Tropical Trouble

PEDRO UGARTE/AFP

Madagascar's president Didier Ratsiraka first came to power in 1976

The people of Madagascar call him Deba, which means Big Boss. When President Didier Ratsiraka came to power 26 years ago, the moniker was meant as a term of endearment. The articulate naval officer's eccentric brand of socialism promised to liberate the Indian Ocean island's 16 million inhabitants from poverty and neocolonialism. "He encouraged the name because he felt it made him closer to the people," says Edmond Razafimahefa, a Presbyterian minister and President of the Churches of Jesus Christ in Madagascar.

But in the intervening years — and especially after a brief period of exile in...

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