Madagascar, as the fourth largest island in the world, is often called “the eighth continent.” Madagascar was settled in the past 2,000 years by people from Asia and Africa, yet its culture is neither African nor Asian, but an intriguing blend of the two that is uniquely Malagasy.
With thousands of species of planets and animals that exist only on this island, Madagascar is considered a global environmental hotspot. From an evolutionary perspective, it s “the path not taken” and is justly considered by many to be a world treasure to be preserved by future generations. While Madagascar supports a fairly large human population whose presence often threatens the environment, the Malagasy work hard at conserving their natural heritage while maintaining their culture and lifestyle.
The nation’s constitution, which was approved on August 19,1992, in a national referendum, established separation of powers among the executive, legislative, and judicial branches; a multiparty political system; and protection of human rights and freedom of speech. The president is elected by universal suffrage for a 5-year period with a two-term limit. The prime minister is nominated by a bicameral Parliament consisting of the Senate and the National Assembly, then approved by the president. The Supreme Court has 11 members.
Madagascar gained its independence from France on June 26, 1960. The two official languages are French and Malagasy. The capital and largest city is Antananarivo.
In early 2009, anti-government demonstrations occurred in the capital, which lead to a military coup. The Peace Corps evacuated and temporarily suspended its program in Madagascar due to security concerns. In November 2009, 16 Volunteers were reinstated in Madagascar and the program has expanded since that time due to a relatively more stable political climate.
Prior to the 2009 political crisis, Madagascar was achieving a healthy 5% annual growth rate, but economic growth has been flat from 2009-2013. The crisis has been responsible for a sharp increase in the poverty rate and, according to The World Bank, an estimated 92 percent of the population lives on $2 a day or less. These poor households spend 74% of their income on food.
Agriculture makes up a large portion of Madagascar’s economy, constituting about 29% of GDP in 2011. In addition to subsistence crops such as rice and vegetables, Madagascar is one of the world’s leading producers of vanilla, cloves, and ylang ylang. Mining, primarily of minerals such as ilmenite and metals such as nickel, is one area of growth for Madagascar.
Madagascar’s population of close to 22 million comprises 18 ethnic groups. According to the CIA Factbook, roughly 61% of the population is under 24 years of age. Each group has its own characteristics, but all share a version of the Malagasy language. Although French is an official language, it is not often spoken outside of the larger cities and towns.
Many Malagasy are Christian and combine church worship with a complex system of ancestor veneration. And intricate set of taboos, or fady, governs many aspects of behavior, including interactions with one another and the environment and, most importantly, the treatment of the dead. Roughly 50% of the population is Christian and 2% is Muslim.
Peace Corps Madagascar History
The Education project in Madagascar has been up and running since the Peace Corps program opened there in 1993. There have been only two brief suspensions of the Peace Corps in Madagascar: one after political unrest following presidential elections in 2002 and again in 2009 after a coup. After each suspension, a security assessment was done and it was determined that volunteers could return within 6-8 months. Since the program opened, roughly 1,020 Peace Corps Volunteers have served in Madagascar, and there are currently about 150 Volunteers in-country.