MadagascarMadagascar is an African country that lies in the Indian Ocean off the southeast coast of the African mainland.

Madagascar, or Republic of Madagascar, an island nation in the Indian Ocean off the southeast coast of Africa. It consists of the island of Madagascar, which is the world's fourth largest island, and numerous small islands offshore. Total area is 226,658 square miles (587,041 km 2 ). Madagascar's main landforms are an interior highland and flanking lowlands, which are narrow on the east coast and broad on the west. Elevations in the highland are generally between 4,000 and 9,000 feet (1,220 and 2,740 m). All major rivers drain westward or northward.

Madagascar's climate is tropical in the coastal regions, but more temperate in the highland. The northeast receives abundant precipitation; the southwest is dry. About one-tenth of the land is forested. Savannas are widespread.

Agriculture is the mainstay of Madagascar's economy. The great majority of the people are farmers living at or near the subsistence level. Rice is the dominant crop. Others include cassava, sweet potatoes, and bananas for domestic use, and coffee, cotton, cloves, sugar, sisal, and vanilla for export. Many cattle are kept, partly for prestige and religious purposes.

Manufacturing consists mainly of food processing and the production of beverages, textiles, and paper. Of the many minerals known to exist, only chromite and graphite are mined in substantial amounts. Roads are generally poor. Railways link Antananarivo, the capital, to Toamasina and Antsirabe. Toamasina and Mahajanga are the chief ports. Antananarivo has an international airport. Madagascar's basic currency unit is the Malagasy franc.

Madagascar's people are of mixed Malay, African, and Arab descent. About half the people are animists; about 40 per cent, Christians; and the remainder, Muslims. Malagasy, a Malayo-Polynesian tongue, is the official language.

Antananarivo, the capital, is the largest city. Other major cities include Toamasina, Fianarantsoa, and Mahajanga.

Primary education lasts five years, secondary education seven. The literacy rate is about 75 per cent. The University of Antananarivo is the leading institution of higher learning.

Under the constitution of 1998, Madagascar is a federal republic composed of six autonomous provinces, each of which has a governor and up to 12 commissioners and a provincial council. The president of the republic is directly elected for a five-year term and appoints the prime minister. The legislature has two houses, the 160-member National Assembly and the 90-member Senate.

Facts in brief about Madagascar
Capital: Antananarivo.
Official languages: Malagasy, French, and English.
Area: 226,658 mi2 (587,041 km2). Greatest distances—north-south, 980 mi. (1,580 km); east-west, 360 mi (579 km). Coastline—2,600 mi (4,180 km).
Population: Current estimate—18,774,000; density, 83 per mi2 (32 per km2); distribution, 73 percent rural, 27 percent urban. 2000 official government estimate—15,085,000.
Chief products: Agriculture—cassava, cloves, coffee, livestock, rice, sugar cane, vanilla. Mining—bauxite, chromite, coal, graphite. Manufacturing—food processing.
Flag: A white vertical stripe appears at the left, with a red horizontal stripe over a green one at the right. White is for purity, red for sovereignty, and green for hope.
National anthem: "Ry Tanindrazanay Malala O" ("Our Beloved Country").
Flag: Madagascar's flag has a white vertical stripe on the left, with a red horizontal stripe over a green one on the right. White is for purity, red for sovereignty, and green for hope.
Money: Basic unit—ariary. Five iraimbilanja equal one ariary.