The African continent is comprised of 54 nations, each with their own independent governments and sovereignty, GDP, culture, natural resources, language(s), military, and religion. The treasure trove of mineral and raw material wealth has scarcely been touched, and the continent's largely untapped fertile lands could feed the world. Herewith is Jewel of Africa, an interactive adventure in the cradle of mankind, an exploration of nations from A-Z in alphabetical order.
Madagascar: Island paradise off the coast of East Africa
Madagascar belongs to the group of least developed countries, according to the United Nations. Malagasy and French are both official languages of the state. The majority of the population adheres to Christianity, traditional beliefs, or an amalgamation of both. Ecotourism and agriculture, paired with greater investments in education, health, and private enterprise, are key elements of Madagascar's development strategy.
Madagascar consists of three parallel longitudinal zones—the central plateau, the coastal strip in the east, and the zone of low plateaus and plains in the west. Situated between 2,500 and 4,500 feet above sea level, the plateau has been uplifted and worn down several times and is tilted to the west. Three massifs are more than 8,500 feet high.
The Tsaratanana region in the north is separated from the rest of the plateau by the Tsaratanana Massif, whose summit, Maromokotro, reaches 9,436 feet and is the highest point on the island. Ankaratra Massif in the center is an enormous volcanic mass whose summit, Tsiafajavona, is 8,671 feet high. Ankaratra is a major watershed divide separating three main river basins. Farther south, Andringitra is a vast granite massif north of Tôlan̈aro (Faradofay); it rises to 8,720 feet at Boby Peak. Neighboring islands include the French territory of Réunion and the nation of Mauri- tius to the east, as well as Comoros and the French territory of Mayotte to the north west. The nearest mainland state is Mozambique, located to the west.
The prehistoric breakup of the supercontinent Gondwana resulted in the separation of East Gondwana (comprising Madagascar, Antarctica, Australia and the Indian subcontinent) and West Gondwana (Africa–South America) during the Jurassic period. around 185 million years ago. The Indo-Madagascar landmass separated from Antarctica and Australia around 125 million years ago and Madagascar separated from the Indian landmass about 88 million years ago during the Late Cretaceous. This long history of separation from other continents has allowed plants and
To the west of this ridge lies a plateau in the center of the island ranging in altitude from 2,460 to 4,920 feet above sea level. These central highlands, traditionally the homeland of the Merina people and their historic capital at Antananarivo, are the most densely populated part of the island characterized by terraced, rice-growing valleys lying between grassy hills and patches of the sub-humid forests that formerly covered the highland region. To the west of the highlands, the increasingly arid terrain gradually slopes down to the Mozambique Channel and mangrove swamps along the coast. The grassy plains that dominate the western landscape are dotted with stony massifs, patches of deciduous forest, and baobab trees, while the south is characterized by semi-desert and spiny forests.
The western and southern sides, which lie in the rain shadow of the central highlands, are home to dry deciduous forests, spiny forests, and deserts and xeric shrublands. Due to their lower population densities, Madagascar's dry deciduous forests have been better preserved than the eastern rain forests or the original woodlands of the central plateau. The western coast features
Antananarivo is the capital city of Madagascar, in the island’s Cen- tral Highlands. It is the political and economic capital of the nation. Overlooking the city, the Rova of Antananarivo palace complex was the center of the Merina kingdom from the 17th century. It features wooden houses and royal tombs. The pink baroque Andafiavaratra Palace sits in the nearby Haute Ville neighborhood. In the city center, heart-shaped Lake Anosy is ringed by jacaranda trees. The
President Andry Nirina Rajoelina has been the president of Mad- agascar since 2019.
The Malagasy ethnic group forms over 90 percent of Madagascar's pop- ulation and is divided into 18 ethnic subgroups. Recent DNA research revealed that the genetic makeup of the average Malagasy person cons- titutes an approximately equal blend of Southeast Asian and East African genes, although the genetics of some communities reveal a predom- inance of Southeast Asian or East African origins or some Arab, Indian, or European ancestry. Southeast Asian features, specifically from the southern part of Borneo, are most predominant among the Merina of the central highlands, who form the largest Malagasy ethnic subgroup at approximately 26 percent of the population, while certain communities among the coastal peoples (collectively called côtiers) have relatively stronger East African features.
