Philibert Tsiranana was the first president of the Malagasy Republic (now Madagascar). He was born on October 18, 1912, in Ambarikorano, Sofia Region, Madagascar. His parents were Madiomanana and Fisadoha Tsiranana. They were from the Tsimihety ethnic group and were cattle ranchers.
As a young man, Tsiranana studied at the regional school in Analalava, and from there he went to Le Myre de Vilers school in Tananarive to study to become a primary school teacher. In 1946, however, he received a scholarship to further his education in Montpellier, France. While studying in France, he participated in anti-colonial protests.
In 1950, Tsiranana returned to Madagascar, where he was appointed professor of technical education at the École industrielle in Tananarive. He taught French and mathematics and engaged in local politics. In 1952, he was elected to a provincial council. In 1956, he was elected a deputy in the French National Assembly. The same year he founded the Madagascar Social Democratic Party which promoted a policy of Christian socialism. Tsiranana was elected to the executive council of Madagascar and became president of the Executive Council in August 1958. The French reformed political institutions in 1956, and Madagascar moved peacefully towards independence. The Malagasy Republic was proclaimed on October 14, 1958, as an autonomous state within the French Community. A period of a provisional government headed by Tsiranana ended with the adoption of a constitution in 1959. Tsiranana became president of the Malagasy Republic when independence was proclaimed on June 26, 1960.
On June 16, 1962, the legislature approved the election of a president by universal suffrage. In 1965, Tsiranana was re-elected President winning 97 percent of the vote. He promoted socialism and endorsed the creation of a one-party state but continued to have close ties with France and other western European countries.
In 1971, a radical political group emerged in southern Madagascar. The National Movement for the Independence of Madagascar led a peasant uprising in Toliara Province centered around farmer protests against taxation rates. The protesters were quickly and harshly suppressed by Tsiranana’s government, and more than 1000 protesters were killed.
On January 30, 1972, Tsiranana was re-elected for a third term, gaining 99 percent of the votes. However, the opposition boycotted the election. Shortly after his election student protests erupted. The students demanded an end to the nation’s close ties with France. They wanted the government to replace the education programs designed in France with programs reflective of Malagasy life and culture. They also called for Malagasy teachers to be employed rather than teachers from France. Lastly, the students wanted the national government to increase access to education for the underprivileged. The student protests soon turned to student strikes throughout the country which in turn led to a call for a general strike throughout the country.
In May 1972 the government closed all schools and banned demonstrations. Protest leaders were arrested and jailed. On May 13, 1972, security forces killed 40 protesters and injured over 150 at a demonstration, and the government declared a state of emergency in the country. The French government refused to intervene in the crisis and on May 18, Tsiranana handed power over to the army under General Gabriel Ramanantsoa. Tsiranana hoped this would only be temporary but eventually realized he had little real power over the army. He officially left office on October 11, 1972.
Philibert Tsiranana was married to Justine Kalotody. Together they had several children: Paul, Julienne, Honorine, Ruffine, Pierre, Francoise, Raymonde Justine, and Phillipe Tsiranana.
Philibert Tsiranana died on April 16, 1978, in Antananarivo, Madagascar at the age of 65.