Modibo Keïta (4 June 1915 - 16 May 1977) was a Malian politican who served as the first President of Mali from 1960 - 1968 and briefly as President of the Mali Federation in 1960. He was a prominent African socialist.

Early Life[edit | edit source]

Keïta was born in a neighborhood of Bamako, then the capital of French Sudan. He came from a family of Malian Muslims who claimed direct descent from the Emperors of Mali. He was educated both in Bamako and in Dakar, where he was consistently the top of his class.

Political Career[edit | edit source]

Entry into Politics[edit | edit source]

Keïta was initially involved in numerous organizations. In 1937, he and Ouezzin Coulibaly founded the Union of French West African Teachers. Keïta later joined a communist cell in Bamako. In 1943, he founded the magazine L'oeil de Kenedougou, a prominent anti-colonial paper. This led him to be imprisoned for 3 weeks in Paris in 1946. He stood as a candidate for the Constituent Assembly of France in 1945 as a candidate for the Sudanese Democratic Party. He also co-founded what would become the Sudanese Union in 1945.

Pre-Presidential Career[edit | edit source]

In 1946, Keïta attended the conference where the African Democratic Rally was founded. While Keïta was not the leader of the party, he was appointed as Secretary-General of the French Sudan branch. He also became head of an affiliate party, the US-RDA. In 1948, he was elected as general councilor of French Sudan. In 1958, he was elected as Mayor of Bamako and as a member of the National Assembly of France. He continued service as secretary of state in the administration of two French prime ministers. Keïta would then be elected in 1960 as premier of the Mali Federation, a short lived union between the colonies of French Sudan and Senegal.

President of Mali[edit | edit source]

Following the dissolution of the Federation, the ruling US-RDA party declared full Malian independence. Keïta became the first president and declared the US-RDA as the only legal party in the country. Keïta was a strong African socialist. In 1960, his administration founded SOMIEX (Malian Import and Export Company), which was given a full monopoly on Malian exports and internal manufacturing and distribution. The foundation of the Malian franc in 1962, along with issues relating to provisioning caused massive inflation and dissatisfaction among the poor and businessmen. In 1961, he made a state visit to Queen Elizabeth II of the United Kingdom. During this trip, he was made an honorary Knight Grand Cross of the Order of Saint Michael and Saint George. He also pursued positive relations with the US, despite American wariness of his socialist ideology. He stated he believed he had become friends with John F. Kennedy following a state visit along with Sukarno. Keïta was known for imprisoning opposition candidates in Mali. The first elections following independence, in 1964 saw 80 US-RDA candidates re-elected to the National Assembly and himself easily re-elected. In 1967, he suspended the constitution through the establishment of the National Committee for the Defense of the Revolution (CNDR). The violence of the US-RDA's militia and the continued devaluation of the Malian franc began to cause broad unrest. In November of 1968, Keïta was overthrown by General Moussa Traore, who imprisoned Keïta in the town of Kidal. He remained in prison for the remainder of his life. In February 1977, he was transferred to Bamako in preparation for release, but died in May 1977 as a prisoner. His reputation was increased following the subsequent overthrowing of Traore in 1992. A monument was dedicated to him in Bamako in 1999.

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