Republic of Madagascar – Africa

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The Republic of Madagascar (older name Malagasy Republic, Malagasy: Repoblikan’i Madagasikara, French: République de 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 kilometres (226,658 sq mi), the fourth-largest island in the world), as well as numerous smaller peripheral islands, the largest of which include Nosy Be and Nosy Boraha (Île Sainte-Marie).

The prehistoric breakup of the supercontinent Gondwana separated the Madagascar-Antarctica-India landmass from the Africa-South America landmass around 135 million years ago. Madagascar later split from India around 88 million years ago, allowing plants and animals on the island to evolve in complete isolation. Consequently, Madagascar is a biodiversity hotspot in which over 80% of its plant and animal species are found nowhere else on Earth. These are dispersed across a variety of ecoregions, 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.

Most researchers believe Madagascar was first inhabited sometime between 300 BCE and 500 CE by Austronesian peoples arriving on outrigger canoes from Borneo in the Indonesian archipelago who were later joined around 1000 CE by Bantu migrants crossing the Mozambique Channel and establishing first on the north and west coasts. Arabs, East African, later Malay and Javanese, Indians, Chinese and European (primarily French) migrants settled on Madagascar over time, each one making lasting contributions to Malagasy cultural life. The Malagasy ethnic group is often sub-divided into sixteen or more sub-groups of which the largest are the Merina of the central highlands around Antananarivo, and the Betsimisaraka people of the eastern coast around Toamasina. The Austronesian origins of the earliest population are evident everywhere not only in the language and the physical appearance of many Malagasy people, but also in cultural practices related to the veneration of ancestors, the prevalence of : the valiha (a bamboo tube zither of East Asian origin) and the sodina flute in Malagasy musical traditions, the architectural methods and norms who share the same norms than in South East Asia (like the square foundations of habitations), and a cuisine based on rice that establishes the Malagasy people as the largest rice consumers per capita in the world. Bantu influences are evident – especially in the West coast and in the South – in the spiritual and monetary value placed on zebu.

Until the late 18th century, the island of Madagascar was populated by a fragmented assortment of shifting socio-political alliances of varying sizes. Beginning in the early 19th century, however, the majority of the island was united and ruled as the Kingdom of Madagascar by a series of nobles (andriana) of the Merina ethnic group. The monarchy collapsed when the island was conquered and absorbed into the French colonial empire in 1896, from which the island gained independence in 1960. The autonomous state of Madagascar has since undergone four major constitutional periods, including a post-colonial First Republic under President Philibert Tsiranana (1960–1972), a Soviet-style socialist Second Republic under Admiral Didier Ratsiraka (1975–1991), and a democratic Third Republic under successive presidents Albert Zafy, Didier Ratsiraka and Marc Ravalomanana (1992–2009). Since 1992 the nation has officially been governed as a constitutional democracy from its capital at Antananarivo by an elected president who serves a renewable five-year term and is supported by the prime minister he or she nominates. However, following a popular uprising in 2009 instigated by then-mayor of Antananarivo and TGV political party president Andry Rajoelina, Ravalomanana was pressured to resign. Presidential power was then unconstitutionally transferred to Rajoelina with the support of a portion of the military. A 2010 constitutional referendum ushered in the Fourth Republic in which the nation continues to be managed by Rajoelina’s unelected caretaker government known as the High Transitional Authority (HAT). Rajoelina (b. 1974), currently the youngest head of state in Africa, has failed to secure recognition from the international community, which largely views the current administration as illegitimate and has widely characterized Rajoelina’s seizure of power as a coup d’état.

In 2010, the population of Madagascar was estimated at around 20 million, 85% of whom live on less than two dollars per day. Malagasy, the Austronesian language spoken in various forms by the vast majority of the population, is the national language and one of two current official languages alongside French and English. The majority of the population adheres to traditional beliefs or Christianity, but followers of other faiths such as Islam and Hinduism are found in smaller numbers throughout the country. Ecotourism, agriculture, expansion of international trade and greater investments in education, health and private enterprise are key elements of Madagascar’s development strategy. Under Ravalomanana, these investments produced substantive economic growth but the benefits were not evenly spread throughout the population, producing tensions over the increasing cost of living and declining living standards among the poor and some segments of the middle class. Current and future generations in Madagascar are faced with the challenge of striking a balance between economic growth, equitable development and natural conservation.

In the Malagasy language, the island of Madagascar is called Madagasikara and its people are referred to as Malagasy. However, the island’s appellation “Madagascar” is not of local origin but rather was popularized in the Middle Ages by Europeans. The name Madageiscar was first recorded in the memoirs of 13th-century Venetian explorer Marco Polo as a corrupted form of the name Mogadishu, the Somalian port with which Polo had confused the island. On St. Laurence’s Day in 1500, Portuguese explorer Diogo Dias landed on the island and christened it São Lourenço, but Polo’s name was preferred and popularized on Renaissance maps. No single Malagasy-language name predating Madagasikara appears to have been used by the local population to refer to the island, although some communities had their own name for part or all of the land they inhabited.