Madagascar beaches are among the most beautiful in Africa, and indeed the globe. Madagascar is no stranger to its fair share of world-class beaches, often on smaller islands of their own. Situated off the southeast coast of Africa in the Indian Ocean, it's an absolutely unmissable location for seasoned travelers and luxury-loungers alike. Nosy Iranja Beach is one of the international tourism destinations in Madagas- car, the world’s fifth lar- gest island after Indonesia, Greenland, Papua New Guinea, and Borneo. Sit-ting in the Indian Ocean, Madagascar extends 994 miles on its longest axis,
and 354 miles at its widest point. The island's coast stretches more than 3,107
miles wide of beaches and coral reefs.
Madagascar's splendor is not only relegated to its pristine beaches, but the interior of the islands has a glory all its own. Madagas- car can be divided into five geographical regions: the east coast, Tsaratan- ana Massif, central high- lands, west coast, and southwest. The highest elevations parallel the east coast, whereas the land slopes more gradually to the west coast. Two major water- ways, the Mananara and Mangoro rivers flow from the central highlands to the east coast, as does the Maningory, which flows from Lake Alaotra. Other rivers flowing east into the Indian Ocean include the Bemarivo, the Ivondro, and the Mananjary. The Sam- birano river (left) in north- western Madagascar, has its sources at the Maromo- kotra peak and flows through the Tsaratanana Reserve to the Indian Ocean.
Madagascar has been called the "Great Red Island" because of the pre- ponderance of red lateritic soils. The red soils predom- inate the central highlands, although there are much richer soils in the regions of former volcanic activity--Itasy and Ankaratra, and Tsaratamana to the north. A narrow band of alluvial soils is found all along the east coast and at the mouths of the major rivers on the west coast.
many protected harbors, but silting is a major problem caused by sediment from the high levels of inland erosion carried by rivers crossing the broad western plains.
The combination of southeastern trade winds and northwestern monsoons produces a hot rainy season (Novem- ber-April) with frequently destructive cyclones, and a relatively cooler dry season (May-October). Rain clouds originating over the Indian Ocean discharge much of their moisture over the island's eastern coast; the heavy precipitation supports the area's rainforest ecosystem. The central highlands are both drier and cooler while the west is drier still, and a semi-arid climate prevails in the southwest and southern interior of the island. Tropical
cyclones cause damage to infrastructure and local economies as well as loss of life. In 2004, Cyclone Gafilo became the strongest cyclone ever recorded to hit Madagascar. The storm killed 172 people, left 214,260 home- less and caused more than US$250 million in damage.
As a result of the island's long isolation from neighboring continents, Madagascar is home to various plants and animals found nowhere else on Earth. Approximately 90 percent of plant and animal species found in Madagascar are endemic. This distinctive ecology has led some ecologists to refer to Madagascar as the "eighth continent,” and the island has been classified by Conservation International as a biodiverse hotspot. Madagascar is classed as one of 17 mega-diverse countries. The country is home to seven terrestrial eco-regions, comprised of lowland, sub-humid, and dry deciduous forests; ericoid and spiny thickets, woodlands, and mangroves.
More than 80 percent of Madagascar's 14,883 plant species are found nowhere else in the world, including five plant families. The family Didiereaceae, composed of four genera and 11 species, is limited to the spiny forests of southwestern Madagascar. Eighty percent of the world's Pachypodium species are endemic to the island. Seventy-five percent of Madagascar's 860 orchid species are found there alone, as are six of the world's nine baobab tree species. The island is home to around 170 palm species---three times as many as all of mainland Africa; 165 of them are endemic.
Many native plant species are used as herbal remedies for a variety of afflictions. The drugs vinblastine and vin- cristine are vinca alkaloids used to treat Hodgkin's disease, leukemia, and other cancers, were derived from the Madagascar periwinkle. The traveler's palm, known locally as ravinala and endemic to the eastern rain forests, is iconic of Madagascar and is featured in the national emblem as well as the Air Madagascar logo.
Like its flora, Madagascar's fauna is diverse and exhibits a high rate of endemism. Lemurs have been character- ized as "Madagascar's flagship mammal species" by Conservation International. In the absence of monkeys and other competitors, these primates have adapted to a wide range of habitats and diversified into numerous species.
As of 2012, there were officially 103 species and subspecies of lemur, 39 of which were described by zoologists between 2000 and 2008. They are nearly all classified as rare, vulnerable or endangered. At least 17 species of lemur have become extinct since humans arrived on Madagascar. The extinct lemurs were larger than the survi- ving lemur species.
