Madagascar Revolt
The Malagasy Uprising was a rebellion against the colonial rule of France
The French Republic , The French Republic , The French Republic , (commonly known as France , is a unitary semi-presidential republic in Western Europe with several overseas territories and islands located on other continents and in the Indian, Pacific, and Atlantic oceans. Metropolitan France...

 by nationalists on the island of Madagascar
The Republic of Madagascar is an island country located in the Indian Ocean off the southeastern coast of Africa...

 in 1947 and 1948. It was crushed by the French government, then headed by Socialist Paul Ramadier
Paul Ramadier
Paul Ramadier was a prominent French politician of the Third and Fourth Republics. Mayor of Decazeville starting in 1919, he served as the first Prime Minister of the Fourth Republic in 1947. On 10 July 1940, he voted against the granting of the full powers to Marshal Philippe Pétain, who...

. 80,000 to 90,000 people were killed, according to certain sources. More recently, however, historians have suggested the much lower figure of 30,000 to 40,000.

The MDRM uprising

The Mouvement Democratique de la Renovation Malgache (MDRM), whose objective was independence for Madagascar, formed in 1946 in response to the island becoming a French overseas territory. On March 29, 1947, Malagasy nationalist "tribesmen" revolted in the eastern part of the island. The rebels gained control of one third of the island.

The colonial authorities reacted violently to the rebellion, in particular during the first six weeks, engaging on several occasions in war crimes. On 6 May 1947, in Moramanga
Moramanga is a city in Madagascar.Between the capital city Antananarivo and the east coast. The name Mora-manga literally means “cheap mangoes”. The city of Moramanga has an important place in the history of Madagascar. It was in Moramanga, on the night of the 29th of March 1947 that the Malagasy...

, soldiers machine-gunned MDRM officials detained in wagons, killing between 124 and 160, mostly unarmed MDRM activists. In Mananjary
Mananjary is the name of:*Mananjary, Fianarantsoa, fivondronana in Vatovavy-Fitovinany Region, Madagascar.*Mananjary River, in southern Madagascar...

, hundreds of Malagasy were killed, among them 18 women and a group of prisoners thrown from planes. Other massacres of 35 to 50 people occurred in Farafangana
Farafangana is a city on the south-east coast of Madagascar approximately 400 kilometres south of the capital Antananarivo.Farafangana is the capital of the Atsimo-Atsinanana region....

, Manakara
Manakara is a city in Madagascar.It is the capital of Vatovavy-Fitovinany Region.The city is located at the east coast and has a small port. It is the endpoint of the Fianarantsoa-Côte Est railway , which connects the city of Fianarantsoa with the sea. For those interested in traveling to Manakara...

, and Mahanoro.

Five North African regiments arrived in Madagascar at the end of July 1947, enabling the French to take the initiative. However, French army strength remained modest: 16,000 soldiers at the beginning of 1948. This increased to as much as 30,000 later that year. The French strategy followed the "oil spot" method of General Joseph Gallieni
Joseph Gallieni
Joseph Simon Gallieni was a French soldier, most active as a military commander and administrator in the French colonies and finished his career during the First World War. He was made Marshal of France posthumously in 1921...

, the first governor of the island (1896-1905). The only novelty was the use of several old Junkers Ju 52
Junkers Ju 52
The Junkers Ju 52 was a German transport aircraft manufactured from 1932 to 1945. It saw both civilian and military service during the 1930s and 1940s. In a civilian role, it flew with over 12 air carriers including Swissair and Deutsche Luft Hansa as an airliner and freight hauler...

s as bombers, which demoralized the rebel forces and their supporters. The last rebel stronghold, named Tsiazombazaha ("That which is inaccessible to Europeans"), fell in November 1948.

Trials and executions

From July to October 1948, the French organized in Antananarivo
Antananarivo , formerly Tananarive , is the capital and largest city in Madagascar. It is also known by its French colonial shorthand form Tana....

 a large, public trial of the uprising, charging 77 officials of the MDRM — who, for the most part, had nothing to do with the revolt. Ravoahangy, a charismatic leader who had not engaged himself in the uprising, was sentenced to death
Capital punishment in France
Capital punishment was practiced in France from the Middle Ages until 1977, when the last execution took place by guillotine, being the only legal method since the French Revolution. The last person to be executed in France was Hamida Djandoubi, who was put to death in September 1977. The death...

, with Raseta and four other insurgents . In July 1949, these convictions were commuted to life sentences .

In fact, the leaders responsible for the uprising have never been conclusively identified. Although the MDRM leadership consistently maintained its innocence, the party was outlawed by the French colonial rulers.

