Biography of the Week: Modibo Keita

Modibo Keïta was a dedicated Pan-Africanist, an African-nationalist, African-socialist, and first president of the Republic of Mali. His rule of Mali was increasingly repressive, and he was removed from power by a coup d'état after only eight years.

Date of birth: 4 June 1915, Bamako, Soudan Français (French Sudan, now Mali)

Date of death: 16 May 1977, Bamako, Mali

An Early Life

Modibo Keïta was born to a Mandinka/Mulsim family in Bamako, then capital of Soudan Français(French Sudan, part of French West Africa). He initially attended school in Bamako before boarding at École Normale Supérieure William Ponty in Dakar, Senegal. Keïta trained as teacher in Dakar, began teaching in Bamako and later in Tombouctou (Timbuktu) 1936.

A Life in Politics

Modibo Keïta entered the political sphere in the early 1940s, helping to organize a union of African teachers in French West Africa (Syndicat des Instituteurs de l'Afrique Occidentale Française, SIAOF). In 1945 he was presented as a candidate for the Constituent Assembly of the French Fourth Republic with the support of the French Groupes d'Etudes Communistes (GEC, Communist Study Groups) and the short lived local political group, Parti Démocratique Soudanais (PDS, Sudanese Democratic Party). In the same year Modibo Keïta and Mamdou Konaté (who Keïta had met through SIAOF) co-founded the Bloc Soudanaise (BS, Sudanese Party) -- it was quickly renamed the Union Soudanaise (US, Sudanese Union). Keïta became secretary-general of the new party. He also became close friends withFélix Houphouët-Boigny of Côte d'Ivoire.

In October 1946 Keïta attended the conference in Bamako which led to the creation of theRassemblement Démocratique Africain (RDA, African Democratic Rally). The RDA was a trans-national party, stretching across the whole of French West Africa, and the US became itsSoudan Français affiliate -- US-RDA. Keïta continued to act as secretary-general of the affiliated party. In 1946 Keïta also came to the attention of the French authorities and was briefly imprisoned for his part in the publication of a political magazine (L'oeil de Kénédougou, 'The Kénédougou Eye') which was critical of French rule in the region.

In 1948 Modibo Keïta won a seat in the Soudan Français territorial assembly. After France's suppression of the RDA in the early 1950s, Keïta was placed in internal exile in the Sahara region of French Sudan, teaching nomads near Tombouctou. In 1956, when French views on the RDA had softened, Keïta returned to Paris and was elected to the French Chambre des Députés (Chamber of Deputies, part of the National Assembly) as the delegate from French Sudan. He went on to serve as secretary of state in 1957 (for governments of Maurice Bourgès-Maunoury and Félix Gaillard). Keïta also became president of the US-RDA and mayor of Bamako -- in the 1957 French Sudan elections, the US-RDA won overwhelming victory.

With the Algiers crisis in 1958 and decolonization a major issue, France's fourth republic came to an end. Charles de Gaulle who had been prime minister was elected president of France. Modibo Keïta was re-elected as a deputy in the French National Assembly.

This Biograohy was retrieved from About African History at

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