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Madagascar (01/02)


For the most current version of this Note, see Background Notes A-Z.


Republic of Madagascar

Area: 592,800 sq. km. (228,880 sq. mi.).
Cities: Capital--Antananarivo (pop. about 1,300,000). Other cities--Antsirabe (about 500,000), Mahajanga (about 400,000), Toamasina (about 450,000).
Terrain: Mountainous central plateau, coastal plain.
Climate: Moderate interior, tropical coasts.

Nationality: Noun and adjective--Malagasy.
Population (2000.): 15,467,300.
Annual growth rate (2000.): 4.7%.
Ethnic groups: 18 Malagasy tribes; small groups of Comorians, French, Indians, and Chinese.
Religions: Traditional beliefs 47%, Christian 45%, Muslim 7%.
Languages: Malagasy (official), French.
Education: Years compulsory--5. Attendance--65%. Literacy--53%.
Health: Infant mortality rate--90/1,000. Life expectancy--55 yrs.
Work force (2000): 8 million. Agriculture--80%; industry--7%.

Type: Republic.
Independence: June 26, 1960.
Constitution: Entered into force in March 1998
Branches: Executive--president, prime minister, cabinet. Legislative--National Assembly and Senate. Judicial--Supreme Court, High Court of Justice, Constitutional High Court.
Subdivisions: Six autonomous provinces (faritany).
Political parties: There are more than 130 with a dozen major ones, including Pillar and Podium for the Development of Madagascar (AREMA), Militants for the Development of Madagascar (MFM), Be Judged by your Work (AVI), Work, Truth and Harmonized Development (AFFA), National Union for Development and Democracy (UNDD), Social Democrat Party (PSD), Reflection and Action Group for Development in Madagascar (GRAD-Iloafo), Rally for Social Democracy (RPSD), Economic Liberalism and Democratic Action for Reconstruction Party (LEADER-Fanilo), Independence and Renewal Party of Madagascar (AKFM-Fanavoazana).
Suffrage: Universal at 18.
National holiday: June 26.

Flag: Madagascar flag

GDP (U.S.$million): $3,877. GDP per capita: $269. Unemployment: 23%. Natural resources: Graphite, chrome, coal, bauxite, ilmenite, gold, tar sands, semiprecious stones, hardwoods.
Agriculture (29% of GDP): Products--rice, livestock, seafood, coffee, vanilla, sugar, cloves, cotton, sisal, peanuts, tobacco.
Industry (14% of GDP): Types--processed food, clothing, textiles, mining, paper, refined petroleum products, glassware, construction, soap, cement, tanning.
Trade (2000): Exports--$1,061 million: apparel, shrimp, vanilla, coffee, sugar, cloves, graphite, essential oils, industrial and gemstones. Major export markets--France, U.S., Germany, Japan, Singapore, Italy, EU. Imports (2000)--$1,464 million: consumer goods, foodstuffs, crude oil, machinery and vehicles, iron and steel, electronics, computers and accessories. Major suppliers--EU, France, Iran, Japan.

Madagascar's population is predominantly of mixed Asian and African origin. Recent research suggests that the island was uninhabited until Indonesian seafarers arrived in roughly the first century A.D., probably by way of southern India and East Africa, where they acquired African wives and slaves. Subsequent migrations from both the Pacific and Africa further consolidated this original mixture, and 18 separate tribal groups emerged. Asian features are most predominant in the central highlands people, the Merina (3 million) and the Betsileo (2 million); the coastal people are of African origin.

The largest coastal groups are the Betsimisaraka (1.5 million) and the Tsimihety and Sakalava (700,000 each).

The Malagasy language is of Malayo-Polynesian origin and is generally spoken throughout the island. French also is spoken among the educated population of this former French colony.

Most people practice traditional religions, which tend to emphasize links between the living and the dead. They believe that the dead join their ancestors in the ranks of divinity and that ancestors are intensely concerned with the fate of their living descendants. This spiritual communion is celebrated by the Merina and Betsileo reburial practice of famadihana, or "turning over the dead." In this ritual, relatives' remains are removed from the family tomb, rewrapped in new silk shrouds, and returned to the tomb following festive ceremonies in their honor.

