Lying off east Africa in the Indian Ocean, the former French colony of Madagascar is the world’s fourth-largest island. Power struggles erupted onto the streets in 2002 and 2009.
Geography: More than two-thirds of the country forms a savanna-covered plateau, which drops in the east through rainforests to the coast.
Climate: Tropical and often hit by cyclones. Monsoons affect the east coast. The South-west is much drier.
People & Society: People are Malay-Indonesian in origin, intermixed with later migrants from the African mainland. The main ethnic division is between the Merina of the central plateau and the poorer côtier (coastal) peoples. The Merina were the country’s historic rulers, and remain the social elite.
The Economy: Most people are farmers. Cash crops are vanilla, coffee, and cloves. Garments and shrimp also exported. Political crises deter investors.
INSIGHT: 80% of Madagascar’s plants and many of its animal species are found nowhere else
Official Name: Republic of Madagascar
Date of Formation: 1960
Population: 219.6 million
Total Area: 226,656 sq. miles (587,040 sq. km)
Density: 87 people per sq. mile
Languages: Malagasy*, French*
Religions: Traditional beliefs 52%, Christian 41%, Muslim 7%
Ethnic Mix: Other Malay 46%, Merina 26%, Betsimisaraka 15%, Betsileo 12%, other 1%
Government: Presidential system
Currency: Ariary = 5 iraimbilanja