Foreign Military Assistance 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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Foreign Military Assistance

Since independence, the Malagasy armed forces have relied on numerous countries for military assistance. Historically, France has been the most powerful and most influential of Madagascar's military allies, despite the rift between the two countries in the 1970s. Other nations that have provided military assistance to Madagascar include the former Soviet Union, North Korea, the former Federal Republic of Germany (West Germany), and the United States.

On June 27, 1960, the day after independence, Paris and Antananarivo signed an accord that empowered France to protect Madagascar and to establish military bases on the island. France also gained freedom of movement in Madagascar's airspace and coastal waters. A joint Franco-Malagasy defense command--which consisted of the island's president, the French ambassador, and the commander of France's Third Overseas Zone, the southwestern Indian Ocean--managed the security relationship between the two countries. France also agreed to transfer about 4,500 Malagasy personnel who had been serving in the French forces to Madagascar's newly established armed forces.

French officers and French-trained Merina officers dominated the Malagasy armed forces. Additionally, the presence of French officers in Madagascar helped to maintain professionalism and noninvolvement of the military in politics. President Tsiranana, with French support, tried to offset Merina domination in the officer corps by sending promising c�tier military personnel to France for training and assigning them to important positions upon their return to Madagascar.

Apart from these activities, France also equipped the Malagasy armed forces. During the first five years of independence, France provided military aid worth approximately US$5 million annually, which included technical assistance, training, and nearly all the arms and equipment for the Malagasy armed forces. In addition, France maintained about 2,500 troops at Diego Suarez and Antsirab�; by 1972 this number had grown to approximately 4,000. A general with the title of senior commander of French Forces in the Southern Indian Ocean was in charge of these soldiers. His command also encompassed French forces on Reunion and Comoros. His forces included a marine parachute regiment, a Foreign Legion regiment, and several internal security units. French air units, based primarily at Ivato airfield, had helicopters and transport aircraft while naval units operated three destroyer-size vessels, a tanker, a logistical support ship, and escort vessels.

In the early 1970s, there was a radical change in FrancoMalagasy military relations. Ramanantsoa's government demanded the withdrawal of French military forces from Antananarivo, and announced that it would allow France to have access to the Diego Suarez naval base only on a renewable basis. By 1975 the French government, which opposed the tenuous nature of this proposed new relationship, had withdrawn all its military units from Madagascar.

Beginning in the mid-1980s, Franco-Malagasy relations improved. Between 1982 and 1988, for example, 783 Malagasy officers enrolled in a variety of military courses in France. In 1989 France financed the formation of the Antigang Brigade. On April 5, 1990, France announced that it had donated eight Auverland jeeps fitted with weapons, two ambulances, military engineering equipment, accessories for service vehicles, and 8,290 air force and navy uniforms. France also supplied the Malagasy gendarmes with equipment and a variety of other technical and material aid.

The political instability associated with the democratization movement again altered the nature of the Franco-Malagasy military relationship. On August 15, 1991, French president Fran�ois Mitterrand ordered the withdrawal of French military advisers who were in charge of the personal security of Malagasy president Ratsiraka. This action occurred after the Presidential Guard opened fire and killed thirty-one demonstrators at a prodemocracy rally. Relations between the two countries improved after Zafy was elected president in early 1993, and French security technicians provided him with an independent communications system.

Former West Germany was another important source of military assistance in the immediate postindependence era. By 1964 Bonn had furnished approximately US$1.6 million of military assistance, including thirty jeeps and five coastal patrol boats. Additionally, fifty-five Malagasy naval personnel were studying at military schools in West Germany.

During the Ratsiraka era, the FAP gradually abandoned its almost total reliance on France for equipment and training, and looked to several communist nations for foreign military assistance. During the 1975-82 period, the FAP acquired artillery, small arms, and ammunition from North Korea and the People's Republic of China; two landing craft from North Korea; three Mi-8 helicopters, twelve MiG-21 jet fighter aircraft, and two An-26 transport aircraft from the former Soviet Union. North Korea also provided four MiG-17s on long-term loan, and about ninety military advisers who furnished crew and maintenance support for these aircraft. Approximately 130 Soviet technicians maintained the MiG-21s and the An-26s. FAP personnel received training from Cuban, Romanian, Soviet, and Chinese instructors. As Ratsiraka's radicalism waned, Madagascar distanced itself from these countries. The collapse of the Soviet Union signaled the end Madagascar's reliance on the communist world for military assistance.

Since 1960 the United States and Madagascar have maintained diplomatic relations. However, it was not until the mid-1980s that the two countries established a military relationship, largely because of Ratsiraka's radicalism and Madagascar's relations with the communist world. In fiscal year (FY--see Glossary) 1984, the United States initiated an IMET program to help the Malagasy to improve their defense establishment and military training capabilities. The following year, one Malagasy officer attended the Navy Staff College and another studied at the Army Command and Staff College; additionally, six midlevel officers enrolled in advanced engineering, infantry, field artillery, and communications courses. Also, in FY 1985, the United States approved a Military Assistance Program (MAP) for Madagascar, which included funds for medical supplies and Caterpillar earth-moving and road-building equipment. In July 1988, the United States provided US$1.2 million worth of military engineering equipment to Madagascar's Department of Military Engineering for National Development. Madagascar and the United States also cooperated on several military development projects such as construction of roads, schools, and health centers for the FAP. The FY 1989 MAP provided for maintenance support for the Malagasy Air Force's C-47 Dakota fleet. In the late 1980s, Washington earmarked US$200,000 for a civic-action project designed to build low-cost housing. In 1987 a "Seabee" battalion deployed to Manjakandriana to give a two-month training course to fifty-two men of the Third Regiment of the Malagasy Army's Development Force. By the early 1990s, the United States had confined its military aid objectives to developing Madagascar's military engineering capability, supporting the air force's transport aircraft, and providing managerial and technical training to the armed forces.

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