A number of other mammals, including the cat-like fossa, are endemic to Madagascar. More than 300 species of birds have been recorded on the island, of which over 60 percent (including four families and 42 genera) are endemic. The few families and genera of reptile that have reached Madagascar have diversified into more than 260 species. Ninety percent of these are endemic to the island, including two-thirds of the world's chameleon chameleon species. Researchers believe Madagascar may be the origin of all chameleons.
Endemic fish include two families, 15 genera and more than 100 species, primarily inhabiting the island's fresh- water lakes and rivers. Although invertebrates remain poorly studied in Madagascar, researchers have found high rates of endemism among the known species. All 651 species of terrestrial snail are endemic, as are a majority of the island's butterflies, scarab beetles, lacewings, spiders, and dragonflies.
Madagascar's varied fauna and flora are endangered by human activity. Since the arrival of humans 2,350 years ago, Madagascar has lost more than 90 percent of its original forest. This forest loss is largely fueled by tavy, a traditional slash-and-burn agricultural practice introduced to Madagascar by the earliest settlers. Malagasy farm-
ers embrace and perpetuate the practice not only for its practical benefits as an agricultural technique, but for its cultural associations with prosperity, health and venerated ancestral custom. As human population density rose on the island, deforestation accelerated beginning around 1,400 years ago. By the 16th century, the central highlands had been largely decimated More recent causative factors include growth in cattle herds since their introduction 1,000 years ago, reliance on charcoal as a fuel for cooking, and the increased reliance on coffee as a cash crop.
According to a conservative estimate, about 40 percent of the island's original forest cover was lost from the 1950s to 2000, with a thinning of remaining forest areas by 80 percent. In addition to traditional agricultural practice, wild- life conservation is challenged by the illicit harvesting of protected forests, as well as the state-sanctioned harvest- ing of precious woods within national parks. Although banned by then-president Marc Ravalomanana from 2000 to 2009, the collection of small quantities of precious timber from national parks was re-authorized in January 2009 and dramatically intensified under the administration of Andry Rajoelina as a key source of state revenues to offset cuts in donor support following Ravalomanana's ousting.
Invasive species have likewise been introduced by human populations. Following the 2014 discovery in Madagas- car of the Asian common toad, a relative of a toad species that has severely harmed wildlife in Australia since the 1930s, researchers warned the toad could "wreak havoc on the country's unique fauna." Habitat destruction and hunting have threatened or driven many of Madagascar's endemic species into extinction. The island's elephant birds, a family of endemic giant ratites, became extinct in the 17th century or earlier, most researchers believe due to poaching of their eggs for food.
As much as 80 percent of Madagascar's population of 24 million people is involved in agriculture and the country's economy largely depends on the sector, yet 48 percent of households are faced with food insecurity according to the National Nutrition Office (NNO). The chief food crop is rice, which is grown on about one half of the agricultural land. Other important food crops are cassava, sweet potatoes, fresh vegetables, bananas, maize and beans. Leading export crops are vanilla, cloves, fruits, cocoa, sugarcane, coffee, sisal and cotton.
Employment in agriculture in Madagascar was
reported at 63.83 percent in 2020, according to the World Bank collection of development indicators, compiled from officially recognized sources.
THE LION MAY WEAR THE TITLE "KING OF BEASTS" and reign as top predator in mainland Africa, but in the island nation off the coast of East African—Madagascar, the fossa, the largest mammalian carnivore on the island is supreme and resides at the top of the food chain. The fossa has been compared to a small cougar, as it has convergently evolved many cat-like features.
Madagascar is world-famous for its lemurs—primates that look something like a cat crossed with a squirrel and a dog. These animals are unique to the island and display a range of fasci- nating behaviors from singing like a whale to sashaying across the sand like a ballet dancer. Lemurs and other wildlife endemic to Madagascar were made familiar to the world by the animated film of the same name.
In 2003, the government introduced the Durban Vision, an initiative to increase the island's protected natural areas to 23,000 square miles; 10 percent of Madagascar's land surface. As of 2011, areas protected by the state included five nature reserves 21 wildlife reserves, and 21 national arks. The national parks are now joint World Heritage Sites under the auspices of Rainforests of the Atsinanana. These parks are Marojejy, Masoala, Rano- mafana, Zahamena, Andohahela and Andringitra.
Madagascar is a semi-presidential representative democratic multi-party republic, where an elected president is the head of state and selects a prime minister, who recommends candidates to the president to form his cabinet of ministers. According to the constitution, executive power is exercised by the government while legislative power is vested in the ministerial cabinet, the Senate and the National Assembly. The constitution establishes indepen- dent executive, legislative and judicial branches and mandates the president to three five-year terms. The public
directly elects the president and the 127 members of the National Assembly to five-year terms. All 33 members of the Senate serve six-year terms, with 22 senators elected by local officials and 11 appointed by the president. The last National Assembly election was held in December 2013 and the last Senate election in December 2015.
