The Republic of Madagascar is an island nation in the Indian Ocean off the southeastern coast of Africa. The main island, also called Madagascar, is the fourth-largest island in the world.
Malagasy, the Austronesian language spoken by the vast majority of the population, is the national language and one of the official languages. The other official languages are French (official since independence) and English.
The primary religions are Malagasy mythology and Christianity, but adherents to other faiths, Islam in particular, are found throughout the country.
Madagascar is the world's 46th-largest country and the fourth-largest island. It is slightly larger than France, and is one of 11 distinct physiographic provinces of the South African Platform physiographic division.
There are two seasons: a hot rainy season from November to April and a cooler dry season from May to October. Southeastern trade winds predominate, and the island occasionally experiences cyclones. Madagascar was divided into six autonomous provinces and subdivided into 22 regions . Although the present head of state is self-proclaimed, Madagascar is usually a semi-presidential representative democratic republic, whereby the Prime Minister of Madagascar is head of government, and of a pluriform multi-party system. Agriculture, including fishing and forestry, is a mainstay of the economy. Major exports are coffee, vanilla (Madagascar is the world's largest producer and exporter of vanilla), sugarcane, cloves, cocoa, rice, cassava (tapioca), beans, bananas, peanuts and livestock products. Madagascar's sources of growth are tourism; textile and light manufacturing exports (notably through the EPZs); agricultural products; and mining. Madagascar is the world's leading producer of vanilla and accounts for about half the world's export market. Tourism targets the niche eco-tourism market, capitalizing on Madagascar's unique biodiversity, unspoiled natural habitats, national parks and lemur species. Several major projects are underway in the mining and oil and gas sectors that, if successful, will give a significant boost to the Malagasy economy. Madagascar's population is predominantly of mixed Austronesian and African origin. Today about 45% of the Malagasy are Christian, divided almost evenly between Catholics and Protestants. Many of the Christian churches are influential in politics. The best example of this is the Malagasy Council of Churches comprising the four oldest and most prominent Christian denominations (Roman Catholic, Church of Jesus Christ in Madagascar, Lutheran, and Anglican). A significant proportion of the adult population is illiterate. Malagasy culture reflects a blend of Southeast Asian, Arab, African and European influences.
The Malagasy language is of Malayo-Polynesian origin and is generally spoken throughout the island. Madagascar is a francophone country, and French is spoken among the educated population. English, although still rare, is becoming more widely spoken, and in 2003 the government began a pilot project of introducing the teaching of English into the primary grades of 44 schools.