Currently viewing country profile for Madagascar
Madagascar is the world's fourth biggest island after Greenland, New Guinea and Borneo. Because of its isolation most of its mammals, half its birds, and most of its plants exist nowhere else on earth.
The island is heavily exposed to tropical cyclones which bring torrential rains and destructive floods, such as the ones in 2000 and 2004, which left thousands homeless.
The Malagasy are thought to be descendants of Africans and Indonesians who settled on the island more than 2,000 years ago. Malagasy pay a lot of attention to their dead and spend much effort on ancestral tombs, which are opened from time to time so the remains can be carried in procession, before being rewrapped in fresh shrouds.
After sometimes harsh French colonial rule, which included the bloody suppression of an uprising in 1947, Madagascar gained independence in 1960. The military seized power in the early 1970s with the aim of achieving a socialist paradise.
This did not materialise. The economy went into decline and by 1982 the authorities were forced to adopt a structural adjustment programme imposed by the International Monetary Fund.
The World Bank has estimated that 70% of Malagasy live on less than $1 per day. Poverty and the competition for agricultural land have put pressure on the island's dwindling forests, home to much of Madagascar's unique wildlife and key to its emerging tourist industry.
The island has strong ties with France as well as economic and cultural links with French-speaking West Africa.
- Full name: Republic of Madagascar
- Population: 20.1 million (via UN, 2010)
- Capital: Antananarivo
- Area: 587,041 sq km (226,658 sq miles)
- Major languages: Malagasy (official), French
- Major religions: Indigenous beliefs, Christianity
- Life expectancy: 61 years (men), 64 years (women) (UN)
- Monetary unit: Ariary
- Main exports: Vanilla, coffee, seafood, cloves, petroleum products, chromium, fabrics
- GNI per capita: US $420 (World Bank, 2009)
- Internet domain: .mg
- International dialling code: +261
Acting president: Andry Rajoelina
From August to December 2009, Andry Rajoelina headed an interim government formed under a shaky power-sharing agreement with supporters of Marc Ravalomanana, the president he ousted in March 2009 with military backing.
The internationally-brokered deal, reached in August 2009, was aimed at ending the nine-month long power struggle between the two sides, but disputes over details continually prevented its implementation, and in December 2009 Mr Rajoelina announced that he was abandoning it and calling a parliamentary election, to be held in 2010.
The dispute that led to the ouster of Mr Ravalomanana started in December 2008 when the government tried to close a TV channel owned by Mr Rajoelina, then mayor of the capital, Antananarivo.
Mr Rajoelina and his supporters challenged the president for power, and after failing to quell the opposition protests, the president ceded his authority to the military.
The officers in turn offered power to Mr Rajoelina, who proclaimed himself president in March and suspended parliament - despite the fact that according to the Madagascan constitution he is technically too young to be president.
The change of president was not recognized internationally, and Mr Ravalomanana's supporters in turn mounted their own campaign of protests against the new government.
Born into a well-off family, Mr Rajoelina rose to prominence as a disc jockey, going on to own a radio station and advertising company. He set up the Determined Malagasy Youth opposition movement and was elected mayor of Antananarivo in December 2007.
Mr Rajoelina's predecessor, Mark Ravalomanana, a self-made dairy tycoon, came to power in 2002. He used huge street demonstrations sparked by a disputed elections and military force to defeat Marxist President Didier Ratsiraka, who had ruled Madagascar for 23 years.
His first term saw free-market reforms which were welcomed by donors and investors. Aid increased and foreign debt was cancelled, but poverty remained endemic and protesters took to the streets over rising prices.
- In May 2010 Mr Rajoelina set out an election calendar: a constitutional referendum on 12 August, parliamentary elections on 30 September and presidential elections on 26 November. The whole process has been delayed. Voters in November 2010 approved a new constitution which lowers the minimum age for the president, thus allowing Mr Rajoelina, 36 years old at the time, to run for president.
