Mali ex-president Keita dies two years after coup ouster

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".

FILE: Mali president Ibrahim Boubacar Keita. Picture: AFP

BAMAKO - Mali's former 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.

Looming over most of Keita's presidency was the jihadist insurgency that has rocked Mali since 2012, while his toppling marked the rise of the military junta which is now under regional sanctions for failing to restore civilian rule.

"President IBK died this morning at 0900 GMT in his home" in Bamako, a family member told AFP using his initials, with several other family members confirming his death.

The cause of Keita's death was not given.

Keita was forced out of office on 18 August, 2020 by young military officers who staged an uprising at a base near Bamako before heading into 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".

Niger's ex-president Mahamadou Issoufou, a former comrade of Keita's in the Socialist International, hailed him as "a cultured man, a great patriot and a pan-Africanist".

At Keita's home southwest of Bamako on Sunday afternoon, numerous cars brought politicians and other public figures to offer their condolences. Police were guarding the entrances, according to AFP journalists at the scene.

Mali's public television broadcast that funeral plans would be announced at a later date.

PROTESTS AND COUPS

In the weeks before the 2020 coup, Keita had been struggling with protests fuelled by his handling of the jihadist insurgency and failure to turn around Mali's floundering economy.

Snail-paced political reforms, decrepit public services and schools, and a widely shared perception of government corruption also fed anti-Keita sentiment, driving tens of thousands of protesters into the streets.

Seized by the putschists, the junta that emerged from the rebellion -- under pressure from the West African bloc ECOWAS -- released Keita weeks later and returned him to his residence in Bamako, under surveillance.

He suffered a mini-stroke the following month, and was sent to United Arab Emirates for treatment. He has been based at his Bamako home since, staying out of public life.

The ruling junta would stage another coup in May 2021, toppling a civilian transitional government.

The junta had vowed to hold elections next month to transition the country back to civilian rule. But at the end of the last year, the junta revised its timetable, saying it 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 shutting borders, in a decision backed by the United States, the European Union and former colonial power France.

Landlocked Mali, one of the world's poorest countries, is already feeling the effects of the sanctions.

Thousands protested against the sanctions in Bamako on Friday after the junta called for demonstrations.

POLITICAL VETERAN

The son of a civil servant, Keita was born in the southern industrial city of Koutiala, the declining heartland of cotton production.

After studying literature in Mali, Senegal and France -- his great-grandfather was a French colonial soldier who died in the Battle of Verdun in World War I -- Keita became an adviser for the EU's overseas development fund before heading a development project in northern Mali.

He campaigned against general Moussa Traore, Mali's former president ousted in 1991 by a military coup.

He then rose through the ranks under Alpha Oumar Konare, the country's first democratically elected president.

As a socialist prime minister between 1994 and 2000, he quelled a series of crippling strikes, earning a reputation as a firm leader and helping to set up his landslide election in 2013 -- when he finally ascended to the presidency after losing runs in 2002 and 2007.

Keita was then re-elected in 2018 elections, beating opposition leader Soumaila Cisse.

Cisse's kidnapping by jihadists in March 2020 further illustrated Keita's inability to stop the violence, with rising public outrage culminating in the coup months later.