Modibo Keita and the Independence of Mali

"Our continent has not benefited from universal evolution. In the middle of the twentieth century, when thanks to technology and science men have found all the means necessary for an easy life, at the moment when, having exhausted all the means of investigation on earth, they seek now, as a diversion, to fly in space, Africa must resolve problems of subsistence, of living conditions, of the struggle against illiteracy, and especially of giving back to African man his confidence in himself, and forever ridding him of the inferiority complex which colonialism and created in him."

Speech by Modibo Keïta in Bouaké, Ivory Coast, 27 August 1962. Modibo Keïta , as quoted in Francis G. Snyder's 'The Political Thought of Modibo Keita', The Journal of Modern African Studies, Vol. 5, No. 1, May, 1967.

Independence for Mali

During the 1958 referendum in French West Africa, Modibo Keïta campaigned for French Sudan to become an autonomous state within the French Community. He also championed a federation (of French Sudan with Senegal, Côte d'Ivoire, and French Upper Volta) within French West Africa -- which caused a rift with Félix Houphouët-Boigny who was worried that Léopold Sédar Senghor of Senegal would gain dominance.

The République Soudanaise (Sudanese Republic) gained internal autonomy within the French Community on 25 November 1958. Keïta became France's first African vice-president. The Federation of Mali, a joining of French Sudan and Senegal (Félix Houphouët-Boigny was successful in keeping Côte d'Ivoire, and French Upper Volta out of the federation) was created on 4 April 1959, with Keïta as prime minister.

The Federation of Mali disintegrated on 20 August 1960, due to disagreements between Modibo Keïta and Léopold Sédar Senghor -- as well as various political parties in the two territories. The ruling US-RDA in French Sudan proclaimed a republic on 22 September 1960 and Modibo Keïta became the county's first president.

President of Mali

Modibo Keïta was an outspoken Marxist and implemented a string of socialist policies during his rule of Mali. He quickly severed relations with France and the West, and received very marginal support from Europe and the US during his rule. Although he had political backing from the Soviets, encouraging him to nationalize banks and other sectors of the economy (including creation of village co-operatives), he received only minor financial aid from the USSR.

In October 1960 Keïta created the Societe Malienne d'Importation et d'Exportation (SOMIEX, Malian Import and Export Company) which was granted a monopoly over exports of Malian cash crops and manufactured goods, as well as the import of foods and their distribution. Mali suffered economically as a consequence, and was considered one of the least developed countries amongst the newly independent nations of West Africa. Keïta pulled Mali out of theCommunauté Financière Africaine (CFA) franc zone and established the Malian franc in 1962; a move which lead to rapid inflation and social unrest. Modibo Keïta's regime was repressive: he created the milice populaire, a militant youth organization which was used to repress popular local opposition -- opposition parties were effectively banned.

Keïta as a Statesman

In early September 1961Keïta attended the Non-Aligned Movement conference in Belgrade, and met with President Gamal Abdul Nasser of the United Arab Republic and Benyoussef Ben Khedda President of Algeria (as well as several other notable African statesmen). He then flew to the US where he met President John F Kennedy (who he always regarded as a friend). In 1963 invited the king of Morocco and president of Algeria to Bamako for discussions in the hope of ending the Sand War (Morocco was claiming the Tindouf region that France had allocated to Algeria on independence). A ceasefire, eventually negotiated by the Organization of African Unity (OAU) under the leadership of Haile Selassie, resulted in the Bamako Accords of 20 February 1964. Keïta never gave up his belief in Pan-Africanism and Unity, and he attempted several more unions with other west African states, none of which developed.

Road to Removal

By 1967 Mali was experiencing growing economic and financial problems. Keïta tried to enlist help from France for the Malian currency -- a move which aroused discontent within his party. In the end the Malian franc was devalued, causing civil unrest, and Mali rejoined the CFA.

In August Keïta launched a cultural revolution, the Révolution Active, inspired by Mao Zedong's revolution in China -- but his purges and authoritarian tactics estranged most of the population. On 19 November 1968, in response to an intended purge of military and government leadership, he was removed by a bloodless coup, led by General Moussa Traoré. Modibo Keïta spent all but the last few weeks of his life in detention in the northern Malian town of Kidal. He died on 16 May 1977.

This Biography was Retrieved from About African History at

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