Madagascar’s former president Didier Ratsiraka dies at 84

Didier Ratsiraka, Madagascar’s former president and a naval officer known as the “Red Admiral” for his socialist policies, died on Sunday morning at the age of 84, according to current head of state Andry Rajoelina. 

Ratsiraka was president of the Indian Ocean island from 1975 to 1991 and again from 1997 to 2002, when he was hospitalized with the flu earlier this week.

“The Malagasy have lost an illustrious patriot,” Rajoelina said.

This anti-colonial activist and believed “comrade” of Fidel Castro, the instigator of the “Malagasy communist revolution,” which turned out to be an economic and social fiasco, left a legacy of “Malagachisation” of education and the names of cities. 

Between 1991 and 1992, a protest movement forced him to resign and support the liberal transition requested by his opponent at the time, Albert Zafy, who succeeded him as president. 

In 1997, the “Red Admiral” regained control, but was deposed again after the presidential election the following year.

Demonstrations and armed clashes broke out in the streets of Madagascar from December 2001 to July 2002, between supporters of Didier Ratsiraka and supporters of his current rival, Antananarivo mayor Marc Ravalomanana.

Didier Ratsiraka was forced into exile in France for nine years after Mr Ravalomanana was proclaimed the winner. 

In 2003, the deposed president was sentenced to ten years of hard labor and five years in jail in his absence for “embezzlement of public funds” and “undermining state protection.” In 2009, however, his sentences were reversed. 

He has been a staple on the Malagasy political scene for the past ten years, frequently appearing on television to offer his analyses.

Educator, writer and legal researcher at Alafarika for Studies and Consultancy.

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