Flag description: two equal horizontal bands of red (top) and
green with a vertical white band of the same width on hoist side
Location: Southern Africa, island in the Indian Ocean, east of
Geographic coordinates: 20 00 S, 47 00 E
Climate: tropical along coast, temperate inland, arid in south
Independence: 26 June 1960 (from France)
Nationality: Malagasy (singular and plural)
Capital City: Antananarivo
Population: 15,506,472 (July 2000 est.)
Head of State: President Didier RATSIRAKA
Area: 587,040 sq km
Type of Government: republic
Currency: 1 Malagasy franc (FMG) = 100 centimes
Major peoples: Malayo-Indonesian (Merina and related Betsileo),
Cotiers (mixed African, Malayo-Indonesian, and Arab ancestry - Betsimisaraka,
Tsimihety, Antaisaka, Sakalava), French, Indian, Creole, Comoran
Religion: indigenous beliefs 52%, Christian 41%, Muslim 7%
Official Language: French (official), Malagasy (official)
Principal Languages: French , Malagasy
Major Exports: coffee 45%, vanilla 20%, cloves, shellfish, sugar,
History: Most scholars believe that Madagascar was inhabited
about the 1st century AD. During this century Indonesian seafarers
arrived, probably by way of the East Africa coast. Subsequently, Arab traders
arrived and established trading posts in coastal areas. In 1500 Diogo
Dias, a Portuguese navigator, was the first European to visit the island.
In 1643 the French arrived and established a trading post at Fort-Dauphin.
During the late 16th century, the Merina kingdom was founded, with
its capital at Antananarivo. The Merina continued to control the
island, with fluctuating degrees of European influence, until the end of
the 19th century. In 1890 the British relinquished their interests
in Madagascar to France, and in 1895, Madagascar became a French protectorate.
During World War II, Madagascar was occupied by British and South African
forces (1942), but the following year it was turned over to the Free French.
In 1947 a revolt against the French was harshly suppressed; estimates
of those killed range from 11,000 to 80,000. In 1958 the French government
conducted a referendum on the question of independence, which was overwhelmingly
In 1960 the Malagasy Republic became an independent nation under President
Philibert Tsiranana. In 1972 violent riots forced Tsiranana to relinquish
power to Gen. Gabriel Ranamantsoa. The latter was forced out by the
military in 1975 and replaced by Didier Ratsiraka. He was reelected
in 1982 and 1989.
A constitution approved in a 1975 referendum changed the name of the
country from Malagasy Republic to Democratic Republic of Madagascar.
It provided for a president, elected for a seven-year term, who appointed
members of the Supreme Revolutionary Council (the principal policy-making
body) and a prime minister to manage the government. Members of the
unicameral legislature were elected by universal suffrage for five-year
terms. In 1991, as demands for Ratsiraka's resignation increased,
the opposition formed a rival government. Ratsiraka refused to step
down, but his powers were reduced by the terms of a new constitution ratified
by a referendum in August 1992. Presidential elections held on Feb.
10, 1993, however, gave a solid victory to Ratsiraka's rival, Albert Zafy.