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 Mozambique.
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, Malay-Indonesian, and Arab ancestry - Betsimisaraka, Tsimihety, Antaisaka, Sakalava), French, Indian, Creole, Comorian.
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, petroleum products.
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 supported.
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.