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An island nation in the Indian Ocean, Madagascar lies some distance off the southeastern coast of the African continent. After becoming independent from France in 1960, Madagascar struggled to maintain a stable democratic system with repeated periods of mass protest, regime collapse and transitional governments. The most recent of these, in 2009, saw a popular uprising develop into what has been widely described as a coup d’etat. Repression and attempts to restrict dissent during these periods of instability are a core problem with Madagascar's human rights record, but there are also persistent issues with child labour and corruption.
Madagascar is an Indian Ocean island off the southeastern coast of Africa. It is the world's fourth biggest island after Greenland, New Guinea and Borneo. Because of its isolation most of its mammals, half its birds, and most of its plants exist nowhere else on earth.
Population and language
Madagascar is home to 20.1 million people. Ethnic groups include Malayo-Indonesian (Merina and related Betsileo), Cotiers, French, Indian, Creole, and Comoran.
The official languages are Malagasy, French and English.
Politics and economy
Madagascar is a republic that gained independence from France in 1960. The country has been in political turmoil since 2009 after a change of power led by Andry Rajoelina (at that time the mayor of the capital city Antananarivo) against Marc Ravalomanana, who was forced into exile. This was designated an unconstitutional coup d’etat, and was rejected by the international community. Political mediation is still underway to resolve the crisis.
The World Bank has estimated that 70 per cent of Malagasy live on less than $1 per day.
Major exports include vanilla, coffee, cloves, shrimp, graphite, essential oils, apparel, industrial minerals and gemstones. France, the US and Germany are among its major trading partners.
The legal system is based on French civil law system and traditional Malagasy law.
Media and civil society
The constitution provides for freedom of the press. However, according to Freedom House, governments have at times curbed press freedom in practice. The media are highly polarised and partisan, and there are dozens of licensed television, radio, and print outlets. Because of the low literacy rate, the print media are mostly aimed at the French-speaking urban elite.
The 2009 political crisis was sparked by the closure of a private television station run by Rajoelina because it aired an interview with former president Didier Ratsiraka without official permission. There have been reports of harassment and violence towards journalists. Media outlets have been raided by security forces. Freedom House says that the independent outlets that remain in operation increasingly practice self-censorship.
Human rights and children's rights
Human rights organisations have highlighted excessive force used against demonstrators by police forces, killing dozens of people and injuring hundreds. Members of the political opposition have been arbitrarily arrested and detained. There have also been allegations of the violation of the freedom of peaceful assembly and expression and the right to a fair trial. There is, in general, impunity for human rights violations.
Madagascar ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child on 19 March 1991, the Optional Protocol on the involvement of children in armed conflict on 22 September 2004, and the Optional Protocol on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography on 22 October 2004.
- World Bank, Madagascar Country Profile
- Amnesty International Annual Report 2011: Madagascar*BBC, Madgascar Country Profile
- Freedom House, Freedom in the World 2010: Madgascar
- UNICEF, Madagascar Country Page
- UNDP, Madagascar Country Profile