At the local level, the island's 22 provinces are administered by a governor and provincial council. Provinces are further subdivided into regions and communes. The judiciary is modeled on the French system, with a High Constitutional Court, High Court of Justice, Supreme Court, Court of Appeals, criminal tribunals, and tribunals of first instance. The courts, which adhere to civil law, lack the capacity to quickly and transparently try the cases in the judicial system, often forcing defendants to pass pretrial detentions in unsanitary and overcrowded prisons.
Madagascar has historically been perceived as being on the margin of mainstream African affairs despite being a founding member of the Organization of African Unity, which was established in 1963 and dissolved in 2002 to be replaced by the African Union. Madagascar was not permitted to attend the first African Union summit because of a dispute over the results of the 2001 presidential election, but rejoined the African Union in Madagascar is a member of the International Criminal Court with a Bilateral Immunity Agreement of protection for the United States military. Eleven countries have established embassies in Madagascar, including France, the UK, the US, China, and India, while Madagascar has embassies in 16 other countries.
Human rights in Madagascar are protected under the constitution and the state is a signatory to numerous international agreements including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the Convention on the Rights of the Child. Religious, ethnic and sexual minorities are protected under the law. Freedom of association and assembly are also guaranteed under the law, although in practice the denial of permits for public assembly has occasionally been used to impede political demonstrations.
Military, law enforcement
The rise of centralized kingdoms among the Sakalava, Merina and other ethnic groups produced the island's first standing armies by the 16th century, initially equipped with spears but later with muskets, cannons and other firearms. By the early 19th century, the Merina sovereigns of the Kingdom of Madagascar had brought much of the island under their control by mobilizing an army of trained and armed soldiers numbering as high as 30,000.
The political independence and sovereignty of the Malagasy armed forces, which comprises an army, navy and air force, was restored with independence from France in 1960.
Since this time the Malagasy military has never engaged in armed conflict with another state or within its own borders, but has occasionally intervened to restore order during periods of political unrest. Under the socialist Second Republic, Admiral Didier Ratsiraka instated mandatory national armed or civil service for all young citizens regardless of sex, a policy that remained in effect from 1976 to 1991.
The Minister of Interior is responsible for the national police force, paramilitary force (gendarmerie) and the secret police. The police and gendarmerie are stationed and administered at the local level. Historically, security has been relatively high across the island. Violent crime rates are low, and criminal activities are predominantly crimes of opportunity such as pick-pocketing and petty theft, although child prostitution, human trafficking and the pro- duction and sale of marijuana and other illegal drugs are increasing.
Madagascar is subdivided into 22 regions. The regions are further subdivided into 119 districts, 1,579 communes, and 17,485. Agriculture has long influenced settlement on the island. Only 15 percent of the nation's 27.7 million population live in the 10 largest cities.
During the era of Madagascar's First Republic, France heavily influenced Madagascar's economic planning and policy and served as its key trading partner. Key products were cultivated and distributed nationally through producers' and consumers' cooperatives. Government initiatives such as a rural development program and state farms were established to boost production of commodities such as rice, coffee, cattle, silk and palm oil. Popular dissatisfaction over these policies was a key factor in launching the socialist-Marxist Second Republic, in which the formerly private bank and insurance industries were nationalized, state monopolies were established for such industries as textiles, cotton and power; and import-export trade and shipping were brought under state control.
Madagascar's economy quickly deteriorated as exports fell, industrial production dropped by 75 percent, inflation spiked and government debt increased; the rural population was soon reduced to living at subsistence levels. Over 50 percent of the nation's export revenue was spent on debt servicing. The IMF forced Madagascar's government to accept structural adjustment policies and liberalization of the economy when the state became bankrupt in 1982 and state-controlled industries were gradually privatized over the course of the 1980s. The political crisis of 1991 led to the suspension of IMF and World Bank assistance.
Conditions for the resumption of aid were not met under Zafy, who tried unsuccessfully to attract other forms of revenue for the State before aid was once again resumed under the interim government established upon Zafy's impeachment. The IMF agreed to write off half Madagascar's debt in 2004 under the Ravalomanana Administra- tion. Having met a set of stringent economic, governance and human rights criteria, Madagascar became the first country to benefit from the Millennium Challenge Account in 2005. Madagascar's GDP in 2015 was estimated at US$9.98 billion, with a per capita GDP of $411.82. Approximately 69 percent of the population lives below the national poverty line threshold of one dollar per day.
