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Former Malian President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita, who ruled the West African country from 2013 until his overthrow in a coup in 2020, died on Sunday at the age of 76 in the capital Bamako, his family announced. The former French president, François Hollande, paid tribute to him on the antenna of France 24.
A few hours after the announcement of Keita’s death on Sunday January 16, former French President François Hollande hailed “an African proud of his continent, who has worked in harmony with his colleagues from West Africa”.
Questioned by FRANCE 24, Hollande also underlined the vigor of IBK in its fight against jihadism in Mali. “I had known Mr. Keïta for a long time, we worked together in the operations that we launched,” he said.
“He was a lover of the French language. […] He was a man of culture, he had a very good knowledge of African and French authors, he was able to recite poems,” said Hollande, recalling Keita’s deep attachment to the language of Molière.
The jihadist insurgency that has rocked the impoverished Sahel country since 2012 loomed over most of Keita’s presidency, while his overthrow marked the rise of the military junta which now faces regional sanctions for failing to restored the civil regime.
Mali’s interim government issued a statement hailing “the memory of the illustrious” Keita, adding that the former president died “after a long illness”.
Keita was forced to resign on August 18, 2020 by young military officers who staged an uprising at a base near Bamako before heading to the city, where they seized Keita and other leaders.
Foreign Minister Abdoulaye Diop said he was “saddened to learn of the death of former President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita”, adding that “it is with great emotion that I bow before his memory”.
Macky Sall, president of neighboring Senegal, said in a Tweet that he was “saddened” by the news, while ex-Nigerien president Mahamadou Issoufou, a former comrade of Keita at the 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 in southwest Bamako to offer their condolences, with police guarding the entrances, according to AFP reporters at the scene.
The government statement says funeral plans will be announced at a later date.
In the weeks leading up to the 2020 coup, Keita had grappled with protests fueled by his handling of the jihadist insurgency and his failure to turn around Mali’s struggling economy.
Snail’s pace political reforms, decrepit public services and schools, and a widely shared perception of government corruption have also fueled anti-Keita sentiment, pushing tens of thousands of protesters into the streets.
Seized by the putschists, the junta resulting from the rebellion – under pressure from the West African bloc of ECOWAS – released Keita a few weeks later and sent him back to his residence 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 at his Bamako home ever since, staying out of public life.
The ruling junta would stage another coup in May 2021, overthrowing a transitional civilian government.
The junta had pledged to hold elections next month to return the country to civilian rule. But late last year the junta revised its timetable, saying it could stay in power for up to five years.
In response, ECOWAS agreed to sanction Mali earlier this month, imposing a trade embargo and closing borders, in a move backed by the United States, European Union and former colonial power France.
Landlocked Mali, one of the world’s poorest countries, is already feeling the effects of sanctions, prompting thousands to protest in Bamako on Friday.
The son of a civil servant, Keita was born in the southern industrial town of Koutiala, the declining heartland of cotton production.
After studying literature in Mali, Senegal and France, Keita became an advisor for the EU overseas development fund before leading a development project in northern Mali.
He then rose through the ranks under Alpha Oumar Konaré, the country’s first democratically elected president.
As socialist prime minister between 1994 and 2000, he put down a series of crippling strikes, earning a reputation as a tough leader and helping set up his landslide election in 2013.
Keita was then re-elected in the 2018 elections, defeating opposition leader Soumaila Cissé, who died in December 2020 of Covid.
Cissé’s abduction by jihadists in March 2020 further illustrated Keita’s inability to end the violence, with growing public outrage culminating in the coup months later.
(FRANCE 24 with AFP)