The Republic of Madagascar, sometimes known as Madagascar (and formerly as the Malagasy Republic), is an island republic in the Indian Ocean, about 400 kilometers (250 miles) off the coast of East Africa across the Mozambique Channel. Madagascar is the world's second-largest island nation, behind Indonesia, with 592,800 square kilometers (228,900 square miles). The country is made up of Madagascar (the world's fourth-largest island) plus a number of smaller outlying islands. Madagascar parted from the Indian subcontinent some 88 million years ago, after the ancient breakup of the supercontinent Gondwana, enabling local vegetation and animals to develop in relative isolation. As a result, Madagascar is a biodiversity hotspot, with over 90% of its animals being indigenous.
Austronesian peoples arrived in Madagascar before or before the mid-first millennium AD, likely aboard outrigger canoes from present-day Indonesia. Bantu migrants crossing the Mozambique Channel from East Africa joined them about the 9th century AD. Other tribes settled in Madagascar throughout time, each making significant contributions to Malagasy cultural life. The Malagasy ethnic group is often subdivided into 18 or more subgroups, the biggest of which being the Merina of the central highlands.
Until the late 18th century, Madagascar was dominated by a jumbled collection of fluctuating social coalitions. Beginning in the early nineteenth century, a succession of Merina nobility unified and dominated the majority of the island as the Kingdom of Madagascar. The island's monarchy ended in 1897, when it was absorbed into the French colonial empire, from which it gained independence in 1960. Since then, Madagascar's independent state has gone through four significant constitutional eras known as republics. Since 1992, the country has been ruled as a constitutional democracy from Antananarivo, its capital. However, after a political crisis in 2009, President Marc Ravalomanana was forced to resign, and presidential authority was given to Andry Rajoelina in March 2009. Constitutional administration was restored in January 2014, when Hery Rajaonarimampianina was elected president after a fair and transparent election in 2013. Madagascar belongs to the United Nations, the African Union (AU), the Southern African Development Community (SADC), and the Organisation Internationale de la Francophonie.
According to the United Nations, Madagascar is one of the world's least developed nations. Both Malagasy and French are official languages of the country. The vast majority of people follow Christianity, traditional beliefs, or a combination of the two. Madagascar's development plan includes increased expenditures in education, health, and the private sector, as well as ecotourism and agriculture. These investments brought significant economic development under Ravalomanana, but the gains were not uniformly distributed across the population, causing conflicts over rising living costs and falling living standards among the poor and certain elements of the middle class. The economy has been devastated by the 2009–2013 political crisis, and the majority of the Malagasy people continue to live in poverty.