Beside this important "trial of the parliamentarians", military courts relayed by civilian courts condemned 5,765 Malagasys (865 by military courts and 4,891 by civilians ). 44 death penalties were handed out by the military courts, but finally only 8 of them executed, while 16 of the 129 death penalties pronounced by the civilian courts were enacted . Through amnesties and remissions, all prisoners — except the leaders — were freed in 1957 .


In 1948-1949, the French authorities alleged that 8,000 to 10,000 persons had been killed. In reality, this claim resulted from military estimates. The French Army calculated that 80,000 Malagasy escaped to their control in the insurgent zone. Therefore, in December 1948, the high commissioner Pierre de Chevigné
Pierre de Chevigné
Pierre de Chevigné was a French politician, who was the Minister of Defence for the French 5th Republic between May 14 and June 1, 1958....

 boasted in the radio that not a single square centimetre of the island escaped from French military control, leading to the assertion that the 80,000 missing people were all dead . Chevigné blamed this high number on the Malagasy leaders of the insurrection .

Historian Jean Fremigacci, however, has recently contested this estimate, highlighting the difficulties of historical research on the matter (due to dispersion of archive
An archive is a collection of historical records, or the physical place they are located. Archives contain primary source documents that have accumulated over the course of an individual or organization's lifetime, and are kept to show the function of an organization...

s, etc.) The disappearance of 80,000 people (2% of the population) would have been felt on the demographic curve, but population growth
Population growth
Population growth is the change in a population over time, and can be quantified as the change in the number of individuals of any species in a population using "per unit time" for measurement....

 began again and even accelerated from 1946 to 1949 . The demographist Alfred Sauvy
Alfred Sauvy
Alfred Sauvy was a demographer, anthropologist and historian of the French economy. Sauvy coined the term Third World in reference to countries that were unaligned with either the Communist Soviet bloc or the Capitalist NATO bloc during the Cold War...

 spoke of an "innovative percussion" (percussion novatrice) concerning this event: the colonial administration then engaged important means, in 1948-1949, in the struggle against malaria
Malaria is a mosquito-borne infectious disease of humans and other animals caused by eukaryotic protists of the genus Plasmodium. The disease results from the multiplication of Plasmodium parasites within red blood cells, causing symptoms that typically include fever and headache, in severe cases...


In 1951, the Minister of Oversea Territories François Mitterrand
François Mitterrand
François Maurice Adrien Marie Mitterrand was the 21st President of the French Republic and ex officio Co-Prince of Andorra, serving from 1981 until 1995. He is the longest-serving President of France and, as leader of the Socialist Party, the only figure from the left so far elected President...

 advanced before the National Assembly the number of 15,000 deaths . Historian Fremigacci now evaluates the casualties to 30,000 to 40,000 deaths, among which 10,000 were accountable to violent death, and the other to diseases and malnutrition
Malnutrition is the condition that results from taking an unbalanced diet in which certain nutrients are lacking, in excess , or in the wrong proportions....

 striking the population residing in insurgents' zones . According to him, "there have been war crime
War crime
War crimes are serious violations of the laws applicable in armed conflict giving rise to individual criminal responsibility...

s in Madagascar in 1947 but no will of extermination. ."

A trauma

The Uprising and its repression have caused still present traumas in the Malagasy population. On one hand, many Malagasy fought between themselves . On the other hand, the leaders who proclaimed Madagascar's independence in 1960 were issued from the Padesm, a political party favoured by the colonial administration after the crushing of the revolt .

During an official visit to Madagascar on 21 July 2005, French President Jacques Chirac
Jacques Chirac
Jacques René Chirac is a French politician who served as President of France from 1995 to 2007. He previously served as Prime Minister of France from 1974 to 1976 and from 1986 to 1988 , and as Mayor of Paris from 1977 to 1995.After completing his studies of the DEA's degree at the...

qualified as "unacceptable" the repression of the Malagasy uprising.

Further reading

  • Philip M. Allen and Maureen Covell: Historical Dictionary of Madagascar, 2. ed. Lanham, Md. [etc.] : Scarecrow Press, 2005
  • Jennifer Cole: Forget colonialism? : sacrifice and the art of memory in Madagascar, Berkeley [etc.] : Univ. of California Press, 2001
  • Jean Eugène Duval: La révolte des sagaies – Madagascar 1947, Paris: Harmattan, 2002, 364p.
  • Jacques Tronchon : L' insurrection malgache de 1947 : essai d'interprétation historique, Fianarantsoa : Éd. Ambozontany Fianarantsoa [etc.], 1986

External links

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