BACKGROUND NOTES:  MADAGASCAR
PUBLISHED BY THE BUREAU OF PUBLIC AFFAIRS
U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE

APRIL 1994
Official Name:  Republic of Madagascar


PROFILE

Geography
Area:  592,800 sq. km. (228,880 sq. mi.).  

Cities:  Capital--Antananarivo (pop. about 850,000).  Other cities--
Antsirabe (about 120,000), Mahajanga (about 150,000), Toamasina (about 
130,000).  

Terrain:  Mountainous central plateau, coastal plain.  
Climate:  Moderate interior, tropical coasts.

People
Nationality:  Noun and adjective--Malagasy.  
Population (1993 est.):  12 million.  
Annual growth rate (1993 est.):  3.2%. 
Ethnic groups:  18 Malagasy tribes; small groups of Comorians, French, 
Indians, and Chinese.  
Religions:  Traditional beliefs 55%, Christian 40%, Muslim 5%.  
Languages:  Malagasy (official), French.  
Education:  Years compulsory--5.  Attendance--83%.  Literacy--53%.  
Health:  Infant mortality rate--120/1,000.  Life expectancy--51 yrs.  
Work force (1992): 5.8 million.  Agriculture--88%.  Industry--7%.

Government

Type:  Republic.
Independence:  June 26, 1960.
Constitution: Entered into force on September 21, 1992.

Branches:  Executive--president, prime minister, cabinet.  Legislative--
National Assembly and Senate.  Judicial--Supreme Court, High Court of 
Justice, Constitutional High Court.
Subdivisions:  Six provinces (faritany).

Political parties:  Several dozen, including Active Forces Cartel, 
Militants for the Development of Madagascar, People United Party, 
National Union for Development and Democracy, Social Democrat Party, 
Study and Action Group for Development in Madagascar, Rally for Social 
Democracy, Liberal Economic and Democratic Action Party, Independence 
and Renewal Party of Madagascar, The Equal Regional Development Party.

Suffrage:  Universal at 18.
National holiday:  June 26.

Flag:  Vertical white band on staff side; horizontal red and green 
bands.

Economy
GDP (1993 est.):  $1 billion at current prices; $2 billion at constant 
prices.
Per capita GDP (1993 est.):  $135.

Natural resources:  Graphite, chrome, coal, bauxite, ilmenite, tar 
sands, semiprecious stones, hard wood.

Agriculture (29% of GDP):  Products--rice, livestock, seafood, coffee, 
vanilla, sugar, cloves, cotton, sisal, peanuts, tobacco.
Industry (14% of GDP):  Types--processed food, clothing, textiles, 
mining, paper, refined petroleum products, glassware, construction, 
soap, cement, tanning.

Trade:  Exports (1992)--$328 million:  vanilla, sugar, cloves, shrimp, 
chromite, graphite.  Major export markets--France, U.S., Germany, Japan, 
Singapore, Italy.  Imports (1992)--$547 million: consumer goods, 
foodstuffs, crude oil, machinery and vehicles, iron and steel.  Major 
suppliers--France, Iran, Japan, Germany, Saudi Arabia, Hong Kong..

Exchange rate (April 1994):  1,900 FMG=US$1.  (###)


PEOPLE AND HISTORY
Madagascar's population is predominantly of mixed Asian and African 
origin.  Recent research suggests that the island was uninhabited until 
Indonesian seafarers  arrived in roughly the first century A.D., 
probably by way of southern India and East Africa, where they acquired 
African wives and slaves.  Subsequent migrations from both the Pacific 
and Africa further consolidated this original mixture, and 18 separate 
tribal groups emerged.  Asian features are most predominant in the 
central highlands people, the Merina (2 million) and the Betsileo (1 
million); the coastal people are of African origin.  The largest coastal 
groups are the Betsimisaraka (1 million) and the Tsimihety and Sakalava 
(500,000 each).

The Malagasy language is of Malayo-Polynesian origin and is generally 
spoken   throughout the island.  French also is spoken among the 
educated of this former French colony.

