Madagascar is an island country located in the Indian Ocean off the southeastern coast of Africa. The nation comprises the island of Madagascar (at 587,041 square kilometers, the fourth-largest island in the world), as well as numerous smaller peripheral islands, the largest of which include Nosy Be and Nosy Boraha (Ile Sainte-Marie). Antananarivo is the capital and the largest city of Madagascar. It is located in the highlands region, very near to the geographic center of the island.
In 2010, the population of Madagascar was estimated at around 20 million, 85% of whom live on less than two dollars per day. Major cities, in addition to the capital Antananarivo, include Toliary, Antsiranana, Antsirabe, Toamasina, Mahajanga, and Fianarantsoa.
Madagascar has undergone four major constitutional periods, including a post-colonial First Republic under President Philibert Tsiranana (1960–1972),socialist Second Republic under Admiral Didier Ratsiraka (1975–1991), and a democratic Third Republic under successive presidents Albert Zafy (1992-1996), Didier Ratsiraka (1997-2002) and Marc Ravalomanana (2002–2009). The elected president serves a renewable five-year term and is supported by the prime minister he or she nominates. However, on March 17, 2009, after demonstrations in the capital, President Ravalomanana signed power over to the military, which in turn conferred the presidency on opposition leader Andry Rajoelina, the mayor of Antananarivo and leader of the demonstrations. Rajoelina declared himself “President of the High Transitional Authority” and pledged to hold presidential elections by October 2010 (a pledge that he did not fulfill), following a constitutional referendum and revision of the electoral code. Considering the series of events in Madagascar in early 2009 to be a military coup d’état, the United States condemned the unconstitutional and undemocratic change of power and suspended all assistance programs that directly benefit the government as well as all non-humanitarian assistance to Madagascar.
Madagascar is a biodiversity hotspot. Over 80% of its plant and animal species are found nowhere else on earth. These are dispersed across a variety of eco-regions, broadly divided into eastern and south-central rain forest, western dry forests, southern desert and spiny forest. The island's diverse ecosystems and unique wildlife are severely threatened by human settlement and traditional slash-and-burn practices (tavy) which have denuded Madagascar of as much as 90% of its original forest cover. Under the administration of former President Marc Ravalomanana, the government of Madagascar partnered with the international community to implement large-scale conservation measures tied to ecotourism as part of the national development strategy. However, under Rajoelina's caretaker government there has been a dramatic increase in illegal logging of precious woods and the poaching and sale of threatened species such as lemurs in Madagascar's many national parks, several of which are classified as UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
Last updated: January 14, 2014