About 45% of the Malagasy are Christian, divided almost evenly between Roman Catholic and Protestant. Many incorporate the cult of the dead with their religious beliefs and bless their dead at church before proceeding with the traditional burial rites. They also may invite a pastor to attend a famadihana.

A historical rivalry exists between the predominantly Catholic masses, considered to be underprivileged, and the predominantly Protestant Merina aristocrats, who tend to prevail in the civil service, business, and professions. A new policy of decentralizing resources and authority is intended to enhance the development potential of all Madagascar's provinces. Provincial Council members were elected by popular vote in December 2000. In March 2001, the new Provincial Council members joined mayors and communal council members in each province in electing Senators to represent them in the national parliament. Governors were elected by Electoral College in June 2001. Transfer of duties and establishments of budgets are in progress.

The written history of Madagascar began in the seventh century A.D., when Arabs established trading posts along the northwest coast. European contact began in the 1500s, when Portuguese sea captain Diego Dias sighted the island after his ship became separated from a fleet bound for India. In the late 17th century, the French established trading posts along the east coast. From about 1774 to 1824, it was a favorite haunt for pirates, including Americans, one of whom brought Malagasy rice to South Carolina.

Beginning in the 1790s, Merina rulers succeeded in establishing hegemony over the major part of the island, including the coast. In 1817, the Merina ruler and the British governor of Mauritius concluded a treaty abolishing the slave trade, which had been important in Madagascar's economy. In return, the island received British military and financial assistance. British influence remained strong for several decades, during which the Merina court was converted to Presbyterianism, Congregationalism, and Anglicanism.

The British accepted the imposition of a French protectorate over Madagascar in 1885 in return for eventual control over Zanzibar (now part of Tanzania) and as part of an overall definition of spheres of influence in the area. Absolute French control over Madagascar was established by military force in 1895-96, and the Merina monarchy was abolished.

Malagasy troops fought in France, Morocco, and Syria during World War I. After France fell to the Germans, Madagascar was administered first by the Vichy government and then in 1942 by the British, whose troops occupied the strategic island to preclude its seizure by the Japanese. The Free French received the island from the United Kingdom in 1943.

In 1947, with French prestige at low ebb, a nationalist uprising was suppressed only after several months of bitter fighting. The French subsequently established reformed institutions in 1956 under the Loi Cadre (Overseas Reform Act), and Madagascar moved peacefully toward independence. The Malagasy Republic was proclaimed on October 14, 1958, as an autonomous state within the French Community. A period of provisional government ended with the adoption of a constitution in 1959 and full independence on June 26, 1960.

In March1998, Malagasy voters approved a revised constitution. The principal institutions of the Republic of Madagascar are a presidency, a parliament (National Assembly and Senate), a prime ministry and cabinet, and an independent judiciary. The president is elected by direct universal suffrage for a 5-year term, renewable twice.

The National Assembly consists of 150 representatives elected by direct vote every 5 years. The Senate consists of 90 senators, two-thirds elected by local legislators and one-third appointed by the president, all for 6-year terms. A Prime Minister and council of ministers carries out day-to-day management of government. The President appoints the Prime Minister.

The Prime Minister and members of Parliament initiate legislation and the government executes it. The President can dissolve the National Assembly. For its part, the National Assembly can pass a motion of censure and require the Prime Minister and council of ministers to step down. The Constitutional Court approves the constitutionality of new laws.

Territorial administration is to be determined by legislation. In an effort to decentralize administration, the constitution calls for the six provinces (faritany) to become autonomous.

Principal Government Officials
President--Didier Ratsiraka
Prime Minister, Minister of Finance--Tantely Andrianarivo
Minister of Foreign Affairs--Lila Ratsifandrihamanana
Ambassador to the U.S.--Zina Andrianarivelo-Razafy
Ambassador to the UN--Jean de la Croix Bakoniarivo

Madagascar maintains an embassy in the United States at 2374 Massachusetts Avenue NW., Washington, DC 20008 (tel. 202-265-5525).

