar typically has two distinct climatic seasons, a hotter rainy season between November to April and a cooler dryer season from May to October. The eastern side is exposed to the prevailing winds from the Indian Ocean and can be monsoonal during the summer months (January to March).
Because of its 80-100 million year separation from the neighbouring continents, more than 80 percent of Madagascar’s plant and animal species are endemic and include lemurs, the carnivorous cat-like fossa and six species of baobab trees.
The human population is approx. 21 million, who are mainly concentrated in the more vegetated and fertile eastern part of the country and in the central highlands. The capital city Antananarivo (locally abbreviated to Tana) is the country’s largest city with a population of approx. 4 million.
Madagascar’s population is predominantly of mixed Southeast Asian, Pacific Island and African origin and the island is believed to have been uninhabited until between 1,500 and 2,000 years ago. Malagasy culture represents an interesting and diverse mixture of Southeast Asian, Arabic, African and European influences.
The official languages are Malagasy and French, although outside of the cities few people speak the latter. The majority of the population believe in traditional Malagasy religions, followed by Christianity (approx. 40 percent) and then Islam (approx. 7 percent).
Madagascar has a road network of greater than 54,000 km, although less than 10 percent of it is bitumised. The main airports are in Antananarivo, Antsiranana, Tolanaro (Fort Dauphin), Toliara, Toamasina and Mahajanga. In addition to Antananarivo, several operate international flights. There are also a significant number of regional airstrips, to and from which flights can be chartered. The principal ports are Toamasina, Mahajanga, Antsiranana, Toliara and Fort Dauphin.
Telecommunications have improved greatly in recent years, with numerous companies providing cellular network coverage around the country.
Originally an independent kingdom, Madagascar became a French colony in 1896 and remained so until it regained independence in 1960.
Post-independence, Madagascar enjoyed comparatively good political stability. However, in 2009 the existing government was deposed amid political unrest and replaced by a new party. This was generally viewed as unconstitutional and not recognised by the international community, resulting in sanctions and pressure to hold regulated elections. In October 2013, elections and the political reform process finally commenced.
In 2012, the estimated Gross Domestic Product (GDP) was USD 21.37 billion. The services industry represented the main component of the economy, accounting for approx. 55 percent of the GDP. Agriculture, including fishing and forestry, represented approx. 28 percent and employed 80 percent of the population. Industry, including mining, accounted for approx. 16 percent of the GDP.
Significant exports include vanilla, coffee, sugarcane, cloves, cocoa, rice, cassava, beans, bananas, peanuts and livestock products. Madagascar’s main growth industries are tourism, textiles, light manufacturing exports, agricultural products and mining. Despite the economic diversity, it is estimated that two-thirds of the Malagasy population live below the international poverty line of USD 1.25 a day. The local currency is the Malagasy Ariary (MGA), with one USD equal to approx. 2,200 Ariary.