Largest African island
The first inhabitants came from Indonesia in about 500 AD. Migrations have resulted in a considerable ethnic mix with Malayo-Indonesian, African and Arab influence. There are 18 main ethnic groups in Madagascar.
The official languages are Malagasy and French. Each ethnic group has its own dialect of Malagasy. “Official Malagasy” is the dialect of the Merina. Malagasy is used throughout the island, and French is little understood outside the main centers.
Madagascar is one of the poorest countries of the world. Most people are involved in subsistence agriculture, mainly rice and cattle. There are few natural resources. Tourism is little developed. 70% of people are estimated to live below the poverty line. The main trading partner in France.
The Merina people, from the plateau, gained control of the whole island in the 19th century. This is still a cause of some resentment by the coastal peoples till today. France annexed the island in 1896, and Madagascar became independent from France in 1960. A period of Marxism in the 1970’s was associated with a severe decline in the economy. During that period the French language was replaced by Malagasy in many facets of the country’s life, including education.