A big island east of Mozambique, Madagascar (Malagasy: Madagasikara), full name Republic of Madagascar (Malagasy: Repoblikan'i Madagasikara, French: République de Madagascar) is an island country located in East Africa.
Once upon a time, the Indian subcontinent was firmly attached to Africa. They of course split, and most of the subcontinent drifted off to bang into Asia...but some bits and pieces of the old united continent remained, and Madagascar is the largest. Since this happened at about the same time as the Cretaceous-Paleogene exinction event (you know, the one that killed off the dinosaurs and something like 75% of all species then living), this meant that when life got back on its feet, the island developed its own biodiversity, completely different to the rest of the world. Lemurs, among many other animals, are not found anywhere else in the wild.
The country is also unique culturally in Africa. Unlike the rest of the continent, Madagascar was settled by the Malagasy people, speakers of an Austronesian language, specifically part of the Malayo-Polynesian group who had come across the Indian Ocean in ships, much as their Polynesian relatives crossed the Pacific. The closest relatives to the Malagasy language are on Borneo (of all places). The name Madagascar itself is a corruption of the Arabic phrase Jazirat al-Malaiyy, which means "Island of Malay". When the phrase was coined in the 12th century, the Arabs conflated Madagascar with an island in the Malay archipelago (probably Sumatra, part of Indonesia), which isn't helped since the people of both islands reputedly spoke similar languages (which aren't actually mutually intelligible, but to untrained ears, they certainly seemed that way). While the people of Madagascar speak a uniform language, their phenotypes range from being Southeast Asian-looking to one not much different to people from the African mainland. Typically, the folks from the central highlands (including the capital, Antananarivo) are closer genetically to their ancestors from Southeast Asia, compared to coastal people who are much more mixed.
In any case, the Malagasy brought with them crops and livestock (e.g. bananas, taro, and pigs) from Southeast Asia, which is climatically quite similar to Madagascar and East Africa; it is hypothesized that contact with the Malagasy and their crops helped the Bantu colonize eastern and southern Africa (they had been having trouble before then, as their West African crops weren't always well-suited to the East African climate, and their cattle—their only large animal—kept succumbing to sleeping sickness).
The island has had all kinds of governments: a bunch of tribes, a kingdom, part of The French Colonial Empire and it was also administrated by the Vichy regime before it was taken by the Allies during the Battle of Madagascar. The French proselytized the Malagasy to Catholicism, barring a few communities from the coast who have been devout Muslim for generations.
After independence in 1960 it was governed by Philibert Tsiranana who, despite trying to disguise an authoritarian government as some sort of benevolent schoolmaster type of president, brought development to the country. However, his unpopular government was toppled and the country became an isolationist Soviet satellite until 1991, ruled by a military junta, whose political arm was called the Malagasy Revolutionary Party. After the Hole in Flag, the first multiparty elections were held in 1992, electing the first non-military president, Albert Zafy. The MRA would came to power again in 1997 under Didier Ratsiraka, ruling until disputed elections in 2002 brought them from power. A popular uprising in 2009 devolved into the military taking command of the country and putting Andry Rajoelina, mayor of Antananarivo, in charge (the youngest head of state in Africa, not even having 40). The government was not recognized internationally, being regarded as an illegitimate coup détat. However, the opposition reached an agreement with them in 2011, presaging return to democracy in 2013. Rajoelina would become president again in 2018, this time through elections.
Madagascar is one of the poorest countries in the world, with most barely living on less than US$2 per day. The country benefits from its tourism industry; considering the island is like a completely different world, it's understandable. Madagascar is also known for having what amounts to an environmental holocaust. Despite its status as a biodiversity hotspot, with much of its flora and fauna found nowhere else on the planet, deforestation is rampant. This has caused widespread erosion as the island's reddish soil washes into the sea during rainstorms, making it look in satellite photos like the island is bleeding. It has also led to the extinction or endangering of many of its unique plants and animals.
World War II scholars might know of the Madagascar Plan. During the first years of the war, the Nazi government suggested that all the Jews in Europe could be deported to Madagascar, where they could presumably form their own Zionist society isolated from the rest of the world (with supervision of Germany, of course). Eventually it was all dropped because Britain did not, as the Nazi government had hoped, show any interest in negotiating peace with Germany, and it was considered impossible to realize the plan against the resistance of the British navy (also the French government in Vichy was unwilling to cede Madagascar to Germany).
In popular culture:
- Most of what pop culture knows about the country is no doubt filtered through the Madagascar franchise, which depicts it as a nature paradise devoid of humans. Which couldn't be more different. To be fair, it's responsible for introducing a lot of flora and fauna (including the lemurs and fossas) that would have probably stayed obscure had it not existed.
- Madagascar is one of the prime targets of pandemic in Pandemic. Contrary to what the game says, it is actually the 21st century world's capital of the plague, totaling several hundred cases and several dozen deaths every yearup to 85% of the world's total. Not to mention that if you somehow managed to close off all of the island's ports and airports, it would still leave several thousand miles of coastline unmonitored, rendering the country's borders as secure as a single sheet of wet one-ply toilet paper.
The Malagasy flag
The Malagasy national anthem
- Unitary semi-presidential constitutional republic
- President: Andry Rajoelina
- Prime Minister: Christian Ntsay
- Senate President: Rivo Rakotovao
- President of the National Assembly: Christine Razanamahasoa
- Capital and largest city: Antananarivo
- Population: 28,427,328
- Area: 587,041 km² (226,658 sq mi) (46th)
- Currency: Malagasy ariary (Ar) (MGA)
- ISO-3166-1 Code: MG
- Country calling code: 261
- Highest point: Maromokotro (2,876 m/9,436 ft) (82nd)
- Lowest point: Indian Ocean (7,258 m/23,812 ft) (-)
- Malagasy Mythology