Madagascar general strike in support of Marc Ravolomanana, 2002

Printer-friendly versionPrinter-friendly versionPDF versionPDF version
Time Period:  
January 28,
July 5,
Location and Goals
Location City/State/Province: 
To unseat the ruler Admiral Didier Ratsiraka from the presidency and replacing him with the winner of majority votes in the December presidential election, Marc Ravolomanana.

Madagascar was officially proclaimed a colony of France in 1896, and gained independence in June 1960. For the first couple decades following independence, one-party rule and political turmoil, including violent and nonviolent struggle, characterized the country.

The tumultuous period brought Admiral Didier Ratsiraka to power, who practically ruled Madagascar from 1975 until the 2002 campaign. Ratsiraka faced increasing opposition during his presidency. Popular protests erupted in 1989 over alleged election fraud. At his inauguration, protesters clashed with security forces resulting in 75 causalities. Similar protest took place in 1991, during which 400,000 demonstrators demanding Ratsiraka’s resignation were fired on by presidential guards, killing approximately 130 people. The repression increased sympathy for the protesters, prompting a general strike in May 1991, forcing Ratsiraka to hold general elections. However, due to alleged corruption, Ratsiraka had regained the presidency by 1997.

In the December 2001 election, Marc Ravolomanana, who was the mayor of Antananarivo, a local entrepreneur millionaire, and the owner of the country’s largest food company, faced Ratsiraka for the presidency. Neither party secured a ‘simple majority’ and a second round of voting was scheduled to take place in March. However, Ravolomanana claimed that the results had been falsified, accusing Ratsiraka of fraud. The Constitutional Court ordered a recount.

Demanding Ratsiraka’s resignation and refusing to take part in a runoff without a recount, Ravolomanana and supporters organized a general strike and series of demonstrations, which took hold of the country and the Antananarivo (the capital) on January 28, 2002. International flights were suspended and businesses, shops, and banks were closed in Madagascar’s largest general strike in history. Protesters filled the streets, claiming that a second round of voting was unnecessary. President Ratsiraka refused to allow a recount.

The crowds grew each day, with total counts reaching up to one million protesters. Ratsiraka declared martial law and appointed a military governor for the city. However, like the 1991 general strike, protesters defied the curfew and ‘state of emergency’. Outdoor ‘balls’ spread across the capital, with thousands of dancers flooding the streets.

In early March, Ravolomanana and supporters mobilized large protests and took control of the capital, Antananarivo, seizing government ministries and manning barricades. Ratsiraka and supporters set up a rival capital in the city of Tamatave, set up roadblocks, and tried to starve Antananarivo of gasoline and other essentials.

In April, Ravolomanana announced his ‘cabinet’; civilians escorted the officials to their offices in Antananarivo. Security personnel stood by and watched, unable to take action because of the ‘sheer size of the opposition’s support’. Thousands of Ravolomanana supporters formed a human barricade around his residence, singing songs and holding vigils, pledging to block any attempt to arrest him.

After several weeks of pro-Ravolomanana demonstrations, Ratsiraka supporters marched to Antananarivo to confront the Ravolomanana supporters. The confrontation led to violence on both sides, the first occurrence of violence during the electoral contention, resulting in up to 70 deaths, reports of torture, and disappearances on both sides. Nuns and representatives from religious groups tried to prevent violence by positioning themselves between the opposing groups and singing hymns. Security forces maintained their neutrality, claiming that their role was to protect citizens.

Sometime toward the end of the conflict, a peace deal was brokered by Senegal president Abdoulaye Wade. Ravolomanana and Ratsiraka both initially signed, agreeing to accept the results of a recount, and in the meantime, Ravolomanana would accept Ratsiraka’s interim presidency. Ratsiraka also promised to end the blockade of Antananarivo. However, neither contender kept his word and the struggle continued.

On May 6, the Constitutional Court announced that the recount indicated that Mr. Ravalomanana had indeed won with just over 50 percent, making him the country’s new president. The general strike and demonstrations had lasted nearly seven weeks.

In late June, the United States endorsed Mr. Ravalomanana as president. Later, diplomats from the U.S., Britain, Japan, Germany, Switzerland, the European Union and Indonesia attended independence day celebrations indicating their support for the new president as well. Amid continued violence, and refusing to accept the election results, Ratsiraka fled to Seychelles on July 5.

Marc Ravalomanana served as Madagascar’s president until spring 2009, when he resigned in the face of political opposition.

Research Notes

Previous political struggle and 1991 general strike in Madagascar against Ratsiraka. (1)

George-William, Desmond. “‘Bite Not One Another’: Selected Accounts of Nonviolent Struggle in Africa.” University for Peace, Africa Programme; Nonviolent Transformation Of Conflict—Africa: 75-79. Web. 01 Apr 2011. <>.

"Madagascar." Philip's World Factbook 2008-2009. London: Philip's, 2008. Credo Reference. Web. 01 Apr 2011. <>.

"Madagascar general strike called off." BBC News 19 Mar 2002: Web. 1 Apr 2011. <>.

"Madagascar's two presidents, Vanilla revolution, A lesson for Zimbabwe, perhaps?" Economist 07 Mar 2002: Web. 2 Apr 2011. <>.

Slaughter, Barbara. "General strike in Madagascar." World Socialist Web Site 05 Feb 2002: Web. 01 Apr 2011. <>.

Swarns, Rachel. "Longtime Madagascar Leader Flees as Rival Gains." New York Times 06 Jul 2002: Web. 01 Apr 2011. <>.

"U.S. Declares a Winner in Disputed Election in Madagascar." New York Times 27 Jun 2002: Web. 01 Apr 2011. <>.

Additional Notes: 
Note: Security forces maintained their neutrality throughout the 2002 campaign claiming their role was to protect citizens, in contrast to the 1991 strike, where state repression led to many causalities. While security forces did not actively support one side of the struggle, generally, the 2002 campaign was impacted by their shift ‘toward the middle’ of the conflict.

Preliminary research and note taking done by George Lakey

Name of researcher, and date dd/mm/yyyy: 
Zein Nakhoda 14/5/2011