The agricultural sector comprised 29 percent of Malagasy GDP in 2011, while manufacturing formed 15 percent of GDP. Madagascar's other sources of growth are tourism and the extractive industries. Tourism focuses on the niche eco-tourism market, capitalizing on Madagascar's unique biodiversity, unspoiled natural habitats, national parks and lemur species. An estimated 365,000 tourists visited Madagascar in 2008, but the sector declined during the political crisis with 180,000 tourists visiting in 2010. However, the sector has been growing steadily for a few years; In 2016, 293,000 tourists landed in the African island with an increase of 20 percent compared to 2015.
The island nation is still relatively poor in 2022. Structural impediments remain in the development of the economy, even though it has been growing since 2011, with GDP growth exceeding 4 percent per year. Nearly all economic indicators are growing. The GDP per capita was around $1600 (PPP) for 2017,[one of the lowest in the world, although growing since 2012. Unemployment also diminished. In 2016 was equal to 2.1 percent with a work force of 13.4 million in 2017. The main economic resources of Madagascar are tourism, textiles, agriculture, and mining.
Natural resources and trade
Madagascar's natural resources include a variety of agricultural and mineral products. Agriculture (including the growing of raffia), mining, fishing, and forestry are mainstays of the economy. In 2017 the top exports were vanilla (US$894M), nickel metal (US$414M), cloves (US$288M), knitted sweaters (US$184M) and cobalt (US$143M).
Madagascar is the world's principal supplier of vanilla, cloves and ylang-ylang. The island supplies 80 percent of the world's natural vanilla. Other key agricultural resources include coffee, lychees and shrimp. Key mineral resources include various types of precious and semi-precious stones, and it currently provides half of the world's supply of sapphires, which were discovered near Ilakaka in the late 1990s.
Madagascar has one of the world's largest reserves of ilmenite (titanium ore), as well as important reserves of chromite, coal, iron, cobalt, copper and nickel. Several major projects are underway in the mining, oil and gas sectors that are anticipated to give a significant boost to the Malagasy economy. These include such projects as ilmenite and zircon mining from heavy mineral sands near Tôlanaro by Rio Tinto, extraction of nickel by the Ambatovy mine near Moramanga and its processing near Toamasina by Sherritt International, and the devel- opment of the giant onshore heavy oil deposits at Tsimiroro and Bemolanga by Madagascar Oil.
Exports formed 28 percent of GDP in 2009. Most of the country's export revenue is derived from the textiles industry, fish and shellfish, vanilla, cloves and other foodstuffs. France is the nation's main trading partner, although the US, Japan and Germany also have strong economic ties. The Madagascar-U.S. Business Council was formed in May 2003, as a collaboration between USAID and Malagasy artisan producers to support the export of local handicrafts to foreign markets. Imports of such items as foodstuffs, fuel, capital goods, vehicles, consumer goods and electronics consume an estimated 52 percent of GDP. The main sources of Madagascar's imports include China, France, Iran, Mauritius and Hong Kong.
In 2010, Madagascar had approximately 4,730 square miles of paved roads, 530 miles of railways, and 270 miles of navigable waterways. The majority of roads in Madagascar are paved. National routes connect the six largest regional towns to Antananarivo, with minor paved and unpaved routes providing access to other population centers in each district.
There are several rail lines. Antananarivo is connected to Toamasina, Ambatondrazaka and Antsirabe by rail, and another rail line connects Fianarantsoa to Manakara. The most important seaport in Madagascar is located on the east coast at Toamasina. Ports at Mahajanga and Antsiranana are significantly less used because of their remote- ness. The island's newest port at Ehoala, constructed in 2008 and privately managed by Rio Tinto, will come under state control upon completion of the company's mining project near Tôlanaro around 2038.
Air Madagascar services the island's many small regional airports, which offer the only practical means of access to many of the more remote regions during rainy season road washouts.
Running water and electricity are supplied at the national level by a government service provider, Jirama, which is unable to service the entire population. As of 2009, only 6.8 percent of Madagascar's fokontany had access to water provided by Jirama, while 9.5 percent had access to its electricity services. Fifty-six percent of Madagas- car's energy is supplied by hydroelectric power plants, with the remaining 44 percent provided by diesel engine generators. Mobile telephone and internet access are widespread in urban areas but remain limited in rural parts of the island. Approximately 30 percent of the districts are able to access the nations' several private telecommu- nications networks via mobile telephones or land lines.
