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Madagascar, formerly Malagasy Republic, since 1975 the Republic of Madagascar, republic in the Indian Ocean comprising the large island of Madagascar and several small islands.

Land and climate

Separated from the southeast African mainland by the Mozambique Channel, Madagascar is the world's fourth largest island. It has rugged central highlands and fertile low-lying coastal plains. The highlands have several extinct volcanoes and mountain groups which rise to over 9,000 ft/2,743 m. In the highlands the climate is pleasantly cool, but it occasionally becomes cold. The coastal plains tend to be hot and humid, with luxuriant vegetation.


The people of Madagascar can be broadly divided into two groups. The Merinas, of Indonesian and Polynesian descent, live mainly in the highlands. The majority of people living in the coastal regions are of black African descent. The principal languages are French and Malagasy, an Indonesian language. Over 70% of the people live in rural areas. About 40% of the population is Christian, 5% is Muslim, and the remainder observe various traditional beliefs. The capital is Antananarivo (Tananarive).


The island is predominantly farming and stock-raising country. Coffee, cloves, and vanilla are principal foreign exchange earners. Meat and prawns are also exported. Chromite, graphite, mica, and phosphates are important minerals. Oil and gas deposits have been discovered. Growing industries include food processing, oil refining, vehicle assembly, and textile manufacture.


The first peoples to settle Madagascar were black Africans and Indonesians some 2,000 years ago. Western Europeans did not reach the island until the 16th century. A native kingdom, the Merina kingdom, gained hegemony over the island in alliance with Europeans. At the same time, the Portuguese, English, and French strove with one another for dominance. Finally, the French invaded and annexed the island in 1885, but had to fight until 1905 to overcome a determined Merina kingdom. In 1947, a revolt against French rule was crushed, but in 1958 the island gained self government as the Malagasy Republic and became fully independent in 1960.1972 marked the beginning of a period of political and economic unrest and in 1975 a Marxist military took power. In 1977, national elections were held to create a legislature. Didier Ratsiraka, who had ruled as Madagascar's military leader since 1975, won the first presidential election (1982); under his leadership, the government has loosened its restrictions on the economy and introduced democratic reforms in the 1990s. In 1997 he again won the presidential elections.


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21st Century Webster's Family Encyclopedia21st Century Webster's Family Encyclopedia - Lyon, Mary to Manu