Madagascar's first President, Philibert Tsiranana, was elected when his Social Democratic Party gained power at independence in 1960 and was reelected without opposition in March 1972. However, he resigned only 2 months later in response to massive antigovernment demonstrations. The unrest continued, and Tsiranana's successor, Gen. Gabriel Ramanantsoa, resigned on February 5, 1975, handing over executive power to Lt. Col. Richard Ratsimandrava, who was assassinated 6 days later. A provisional military directorate then ruled until a new government was formed in June 1975, under Admiral Didier Ratsiraka.

During the 16 subsequent years of President Ratsiraka's rule, Madagascar continued under a government committed to revolutionary socialism based on the 1975 constitution establishing a highly centralized state. National elections in 1982 and 1989 returned Ratsiraka for a second and third 7-year presidential term. For much of this period, only limited and restrained political opposition was tolerated, with no direct criticism of the president permitted in the press.

With an easing of restrictions on political expression, beginning in the late 1980s, the Ratsiraka regime came under increasing pressure for fundamental change. In response to a deteriorating economy, Ratsiraka had begun relaxing socialist dogma to institute some liberal, private-sector reforms. But these and other political reforms--like the elimination of press censorship in 1989 and the formation of more political parties in 1990--were insufficient to placate a growing opposition force known as Hery Velona or "Active Forces," centered in the capital city and the surrounding high plateau.

In response to largely peaceful mass demonstrations and crippling general strikes, Ratsiraka replaced his prime minister in August 1991 but suffered an irreparable setback soon thereafter when his troops fired on peaceful demonstrators marching on his suburban palace, killing more than 30.

In an increasingly weakened position, Ratsiraka acceded to negotiations on the formation of a transitional government. The resulting "Panorama Convention" of October 31, 1991, stripped Ratsiraka of nearly all of his powers, created interim institutions, and set an 18-month timetable for completing a transition to a new form of constitutional government. The High Constitutional Court was retained as the ultimate judicial arbiter of the process.

In March 1992, a new constitution was drafted by a widely representative National Forum organized by the Malagasy Christian Council of Churches (FFKM). Troops guarding the proceedings clashed with pro-Ratsiraka "federalists" who tried to disrupt the forum in protest of draft constitutional provisions preventing the incumbent president from running again. The text of the new constitution was put to a nationwide referendum in August 1992 and approved by a wide margin, despite efforts by federalists to disrupt balloting in several coastal areas.

Presidential elections were held on November 25, 1992, after the High Constitutional Court had ruled, over Active Forces objections, that Ratsiraka could become a candidate. A runoff election was held in February 1993, and active forces leader Albert Zafy defeated Ratsiraka. He was sworn in as President on March 27, 1993.

A nationwide legislative election was held in June 1993 to elect a new National Assembly, which, under the new constitution, exercises legislative initiative along with the Prime Minister, whom it elects.

The proportional representation system for the election of legislators contributed to a significant increase in the number of political parties and special interest groups. These and a free press promote open and lively discussion of political issues in Madagascar. Dairy farmer with cow acquired through USAID loan (USAID photo)

In 2000, Madagascar embarked on the preparation of a Poverty Reduction Strategy Paper (PRSP) under the Heavily Indebted Poor countries (HIPC) Initiative. The boards of the IMF and of the World Bank concurred in December 2000 that the country is eligible under the HIPC Initiative, and Madagascar has reached the decision point for debt relief. On March 1, 2001, the IMF Board granted the country $103 million for 2001-03 under the Poverty Reduction and Growth Facility (PRGR). Resources freed up from HIPC will be directed toward improving access to health, education, rural roads, water, and direct support to communities. In addition, on March 7, 2001, the Paris Club approved a debt cancellation of $161 million. On February 28, 2001, the African Development Bank (ADB) approved under the HIPC a debt cancellation of $71.46 million and granted in June 2001 an additional credit of $20 million to fight against AIDS and poverty.

