The Republic of Madagascar, formerly known as the Malagasy Republic and the Democratic Republic of Madagascar, has undergone significant socioeconomic and political changes during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Occupying a strategic location off the southeast coast of Africa, the island historically became the target of British and French imperial ambitions.
Madagascar is a unique blend of Asian and African culture and is well known as the home of some of the world’s most unusual and most endangered flora and fauna, from lemurs to giant tortoises. Although so close to the east coast of Africa where traces of human existence go back hundreds of thousands of years, Madagascar was uninhabited until about two thousand years ago. How it came to be inhabited by seafaring peoples from present-day Indonesia is just one of the many fascinating aspects.
Indonesians are believed to have migrated to the island about 700. During the first millennium, Madagascar was colonized by black Africans and Malayans. The island was in the eighteenth century divided in diverse kingdoms. Between 1767 and 1810 the Howa people managed to unite Madagascar in one state. Finally in 1817 King Radama I of Imerina, having conquered practically the whole island of Madagascar, entered into a treaty of friendship and peace with the United Kingdom in which he was recognized as king of Madagascar.
The Kingdom of Imerina became a French protectorate in 1885 (formally in 1895) and in 1896 France annexed the island as the colony of Madagascar, whereby it abolished the kingdom. Madagascar became in 1946 an overseas territory. In 1947 a nationalist uprising was suppressed after several months of bitter fighting. France reformed institutions in 1956 and in 1958 the Malagasy Republic was proclaimed as an autonomous state within the French Community. Philibert Tsiranana of the Parti Social Démocratique du Madagascar (Social Democratic Party of Madagascar, PSD) became the first prime minister.
In 1960 Malagasy became independent as a presidential democracy under president Tsiranana, but in 1972 the army seized power shortly after the unopposed reelection of Tsiranana: Gabriel Ramanantsoa became president. Ramanantsoa resigned in 1975, but his successor Richard Ratsimandrava was assassinated 6 days later. Didier Ratsiraka became president and military dictator. He renamed the country Democratic Republic of Madagascar and established a one-party socialist regime under the Antoky ny Revolisiona Malagasy /Avant-garde de la révolution Malgache (Vanguard of the Malagasy Revolution, AREMA), committed to revolutionary socialism. Only limited and restrained political opposition was tolerated, with no direct criticism of the president permitted in the press. Ratsiraka allowed in 1990 the formation of more political parties. In an increasingly weakened position, Ratsiraka accessed to negotiations on the formation of a transitional government. Interim institutions were created in 1991 and in 1992 a new constitution was drafted.
In multi-party elections in 1993 Ratsiraka was defeated by the leader of the Union Nationale pour le Développement et la Démocratie (National Union for Development and Democracy, UNDD), Albert Zafy. Zafy was impeached by parliament in 1996 and in the following elections in 1997 Ratsiraka, emerged victorious. His party was renamed Andry sy Riana Enti-Manavotra an'i Madagasikara/Association pour la Rénaissance de Madagascar (Pillar and Structure for the Salvation of Madagascar, AREMA). In the 2001 elections both major candidates claimed victory. At the end of the political crisis Ratsiraka fled to exile and Ravalomanana became president.
The economy of Madagascar is dominated by agriculture, which employs three-fourths of the population. Agriculture, livestock and forestry contribute 32 percent of GDP, industry 13 percent (with food industry, energy, and beverages industry as main sub-sectors), and services about 55 percent.
Since the late 1980s, the country has adopted more pragmatic economic policies: price distortions have been removed; the exchange rate has been floated; energy prices have been increased; and commodity subsidies have been eliminated. In recent years, the financial sector has been strengthened through bank restructuring and privatization. Key sectors such as air transport and telecommunications have been exposed to increased competition. The economy has responded positively to these reforms. During the period1997-99, GDP grew at an average rate of 4.1 percent, and inflation has been in single digits three years in a row. Some areas, such as agriculture, have not shown as much progress. Fiscal balance has improved steadily in recent years. External accounts remain highly dependent on foreign aid, and on the foreign direct investment front, the country is long way to go compared with several African countries - FDI has been still less than one percent of GDP.
Ethnic groups: Malayo-Indonesian (Merina and related Betsileo), Cotiers (mixed African, Malayo-Indonesian, and Arab ancestry - Betsimisaraka, Tsimihety, Antaisaka, Sakalava), French, Indian, Creole, Comoran
Religions: indigenous beliefs 52%, Christian 41%, Muslim 7%
Monetary unit: Malagasy franc
Languages: Malagasy and French (both official)
Religions: indigenous beliefs 52%, Christian 41%, Islam 7%
Below is an analysis of Madagascar according to The 2005 Index of Economic Freedom, The Heritage Foundation Heritage and The Wall Street Journal:
Category: Mostly Unfree
Population: 16, 437, 000
Total area: 587,040 sq. km
GDP: $3.5 billion
GDP growth rate: -12.7%
GDP per capita: $214
Major exports: fish, vanilla, sugar, petroleum products
Exports of goods and services: $581 million
Major export trading partners: France 33.6%, US 24.3%, Germany 6.2%, Japan 3.9%, UK 2.8%
Major imports: capital goods, raw materials, consumer goods, food
Imports of goods and services: $1.2 billion
Major import trading partners: France 16.7%, Hong Kong 6.7%, China 5.8%, Singapore 2.8%, Germany 1.8%
Foreign direct investment (net): $8 million
The 2005 Index of Economic Freedom, The Heritage Foundation Heritage and The Wall Street Journal
By Purity Njeru
Ms. Njeru is an African Executive staff writer
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