Franco-Hova War

The Franco-Hova Wars (also Franco-Malagasy Wars) consisted of French military interventions in Madagascar between 1883 and 1896 that overthrew the ruling monarchy of the Merina Kingdom, and resulted in Madagascar becoming a French colony. Hova refers to a class within the Merina tribe structure.


European colonial powers, primarily Britain and France, had ambitions to control Madagascar, a rich island with strategic importance in regard to the sea passage to India. However, Madagascar proved difficult to subdue due to its size, local hostility, and the unsuitable climate. Further, the Merina tribe had been successful to bring the various local tribes under its control under their royalty and to coordinate the resistance. Skillfully exploiting the rivalry between Britain and France the monarchy kept its independence. When the xenophobic Queen Ranavalona I took power in 1828 , considerable British influence was already suppressed. Upon her death, her son took over as King Radama II in 1861. Already as prince he had made secret concessions to Joseph-François Lambert, a French adventurer. This so-called Lambert Charter was unfavorable to Madagascar, and after a brief reign, he was assassinated in 1863 and the concessions were revoked resulting in a conflict with France.

First Franco-Hova War

France invaded Madagascar in 1883 in what became known as the first Franco-Hova War, seeking to restore property that had been confiscated from French citizens. At the war’s end, Madagascar ceded Antsiranana (Diego Suarez) on the northern coast to France and paid 560,000 gold francs to the heirs of Joseph-François Lambert..

Second Franco-Hova War

During the 1885 Berlin conference the British accepted the imposition of a French protectorate over Madagascar in return for eventual control over Zanzibar and as part of an overall definition of spheres of influence in Africa. With the opening of the Suez Canal, the strategic significance of Madagascar had declined. The same year, a French flying column landed in Mahajanga (Majunga) and marched to the capital, Antananarivo, where the city’s defenders were taken by surprise, as they were expecting an attack from the much closer east coast. Twenty French soldiers died fighting and 6,000 died of malaria and other diseases before the second Franco-Hova War ended. The government signed a treaty that yielded significant powers to the French authorities but left the monarchy intact. Madagascar became a French protectorate, a situation that was officially acknowledged by Britain in 1890.

The end of the Merina monarchy

When Queen Ranavalona III resisted following French orders, an expeditionary force was sent in 1895, shelled her palace, and removed recalcitrant members of her government. In 1896 the French Parliament voted to annex Madagascar. Following a local uprising, General Gallieni deposed the queen in 1897 and thereby terminated the 103-year-old Merina monarchy. Queen Ranavalona III was exiled to Réunion and later to Algeria.



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