Radio broadcasts remain the principal means by which the Malagasy population access international, national, and local news. Only state radio broadcasts are transmitted across the entire island. Hundreds of public and private stations with local or regional range provide alternatives to state broadcasting. In addition to the state television channel, a variety of privately owned television stations broadcast local and international programming throughout Madagascar. Several media outlets are owned by political partisans and politicians, including the media groups MBS and Viva. Access to the internet has grown dramatically over the past decade, with an estimated 352,000 residents of Madagascar accessing the internet from home or in one of the nation's many internet cafés.
Medical centers, dispensaries, and hospitals are found throughout the island, although they are concentrated in urban areas and particularly in Antananarivo. Access to medical care remains beyond the reach of many Mala- gasy, especially in the rural areas, and many recourse to traditional healers. Madagascar's healthcare system comprises of western and traditional medicine practices. Traditional medicine is available throughout the country and practiced largely in rural provinces. ... Western medicine is available through public and private facilities. General hospitals are confined to the capital city Antananarivo.
By the end of the 19th century, Madagascar had the most developed and modern school system in pre-colonial Sub-Saharan Africa. Access to schooling was expanded in coastal areas during the colonial period, with French language and basic work skills becoming the focus of the curriculum.
During the post-colonial First Republic, a continued reliance on French nationals as teachers, and French as the language of instruction, displeased those desiring a complete separation from the former colonial power. Conse- quently, under the socialist Second Republic, French instructors and other nationals were expelled, Malagasy was declared the language of instruction, and a large cadre of young Malagasy were rapidly trained to teach at remote rural schools under the mandatory two-year national service policy.
This policy, known as malgachization, coincided with a severe economic downturn and a dramatic decline in the quality of education. Those schooled during this period generally failed to master the French language or many other subjects and struggled to find employment, forcing many to take low-paying jobs in the informal or black market that mired them in deepening poverty. Excepting the brief presidency of Albert Zafy, from 1992 to 1996, Ratsiraka remained in power from 1975 to 2001 and failed to achieve significant improvements in education throughout his tenure.
The primary schooling cycle is five years, followed by four years at the lower secondary level and three years at the upper secondary level. During Ravalomanana's first term, thousands of new primary schools and additional classrooms were constructed, older buildings were renovated, and tens of thousands of new primary teachers were recruited and trained. Primary school fees were eliminated, and kits containing basic school supplies were distributed to primary students.
Government school construction initiatives have ensured at least one primary school per fokontany and one lower secondary school within each commune. At least one upper secondary school is located in each of the larger urban centers. The three branches of the national public university are located at Antananarivo, Mahajanga, and Fianarantsoa. These are complemented by public teacher-training colleges and several private universities and technical colleges.
As a result of increased educational access, enrollment rates more than doubled between 1996 and 2006. How- ever, education quality is weak, producing high rates of grade repetition and dropout. Education policy in Raval- omanana's second term focused on quality issues, including an increase in minimum education standards for the recruitment of primary teachers from a middle school leaving certificate (BEPC) to a high school leaving certificate (BAC), and a reformed teacher training program to support the transition from traditional didactic instruction to student-centered teaching methods to boost student learning and participation in the classroom. Public expen- diture on education was 2.8 percent of GDP in 2014. The literacy rate is estimated at 64.7 percent.
Approximately 42.5 percent of Madagascar’s 27.7 million population is younger than 15 years of age, while 54.5 percent are between the ages of 15 and 64. Those aged 65 and older form 3 percent of the total population. Only two general censuses, in 1975 and 1993, have been carried out after independence. The most densely populated regions of the island are the eastern highlands and the eastern coast, contrasting most dramatically with the sparsely populated western plains.
The Malagasy ethnic group forms over 90 percent of Madagascar's population and is divided into 18 ethnic subgroups. Recent DNA research revealed that the genetic makeup of the average Malagasy person constitutes an approximately equal blend of Southeast Asian and East African genes, although the genetics of some com- munities show a predominance of Southeast Asian, East African, Arab, Indian or European ancestry.
Southeast Asian features, specifically from the southern part of Borneo, are most predominant among the Mer- ina of the central highlands, who form the largest Malagasy ethnic subgroup at approximately 26 percent of the population, while certain communities among the coastal peoples (collectively called côtiers) have relatively stronger East African features. The largest coastal ethnic subgroups are the Betsimisaraka (14.9 percent) and the Tsimihety and Sakalava (both 6 percent). Chinese, Indian and Comoran minorities are present in Madagascar, as well as a small European (primarily French) populace.