Most people practice traditional religions, which tend to emphasize 
links between the living and the dead.  They believe that the dead join 
their ancestors in the ranks of divinity and that ancestors are 
intensely concerned with the fate of their living descendants.  This 
spiritual communion is celebrated by the Merina and Betsileo reburial 
practice of famadihana, or "turning over the dead."  In this ritual, 
relatives' remains are exhumed, rewrapped in new silk shrouds, and 
reburied following festive ceremonies in their honor.

About 40% of the Malagasy are Christian, divided almost evenly between 
Roman Catholic and Protestant.  Many incorporate the cult of the dead 
with their religious beliefs and bless their dead at church before 
proceeding with the traditional burial rites.  They also may invite a 
pastor to attend a famadihana.

An historical rivalry exists between the predominantly Catholic coastal 
people (cotiers), considered to be underprivileged, and the 
predominantly Protestant Merina, who tend to prevail in the civil 
service, business, and professions.  A new policy of decentralizing 
resources and authority is intended to enhance the development potential 
of all Madagascar's provinces.

The written history of Madagascar began in the seventh century A.D., 
when Arabs established trading posts along the northwest coast.  
European contact began in the 1500s, when Portuguese sea captain Diego 
Dias sighted the island after his ship became separated from a fleet 
bound for India.  In the late 17th century, the French established 
trading posts along the east coast.  From about 1774 to 1824, it was a 
favorite haunt for pirates, including Americans, one of whom brought 
Malagasy rice to South Carolina.

Beginning in the 1790s, Merina rulers succeeded in establishing hegemony 
over the major part of the island, including the coast.  In 1817, the 
Merina ruler and the British governor of Mauritius concluded a treaty 
abolishing the slave trade, which had been important in Madagascar's 
economy.  In return, the island received British military and financial 
assistance. British influence remained strong for several decades, 
during which the Merina court was converted to Presbyterianism, 
Congregationalism, and Anglicanism.

The British accepted the imposition of a French protectorate over 
Madagascar in 1885 in return for eventual control over Zanzibar (now 
part of Tanzania) and as part of an overall definition of spheres of 
influence in the area.  Absolute French control over Madagascar was 
established by military force in 1895-96, and the Merina monarchy was 
abolished.

Malagasy troops fought in France, Morocco, and Syria during World War I.  
After France fell to the Germans in 1942, Madagascar was administered 
first by the Vichy Government and then by the British, whose troops 
occupied the strategic island to preclude its seizure by the Japanese.  
The Free French received the island from the United Kingdom in 1943.  

In 1947, with French prestige at low ebb, a nationalist uprising was 
suppressed only after several months of bitter fighting.  The French 
subsequently established reformed institutions in 1956 under the Loi 
Cadre (Overseas Reform Act), and Madagascar moved peacefully toward 
independence.  

The Malagasy Republic was proclaimed on October 14, 1958, as an 
autonomous state within the French Community.  A period of provisional 
government ended with the adoption of a constitution in 1959 and full 
independence on June 26, 1960.


GOVERNMENT
In August 1992, Malagasy voters overwhelmingly approved a new, 
democratic constitution to replace the socialist-oriented 1975 charter.  
According to the new constitution, the principal institutions of the 
Republic of Madagascar are a presidency, a parliament (National Assembly 
and Senate), a prime ministry and government, and an independent 
judiciary.  The president is elected by direct universal suffrage for a 
five-year term, renewable only once, and is primarily responsible for 
Madagascar's defense and foreign policy.  

The National Assembly consists of 138 representatives elected by direct 
vote every four years.  The selection of the Senate must await the 
formation of local governments, since two-thirds of the Senate will be 
elected by local legislatures and one-third appointed by the president, 
all for four-year terms.  Day-to-day management of government is carried 
out by a prime minister and a council of ministers.  A prime minister is 
elected every four years by a new National Assembly.

In reaction to the concentration of power in the hands of the president 
during the previous regime, the new constitution contains a number of 
checks and balances.  The prime minister, not the president, initiates 
and executes legislation.  The government and the president, provided 
they act in concert, can dissolve the National Assembly.  For its part, 
the National Assembly can pass a motion of censure and require the prime 
minister and council of ministers to step down.  The Constitutional 
Court approves the constitutionality of new laws.

