Madagascar is an island republic in the Indian Ocean, off the coast of Southeast Africa. Its official name is the Republic of Madagascar, and it was previously known as the Malagasy Republic. The country is made up of Madagascar (the world’s fourth-largest island) plus a number of smaller surrounding islands. Madagascar separated from the Indian peninsula approximately 88 million years ago, following the prehistoric breakup of the supercontinent Gondwana, allowing native flora and animals to develop in relative isolation. As a result, Madagascar is a biodiversity hotspot, with over 90% of its fauna found nowhere else on the planet. The encroachment of the fast expanding human population and other environmental challenges are threatening the island’s distinct ecosystems and unique fauna.
The first trace of human foraging in Madagascar goes back to 2000 BC. Austronesian peoples arrived in outrigger canoes from Borneo and settled Madagascar between 350 BC and AD 550. Around the year 1000, Bantu migrants crossing the Mozambique Channel from East Africa joined them. Other tribes continued to settle in Madagascar over time, each leaving a lasting mark on Malagasy cultural life. The Malagasy ethnic group is sometimes subdivided into 18 or more sub-groups, the biggest of which being the Merina of the central highlands.
Until the late 18th century, Madagascar was controlled by a jumbled collection of changing social coalitions. Beginning in the early nineteenth century, a succession of Merina nobility unified and governed the majority of the island as the Kingdom of Madagascar. When the island was integrated into the French colonial empire in 1897, the monarchy dissolved, and the country won independence in 1960. Since then, Madagascar’s independent state has gone through four main constitutional eras known as republics. Since 1992, the country has been administered as a constitutional democracy from Antananarivo, its capital. However, during a public revolt in 2009, President Marc Ravalomanana was forced to retire, and presidential power was handed to Andry Rajoelina in March 2009. Constitutional administration was restored in January 2014, when Hery Rajaonarimampianina was elected president following a fair and transparent election in 2013. Madagascar is a member of the United Nations, the International Francophonie Organization, and the Southern African Development Community (SADC).
Madagascar’s population was projected to be slightly more than 22 million in 2012, with 90 percent of the people living on less than $2 a day. Both Malagasy and French are official languages of the country. The majority of the population follows traditional beliefs, Christianity, or a combination of the two. Madagascar’s development strategy includes increased investments in education, health, and private industry, as well as ecotourism and agriculture. These investments resulted in significant economic growth under Ravalomanana, but the gains were not fairly distributed throughout the population, causing conflicts over rising living costs and deteriorating living standards among the poor and certain parts of the middle class. The economy has been damaged by the then-recently ended political crisis as of 2014, and the majority of the Malagasy people continues to live in poverty.