Ousted President Ravalomanana owns the Malagasy Broadcasting System, which operates MBS TV and Radio MBS. Many private radio stations in the capital are owned by pro-Ravalomanana politicians.
A boom in privately-owned FM radio stations and more critical political reporting by the print media followed a 1990s law on press freedom.
Although nationwide radio and TV broadcasting remain the monopoly of the state, there are hundreds of private local radio and TV stations.
There were around 110,000 internet users by September 2007 (ITU figure).
- Midi-Madagasikara - privately-owned Antananarivo daily
- Madagascar-Tribune - privately-owned Antananarivo daily
- L'Express - privately-owned Antananarivo daily
- La Gazette de la Grande Ile - Antananarivo daily
- Lakroa (Cross) - Roman Catholic weekly
- Dans Les Media Demain - privately-owned, Antananarivo weekly
- Feon'ny Merina (Voice of the Merina) - privately-owned weekly for Merina people of Malay origin
- Jureco - privately-owned, monthly
- Revue de l'Ocean Indien - privately-owned, monthly, also covering other Indian Ocean islands
- Television Malagasy (TVM) - state-owned
- Radio-Television Analamanga (RTA) - privately-run, Antananarivo
- Madagascar TV (MATV) - privately-run, Antananarivo
- MBS TV - commercial, owned by Ravalomanana
- Malagasy National Radio (RNM) - state-owned
- Radio Don Bosco - Roman Catholic FM station in capital
- Radio MBS - commercial network owned by Ravalomanana
- Radio Feon'ny Merina - privately-owned, Antananarivo, promotes interests of Merina people of Malay origin
- Radio Tsioka Vao - privately-owned, Antananarivo
- Radio Lazan' Iarivo (RLI) (Glory of Iarivo) - privately-owned
- Radio Korail - privately-owned, Antananarivo
- Radio Antsiva - privately-owned, Antananarivo
A chronology of key events
1880s-1905 - France consolidates its hold over Madagascar in the face of local resistance.
1910-20 - Growth of nationalism fuelled by discontent over French rule.
1946 - Madagascar becomes an Overseas Territory of France.
1947 - French suppress armed rebellion in east. Thousands are killed.
1958 - Madagascar votes for autonomy.
1960 26 June - Independence with Philibert Tsiranana as president.
1972 - Amid popular unrest, Tsiranana dissolves government and hands power to army chief Gen Gabriel Ramanantsoa as head of a provisional government. He reduces the country's ties with France in favour of links with the Soviet Union.
1975 June - Lieutenant-Commander Didier Ratsiraka is named head of state after a coup. The country is renamed the Democratic Republic of Madagascar and Ratsiraka is elected president for a seven-year term.
1976 - Ratsiraka nationalises large parts of the economy, forms the Arema party. Over the years he increases state control over the economy until 1986 when he changes tack and promotes a market economy.
1992 - Under pressure of demonstrations, Ratsiraka introduces democratic reforms. A new constitution is approved by referendum.
1993 - Albert Zafy elected president.
1996 - Zafy impeached. Ratsiraka voted back into office.
2000 March - Thousands homeless after two cyclones hit the island and Mozambique.
2000 December - Arema wins in most of the cities, apart from Antananarivo, in provincial elections. The elections are for a new system of local government. Some 70% of voters stay away after the opposition called for a boycott, saying voters had not been properly informed about the reforms.
2001 February - An opposition parliamentary group, the Crisis Unit for the Defence of Democracy, is established following the jailing of MP Jean-Eugene Voninahitsy for insulting the president and cheque fraud.
2001 May - Senate reopens after 29 years, completing the government framework provided for in the 1992 constitution, which replaced the socialist revolutionary system. The new framework comprises the presidency, national assembly, senate and constitutional high court.
2001 December - First round of presidential elections. Opposition candidate Marc Ravalomanana claims an outright victory and says there's no need for a second round.
