The Big Read : Modibo Keïta: A devoted pan-africanist
Friday, September 05, 2008
Modibo Keita (or Kéïta); (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.
He was born in Bamako-Coura, a neighborhood of Bamako, which was at the time the capital of French Sudan. His family were Malian and practising Muslims. He was educated in Bamako and at the École normale supérieure William Ponty in Dakar, where he was top of his class. Beginning in 1936, he worked as a teacher in Bamako, Sikasso and Tombouctou.
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.
Keïta joined the Communist Study Groups (GEC) cell in Bamako. 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 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.
In October 1946, the African Democratic Rally (RDA) was created in Bamako, which was led by Félix Houphouët-Boigny. Keïta assumed the post of RDA Secretary-General in French Sudan. 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.
President of Mali
After the collapse of the federation, the US-RDA proclaimed the Soudanese Republic's complete independence as the Republic of Mali. Keita became its first president.
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.
Although Keita was initially viewed by the United States as a socialist, 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. Keita, afterward, felt that he had a friend in Kennedy.
On the political level, Modibo Keïta quickly imprisoned opponents like Fily Dabo Sissoko. 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 a general unrest.
On November 19, 1968, the General Moussa Traoré organized a coup d'etat against Modibo Keïta, and sent him to prison in the northern Malian town of Kidal. Modibo Keïta died in prison on May 16, 1977. His reputation was rehabilitated in 1992 following the overthrow of Moussa Traoré and subsequent elections of president Alpha Oumar Konaré. A monument for Modibo Keita, was dedicated in Bamako on June 6, 1999.
As a Panafricanist
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, Keita was successful in negotiating the Bamako Accords, which brought an end to the conflict.
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).
Timeline of events in Independent Mali
Pre-independence influences on Mali
Sense of history: The name of the country was taken from the greatest period in the region's history. Thus, 80 years of the French civilizing mission was unable to completely obliterate precolonial history.
Economic ties: Despite the construction of the Dakar- Niger Railway, and statistics that show the majority of the Niger Valley's external trade passed through Dakar, precolonial trade survived. Salt traders still brought Saharan salt to Timbuktu and Gao, while other desert traders still journeyed through the Sahara to Algeria and Morocco. Still other traders traveled from the Middle Niger Valley south towards Ghana/Ivory Coast, and east to Mossi country in Burkina Faso, and further east to Hausa country in Niger and Nigeria.
Religious ties: Malian Muslims regularly made the hadj to Mecca or to other shrines like Touba (Senegal).
Conflicting consequences of French colonial rule: centralized, bureaucratic government; belief in economic progress; politics dominated by charismatic individual leaders and mass parties, the desire for equality as French citizens or independent Africans.
Conditions in Mali at independence
The population was overwhelmingly rural. It was also overwhelmingly Muslim. According to a 1993 publication on Africa, Mali was 90% Muslim, 9% traditional and 1% Christian.
The economy was overwhelmingly agricultural. According to a 1956 study by the Bureau International du Travail, the French Soudan had only 3% wage-earners, compared to 93% in Great Britain, 65-70% in France, 40% in Japan and 5% in Africa as a whole. [Source: Le Syndicalist Libre, nø3, (22 September 1956).] As of 20 Juin 1960, the date that Mali became independent, 95% of the population was involved in agriculture. [Source: Alain Maharaux, L'Industrie au Mali, (Paris: L'Harmattan et CNRS, 1986), 13-14.]
There were only 36 industrial units in 34 locations in Mali. This was a legacy of French policy that treated the Soudan as a supplier of raw materials and a market for French industrial output. There were 9 rice processing plants, 7 electrical generating stations, 6 bottling companies (4 in Bamako), four bakeries (all in Bamako), 2 vegetable-oil processing plant, 1 cotton processing plant, only 3 metal fabricating sites, 1 ship construction, 1 brick manufacturing, 1 candy factory, 1 consumer chemical plant (soap and perfumes).
The Soudan depended on financial subsidies from France and the rail connection to Dakar. The Soudan possessed only extractive and light consumer industries. Imports provided all heavy construction material, automobiles, and fuel oil. All financing for major development projects came from France (like the Niger River bridge at Bamako, under construction since 1947 and finished in 1961.
The end of the Mali Federation
During July 1-3, 1959, the PFA held its first congress to organize the government of the Mali Federation. Modibo Keita represented the Soudan while Mahmadu Dia and Leopold Senghor represented Senegal.
. Modibo Keita: A school teacher who began his political activity as a member of a Groupe des Études Communistes in Bamako during WWII, along with his brother Kassé Keita. He founded the Bloc Soudanis as the first political party in the Soudan in early 1946 (forerunner of the Union Soudanis and US-RDA). On November 26, 1956, he was elected mayor of Bamako
. Léopold Senghor: A Catholic Senegalese veteran of WWII who was not connected to the Wolof (dominant ethnic group in coastal Senegal, which included Dakar and Saint Louis). He began his political career as an "apprentice" to Socialist mayor of Dakar, Lamine Guèye, but rebelled in 1947, after his successful campaign of 1946. On February 11, 1948, Senghor began to publish his own newspaper, Condition Humaine in Dakar, and established his own party, the Bloc Démocratique Sénégalais. He was the first African member of the French government to support the Fifth Republic in 1958.
