About Madagascar


Madagascar is the oldest island in the world and is located in the Indian Ocean off the south-east coast of Africa. Otherwise known as the Red Island because of its laterite-rich soil, at 587,041km², it is also the fourth largest island in the world and is renowned for its unique wildlife. Home to fossas, chameleons, and lemurs — including the indri, which is one of the largest living lemurs — Madagascar attracts vazahas (foreigners) from across the globe. However, in spite of everything it has to offer, it is still one of the world's poorest countries and is heavily dependent on foreign aid.

Since gaining independence from France in 1960, the country has experienced almost continuous political instability. The most recent coup in 2009 led to international condemnation and economic sanctions, and the political situation remains fragile.

Over 90% of the nearing 25-million strong population belong to the Malagasy ethnic group, and Madagascar has one of the highest proportions of indigenous religious practitioners in Africa — over half of the population adhere to traditional Malagasy beliefs that honour Zanahary (a creator deity) and family ancestors.

The country is a Francophone nation, and both Malagasy and French are the official languages. Malagasy may be the most widely spoken language, but French is used as the language of instruction in learning institutions. English is also widely spoken, particularly in the major cities and for matters relating to foreign policy (which creates opportunities for expats to teach English).

Many expatriates work in either the NGO, embassy, or mining sector, and live in the busy capital of Antananarivo. Many are naturally attracted by the island's wildlife and nature, and choose to work in the ecotourism and conservation sectors.

Madagascar's landscapes are varied and breathtaking — from rainforests and deserts to baobab-lined avenues and pristine beaches along 5,000km of coastline. The country offers an intense kaleidoscope of nature, complete with limestone karsts, sandstone canyons, sacred forests, and hills terraced with rice paddies. However, as a result of the limited commitment from the government and a severe lack of infrastructure, there are logistical challenges of travelling across the vast country, so tourism has mainly been confined to beach resorts on the island of Nosy Be, off the Northwest coast of Madagascar. The roads make travel a time-consuming challenge, particularly during the hot, rainy season from November to April. However, the country is bursting with epic scenery and mind-blowing natural curiosities that make it worthwhile if you can spare the time and energy.

As a result of its geographical diversity and isolation, Madagascar is rich in natural resources, and the economy has always relied on the cultivation of rice, coffee, vanilla, and cloves. Agriculture still remains the biggest economic contributor even though output has been hampered by the use of farming practices that render areas unproductive.

Other industries are slowly starting to emerge in spite of the country's issues and instability. In 2007, the president opened a USD 3.3 billion nickel cobalt mining project in Tamatave, and the mine is said to be the largest of its kind in the world. The following year, Madagascar produced its first barrels of crude oil in over half a century and, since August 2016, several licences have been issued by the government to search for offshore oil, which could potentially create more opportunities for expats in this sector.

The nation also has a burgeoning sapphire mining industry but, due to insufficient controls, the discovery of high-quality alluvial sapphires has resulted in illegal mines cropping up over the past decade. Deforestation is another big problem across the country. Many communities are poor, so depend on charcoal for fuel and require space for agriculture, but this places tremendous pressure on primary forests, its wildlife inhabitants, and tourism.