2002 January - Ravalomanana and his supporters mount a general strike and mass protests.
2002 February - Ravalomanana declares himself president after weeks of political deadlock with Ratsiraka over the December polls, which he says Ratsiraka rigged. Violence breaks out between rival protesters.
2002 April - High Constitutional Court declares Ravalomanana winner of the December polls after a recount. Ratsiraka says he'll ignore the verdict. In June the US recognises Ravalomanana as legitimate leader of Madagascar.
Ratsiraka in exile
2002 July - Ratsiraka seeks exile in France, marking end of seven-month political crisis.
2002 December - Ravalomanana's party, I Love Madagascar (TIM), wins a parliamentary majority in elections which are seen as a test of popular support.
2003 February - Former head of the armed forces is charged over an attempted coup against President Ravalomanana.
2003 August - Exiled former president Didier Ratsiraka is sentenced in his absence to 10 years hard labour. He is accused of embezzling public funds.
2003 December - Former PM Tantely Andrianarivo is sentenced to 12 years hard labour for abuse of office.
2004 February/March - Tropical cyclones Elita and Gafilo hit; thousands are left homeless.
2004 October - World Bank, International Monetary Fund say they're writing off nearly half of Madagascar's debt - around $2bn.
2005 March - Madagascar is the first state to receive development aid from the US under a scheme to reward nations considered by Washington to be promoting democracy and market reforms.
2006 May - The main opposition parties boycott talks with President Ravalomanana which were intended to ease political tensions ahead of December's presidential elections.
2006 December - Officials declare Marc Ravalomanana, the incumbent, the winner of presidential elections.
2007 April - Voters in a referendum endorse constitutional reforms to increase presidential powers and make English an official language.
2007 July - President Ravalomanana dissolves parliament after new constitution calls for end to autonomy of provinces.
2007 September - President Ravalomanana's I Love Madagascar (TIM) party wins 106 seats out of 127 in early parliamentary elections.
2007 November - President Ravalomanana opens 3.3 billion dollar nickel cobalt mining project in Tamatave. Mine said to be largest of its kind in the world.
2008 Feb-Mar - Cyclone Ivan, second of the season and one of the largest to hit the island kills 93 and leaves 332,391 homeless. UN launches flash appeal for $36.4 million to help cyclone-hit areas in the country.
2008 March - Madagascar produces first barrels of crude oil in 60 years and at a time of record oil prices. The government has issued 19 licenses to search for offshore oil since last August.
2009 January - Dozens are killed as a result of violent protests in Antananarivo following the closure of opposition TV and radio stations. Opposition leader Andry Rajoelina calls on the president to resign, and proclaims himself in charge of the country following the riots.
2009 February - Dozens of people are killed after police open fire on an opposition demonstration in the capital, amid ongoing political turmoil.
2009 March - Andry Rajoelina assumes power with military and high court backing. Move is condemned internationally and isolates Madagascar.
2009 June - Deposed President Ravalomanana - who has been living in exile in South Africa since March - is tried in absentia for abuse of office and sentenced to four years in prison.
2009 August - International mediators broker power-sharing agreement between the rival camps at talks in Mozambique. Deal fails to materialise and Mr Rajoelina later formally abandons it.
2010 February - Rajoelina postpones parliamentary elections to May.
2010 March - African Union imposes targeted sanctions on Rajoelina and his administration.
2010 May - 2010 May - Rajoelina sets dates for constitutional referendum (August), parliamentary elections (September) and presidential elections (November).
Rajoelina reshuffles cabinet but disappoints critics who hoped he would form a neutral government ahead of elections.
2010 June - EU decides to suspend development aid to Madagascar in the absence of democratic progress.
2010 August - Exiled former president Marc Ravalomanana sentenced in absentia to life in prison for ordering killings of opposition supporters.
2010 November - Voters in referendum endorse new constitution that would allow de facto leader Rajoelina to run for president.
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