Territorial administration is to be determined by legislation.  In an 
effort to decentralize administration, the current structure of six 
regions (faritany) are likely to be broken up into more numerous 
districts, each with increased autonomy.  The constitution only provides 
for the perpetuation of rural village and clan-level entities known as 
fokonolona, which are accorded the right to protect their traditional 
fields, pasture lands, and sacred sites.

Principal Government Officials
President--Albert Zafy
Prime Minister, Minister of Defense--Francisque Ravony
Minister of Foreign Affairs--Jacques Sylla
Ambassador to the U.S--Pierrot Jocelyn Rajaonarivelo
Ambassador to the UN--Blaise Rabetafika

Madagascar maintains an embassy in the United States at 2374 
Massachusetts Avenue NW., Washington, DC 20008 
(tel. 202-265-5525).


POLITICAL CONDITIONS
Madagascar's first President, Philibert Tsiranana, was elected when his 
Social Democratic Party gained power at independence in 1960 and was 
reelected without opposition in March 1972.  However, he resigned only 
two months later in response to massive anti-government demonstrations.  
The unrest continued, and Tsiranana's successor, General Gabriel 
Ramanantsoa, resigned on February 5, 1975, handing over executive power 
to Lt. Col. Richard Ratsimandrava, who was assassinated six days later.  
A provisional military directorate then ruled until a new government was 
formed in June 1975, under Admiral Didier Ratsiraka.

During the 16 subsequent years of President Ratsiraka's rule, Madagascar 
continued under a government committed to revolutionary socialism based 
on the 1975 constitution establishing a highly centralized state.  
National elections in 1982 and 1989 returned Ratsiraka for a second and 
third seven-year presidential term.  For much of this period, only 
limited and restrained political opposition was tolerated, with no 
direct criticism of the president permitted in the press.

With an easing of restrictions on political expression, beginning in the 
late 1980s, the Ratsiraka regime came under increasing pressure for 
fundamental change.  In response to a deteriorating economy, Ratsiraka 
had begun relaxing socialist dogma to institute some liberal, private-
sector reforms.  But these and other political reforms--like the 
elimination of press censorship in 1989 and the formation of more 
political parties in 1990--were insufficient to placate a growing 
opposition force known as Hery Velona or "active forces," centered in 
the capital city and the surrounding high plateau.  

In response to largely peaceful mass demonstrations and crippling 
general strikes, Ratsiraka replaced his prime minister in August 1991 
but suffered an irreparable setback soon thereafter when his troops 
fired on peaceful demonstrators marching on his suburban palace, killing 
more than 30.

In an increasingly weakened position, Ratsiraka acceded to negotiations 
on the formation of a transitional government.  The resulting "Panorama 
Convention" of October 31, 1991, stripped Ratsiraka of nearly all of his 
powers, created interim institutions, and set an 18-month timetable for 
completing a transition to a new form of constitutional government.  The 
High Constitutional Court was retained as the ultimate judicial arbiter 
of the process.

In March 1992, a new constitution was drafted by a widely representative 
National Forum organized by the Malagasy Christian Council of Churches.  
Troops guarding the proceedings killed several pro-Ratsiraka 
"federalists" who tried to disrupt the forum in protest of draft 
constitutional provisions preventing the incumbent president from 
running again.  The text of the new constitution was put to a nationwide 
referendum in August 1992 and approved by a wide margin, despite efforts 
by federalists to disrupt balloting in several coastal areas.  

Presidential elections were held on November 25, 1992, after the High 
Constitutional Court had ruled, over active forces objections, that 
Ratsiraka could become a candidate.  A runoff election was held in 
February 1993, and active forces leader Albert Zafy defeated Ratsiraka.  
He was sworn in as President on March 27, 1993.

A nationwide legislative election was held in June 1993 to elect a new 
National Assembly, which, under the new constitution, exercises 
legislative initiative along with the prime minister, whom it elects.  
On the legislative agenda of the new National Assembly is the 
redefinition of Madagascar's territorial divisions and the increased 
devolution of administrative decision making to them.