Partly as a result of these credits but also as a result of previous reforms, average GDP growth exceeded the population growth rate of 2.8% in 1997 (3.5%), 1998 (3.9%), 1999 (4.7%) and 2000 (4.8%). Madagascar's appeal to investors stems from its competitive, trainable work force. More than 200 investors, particularly garment manufacturers, have organized under the country's Export Processing Zone (EPZ) system since it was established in 1989. The absence of quota limits on textile imports to the European market under the Lome Convention has helped stimulate this growth. In addition, there is evidence that Madagascar's recent eligibility for AGOA is significantly increasing Malagasy exports and foreign investment.

In the short and medium terms, considerable economic growth can arise from greater efficiency in the allocation and use of resources. Since the mid-1980s, Madagascar has run sizeable balance-of-payment deficits. The current account deficit as a percentage of GDP averaged in excess of 6% during the last 6 years and registered nearly 4% in 1999. Madagascar's debt ratio, which had reached 46% in 1996, is estimated at 15.4% in 2000. Within an overall framework of poverty reduction, the HIPC Initiative would enable the country to reduce its debt service ratio to 5.5% in 2003, and remain at around 5% throughout the projection period 2000-19.

An optimistic high-growth scenario is predicated on recovery of private investor interest and a continuing drop in inflation. From more than 60 % in 1994, the inflation rate dropped to 6.4% in 1998, before rising again to 14.4% in 1999 and 8.7% in 2000. The government hopes to bring this down to 5.8% by the end of 2001. In 2000, real GDP growth reached 4.8% and was forecast to accelerate to 6% in 2001. Tax revenues increased to more than 11% of GDP in 2000 and in 2001, the government forecasts a rate approaching 12%.

Madagascar historically has remained outside the mainstream of African affairs, although it is an active member of the Organization of African Unity and the Non-Aligned Movement. From 1978 until 1991, then-President Ratsiraka emphasized independence and nonalignment and followed an "all points" policy stressing ties with socialist and radical regimes, including North Korea, Cuba, Libya, and Iran. Taking office in 1993, President Albert Zafy expressed his desire for diplomatic relations with all countries. Early in his tenure, he established formal ties with South Korea and sent emissaries to Morocco.

Globalization has encouraged the government and President Ratsiraka since 1997 to adhere to market-oriented policies and to engage world markets. External relations reflect this trend although Madagascar's physical isolation and strong traditional insular orientation have limited its activity in regional economic organizations and relations with its East African neighbors. It enjoys closer and generally good relations with its Indian Ocean neighbors--Mauritius, R�union, and the Comoros Islands. Active relationships with Europe, especially France, Germany, and Switzerland, as well as with Russia, Japan, India, and China have been strong since independence.

Relations with the United States date to the early 1800s. The two countries concluded a commercial convention in 1867 and a treaty of peace, friendship, and commerce in 1881. These traditionally warm relations suffered considerably during the 1970s, when Madagascar expelled the U.S. ambassador, closed a NASA tracking station, and nationalized two U.S. oil companies. In 1980, relations at the ambassadorial level were restored.

Throughout the troubled period, commercial and cultural relations remained active. In 1990, Madagascar was designated as a priority aid recipient, and assistance increased from $15 million in 1989 to $40 million in 1993. Recent U.S. assistance has contributed to a population census and family planning programs, conservation of Madagascar's remarkable biodiversity, private sector development, agriculture, democracy and governance initiatives, and media training.

U.S. Embassy Officials
Deputy Chief of Mission/Charg�--Phillip Carter III
USAID Director--Karen Poe
Defense Attache--Daniel Lafferty
Public Affairs Officer--Roy Whitaker
Consular Officer--Robert Ruehle
Political/Economic/Commercial Officer--Eric Rueter
Administrative Officer--Chanh Nguyen
Peace Corps Director--KathleenTilford

The U.S. Embassy in Madagascar is at 14, rue Rainitovo, Antsahavola, Antananarivo (tel. 261-20-22-212-57, 22-209-56; fax 261-20-345-39. The postal address is Ambassade Americaine, B.P. 620, Antananarivo, Madagascar.

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