Madagascar is located east of Mozambique off
the southeastern coast of Africa, and is the fourth largest
island in the world. Its 581,540 sq km of land cover the equivalent
of about two Arizona's in the United States, yet reportedly
only 4% of that land is farmable. The climate is temperate
in the inland highland regions, tropical along most of the
narrow eastern coastal plains, and arid in the south. Natural
resources include semi-precious stones, fish, salt, coal,
hydropower, graphite, mica, and bauxite. Depending on the
source, average per capita income is reported at US $260 to
US$550. Fifty-two percent of the people in Madagascar hold
indigenous religious beliefs (ancestor worship), 41% are Christian
(Catholic and Protestant), and 7 % are Muslim.
Madagascar is considered one of the most biologically
diverse countries in the world. Of the over 12,000 species
of flowering plants found there, 10,000 are found nowhere
else in the world. However, due to rapid deforestation, only
18% of the original forest covers remain.
Madagascar's population of 16 million is of African
and Asian descent. Eighteen tribal groups have emerged from
the ethnic and cultural mix. Malagasy, which is of Malay-Polynesian
origin, is the dominant language, though many Malagasy also
speak French. Contact with foreign traders over the centuries,
as well as colonial rule for over 200 years by the British,
Germans, and most recently the French, color Madagascar's
history and culture.
Madagascar regained full independence in
1960. In 2001, the Malagasy people elected Marc Ravalomanana
president, a move the Economist holds may be "[reason] for
optimism". The Christian Science Monitor writes that "despite
the hardship and uncertainty...observers describe events here
as positive growing pains of a slowly maturing democracy".