The proportional representation system for the election of legislators 
contributed to a significant increase in the number of political parties 
and special-interest groups.  These and a free press promote open and 
lively discussion of political issues in Madagascar.


ECONOMY
Agriculture dominates the Malagasy economy, accounting for about 43% of 
GDP and 80% of exports.  Recent estimates are that 88% of the work force 
is engaged in the agricultural sector.  An estimated 65% of the 
population lives at subsistence level.

Historically, Madagascar's principal export crops have been coffee, 
vanilla, and cloves.  Coffee, which as recently as 1989, was 
Madagascar's largest earner of foreign exchange, is now a distant 
second, as both prices and exports have dropped sharply.

Total coffee production has not increased appreciably since the late 
1980s.  Vanilla exports are the largest source of export earnings, but 
in recent years this industry has come under intense pressure from 
foreign competition as well as by increasing use of artificial 
flavorings.  

Clove exports have been highly cyclical in the past; however, prices 
have changed little in the last six years.  Despite price stability, in 
1992, exports fell nearly 35% in volume from the previous year.  

Price stabilization funds for coffee and cloves were abolished in the 
late 1980s, but the export price of vanilla remains subject to 
government control.  The recent sharp decline in export receipts from 
these three cash crops has contributed to a severe shortage of foreign 
exchange in Madagascar, limiting the import of industrial inputs, 
capital equipment, and spare parts essential to national economic 
recovery plans.

The principal food crop in Madagascar is rice.  In recent years, one of 
the main policy objectives in the agriculture sector has been to expand 
rice production to meet food self-sufficiency targets.  During the 
1980s, controls on the transport, production, and sale of rice were 
removed.  Although rice imports have not been eliminated, they have 
declined appreciably from levels reached during the early 1980s.

Other industries showing promise for foreign exchange and employment are 
tourism, clothing manufacture, fishing, commercial agriculture, and 
mining.  Because of its unique and diverse flora and fauna, Madagascar 
has the potential of becoming a center of world eco-tourism.  The future 
development of this activity will depend, however, on extensive 
improvements in the transportation and communication infrastructure in 
Madagascar.  It will also depend on efforts to control deforestation by 
the population of as much as 80% of existing forests. 

Manufacturing accounts for about 14% of the nation's gross domestic 
product.  Low labor costs have encouraged clothing manufacturers to move 
some operations from Mauritius to Madagascar.  A program of duty-free-
zones has also attracted some clothing manufacturers.  The clothing 
sector promises to become increasingly important relative to the 
previous industrial sectors--food processing (currently 50% of 
industrial activity) and textiles (about 25%).  The duty-free program 
provides for tax benefits and duty-free import of manufacturing inputs 
for export-oriented industries.  By early 1993, about 70 companies 
established under the provisions of this law were employing  more than 
17,000 workers.

Madagascar's coastal waters, rich in fish and shrimp, have also become 
an important source of foreign exchange.  In 1991, shrimp export 
receipts overtook those from export of both coffee and cloves for the 
first time.  In the mineral sector, Madagascar has substantial deposits 
of mica, graphite, and chromite, but exports of these minerals remain 
comparatively small (less than 10%).  It is also a leading producer of 
semiprecious stones.  Large ilmenite deposits in the south may become 
important sources of titanium dioxide, used for paint pigment.  
Petroleum exploration continues in Madagascar, but commercially 
significant quantities of oil have not yet been found.

In the foreign trade sector, Madagascar consistently has run a large 
trade deficit since the mid-1980s.  Severely depressed coffee export 
receipts and the failure to diversify into new export products have 
exacerbated the trade imbalance.  Energy imports (one-sixth of total 
imports) are a major drain on foreign exchange resources.  Until 1988, 
the former Soviet Union was Madagascar's principal supplier of crude 
oil.  Supplies are now obtained from Middle Eastern sources and Iran.  
France remains Madagascar's principal trading partner.  The U.S. is an 
important vanilla market, and Indonesia has been the largest customer 
for cloves, although its imports recently have decreased as Indonesia's 
domestic production has increased.


FOREIGN RELATIONS
Madagascar historically has remained outside the mainstream of African 
affairs, although it is an active member of the Organization of African 
Unity and the Non-Aligned Movement.