At 592,800 square kilometres (228,900 sq mi), Madagascar is the world’s 47th-largest countryand the fourth-largest island. The country lies mostly between latitudes 12°S and 26°S, and longitudes 43°E and 51°E. The prehistoric breakup of the supercontinent Gondwana separated the Madagascar-Antarctica-India landmass from the Africa-South America landmass around 135 million years ago. Madagascar later split from India around 88 million years ago, allowing plants and animals on the island to evolve in complete isolation.

The island of Madagascar can be divided into three broad geographic zones. These include the highlands, a plateau region in the center of the island ranging in altitude from 750 to 1,500 m (2,460 to 4,920 ft) above sea level; a narrow and steep escarpment that runs the length of the eastern coast and contains much of the island’s remaining tropical rain forest; and a wide, dry plain that gently slopes from the western boundaries of the highlands toward the Mozambique Channel. The central highlands, traditionally the homeland of the Merina people (the island’s most numerous ethnic group) and location of their historic capital at Antananarivo, is the most densely populated part of the island and is characterized by terraced, rice-growing valleys lying between grassy, deforested hills. Here, erosion has exposed the island’s red laterite soil, source of the country’s sobriquet “The Red Island”. Madagascar’s highest peaks arise from three prominent highland massifs: Maromokotro 9,436 ft (2,876 m) in the Tsaratanana Massif is the island’s highest point, followed by Boby Peak 2,658 m (8,720 ft) in the Andringitra Massif and Tsiafajavona 2,643 m (8,671 ft) in the Ankaratra Massif. To the east, the Canal des Pangalanes is a chain of man-made and natural lakes connected by French-built canals just inland from the east coast, running parallel to it for some 600 km (370 mi). The western and southern sides, which lie in the rain shadow of the central highlands, are home to tropical dry forests, thorn forests, and deserts and xeric shrublands. Presumably due to relatively lower population densities, Madagascar’s dry deciduous rain forest has been better preserved than the eastern rain forests or the original woodlands of the high central plateau. The western coast features many protected harbors, but silting is a major problem caused by sediment from the high levels of inland erosion carried by rivers crossing the vast western plains.[

The combination of southeastern trade winds and northwestern monsoon winds produce a hot rainy season (November—April) with frequently destructive cyclones, and a relatively cooler dry season (May—October). Broadly speaking, the climate is tropical along the coast, temperate inland, moderately dry in the west, and arid in the south. Rain clouds originating over the Indian Ocean discharge much of their moisture over the island’s eastern coast where precipitation as heavy as 3,800 mm (150 in) per year supports the area’s rain forest ecosystem. The central highlands are both drier and cooler, while the west coast is drier still, with high aridity in the southwest and southern part of the island where a semi-desert climate prevails. Annual cyclones cause regular damage to infrastructure and local economies as well as loss of life. The most destructive since 1927 was Cyclone Geralda (February 2–4, 1994) which caused over 70 fatalities and left over 500,000 people homeless with the damage estimated at US$45 million.

Madagascar’s natural resources include a variety of unprocessed agricultural and mineral resources. Key agricultural resources include vanilla, lychees and shrimp. Key mineral resources include various types of precious and semi-precious stones, ilmenite and petrol. Several major projects are underway in the mining and oil and gas sectors that, if successful, will give a significant boost to the Malagasy economy. In the mining sector, these include the development of coal at Sakoa and nickel near Tamatave. In oil, Madagascar Oil is developing the massive onshore heavy oil field at Tsimiroro and ultra heavy oil field at Bemolanga. Mining corporation Rio Tinto Group began operations near Fort Dauphin in 2008, following several years of infrastructure preparation. The mining project is highly controversial, with Friends of the Earth and other environmental organizations filing reports to detail their concerns about effects on the local environment and communities.

In June 2011, the United Nations Population Fund released a report on The State of the World’s Midwifery. It contained new data on the midwifery workforce and policies relating to newborn and maternal mortality for 58 countries. The 2010 maternal mortality rate per 100,000 births for Madagascar is 440. This is compared with 373.1 in 2008 and 484.4 in 1990. The under 5 mortality rate, per 1,000 births is 61 and the neonatal mortality as a percentage of under 5’s mortality is 37. The aim of this report is to highlight ways in which the Millennium Development Goals can be achieved, particularly Goal 4 – Reduce child mortality and Goal 5 – improve maternal death. In Madagascar the number of midwives per 1,000 live births is 4 and 1 in 45 shows us the lifetime risk of death for pregnant women. Two-thirds of the population live below the international poverty line of US$1.25 per day.

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Posted on January 13, 2012, in Africa and tagged . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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