Former Mali President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita, who led the West African country from 2013 until he was ousted in a coup in 2020, died at the age of 76 in the capital Bamako on Sunday, his family said. The former French president, François Hollande, paid tribute to him on the antenna of France 24.
A few hours after the news of Keita’s death on Sunday 16 January, former French President François Hollande paid tribute to “an African who is proud of his continent, who worked in harmony with his West African colleagues”.
Asked by FRANCE 24, Hollande also emphasized IBK’s power in its fight against jihadism in Mali. “I had known Mr Keïta for a long time, we worked together in the operations we had started,” he said.
“He was a lover of the French language. […] He was a cultured man, he had a very good knowledge of African and French writers, he could recite poems “, said Hollande and reminded of Keita’s deep connection to Molière’s language.
Most of Keita’s presidency was marked by the jihadist uprising that has shaken the poor Sahel since 2012, while his overthrow marked the rise of the military junta, which is now under regional sanctions for failing to restore civilian rule.
Mali’s interim government issued a statement praising “the memory of the illustrated” Keita, adding that the former president died “after a long illness”.
Keita was forced out of office on August 18, 2020 by young military officers who staged an uprising at a base near Bamako before entering the city, where they arrested Keita and other leaders.
Foreign Minister Abdoulaye Diop said he was “sorry to hear about the death of former President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita”, adding that “it is with great emotion that I bow to his memory”.
Macky Sall, president of neighboring Senegal, said in a tweet that he was “saddened” by the news, while Nigerian ex-president Mahamadou Issoufou, a former comrade of Keita at Socialist International, hailed him as “a cultured man, a great patriot. and a Pan-Africanist “.
Politicians and other public figures went to Keita’s home southwest of Bamako to express their condolences, with police guarding the entrances, according to AFP reporters at the scene.
The government statement said funeral plans would be announced at a later date.
In the weeks leading up to the 2020 coup, Keita had struggled with protests fueled by his handling of the jihadist uprising and the failure to turn Mali’s dizzying economy.
Snail-style political reforms, dilapidated public services and schools, and a widely shared view of government corruption also fueled anti-Keita sentiment and drove tens of thousands of protesters to the streets.
Captured by the Putschists, the junta that emerged from the uprising – under pressure from the West African bloc ECOWAS – released Keita weeks later and returned him to his home in Bamako, under surveillance.
He suffered a mini-stroke the following month and was sent to the United Arab Emirates for treatment. He had been based in his home in Bamako ever since and stayed out of public life.
The ruling junta would carry out another coup in May 2021 and overthrow a transitional civilian government.
The junta had promised to hold elections next month to restore the country to civilian rule. But at the end of last year, the junta revised its timetable and said it could stay in power for up to five years.
In response, ECOWAS agreed to sanction Mali earlier this month, impose a trade embargo and close borders, in a decision backed by the United States, the European Union and the former colonial power France.
Landlocked Mali, one of the world’s poorest countries, is already feeling the effects of the sanctions, which prompted thousands to protest in Bamako on Friday.
The son of an official, Keita was born in the southern industrial city of Koutiala, the declining heart of cotton production.
After studying literature in Mali, Senegal and France, Keita became an advisor to the EU’s Overseas Development Fund before leading a development project in northern Mali.
He then rose through the ranks under Alpha Oumar Konare, the country’s first democratically elected president.
As Socialist Prime Minister between 1994 and 2000, he suspended a series of devastating strikes, gained a reputation as a permanent leader and helped establish his 2013 landslide election.
Keita was then re-elected in the 2018 election and defeated opposition leader Soumaila Cisse, who died in December 2020 of Covid.
Cisse’s kidnapping of jihadists in March 2020 further illustrated Keita’s inability to stop the violence, with growing public outrage that culminated in the coup months later.
( Jowharwith AFP)