Emigration in the late 20th century has reduced these minority populations, occasionally in abrupt waves, such as the exodus of Comorans in 1976, following anti-Comoran riots in Mahajanga. By comparison, there has been no significant emigration of Malagasy peoples. The number of Europeans has declined since independence, down from 68,430 in 1958 to 17,000 in 1988. There were an estimated 25,000 Comorans, 18,000 Indians, and 9,000 Chinese living in Madagascar in the mid-1980s.
The principle Malagasy language is Malayo-Polynesian and is generally spoken throughout the island. The numerous dialects of Malagasy, which are generally mutually intelligible, can be clustered under one of two subgroups: eastern Malagasy, spoken along the eastern forests and highlands including the Merina dialect of Antananarivo, and western Malagasy, spoken across the western coastal plains. The Malagasy language derives from the Southeast Barito languages, with the Ma'anyan language being its closest relative, incorporating numerous Malay and Javanese words.
French became the official language during the colonial period, when Madagascar came under the authority of France. In the first national Constitution of 1958, Malagasy and French were named the official languages of the Malagasy Republic. Madagascar is a francophone country, and French is mostly spoken as a second language among the educated population and used for international communication.
No official languages were mentioned in the Constitution of 1992, although Malagasy was identified as the national language. Nonetheless, many sources still claimed that Malagasy and French were official languages, eventually leading a citizen to initiate a legal case against the state in April 2000, on the grounds that the pub- publication of official documents only in the French language was unconstitutional. The High Constitutional Court observed in its decision, in the absence of a language law, French still had the character of an official language.
In the Constitution of 2007, Malagasy remained the national language while official languages were reintroduced: Malagasy, French, and English. English was removed as an official language from the constitution approved by voters in the November 2010 referendum. The outcome of the referendum, and its consequences for official and national language policy, are not recognized by the political opposition, who cite lack of transparency and inclusiveness in the way the election was organized by the High Transitional Authority.
According to the Pew Research Center, 85 percent of Malagasys practice Christianity, and 15 percent adhere to traditional religions, which emphasize links between the living and the razana (ancestors). Among Christians, practitioners of Protestants outnumbered Roman Catholics. The Malagasy Council of Churches comprises the four oldest and most prominent Christian denominations of Madagascar (Roman Catholic, Church of Jesus Christ in Madagascar, Lutheran, and Anglican) and has been an influential force in Malagasy politics.
Islam is also practiced on the island. Islam was first brought to Madagascar in the Middle Ages by Arab and Somali Muslim traders, who established several Islamic schools along the eastern coast. While the use of Arabic script and loan words and the adoption of Islamic astrology would spread across the island, the Islamic religion took hold in only a handful of southeastern coastal communities. Today, Muslims constitute 3-7 percent of the population of Madagascar and are largely concentrated in the northwestern provinces of Mahajanga and Antsir- iranana. The vast majority of Muslims are Sunni. Muslims are divided between those of Malagasy ethnicity, Indians, Pakistanis,and Comorans.
More recently, Hinduism was introduced to Madagascar through Gujarati people immigrating from the Saurash- tra region of India in the late 19th century. Most Hindus in Madagascar speak Gujarati or Hindi at home.
Each of the many ethnic subgroups in Madagascar adhere to their own set of beliefs, practices and ways of life that have historically contributed to their unique identities. However, there are a number of core cultural features that are common throughout the island, creating a strongly unified Malagasy cultural identity. In addition to a common language and shared traditional religious beliefs around a creator god and veneration of the ancestors, the traditional Malagasy worldview is shaped by values emphasizing solidarity, destiny, karma, and, a sacred life force that traditional communities believe legitimizes authority figures within the community or family.
Other cultural elements commonly found throughout the island include the practice of male circumcision; strong kinship ties; a widespread belief in the power of magic, diviners, astrology and witch doctors; and a traditional division of social classes into nobles, commoners, and slaves. The diverse origins of Malagasy culture are evident in its tangible expressions. The most emblematic instrument of Madagascar, the valiha, is a bamboo tube zither carried to Madagascar by early settlers from southern Borneo, and is very similar in form to those found in Indonesia and the Philippines today.