In contrast to former President Ratsiraka's "all points" policy 
stressing ties with socialist and radical regimes, including North 
Korea, Cuba, Libya, and Iran, President Albert Zafy has expressed his 
desire for diplomatic relations with all countries.  Early in his 
tenure, he established formal ties with South Korea and sent emissaries 
to Morocco.  Active relationships have been maintained with Europe, 
especially France, Germany, and Switzerland, as well as with Russia, 
Japan, India, and China.


U.S.-MALAGASY RELATIONS
Relations with the United States date to the early 1800s.  The two 
countries concluded a commercial convention in 1867 and a treaty of 
peace, friendship, and commerce in 1881.

These traditionally warm relations suffered considerably during the 
1970s, when Madagascar expelled the U.S. ambassador, closed a NASA 
tracking station, and nationalized two U.S. oil companies.  In 1980, 
relations at the ambassadorial level were restored.  Throughout the 
troubled period, commercial and cultural relations remained active.

In 1990, Madagascar was designated as a priority aid recipient, and 
assistance increased from $15 million in 1989 to $40 million in 1993.  
Recent U.S. assistance has contributed to a population census and family 
planning programs, conservation of Madagascar's remarkable biodiversity, 
private sector development, agriculture, democracy and governance 
initiatives, and media training.

U.S. Embassy Officials
Ambassador--Dennis P. Barrett
Deputy Chief of Mission--Peter R. Reams
USAID Director--George Carner
Defense Attache--Lt. Cdr. John Logan
Public Affairs Officer--Lawrence Wohlers
Consular Officer--Robert Kragie
Political Officer--Christopher Davis
Economic Officer--James Freund
Administrative Officer--Garace Reynard
Peace Corps Director--Robert Friedman

The U.S. embassy in Madagascar is at 14 Rue Rainitovo, Antsahavola, 
Antananarivo (tel. 212-57, 209-56; telex 222-02).  The postal address is 
Ambassade Americaine, B.P. 620, Antananarivo, Madagascar.  (###)


TRAVEL NOTES
Customs:  A valid passport and entry visa are required.  Tourists and 
official travelers should obtain visas before arrival; airport visas can 
be obtained for official travelers, but problems have been encountered.  
Travelers should be scrupulous in reporting currency; undeclared 
currency may be confiscated.  Also required is a certificate of 
immunization against cholera and, if coming from an infected area, 
yellow fever.  Health requirements change; check latest information.  
Unauthorized export of protected plant and animal species is severely 
sanctioned.

Health:  Avoid raw fruits and vegetables; eat only thoroughly cooked 
meats.  Dairy products generally are not pasteurized and should be 
avoided.  Tapwater is not potable--drink bottled beverages without ice.  
Do not swim in fresh or salt waters without competent local advice; 
fresh water is at risk for bilharzia, and coastal waters have sharks.  
Antimalaria medication is advisable in the capital and indispensable in 
the coastal areas.  The climate in the highland interior tends to 
provoke colds and bronchitis.

Telecommunications:  Long-distance telephone and telegraph service is 
available but expensive and frequently unreliable.  Antananarivo is 
eight time zones ahead of eastern standard time.

Transportation:  International flights are often fully booked; travel 
arrangements should be confirmed well in advance.  Domestic air 
connections are good.  Some parts of the country can be covered by 
train, bus, rural taxi, or hired car, but the road network has 
deteriorated considerably, and many areas are inaccessible except by 
four-wheel-drive vehicles.  (###)


Published by the United States Department of State -- Bureau of Public 
Affairs -- Office of  Public Communication -- Washington, DC  April 1994 
-- Managing Editor:  Peter A. Knecht

Department of State Publication 8015 -- Background Notes Series Contents 
of this publication are not copyrighted unless indicated.  If not 
copyrighted, the material may be reproduced without consent; citation of 
the publication as the source is appreciated.  Permission to reproduce 
any copyrighted material (including photos and graphics) must be 
obtained from the original source.

For sale by the Superintendent of Documents, U.S. Government Printing 
Office, Washington, DC 20402.  
(###)

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