Time: GMT + 3 hours.
International Dialing Code: + 261
Power supply: 220 volts (European 2-prong plugs).
Land Area: 581 540 sq km.
Climate: Tropical along coast, temperate inland, arid in southwest.
Official Language: Malagasy (Malayo-Polynesian origin) with French as trade language.
Population: 18,595,469 (2006).
Population Growth: 2.7% per year.
People/Ethnic Groups: Malayo-Indonesian (Merina and related Betsileo), Cotiers (mixed African, Malayo-Indonesian, and Arab ancestry - Betsimisaraka, Tsimihety, Antaisaka, Sakalava), French, Chinese, Reunionese, Indian, Creole, Comorian. About 98,6% of the population can be classified as "Malagassy" which is divided into 18 main ethnic groups.
Religion: Indigenous beliefs 52%, Christian 41%, Muslim 7%.
Legal System: A combination of French civil law system and traditional Malagasy law.
Economy: Agriculture, including fishing and forestry, is a mainstay of the economy, accounting for more than one-fourth of GDP and employing 80% of the population.
Major Trade Partners: Export - France, Germany, Italy.Import - France, China, Hong Kong, Belgium, USA.
Agricultural products: Coffee, vanilla, sugarcane, cloves, cocoa, rice, cassava (tapioca), beans, bananas, peanuts and livestock products.
Natural Resources: Graphite, chromate, coal, bauxite, salt, quartz, tar sands, semiprecious stones, mica, fish, hydropower.
Currency: Ariary (gradually replacing the older Malagasy Franc). To view the current exchange rate between your home currency and Malagasy Ariary (or Malagasy Franc), use this currency convertor by OANDA.com,
Administrative: 6 provinces: Antananarivo; Toamasina; Mahajanga; Antsiranana; Fianaranisoa; and Toliara.
National Flag: Two equal horizontal bands of red (top) and green (bottom) with a vertical white band of the same width on the pole side.
Airline Operators: Air Madagascar (national airline) and Airlink (South African Airways).
Madagascar is the world's 4th largest island and lies in the warm Mozambique Channel (Indian Ocean) about 300km off the east coast of Africa.
The island has a total land mass of 581 540 sq. km and is renowned for its amazing diversity in Fauna and Flora, geography, cultures, climate (ranging from arid parts in the southwest to cool grasslands in the central regions and a tropical coastline and rainforests in the east and north). Madagascar is mountainous with a steep escarpment rising to 1 200–1 800 meter from the east coast. Large parts of the interior is a plateau above which several extinct volcanoes rise to heights of 2 100 to 2 900 meter.
Madagascar has about 12 000 plant species and some 200 000 species of animals and insects, which makes it one of the most bio-diverse countries on earth. Amazingly, in spite of its close proximity to mainland Africa, more than 75% of the island's indigenous plants and animals are unique and are found nowhere else in the world. These include 50 species of lemur, 270 species of reptiles, 115 bird species (out of a total of 258 species of birds found there), 300 frog species, 6 species of baobab trees, 165 species of palm trees, 850 species of orchids, many unique ferns and much more.
The island is home to nearly half the world's 150 known species of chameleon. These include the world's smallest chameleon - the Brookesia peyrierasi which grows to a mere 30mm - as well as the world's largest chameleon - the Parson's chameleon - which often exceeds 60cm in length.
Unfortunately, deforestation has claimed about 80% of Madagascar's natural forests. This causes millions of tons of valuable topsoil to be washed to the sea yearly. Since President Marc Ravalomanana took office in 2001, much has been done to halt and even reverse this process.
Exactly when the first people arrived in Madagascar is unclear, but archaeologists have found human remains of African decent that dates back approximately 2000 years. The next group of human settlers on the island was Indonesians who arrived there at about 700 AD. It seems that although some degree of racial or tribal mixing did occur, the families and tribes of Indonesian decent (known as the Merina) settled mainly on the central highland while tribes of African decent established themselves around the coast.
By the 16th century, the tribes on the island had been organized into four kingdoms. In the West was the kingdom of Menabe (later known as the kingdom of Boina) with Mahajanga as its capital. On the east coast was the kingdom of the Betsimisaraka and in the southern highlands was the empire of the Betsileo (actually consisting of four smaller kingdoms). The powerful Merina kingdom in the central highlands was formed by several formal rivalry groups and had its capital at Antananarivo.
The first known European to discover Madagascar was Diego Diaz, a Portuguese navigator who anchored there on 10 August 1500. Diaz was looking for a port of call along the "Spice Route" to India and was able here to replenish his stocks of food and fresh water from the island. Following this discovery, several Europeans undertook expeditions to the island and during the cause of the 17th century the Portuguese, English, and French successively and unsuccessfully attempted to colonize Madagascar.
In 1896 the island again became a French colony and remained so until 1958 when it became an autonomous republic within the French Community with its own president (Philibert Tsiranana). Two years later – in 1960 - Madagascar became an independent socialist republic. In May 1973 Major General Gabriel Ramanantsoa took power by ways of a military coup and on 15 June 1975 Didier Ratsiraka was named president. Following a referendum in the same year, the country’s name was officially changed from “Malagasy Republic” to “Democratic Republic of Madagascar” (Republique de Madagascar). During Ratsiraka's rule, the government remained committed to revolutionary socialism with a highly centralized state.
ANTANANARIVO - CAPITAL CITY
The internationally-brokered deal, reached in August 2009, was aimed at ending the nine-month long power struggle between the two sides, but disputes over details continually prevented its implementation, and in December 2009 Mr Rajoelina announced that he was abandoning it and calling a parliamentary election, to be held in 2010. The dispute that led to the ouster of Mr Ravalomanana started in December 2008 when the government tried to close a TV channel owned by Mr Rajoelina, then mayor of the capital, Antananarivo. Mr Rajoelina and his supporters challenged the president for power, and after failing to quell the opposition protests, the president ceded his authority to the military. The officers in turn offered power to Mr Rajoelina, who proclaimed himself president in March and suspended parliament - despite the fact that according to the Madagascan constitution he is technically too young to be president. The change of president was not recognized internationally, and Mr Ravalomanana's supporters in turn mounted their own campaign of protests against the new government. Mr Rajoelina's predecessor, Mark Ravalomanana, a self-made dairy tycoon, came to power in 2002. He used huge street demonstrations sparked by a disputed elections and military force to defeat Marxist President Didier Ratsiraka, who had ruled Madagascar for 23 years. His first term saw free-market reforms which were welcomed by donors and investors. Aid increased and foreign debt was cancelled, but poverty remained endemic and protesters took to the streets over rising prices. In May 2010 Rajoelina set out an election calendar: a constitutional referendum on 12 August, parliamentary elections on 30 September and presidential elections on 26 November. The whole process has been delayed by the lack of a draft constitution.