Magazine article Geographical


Magazine article Geographical


Article excerpt

Lying in the Indian Ocean, Madagascar is the world's fourth largest island. The large central plateau drops down precipitously to the east, through forested cliffs, to the coast. In the west, gentler plains give way to fertile plains. A former French colony, the island gained independence in 1960. Eighteen years of radical socialism under Didier Ratsiraka followed. Madagascar is now a multiparty democracy struggling to rebuild an economy based on agriculture.


The extensive domestic air network makes up for the inadequate road and rail systems. Many roads are impassable during the rains.


With 5,000 kilometres of unspoilt tropical beaches, and a unique flora and fauna, Madagascar has enormous tourism potential. However, while the sector is now an important foreign exchange earner, it is underdeveloped.


The Malagasy are mainly Malay-Indonesian in origin. Their ancestors migrated across the Indian Ocean from the first century AD. African migrants later arrived from mainland Africa. The main ethnic division is between the peoples of the central plateau and the coast. The plateau Merina are of more pronounced Malay extraction and were the island's historic rulers: they remain the social elite.


In 1993, 18-year de facto one-party rule ended with election victory for the Forces Vives opposition coalition. However, within three years, the coalition was in disarray, and President Albert Zafy was impeached by the National Assembly. Former head of state Didier Ratsiraka won fresh presidential elections, and was sworn in in February 1997.

World Affairs

Once close ties with Moscow and North Korea have waned since the late 1980s, as Madagascar's relations with its main Western trading partners have improved. It has also reestablished ties with South Africa. In 1994, Madagascar joined the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa.


France is the top bilateral donor. The main multilateral donors are the EU and the World Bank. …

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