Ibrahim Boubacar Keita, the former president of Mali who took office in a landmark election held after a destabilizing coup only to be ousted in another military takeover nearly seven years later, has died. He was 76.
Keita, known to Malians by his initials IBK, had been in declining health since his forced resignation in August 2020, and had sought medical treatment in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, shortly after his release from junta custody.
The transitional government, which is still led by the man who ousted Keita from power 18 months ago, issued a statement saying that his death Sunday in Bamako followed “a long illness.”
“The government of the Republic of Mali and the Malian people salute the memory of the late great,” the statement said, adding that funeral details would come later.
The news comes as the turbulent West African nation faces a deepening political crisis, with coup leader Col. Assimi Goita having no immediate plans for a return to democracy as initially promised.
Keita won Mali's historic 2013 presidential election held after an earlier coup in 2012 and a subsequent French-led military intervention the following year to oust Islamic extremists from power in the country's north. But only seven years later, Keita himself was ousted by another military takeover following months of public demonstrations against his presidency.
Keita had three years left in his final term when mutinous soldiers detained him at his residence in August 2020 after firing shots outside the house. Hours later, he appeared in a midnight broadcast on state television, telling Malians he would resign immediately.
“I wish no blood to be shed to keep me in power,” Keita said at the time. “I have decided to step down from office.”
The country has descended into further chaos since his departure. Goita last year launched a second coup, throwing out the civilian transitional leaders and making himself president.
West African regional leaders imposed tough economic sanctions earlier this month after Goita indicated that Mali's next presidential election won't be held until 2026, after initially agreeing to an election by the end of next month. The measures halted commercial flights from most other countries in the regional bloc known as ECOWAS and froze the Malian government's assets in commercial banks.
A protest movement against Keita’s presidency in 2020 saw tens of thousands demonstrate in the streets in the months leading up to his overthrow. As discontent with his leadership mounted, Keita had tried to make concessions to his critics, saying he was even open to redoing the vote. But those overtures were swiftly rejected by opposition leaders, who said they wouldn't stop short of Keita’s departure.
Support for Keita also tumbled amid criticism of his government’s handling of the Islamic insurgency, which significantly expanded into central Mali during his tenure. A wave of particularly deadly attacks in the north in 2019 prompted the government to close its most vulnerable outposts as part of a reorganization aimed at stemming the losses.
Keita signed a peace agreement with the former rebels, but it was never fully implemented, prolonging the instability.
In the 2013 election, Keita had emerged from a field of more than two dozen candidates to win Mali’s first democratic election after a 2012 coup — a landslide victory with more than 77% of the vote. He also enjoyed broad support from former colonizer France and other Western allies. In 2018, Keita was reelected to a second term after receiving 67% of the vote.
“I will remember him as a cultured man, a great patriot and a committed pan-Africanist,” tweeted Niger's former President Mahamadou Issoufou, who led the neighboring country throughout Keita's presidency as the two nations faced the growing regional threat posed by Islamic extremists. “I lose in him a friend and a comrade.”
Born in 1945, Keita hailed from the town of Koutiala in what is now southern Mali. He studied in Bamako, Dakar, Senegal, and Paris, earning a master’s degree in history with postgraduate studies in politics and international relations before entering politics.
His early posts included being ambassador to neighboring Ivory Coast and diplomatic adviser to President Alpha Oumar Konare, who took office in 1992. Keita then served as prime minister from 1994 to 2000, and later as president of the National Assembly from 2002 to 2007.
He is survived by his wife, Aminata Maiga Keita, and their four children.