Modibo Keïta

Last updated
Modibo Keita
Modibo Keita 1961-09-13.jpg
Keïta in 1961
1st President of Mali
In office
July 20, 1960 November 19, 1968
Preceded byNone
Succeeded by Moussa Traoré
Personal details
Born(1915-06-04)June 4, 1915
Bamako Coura, Upper Senegal and Niger
DiedMay 16, 1977(1977-05-16) (aged 61)
Bamako, Mali
NationalityFrench [1] , since 1960: Malian
Political party Sudanese Union-African Democratic Rally
Spouse(s) Mariam Travélé

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.

Mali Federation former federation in West Africa linking the French colonies of Senegal and the Sudanese Republic (or French Sudan) for a period of only two months in 1960

The Mali Federation was a federation in West Africa linking the French colonies of Senegal and the Sudanese Republic for a period of only two months in 1960. It was founded on 4 April 1959 as a territory with self-rule within the French Community and became independent after negotiations with France on 20 June 1960. Two months later, on 19 August 1960, the Sudanese Republic leaders in the Mali Federation mobilized the army and Senegal leaders in the federation retaliated by mobilizing the gendarmerie which resulted in a tense stand-off and the withdrawal from the federation by Senegal the next day. The Sudanese Republic officials resisted this dissolution, cut off diplomatic relations with Senegal, and defiantly changed the name of their country to Mali. For the brief existence of the Mali Federation, the premier was Modibo Keïta, who would become the first President of the Republic of Mali after the Mali Federation dissolved, and its government was based in Dakar, Senegal.

African socialism belief in sharing economic resources in a traditional African way, as distinct from classical socialism

African socialism is a belief in sharing economic resources in a traditional African way, as distinct from classical socialism. Many African politicians of the 1950s and 1960s professed their support for African socialism, although definitions and interpretations of this term varied considerably.



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 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.

French Sudan former French colonial territory

French Sudan was a French colonial territory in the Federation of French West Africa from around 1880 until 1960, when it became the independent state of Mali. The colony was formally called French Sudan from 1890 until 1899 and then again from 1921 until 1958, and had a variety of different names over the course of its existence. The colony was initially established largely as a military project led by French troops, but in the mid-1890s it came under civilian administration.

Mali Empire empire in West Africa from c.1230 to 1670

The Mali Empire was an empire in West Africa from c. 1235 - 1400. The empire was founded by Sundiata Keita and became renowned for the wealth of its rulers, especially Musa Keita. The Manding languages were spoken in the empire. The Mali Empire was the largest empire in West Africa and profoundly influenced the culture of West Africa through the spread of its language, laws and customs. Much of the recorded information about the Mali Empire comes from 14th-century North African Arab historian Ibn Khaldun, 14th-century Moroccan traveller Ibn Battuta and 16th-century Moroccan traveller Leo Africanus. The other major source of information is Mandinka oral tradition, through storytellers known as griots.

École normale supérieure William Ponty normal school

École William Ponty was a government teachers' college in what is now Senegal. The school is now in Kolda, Senegal, where it is currently known as École de formation d’instituteurs William Ponty. It is associated with the French university IUFM at Livry-Gargan (France).

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.

Daniel Ouezzin Coulibaly was the president of the governing council of the French colony of Upper Volta, today's Burkina Faso, from 17 May 1957 until his death on 7 September 1958 in Paris. A native of Pouy, today in Banwa Province, Coulibaly also served in the French national assembly from 1946 to 1951 and from 1956 to 1958, as well as in the French senate from 1953 to 1956.

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

Communist Study Groups, was a communist group in colonial French West Africa/French Equatorial Africa. GEC was founded in 1943, under the influence of the French Communist Party. GEC formed branches in the capital cities of the West African territories. GEC was primarily based amongst intellectuals. It was led by Suret-Canale and Cauche.

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.

French Fourth Republic government of France between 1946 and 1958

The French Fourth Republic was the republican government of France between 1946 and 1958, governed by the fourth republican constitution. It was in many ways a revival of the Third Republic that was in place from 1870 during the Franco-Prussian War to 1940 during World War II, and suffered many of the same problems. France adopted the constitution of the Fourth Republic on 13 October 1946.

Sudanese Democratic Party

Sudanese Democratic Party was a short-lived political outfit in French Soudan. PDS was formed in 1945 by two French Communist Party. PDS launched Modibo Keita as their candidate in the 1945 elections to the Constituent Assembly of the Fourth Republic.

Mamadou Konate was a politician from Mali who served in the French National Assembly from 1946-1956.

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.

Félix Houphouët-Boigny doctor, Ivorian politician, first president of Côte dIvoire

Félix Houphouët-Boigny, affectionately called Papa Houphouët or Le Vieux, was the first President of Ivory Coast, serving for more than three decades until his death. A tribal chief, he worked as a medical aide, union leader, and planter before being elected to the French Parliament. He served in several ministerial positions within the French government before leading Côte d'Ivoire following independence in 1960. Throughout his life, he played a significant role in politics and the decolonization of Africa.

Maurice Bourgès-Maunoury French Prime Minister

Maurice Jean Marie Bourgès-Maunoury was a French Radical politician who served as the Prime Minister in the Fourth Republic during 1957.

Félix Gaillard d'Aimé was a French Radical politician who served as Prime Minister under the Fourth Republic from 1957 to 1958. He was the youngest head of a French government since Napoleon.

President of Mali

1960s commemorative wraps with Keita's portrait Keita 001.jpg
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. [2] 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.

Modibo Keita meeting with President Kennedy at the White House in 1961 JFKWHP-KN-C18793 (cropped).jpg
Modibo Keïta meeting with President Kennedy at the White House in 1961

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 general unrest.

On November 19, 1968, General Moussa Traoré overthrew Modibo Keïta in a coup d'état, 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, [3] Modibo Keïta died, still a prisoner, on May 16, 1977. [4] 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 Keita and Nasser, 1966.jpg
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. [5]


  1. The fact that Keïta was deputy in the French National Assembly, then member of the French government, implies that he was not only a French colonial subject, but even that he legally benefited of full French citizenship.
  2. The Times , June 8, 1961, p. 16; Issue 55102; col. B
  3. P. J. Imperato, Mali: a search for direction, p. 69
  4. P. Diarra, Cent ans de catholicisme au Mali, p. 273
  5. Sangare, Mamadou. L'histoire et le roman dans la trilogie Kouta de Massa Makan Diabate. Paris: Septentrion, 1999. p. 128.

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