The former French colony of Madagascar is an island nation located off the southeast coast of Africa, and is the fourth largest island in the world with a population of 22.9 million (2016). It is situated in the Indian Ocean and has an area of 587,041 square kilometres. In 1960, it gained independence from France.
It is four times larger than Greece, but despite its huge size, Madagascar has an extremely low population density: only 32 inhabitants per square kilometre.
The islands of Mauritius, the Comoros, Réunion, and Mayotte are situated near to Madagascar.
The capital is Antananarivo (also known as Tanaribi or Tana). It has a population of four million inhabitants, and it is situated at an altitude of 1,300 m. Urban development is continually expanding, and supports other towns in the area.
Madagascar can be divided into five geographic regions. The elevation varies from sea level to 2,876m at its highest point: Moromokotro. The eastern side of the island is dominated by a warm and humid climate. The coastline is flanked by islands. The eastern and western parts of the island have rivers, and the largest lake, Lake Alaotra, is 40 km in length. These rivers are a valuable and useful source of water: the inhabitants wash their clothes, fish, water their animals, wash themselves, and get water to cook from them. Unfortunately, the inhabitants drink the river water without boiling it. As a result, they suffer from illnesses such as cholera, typhoid, and hepatitis. In the case of children, they suffer from communicable childhood diseases.
In Madagascar, Africa meets Asia. As we leave the coast heading towards the heart of the island, we leave behind the tall, thin, pitch black Bara people and approach areas inhabited by people of an intense Asian colour and appearance.
Along the coast, the climate is tropical; whereas, in land, it is temperate, and arid in the south. There are two seasons: a hot rainy season (from November to April), and a cooler dry season (from May to October).
Flora & Fauna
The rich flora has 12,000 species, 75% of which are endemic: such as the wonderful Baobab trees. Many trees, such as the eucalyptus tree, have been imported from other countries.
The fauna is minimal. Many species are endemic, such as the prosimian lemur. There are no vipers or lizards. There are rare species of fish and many areas are protected by several environmental parks. Cattle, pigs, and sheep are reared in the savannahs.
Madagascar has several natural resources, such as graphite, chromite, coal, and bauxite.
The Malagasy ethnic group forms 90% of Madagascar’s population. According to recent DNA studies, a typical Malagasy person has a genetic profile that consists of approximately 50% East African genes and 50% South East Asian genes. Life expectancy is 55 years for men and 58 years for women. 15% of children die before they reach their first year of life.
Madagascar is among the world's poorest countries. Life is hard for the majority of the inhabitants of Madagascar. They work hard, but they suffer from poverty. They live with very few goods, and yet rejoice at the slightest opportunity for anything. In the villages, in order to make a little money, they set up their 'shops' along the sides of the roads - a plank with a few potatoes, one or two tomatoes, and a little fruit. Many people in the city sell pistachios to get a little money to buy some poor quality rice. Others make charcoal and sell it in half-kilo bags. In this way, these people try to support their families.
For the transportation of goods and people they use handcarts or, at best, oxcarts. People are also transported by rickshaw, a Chinese contribution to the cultural mosaic of Madagascar, and often the driver has to cover large distances pulling a rickshaw containing more than one passenger.
Their houses are small 2m by 2m constructions, built with mud and clay of all earthy hues. The roofs are made of straw, but sometimes with corrugated iron. Outside, the low wooden fences, serving as clothes dryers, are loaded with colourful laundry. Only 10% of houses have electricity and running water, but only a paltry 2% have toilets.
Madagascar is mainly a rural economy supported by fishing and logging. It exports bananas, sugar cane, carnations, coffee, dates, beans, cocoa, etc. while importing machinery, electrical items, and pharmaceuticals. France is Madagascar's main trading partner.
The tightness of the economic and social situation is manifested by the size of the annual per capita income, which is limited to $989. This makes Madagascar one of the 10 poorest countries in the world: it essentially survives on foreign aid. The daily wage in Madagascar is merely 7/10 of a euro, i.e. 70 cents.
In the struggle for survival, this troubled people have deforested 2/3 of the island's tropical forests. They usually employ slash-and-burn agriculture to make more land available for grazing their cattle, called zebu, and for arable farming.
The Malagasy language, a language of Malayo-Polynesian origin, is generally spoken throughout the island. The official languages of Madagascar are Malagasy and French, and educated people speak French and English.