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Modibo Keita (1915 - 1977)

The Order of the Companions of O.R. Tambo in

Modibo Keita (1915 - 1977) Awarded for:
Exceptional contribution to the liberation struggle of the African continent.

Profile of Modibo Keita

Modibo Keita was born on 4 June 1915 in Bamako in Mali. After completing his primary school education in Bamako, Keita was sent to neighbouring Senegal to receive higher education, where he graduated top of his class.

After finishing teacher training, Keita taught in Bamako, Sikasso and Tombouctou. As a teacher, Keita was drawn to the fight for the freedom of African people and specifically for the independence of his country, then part of the French Sudan, from French colonialism.

Together with other progressive teachers, Keita founded the Union of French West African Teachers and later joined the Communist Study Groups (GEC) cell in Bamako.

In 1945, at the age of 30, Keita stood as a candidate for the Constituent Assembly of the Fourth Republic supported by the GEC and the Sudanese Democratic Party. Later that year, together with acclaimed photographer Mamadou Konaté, he founded the Bloc Soudanis, which developed into the Sudanese Union. By this time, Keita was among the leading and most recognised voices for the freedom of the French Sudan.

In 1946, Keita was elected secretary-general of the African Democratic Rally (RDA) in French Sudan. The RDA was led by Felix Houphouet-Boigny (who later became the first President of the independent Ivory Coast). In 1948, Keita was elected for the first time to the first territorial assembly of French Sudan, to which he was re-elected in 1956 and 1957. At the same time, he also served as mayor of his hometown of Bamako.

In 1956, he was elected deputy for the French Sudan to the French National Assembly and served two terms as Secretary of State of the government of the French Sudan in Paris.

In 1958, the Sudan became a self-governing republic within the French community and was renamed the Sudanese Republic. The following year, the republic joined with Senegal, Upper Volta and Dahomey to form the Mali Federation and Keita was elected constituent assembly president of the Mali Federation. The Mali Federation was later to enter into agreements with Sekou Toure, the President of Guinea, and Kwame Nkrumah, the President of Ghana, to form the States of Western Africa. Unfortunately, both the Mali Federation and the States of Western Africa proved to be short-lived.

On 20 July 1960, the Mali Federation proclaimed its independence by peaceful means. On 23 September 1960, a few months after turning 45, Keita became the first President of the newly declared independent nation of Mali.

Modibo Keita was a socialist who stood for the independence of African nations from their colonial masters and peace between African countries. Throughout his adult life he tried to demonstrate his central belief in the unity of interests of African peoples by working towards the breaking down of artificial borders imposed by colonial countries. He mediated between Morocco and Algeria during the frontier conflict between the two countries and worked tirelessly to improve relations with the countries of Senegal, Upper Volta and Ivory Coast.

On 19 November 1968, Keita was toppled in a coup d'etat and sent to prison, where he died in 1977.