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Sun, 06.26.1960

Madagascar Gains Independence From France

*On this date in 1960 Madagascar became an independent country from France and Philibert Tsiranana became its first president.  This was 76 years after the Berlin Conference, the highpoint of white European competition for territory in Africa, a process commonly known as the Scramble for Africa.   The Malagasy Republic proclaimed on October 14, 1958, became an autonomous state within the French Community. On March 26, 1960, France agreed to Madagascar becoming fully independent.  

Independence evolved in three republics until the 21st century.  Tsiranana's rule represented continuation, with French settlers (or colons) still in positions of power. Unlike many of France's former colonies, the Malagasy Republic strongly resisted movements towards communism.  In 1972, protests against these policies came to a head and Tsiranana had to step down. He handed power to General Gabriel Ramanantsoa of the army and his provisional government. This régime reversed previous policy in favor of closer ties with the Soviet Union.  On February 5, 1975, Colonel Richard Ratsimandrava became the President of Madagascar. After six days as head of the country, he died in an assassination while driving from the presidential palace to his home. Political power passed to Gilles Andriamahazo.

Second Republic (1972–1991)

On June 15, 1975, Lieutenant-Commander Didier Ratsiraka (who had previously served as foreign minister) came to power in a coup. Elected president for a seven-year term, Ratsiraka moved further towards socialism, nationalizing much of the economy and cutting all ties with France. These policies hastened the decline in the Madagascan economy that had begun after independence as French immigrants left the country, leaving a shortage of skills and technology behind. Ratsiraka's original seven-year term as President continued after his party (Avant-garde de la Révolution Malgache or AREMA) became the only legal party in the 1977 elections.  In the 1980s, Madagascar moved back towards France, abandoning many of its communist-inspired policies in favor of a market economy, though Ratsiraka still kept hold of power.  Eventually, opposition, both within and without, forced Ratsiraka to consider his position and in 1992 the country adopted a new and democratic constitution.

Third Republic (1991–2002)

The first multi-party elections came in 1993, with Albert Zafy defeating Ratsiraka. Despite being a strong proponent of a liberal, free-market economy, Zafy ran on a ticket critical of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank. During his presidency the country struggled to implement IMF and World Bank guidelines that were, on the short term, suicidal politically.  As president Zafy was frustrated by the restraints placed upon the powers of his office by the new constitution. His quest for increased executive power collided with the parliament led by then Prime Minister Francisque Ravony. Zafy eventually won the power he sought after but suffered impeachment at the hands of the disenfranchised parliament in 1996 for violating the constitution by refusing to promulgate specific laws.  The ensuing elections saw a turnout of less than 50% and unexpectedly resulted in the re-election of Didier Ratsiraka. He moved further towards capitalism. The influence of the IMF and the World Bank led to widespread privatization.  Opposition to Ratsiraka began to grow again. Opposition parties boycotted provincial elections in 2000, and the 2001 presidential election produced more controversy. The opposition candidate Marc Ravalomanana claimed victory after the first round (in December) but the incumbent rejected this position. In early 2002 supporters of the two sides took to the streets and violent clashes took place. Ravalomanana claimed that fraud had occurred in the polls. After an April recount the High Constitutional Court declared Ravalomanana president. Ratsiraka continued to dispute the result but his opponent gained international recognition, and Ratsiraka had to go into exile in France, though forces loyal to him continued activities in Madagascar.  


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