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Monument commemorating the uprising.

The Malagasy Uprising (or the Madagascar Revolt) was a rebellion against the colonial rule of France by nationalists on the island of Madagascar in 1947 and 1948. It was crushed by the French government, then headed by Socialist Paul Ramadier. 80,000 to 90,000 people were killed, according to certain sources.[1] More recently, however, historians have suggested the much lower figure of 30,000 to 40,000.[2]


The MDRM uprising

The Mouvement Democratique de la Renovation Malagache (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 in several occasions in war crimes [2]. On 6 May 1947, in Moramanga, soldiers machine-gunned MDMR officials detained in wagons, killing between 124 to 160, mostly unarmed MDRM activists.[2] In Mananjary, hundreds of Malagasy were killed, among them 18 women and a group of prisoners thrown from planes.[2] Other massacres of 35 to 50 people occurred in Farafangana, Manakara, and Mahanoro.[2]

Five North African regiments arrived in Madagascar at the end of July 1947, enabling the French to take the initiative.[2] However, French army strength remained modest: 16,000 soldiers at the beginning of 1948.[2] This increased to as much as 30,000 later that year. The French strategy followed the "oil spot" method of General Joseph Gallieni, the first governor of the island (1896-1905). The only novelty was the use of several old Junkers Ju 52s as bombers, which demoralized the rebel forces and their supporters.[2] The last rebel stronghold, named Tsiazombazaha ("That which is inaccessible to Europeans"), fell in November 1948.[2]

Trials and executions

From July to October 1948, the French organized in Tananarive a large, public trial of the uprising, charging 77 officials of the MDRM — who, for the most part, had nothing to do in the revolt [2]. Ravoahangy, a charismatic leader who had not engaged himself in the uprising, was sentenced to death, with Raseta and four other insurgents [2]. In July 1949, these convictions were commuted to life sentences [2].

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 parliamentarian"s" military courts relayed by civilian courts condemned 5,765 Malagasys (865 by military courts and 4,891 by civilians [2]). 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 [2]. Through amnesties and remissions, all prisoners — except the leaders — were freed in 1957 [2].


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 boasted in the radio that not a single square centimetre of the island escaped to the French military control, leading to the assertion that the 80,000 missing people were all dead [2]. Chevigné blamed this high number on the Malagasy leaders of the insurrection [2].

Historian Jean Fremigacci, however, has recently contested this estimate, highlighting the difficulties of historical research on the matter (due to dispersion of archives, etc.) The disappearance of 80,000 people (2% of the population) would have been felt on the demographic curve, but population growth began again and even accelerated from 1946 to 1949 [2]. The demographist Alfred Sauvy 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 [2].

In 1951, the Minister of Oversea Territories François Mitterrand advanced before the National Assembly the number of 15,000 deaths [2]. 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 striking the population residing in insurgents' zones [2]. According to him, "there have been war crimes in Madagascar in 1947 but no will of extermination. [2]."

A trauma

The Uprising and its repression have caused still present traumas in the Malagasy population. On one hand, many Malagasy fought between themselves [2]. 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 [2].

During an official visit to Madagascar on 21 July 2005, French President Jacques Chirac qualified as "unacceptable" the repression of the Malagasy uprising.

See also


  1. ^ The Malagasy "pacification" of 1947 resulted in 89,000 deaths (In French, translation)
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x Jean Fremigacci, "La vérité sur la grande révolte de Madagascar," L'Histoire, n°318, March 2007.

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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