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Madagascar: Armed Forces in National Life
Country Study > Chapter 6 > Strategic Considerations > Armed Forces in National Life


Madagascar has a rich military history. During the early nineteenth century, the Merina kings relied on the army to extend their control through most of Madagascar. A small permanent force of career soldiers formed the backbone of the royal army. Periodic levies of freemen augmented these core units. Theoretically, military service was obligatory for all males. However, conscription laws excused sons of members of the ruling class and barred slaves from serving in the army. All soldiers shared in the spoils of war as the Merina expanded and consolidated their control over the island.

During the 1820s, the army's size increased to about 14,000 professional soldiers. Britain, hoping to counter French influence in Madagascar, furnished new weapons, ammunition, uniforms, and technical assistance to the army. The British also helped reorganize and train the army.

Increasing French interest in Madagascar prompted numerous clashes with the island's indigenous forces. Between 1883 and 1885, France launched several attacks on Madagascar. To end hostilities, the Merina recognized French control over Diego Suarez, agreed to pay an indemnity, and allowed a French resident at Antananarivo to control the country's foreign relations. In 1894 France declared a protectorate over the island but the Malagasy refused to recognize French authority. As a result, in September 1895 a French expeditionary force occupied the capital and obtained recognition of the protectorate from Queen Ranavalona III.

A Menalamba (red cloth) revolt broke out, however, among Merina conservatives against the institutions and agents of a repressive state-church society. Some observers also have suggested that the revolt was an attempt to overthrow the newly established colonial government. France reacted to this unrest by exiling the queen and the former prime minister to Algeria and by declaring Madagascar a French colony. The new French governor, General Joseph Gallieni, eventually pacified the country and carried out many reforms, including the abolition of slavery.

During the French period, which lasted from 1896 to 1960, the Malagasy could be conscripted into the colonial forces. During World War I and World War II, several thousand Malagasy served in France, North Africa, and other combat zones. After 1945 many Malagasy started agitating for independence. In March 1947, the Merina, who regarded themselves as Madagascar's genuine rulers, and some cĂ´tiers, members of another ethnic group, staged an uprising against the French. The island's colonial governor responded by unleashing a reign of terror against the rebels. Estimates of the numbers of Malagasy who perished in the revolt ranged from 11,000 to 80,000 (relatively few French soldiers died during the fighting). Notwithstanding these losses, France retained its influence in Madagascar, even after the island gained its independence.

During the postcolonial period, the Malagasy armed forces reflected the French heritage. Military personnel continued to receive training in France and to use French-manufactured weapons. Moreover, with the exception of a brief period in the late 1970s, French military advisers continued to serve in Madagascar.

Data as of August 1994

Last Updated: August 1994

Editor's Note: Country Studies included here were published between 1988 and 1998. The Country study for Madagascar was first published in 1994. Where available, the data has been updated through 2008. The date at the bottom of each section will indicate the time period of the data. Information on some countries may no longer be up to date. See the "Research Completed" date at the beginning of each study on the Title Page or the "Data as of" date at the end of each section of text. This information is included due to its comprehensiveness and for historical purposes.

Note that current information from the CIA World Factbook, U.S. Department of State Background Notes, Australia's Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade Country Briefs, the UK's Foreign and Commonwealth Office's Country Profiles, and the World Bank can be found on

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