Security Concerns in Madagascar

The following is excerped from the Country Studies--Area Handbook program of the U.S. Department of the Army. The original version of this text is available at the Library of Congress.
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Security Concerns

Madagascar faces no external threat. However, during the 1980s, Madagascar experienced periods of tension with South Africa. Although it had the capabilities to launch an air or amphibious attack, South Africa never threatened Madagascar, largely because it feared international condemnation. After Frederik Willem de Klerk became South Africa's president in 1989, relations between the two countries gradually improved.

Since independence, there have been several internal threats against the Malagasy government. This domestic instability reflected the growing restiveness of opposition elements and popular frustration with the government's inability to resolve the political, economic, and social problems confronting the island. Also, the Malagasy armed forces repeatedly have acted against the government for failing to preserve law and order.

The first serious challenge to the government occurred on April 1-2, 1971, when more than 1,000 armed members of the left wing National Movement for the Independence of Madagascar (Mouvement National pour l'Ind�pendance de Madagascar--Monima) attacked five military posts in Tul�ar Province. Government forces quickly restored order and imprisoned Monima's leader, Monja Jaona. According to a government communiqu�, Monima casualties included forty-five killed, nine wounded, and 847 held for questioning while security forces suffered one killed and eleven wounded. According to Jaona, the revolt had been directed against the local administration, which had failed to provide disaster relief to the province after it had experienced a drought, followed by floods caused by cyclones. Also at issue were government pressures for tax collection at a time when local cattle herds were being ravaged by disease.

In early 1972, what began as a student protest against French cultural domination of the island's schools quickly spread to a call for a general strike to protest poor economic conditions. Within days antigovernment protests were occurring in the capital and throughout the provinces. On May 13, 1972, elements from the Republican Security Forces (Forces R�publicaines de S�curit�-- FRS) opened fire on a group of rioters in Antananarivo, killing between fifteen and forty and injuring about 150. Additionally, the government declared a state of national emergency. On May 18, 1972, President Philibert Tsiranana dissolved his government and turned over power to the army, under the command of General Gabriel Ramanantsoa. The army, which had remained neutral throughout the general strike, quickly restored order by placing military officers in control of the six provinces and establishing a new, multiethnic cabinet. In November 1972, after a national referendum, Ramanantsoa became the new head of state.

Continued political and economic instability doomed the Ramanantsoa regime. On December 31, 1974, the armed forces launched an unsuccessful coup attempt. On February 5, 1975, Ramanantsoa, hoping to promote political unity, handed over the government to the former minister of interior, Colonel Richard Ratsimandrava. On February 11, 1975, several members of the Mobile Police Group (Groupe Mobile de Police--GMP) assassinated Ratsimandrava. The government responded by declaring martial law, imposing censorship, and suspending political parties. Also, General Gilles Andriamahazo formed the National Military Directorate, consisting of nineteen military officers from all branches of service and from all over the island. On June 15, 1975, Didier Ratsiraka, who had a seat on the National Military Directorate, became head of state and president of the new ruling body, the Supreme Revolutionary Council.

The next major internal threat surfaced in the mid-1980s, when about 6,000 members of various Chinese martial arts Kung-Fu associations battled the Tanora Tonga Saina (TTS), which acted as Ratsiraka's private presidential security force. Problems started in September 1984, after Ratsiraka banned the practice of martial arts, which led to several clashes between Kung-Fu adherents and the TTS. On December 4, 1984, a larger confrontation occurred when Kung-Fu groups attacked TTS headquarters in Behorika, and killed more than 100 TTS members. Kung-Fu demonstrations continued for the next few years. Finally, on July 31, 1986, army units supported by twelve armored cars and helicopters demolished Kung-Fu headquarters in Antananarivo, and killed the movement's leader and about 200 of his followers.

In the early 1990s, cycles of escalating political unrest and increased governmental repression led to at least three failed coup attempts (1989, 1990, and 1992). Additionally, general strike demonstrations organized by a pro-democracy opposition coalition called Forces Vives (Active Forces) occurred in Antananarivo, and several other Malagasy towns. Following the near paralysis of the economy and demonstrations at the presidential palace during which government forces opened fire on civilians, opposition leaders announced the formation of a transitional government of national unity. Eventually, presidential elections, held between November 1992 and February 1993, resulted in a victory for Forces Vives leader Albert Zafy over Ratsiraka.

Data as of August 1994

This is excerped from the Country Studies--Area Handbook program of the U.S. Department of the Army. The original version of this text is available at the Library of Congress.
Full index of Country Studies-Madagascar