Situated off the southeast coast of Africa, Madagascar is the fourth largest island in the world. Having developed in isolation, the island nation is famed for its unique wildlife.
Traditionally, the Malagasy economy has been based on the cultivation of paddy rice, coffee, vanilla and cloves.
But, despite a wealth of natural resources and a tourism industry driven by its unique environment, the country remains one of the world's poorest, and is heavily dependent on foreign aid.
Since gaining independence from France in 1960, Madagascar has experienced repeated bouts of political instability, including coups, violent unrest and disputed elections.
The most recent coup in 2009 led to five years of political deadlock, international condemnation and economic sanctions.
President: Andry Rajoelina
Businessman Andry Rajoelina took office as president in January 2019, ending a decade of political turbulence that began with his ouster of President Marc Ravalomanana in 2009.
The feud between the two men came to a head that year, when President Ravalomanana dismissed Mr Rajoelina as mayor of the capital Antananarivo.
The ousted mayor in turn spearheaded a popular and military revolt that drove the president into exile.Mr Rajoelina ruled as head of an interim authority that struggled with international sanctions until 2014, when an often difficult process of accommodation between rival political camps led to him ceding power to elected President Hery Rajaonarimampianina.
Mr Rajoelina then defeated both President Rajaonarimampianina and Mr Ravalomanana in a presidential election in late 2018.
The media are highly-politicised and vulnerable to influence from their owners, says Reporters Without Borders.
Radio is a key news source. Around 10% of Madagascans are online.
Some key dates in Madagascar's history:
16th-17th centuries - First Europeans arrive but fail to gain a foothold.
1883 - French invasion.
1896 - Monarchy overthrown, and Madagascar declared a French colony.
1946 - Madagascar becomes French overseas territory.
1947 - The French crush an armed rebellion.
1960 - Madagascar wins independence with Philibert Tsiranana as president.
1975 - Didier Ratsiraka seizes power in coup and rules for the most part of 30 years.
1992 - Democratic reforms usher in new constitution.
2001 - After aisputed presidential election Didier Ratsiraka flees to France.
2009 - Bloodless coup results in economic sanctions.
2013 - Democratic elections fail to bring political stability, with executive pitted against legislature.
2018 - Andry Rajoelina wins the presidential election.