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29 Mars 1947 Monument

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] However a number of sources put the number of dead much lower at 11,000.[2][3][4][5][6][7] Some historians have suggested a figure of 30,000 to 40,000.[8]

The MDRM uprisingEdit

The Mouvement Democratique de la Renovation Malgache (MDRM), whose objective was independence for Madagascar, formed in 1946 in response to French colonial rule. On March 29, 1947, Malagasy nationalists revolted in the eastern part of the island, inspiring a resistance movement across the island. At the height of the movement, nationalists gained control of one third of the island.[8]

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, soldiers machine-gunned MDRM officials detained in wagons, killing between 124 and 160 mostly unarmed MDRM activists.[8] In Mananjary, 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, Manakara, and Mahanoro.[8]

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 with soldiers numbering 16,000 at the beginning of 1948.[8] The number of troops 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. The last rebel stronghold, named Tsiazombazaha ("That which is inaccessible to Europeans"), fell in November 1948.[8]

Trials and executionsEdit

From July to October 1948 in Antananarivo, the French organized 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, along with Raseta and four other insurgents. In July 1949, these convictions were commuted to life sentences.[8]

The leaders responsible for organizing the uprising have never been conclusively identified. Although the MDRM leadership consistently maintained its innocence, the party was outlawed by the French colonial rulers.[8]

Beside this important "trial of the parliamentarians", military courts relayed by civilian courts condemned 5,765 Malagasy nationals (865 by military courts and 4,891 by civilians).[8] The military courts delivered 44 death penalties but carried out only eight executions, while 16 of the 129 death penalties pronounced by the civilian courts were enacted.[8] Through amnesties and remissions, all prisoners — except the leaders — were freed in 1957.[8]


According to French military estimates, 8,000 to 10,000 persons had been killed in the 1948-49 period. A further 80,000 were estimated to have taken refuge in areas controlled by the rebels. In December 1948, the high commissioner Pierre de Chevigné boasted on the radio that not a single square centimetre of the island had escaped French military control, leading to the assertion that the 80,000 missing people were all dead. Chevigné blamed the high casualties on the Malagasy leaders of the insurrection.[8]

Historian Jean Fremigacci, however, has recently contested this estimate, highlighting the difficulties of historical research on the matter due to dispersion of archives and other data sources. The disappearance of 80,000 people (2% of the population) would have manifested on the demographic curve, but population growth began again and even accelerated from 1946 to 1949.[8] The demographist Alfred Sauvy suggested the trauma to population growth that would normally be observed by these casualties may have been masked by improvements in malaria survival rates resulting from a major colonial anti-malaria campaign undertaken in the same period.[8]

In a 1951 report to the French National Assembly, the Minister of Oversea Territories François Mitterrand estimated 15,000 were killed in the uprising.[8] Historian Fremigacci places the number of casualties at around 30,000 to 40,000 deaths, among which 10,000 were due to violent death, and the remainder to the disease and malnutrition that struck the population residing in insurgent zones.[8] According to him, "There were war crimes in Madagascar in 1947 but without intent to exterminate."[8] A number of sources place the number of dead at 11,000.[2][3][4][5][6][7]

National traumaEdit

The Uprising and its repression caused trauma that continues to manifest in the Malagasy population. Many Malagasy nationals fought each other and struggle to reconcile themselves to the remorse and guilt.[8] Healing at the national level is further complicated by the fact that the same leaders who proclaimed Madagascar's independence in 1960 were those who had been major players in the Padesm political party, which had been favored by the colonial administration after the crushing of the revolt.[8]

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

See alsoEdit


  1. The Malagasy "pacification" of 1947 resulted in 89,000 deaths (In French, translation)
  2. 2.0 2.1 A Country Study: Madagascar Library of Congress
  3. 3.0 3.1 The Cambridge Encyclopedia of Africa (1981)
  4. 4.0 4.1 Dictionary of Wars, by George Childs Kohn (Facts on File, 1999)
  5. 5.0 5.1 "B&J": Jacob Bercovitch and Richard Jackson, International Conflict : A Chronological Encyclopedia of Conflicts and Their Management 1945-1995 (1997)
  6. 6.0 6.1 Hartman, T., A World Atlas of Military History 1945-1984 (1984)
  7. 7.0 7.1 "WHPSI": The World Handbook of Political and Social Indicators by Charles Lewis Taylor
  8. 8.00 8.01 8.02 8.03 8.04 8.05 8.06 8.07 8.08 8.09 8.10 8.11 8.12 8.13 8.14 8.15 8.16 8.17 8.18 Jean Fremigacci, "La vérité sur la grande révolte de Madagascar," L'Histoire, n°318, March 2007.

Further readingEdit

  • 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 linksEdit

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