Modibo Keïta

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Modibo Keita
Keita stamp 1961.png
1961 airmail stamp featuring Keïta
1st President of Mali
In office
July 20, 1960 – November 19, 1968
Preceded by None
Succeeded by Moussa Traoré
Personal details
Born (1915-06-04)June 4, 1915
Bamako, Upper Senegal and Niger (now Mali)
Died May 16, 1977(1977-05-16) (aged 61)
Bamako, Mali
Nationality Malian
Political party Sudanese Union-African Democratic Rally
Religion Islam

Modibo Keïta (4 June 1915 – 16 May 1977) was the first President of Mali (1960–1968) and the Prime Minister of the Mali Federation. He espoused a form of African socialism.


He was born in Bamako-Coura, a neighborhood of Bamako, which was at the time the capital of French Sudan. His family were Malian Muslims who claimed direct descent from the founders of the Mali Empire. He was educated in Bamako and at the École normale supérieure William Ponty in Dakar, where he was top of his class. Beginning in 1936, he worked as a teacher in Bamako, Sikasso and Tombouctou. His nickname after primary schooling was Modo.

Entering politics

Modibo Keïta was involved in various associations. In 1937, he was the coordinator of the art and theater group. Along with Ouezzin Coulibaly, he helped found the Union of French West African Teachers.

Keïta joined the Communist Study Groups (GEC) cell in Bamako.

In 1943, he founded the L'oeil de Kénédougou, a magazine critical of colonial rule. This led to his imprisonment for three weeks in 1946 at the Prison de la Santé in Paris.

In 1945 Keïta was a candidate for the Constituent Assembly of the French Fourth Republic, supported by GEC and the Sudanese Democratic Party. Later the same year, he and Mamadou Konaté founded the Bloc soudanais, which developed into the Sudanese Union.

Political life

In October 1946, the African Democratic Rally (RDA) was created at a conference in Bamako of delegates from across French Africa. While the coalition was led by Félix Houphouët-Boigny, Keïta assumed the post of RDA Secretary-General in French Sudan, and head of the Soudanese affiliate: the US-RDA. In 1948, he was elected general councilor of French Sudan. In 1956, he was elected mayor of Bamako and became a member of the National Assembly of France. He twice served as secretary of state in the governments of Maurice Bourgès-Maunoury and Félix Gaillard. Modibo Keïta was elected constituent assembly president of the Mali Federation on July 20, 1960, which consisted of French Sudan and Senegal. Senegal would later leave the federation.

President of Mali

1960s commemorative wraps with Keïta's portrait

After the collapse of the federation, the US-RDA proclaimed the Soudanese Republic's complete independence as the Republic of Mali. Keïta became its first president, and soon afterward declared the US-RDA to be the only legal party.

As a socialist, he led his country towards the progressive socialization of the economy; at first starting with agriculture and trade, then on October 1960 creating the SOMIEX (Malian Import and Export Company), which had a monopoly over the exports of the products of Mali, as well as manufactured and food imports (e.g. sugar, tea, powdered milk) and their distribution inside the country. The establishment of the Malian franc in 1962, and the difficulties of provisioning, resulted in a severe inflation and dissatisfaction of the population, particularly the peasants and the businessmen.

In June 1961, he paid a state visit to the United Kingdom, where Queen Elizabeth II invested him as an honorary Knight Grand Cross of the Order of Saint Michael and Saint George.[1] Although Keïta was initially viewed with some wariness by the United States because of his socialist views, he made it clear that he sought good relations with Washington. In September 1961, he travelled to America in the company of Sukarno and met with President John F. Kennedy. Keïta, afterward, felt that he had a friend in Kennedy.

On the political level, Modibo Keïta quickly imprisoned opponents like Fily Dabo Sissoko. The first post-independence elections, in 1964, saw a single list of 80 US-RDA candidates returned to the National Assembly, and Keïta was duly reelected to another term as president by the legislature. From 1967, he started the "revolution active" and suspended the constitution by creating the National Committee for the Defense of the Revolution (CNDR). The exactions of the "milice populaire" (the US-RDA militia) and the devaluation of the Malian franc in 1967 brought a general unrest.

On November 19, 1968, General Moussa Traoré overthrew Modibo Keïta in a coup d'etat, and sent him to prison in the northern Malian town of Kidal.

After being transferred back to the capital Bamako in February 1977 in what was claimed to be an action by the government towards national reconciliation in preparation for his release,[2] Modibo Keïta died, still a prisoner, on May 16, 1977.[3] His reputation was rehabilitated in 1992 following the overthrow of Moussa Traoré and subsequent elections of president Alpha Oumar Konaré. A monument to Modibo Keïta was dedicated in Bamako on June 6, 1999.

As a Pan-Africanist

Keita and Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser (right) in Addis Ababa for the Organisation of African Unity conference, November 1966

Modibo Keïta devoted his entire life to African unity. He first played a part in the creation of the Federation of Mali with Léopold Sédar Senghor. After its collapse, he moved away from Léopold Sédar Senghor, but with Sékou Touré, the president of Guinea, and Kwame Nkrumah, the President of Ghana, he formed the Union of the States of Western Africa. In 1963, he played an important role in drafting the charter of the Organization of African Unity (OAU).

In 1963, he invited the king of Morocco and the president of Algeria to Bamako, in the hope of ending the Sand War, a frontier conflict between the two nations. Along with Emperor Haile Selassie of Ethiopia, Keïta was successful in negotiating the Bamako Accords, which brought an end to the conflict. As a result, he won the Lenin Peace Prize that year.

From 1963 to 1966, he normalized relations with the countries of Senegal, Upper Volta and Côte d'Ivoire. An advocate of the Non-Aligned Movement, Modibo defended the nationalist movements like the Algerian National Liberation Front (FLN).

In literature

Malian author Massa Makan Diabaté satirizes Keïta's presidency in his novel The Butcher of Kouta, which features a socialist, dictatorial president named "Bagabaga Daba" (literally, "ant with a big mouth"), who is later removed by a military coup.[4]


  1. The Times, June 8, 1961, p. 16; Issue 55102; col. B
  2. P. J. Imperato, Mali: a search for direction, p. 69
  3. P. Diarra, Cent ans de catholicisme au Mali, p. 273
  4. Sangare, Mamadou. L'histoire et le roman dans la trilogie Kouta de Massa Makan Diabate. Paris: Septentrion, 1999. p. 128.


Modibo Kéita: MALI. Francis Kpatindé, Jeune Afrique, 25 April 2000.

External links