. Mahmadou Dia: Mahmadou Dia was the low-caste son of a Tukolor WWI veteran. He was educated in a Mouride (Muslim) school. He was also fluent in Wolof and the first African sujet to obtain a prewar baccalauréat degree.
Questions on the form of independence: The Soudanese and the Senegalese differed on the form of government: the Soudanese wanted immediate and complete indpendence from France, while Senegal wanted a more moderate relationship in a confederation of the French community.
The Senegalese view prevailed on September 23-24, 1959 with the agreement on independence for the Mali Federation. On September 28, the leaders notified De Gaulle that the Mali Federation would seek independence within the French Community, and on November 26, notified the French government of the precise terms of the constitutional change needed. On December 14, 1959, De Gaulle voiced the approval of the French government for Malian independence.
Official forms of independence: On June 8 and 10, 1960, respectively, the legislative assemblies of Soudan and Senegal adopted the constitution of the Mali Federation, paving the way for the declaration of independence. Modibo Keita was the president of the Mali federal government, and Mahmadou Dia was vice-president. Independence began on a good note, at midnight on June 20. On July 28, Mali was admitted to the United Nations by a unanimous vote of the Secuirty Council.
Within a few months after the independence of the Mali Federation, all of the other states in AOF became independent.
External efforts to undermine the federation: The French sided with the autonomists, under the assumption that any attempt to group Africans was a prelude to political succession. Félix Houphouet-Boigny offered support to autonomist forces in the Soudan, while Guinea's Sékou Touré assisted rebels in the Casamance. Most vexing was the question of relations with France, which were made even more sensitive by the resumption of violence in Algeria. Senghor supported France while Keita was opposed, and in the end, Dia sided with Senghor.
In addition, the Sengalese and Soudanese disagreed on how to distribute revenues in the Mali Federation. The Soudanese, who were less numerous, represented a disproportionate part of the civil service from the days of the GGAOF. The Senegalese saw this as a transfer of taxes from the productive coastal region to the poorer and less populated interior. On the other hand, the Soudanese condemned the Senegalese for corruption and lethargy with respect to the struggle for independence.
In the end, the different priorities of interior and coastal states doomed the Mali Federation. On September 20, 1960, the Senegalese expelled the Soudanese leaders and workers, including more than a thousand railway workers and their families, when the Soudanese refused to accept Senghor as president of the Federation of Mali.
Modibo Keita served as the president of Mali until he was overthrown on November 11, 1968. In that period, he established a one-party state and converted the party organization into the state. All decisions were made at national party congresses attended by representatives of local party organizations. In 1962, Modibo Keita's RDA attempted to reduce the country's dependence on France by establishing its own currency, the Malian Franc.
Businessmen protested, since this made it harder for them to trade with the exterior, and the government clamped down with hundreds of arrest. Two people died and ten were injured in riots. Two of Keita's main political opponents (plus a leading merchant) were executed, while 75 received sentences ranging from one year to life in prison.
In 1968, a group of relatively unknown junior army officers (captains and lieutenants) overthrew Keita's government. Lt. Moussa Traore agreed to speak for the group after they seized the national radio station, and as a result, became the leader of the new government when the revolution succeeded.
Mali under Moussa Traore
Traoré's rule was marked by closer relations with France and some relaxation of the policy of African socialism, but during the 1970s oil crisis, he and his family amassed huge profits through their control of import/export trade. Protests by students began in the late 1970s, and a confrontation between government troops and a crowd of citizens in Bamako in March 1991 led to another military coup.
In 1991, Mouusa Traoré was overthrown by forces loyal to General Ahmadou T. Traoré (known as "ATT"). ATT held elections for a civilian government as promised, and in 1992, Ahmadou Alpha Konaré was elected president of Mali. Created by a decree of the 16th of June 1895, one year after the establishment of the Ministry for the Colonies, French West Africa (AOF), a federation of colonies, is an entity for coordinating French presence in West Africa.
At its inauguration, it consists of four colonies: Senegal, Sudan, Guinea and the Ivory Coast. It is placed under the authority of a Governor General resident in Saint-Louis in Senegal, then in Dakar, with subordinate Lieutenant Governors. These titles will change, the Governor General becoming the High Commissioner and the Lieutenant Governors becoming Governors. The frontiers of each of these colonies are negotiated with colonial powers in the neighbourhood through conventions or defined by administrative decisions in the cases of French colonies adjacent to one another. As French colonization progresses, administrative units are established, large territories and subdivisions within them.
Dahomey, Niger and Mauritania are successively incorporated into the AOF. In 1921, a part of Sudan becomes Upper Volta, which will be dissolved in 1932 and reconstituted in 1947.
In 1946, the French Union passes an electoral law permitting African populations to appoint members of parliament and senators to the French parliament. In 1951, territorial assemblies elected through universal suffrage are organized on the basis of a double electorate. A regional council of 40 members, 5 from each territory, assist the High Commissioner.
The blueprint law of 1956 endows each territory with a governing council presided over by the Governor of the colony whose ministers are appointed by the territorial assembly elected through universal suffrage by a single electorate.
In 1958, adhesion to the French community is approved by all the territories except Guinea. In the two years that follow, all the territories are granted independence and are admitted to the United Nations Organization. The offices of High Commissioners and Governors are closed.