Traditional houses in Madagascar are likewise similar to those of southern Borneo in terms of symbolism and construction, featuring a rectangular layout with a peaked roof and central support pillar. Reflecting a widespread veneration of the ancestors, tombs are culturally significant in many regions and tend to be built of more durable material, typically stone, and display more elaborate decoration than the houses of the living. The production and weaving of silk can be traced back to the island's earliest settlers, and Madagascar's national dress, the woven lamba, has evolved into a varied and refined art.
A wide variety of oral and written literature has developed in Madagascar. One of the island's foremost artistic traditions is its oratory, as expressed in the forms of hainteny (poetry), kabary (public discourse) and ohabolana (proverbs). An epic poem exemplifying these traditions, the Ibonia, has been handed down over the centuries in several different forms across the island, and offers insight into the diverse mythologies and beliefs of traditional Malagasy communities. This tradition was continued in the 20th century by such artists as Jean-Joseph Rabear- ivelo, who is considered Africa's first modern poet, and Elie Rajaonarison, an exemplar of the new wave of Malagasy poetry.
Madagascar has also developed a rich musical heritage, embodied in dozens of regional musical genres such as the coastal salegy or highland hiragasy that enliven village gatherings, local dance floors and national airwaves. Madagascar also has a growing culture of classical music fostered through youth academies, organizations and orchestras that promote youth involvement in classical music.
The plastic arts are also widespread throughout the island. In addition to the tradition of silk weaving and lamba production, the weaving of raffia and other local plant materials has been used to create a wide array of practical items such as floor mats, baskets, purses and hats. Wood carving is a highly developed art form, with distinct regional styles evident in the decoration of balcony railings and other architectural elements. Sculptors create a variety of furniture and household goods, aloalo funerary posts, and wooden sculptures, many of which are produced for the tourist market. The decorative and functional woodworking traditions of the Zafimaniry people of the central highlands was inscribed on UNESCO's list of Intangible Cultural Heritage in 2008.
Among the Antaimoro people, the production of paper embedded with flowers and other decorative natural materials is a long-established tradition that the community has begun to market to eco-tourists. Embroidery and drawn thread work are done by hand to produce clothing, as well as tablecloths and other home textiles for sale in local crafts markets. A small but growing number of fine art galleries in Antananarivo, and several other urban areas, offer paintings by local artists, and annual art events, such as the Hosotra open-air exhibition in the capital, contribute to the continuing development of fine arts in Madagascar.
Western sports were introduced to Madagascar include Rugby union, considered the national sport of Madagas- car, soccer, and pétanque, a French game similar to lawn bowling, which is widely played in urban areas and throughout the Highlands.
School athletic programs typically include soccer, track and field, judo, boxing, basketball, and tennis. A traditional pastime called Moraingy, a type of hand-to-hand combat, is a popular spectator sport in coastal regions. It is traditionally practiced by men, but women have recently begun to participate. Wrestling of zebu cattle, called savika or tolonomby, is another popular pastime, occurring in many regions. In addition to sports, a wide variety of games also are played. Among the most emblematic is fanorona, a board game widely enjoyed throughout the highland regions.
Madagascar sent its first competitors to the Olympic Games in 1964, and has also competed in the African Games. Scouting is represented in Madagascar by its own local federation of three scouting clubs. Membership in 2011 was estimated at 14,905.
Because of its advanced sports facilities, Antananarivo gained the hosting rights for several of Africa's top inter- national basketball events, including the 2011 FIBA Africa Championship the 2009 FIBA Africa Championship for Women, the 2014 FIBA Africa Under-18 Championship, the 2013 FIBA Africa Under-16 Champship, and the 2015 FIBA Africa Under-16 Championship for Women. Madagascar's national 3x3 basketball team won the gold medal at the 2019 African Games.
Malagasy cuisine reflects the diverse influences of Southeast Asian, African, Indian, Chinese, and European culinary traditions. The complexity of Malagasy meals can range from the simple, traditional preparations introduced by the earliest settlers, to the refined festival dishes prepared for the island's 19th-century monarchs.
Throughout the island contemporary cuisine of Madagascar consists of rice served with an accompaniment, which may be vegetarian or include meat (laoka).
This typically features a sauce made of coconut milk, ginger, onion, garlic, tomato, vanilla, salt, and curry powder. In parts of the arid south and west, pastoral families may replace rice with maize, cassava, or curds made from fermented zebu milk. A wide variety of sweet and savory fritters is available across the island, as a wide variety of tropical fruits. Locally produced beverages include fruit juices, coffee, herbal teas, and alcoholic drinks such as rum, wine, and beer. Three Horses Beer is the most popular beer on the island and is considered emblematic of Madagascar.