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Colonialism, Nationalism, and Decolonization in Madagascar  

Solofo Randrianja

Madagascar’s colonization by France took place in the wake of rising nationalism. If its colonization corresponded with French strategic interests such as the establishment of an area of influence in the southern part of the Indian Ocean, then, except for the small colony of Réunion, France’s purely economic interest in Madagascar’s colonization remains questionable. Sparsely inhabited in spite of its large area, with no strategic resources such as gold or other important raw materials, Madagascar endured colonization efforts that focused on the constitution of a state capable of politically unifying the whole island through the recycling of what remained from a sovereign precolonial state before French conquest. The conquest itself and the process of colonization were initially met with violent resistance, mainly from the countryside, which was crushed on the eve of World War I. Later, resistance gave way to more modern political expressions, all treated as illegal by colonial legislation until the eve of World War II. The first political proposal called for equal rights and integration of Madagascar and its people into a French republic. Gradually, influenced by the memory of the former Malagasy regime but also under the influence of nationalism, which blew over the whole world during the interwar period, the anticolonialism movement became nationalist despite the existence of its relatively influential socialist component. The post–World War II liberal atmosphere and frustrations and deprivations endured during the war were among the causes of the March 1947 uprising. Its brutal crushing and subsequent repression excluded part of the political elite and the majority of the traumatized rural population from the decolonization process, which began by the mid-1950s. Decolonization was conducted without any actual hiatus from the previous colonial system in both institutions and political personnel.