end of an era

Mali: Ousted President Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta, IBK, dead at 76

By Anna Sylvestre-Treiner, Anne Kappès-Grangé

Posted on January 17, 2022 12:25

Former President Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta
Mali’s President Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta poses for a group photograph during the G5 Sahel summit in Nouakchott, Mauritania on 30 June 2020. (Ludovic Marin, Pool via AP, File)

Mali’s former president Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta died at his home early Sunday 16 January. Forced to resign following a military putsch in August 2020, the former head of state had since retired from public life.

He passed away in the villa he had inherited from his father, on Sunday morning at the age of 76. A villa built in the heart of the Sébénikoro district in Bamako, reputed to bring bad luck to the fortune of its occupants.

Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta (IBK) was so attached to it that he continued to reside there when he was in power. It is also where he had been living since he was forced to resign by people out on the street as well as by a military putsch on 18 August 2020, seven years almost to the day after his accession to the supreme magistracy.

Since he left office, IBK had hardly appeared in public. His health had deteriorated sharply a few weeks after the coup. He suffered a stroke and had to be hospitalised in a Bamako clinic before the National Committee for the Salvation of the People (CNSP), set up by the coup plotters, authorised him to go to Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates for treatment. He then returned to Mali, as he had pledged, and since then has lived in seclusion from public life alongside his wife, Aminata. His two sons, Bouba and Karim opted inside for a live of exile in Côte d’Ivoire.

Heart attack

Last November, his state of health forced him to return to Abu Dhabi, where he was medically monitored. Several sources contacted by us said he was being treated for cancer, but it was a heart attack that took his life on Sunday.

According to the few people who were allowed to visit him in Sebenikoro, IBK refused to comment on the political situation in his country, saying he was just concerned about the evolution of the situation. He even seemed to have lost interest in the internal affairs of the Rassemblement Pour le Mali (RPM), the party he founded in 2001, under whose banner he was elected in 2013 and then re-elected in 2018, and which, since its fall, has been losing momentum.

He, the former student of the prestigious Parisian secondary school Janson-de-Sailly, who later trained at the Sorbonne, an avid translator of Lucretius and admirer of Camus; said he was finally satisfied to be able to devote himself to his love of letters.

In the last hours of his life, was he still bitter about the months of protest and the putsch that put an end to a life dedicated to politics? Had he finally understood what had precipitated his downfall, as he was said to be disconnected from the reality of Mali?

During his last years in power, he was criticised for his inability to put an end to the violence of terrorist groups, but his opponents also mocked his nepotism and the dilettantism of this night owl who liked to stay up late.

Supporters of the Imam Mahmoud Dicko and other opposition political parties attend a mass protest demanding the resignation of Mali's President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita in Bamako © Supporters of the Imam Mahmoud Dicko and other opposition political parties attend a mass protest demanding the resignation of Mali’s President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita in Bamako, Mali August 11, 2020. REUTERS/Rey Byhre

Iron grasp

Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta had been considered a man with a firm grip. When he was appointed Prime Minister by Alpha Oumar Konaré in 1994, he did not hesitate to bring order to a turbulent army, to retie the ties of his ministers and to reprimand those who did not master French properly, as we reported at the time of his election in 2013.

Keïta mastered this language of Molière, Hugo and Kundera, as well as Latin. An elegance that gave him an “old France” side even though he had travelled the dunes of Gao as much as the sidewalks of the 6th arrondissement of Paris before coming to power.

One does not get simply forget the many years spent in France.

IBK arrived to France the first time at the age of 13. There he met some friends with whom he shared convictions and ambition. Their names were Alpha Condé, Mahamadou Issoufou, Laurent Gbagbo and they were all members of the Fédération des étudiants d’Afrique noire en France, Feanf (Federation of Black African Students in France). All of them later on became heads of state, but IBK was the last of the gang to conquer power.

Returning to Mali at the age of 41 in the mid-1980s, he became involved in politics, campaigned against the regime of Moussa Traoré (“the most exciting period of my life,” he would later say) and was eventually appointed to head the government. After six years in office, he resigned in 2000 and prepared for the 2002 presidential election. He failed, tried his luck once more in 2007, and failed again. But the man was stubborn.

It was during the election organised after the coup d’état of Amadou Haya Sanogo, the captain who overthrew Amadou Toumani Touré in 2012, that the former vice-president of the Internationale Socialiste (SI) found his moment. He was not the favourite, but became both the candidate of the international community and rigorous Islamists come August 2013.

This unanimity would crack over the years.

While his presidency was marked by the fight against terrorist groups, he failed to end a war that has become unwinnable and gradually fell out with his allies. François Hollande, a youthful comrade who became president of  France, had launched Operation Serval (now Barkhane) in January 2013. But the following President, Emmanuel Macron, let him down, he said. He blamed Paris for tying his hands and acting only in its own interest. When he was taken away by the coup plotters in August 2020, the Élysée did not say a word.

This sentimentalist, whose grandfather had died at Verdun, has never forgiven Paris.

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