(pronounced "MARK rah-va-low-MAH-nah-nah")
"What the Malagasy need now is discipline."
The Democratic Republic of Madagascar is located in the Indian Ocean, approximately 386 km (240 mi) off the southeast coast of Africa. It is the fourth-largest island in the world, covering an area of 587,041 sq km (226,657 sq mi). The central region of the island is dominated by a mountainous plateau, partly volcanic in origin. The elevation reaches 2,876 m (9,436 ft) atop Mount Maromokotro in the north. A narrow coastal plain is found in the east while a wider plain covers the west coast. The south is an extremely arid desert region.
The population of Madagascar, estimated at 16.5 million people in 2002, is ethnically diverse. The two major groups are the Mérinas (Hova) of Indonesian descent and peoples of African descent. Other smaller groups include Indians, Pakistanis, Comorans, French, Chinese, and people of Arab origin. Approximately 55% of the population hold traditional religious beliefs while about 36% are classified as Christians (with Protestants predominantly represented on the plateau and Roman Catholics in the coastal areas). About 9% are Muslim. The two official languages are Malagasy (of Malayo-Indonesian origin) and French.
The unit of currency is the Malagasy franc. Per capita gross domestic product (GDP) was estimated at US $870 in 2001. This makes Madagascar one of the world's poorest nations. Agriculture dominates the economy and contributes more than 60% of export earnings. Madagascar is the world's leading supplier of vanilla but coffee is the country's major export crop. Other food crops include rice, bananas, beans, cassava, corn, sweet potatoes, cloves, peanuts, and yams. The primary industrial activities are mineral extraction and light manufacturing (mainly food processing). Automobile assembly and petroleum refining are expected to grow in importance. While France is the principal trading partner, other partners include Germany, Japan, Italy, and the United States.
President of the Republic