Mali’s first president, Modibo Keita, roused citizens to push the nation forward when he took office in 1960, after decades of French rule, and precipitated a time that many remember as one of hope.
However, 60 years on, the optimism of the post-independence era has given way to chronic instability in Mali, which is plagued by corruption, poverty and militancy.
Keita’s remaining family members, who are nostalgic for his time in office, assiduously keep the ex-president’s memory alive.
“He is the father of independence, he is the national father, he is the father of all Malians,” said the former president’s daughter, Hatouma Keita, from the family home in the capital Bamako.
After he came to power on Sept. 22, 1960, Modibo Keita made his mark by pursuing socialist policies and large development projects.
“Tomatoes, soldiers’ boots, milk, matches, textiles, everything used to be made here,” said Maimouna Diakite, Modibo Keita’s adopted daughter.
However, Modibo Keita’s government was not devoid of criticism at the time and his economic policies provoked a strong backlash.
He was ousted in 1968 by Moussa Traore, a young army lieutenant, and died in detention in 1977.
Traore — who himself died last week, aged 83 — went on to rule Mali with an iron fist for 22 years, a time during which few mentioned Keita, Diakite said, and many in the former president’s family fled.
Modibo Keita’s memory began to creep back into the public consciousness after the military toppled Traore in 1991.
A memorial was constructed in his honor, and an airport and stadium named after him.
However, Mali is less hopeful today than when Modibo Keita took office 60 years ago.
On Aug. 18, a clutch of young officers overthrew Malian president Ibrahim Boubacar Keita in a military coup, after months of protests against him in the country.
“All Malians must consider themselves as mobilized for the construction of the republic of Mali, homeland of all those who are firmly committed to the achievement of independence and African unity,” Modibo Keita said when he was president.
For his adopted daughter Diakite, the achievement of that ambition lies in doubt.
“Are we even independent today?” she asked.
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