The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Ousted Malian president Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta has died, his family says

Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta during a meeting in Bamako, Mali on Aug. 3, 2018. (Luc Gnago/Reuters)
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Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta, who led Mali as president from 2013 until military officers ousted him in a 2020 coup d'etat, died at home on Sunday, his family said. He was 76.

The cause of death was not announced.

Mali is in crisis. Col. Assimi Goïta, who steered two military takeovers in the past 18 months before naming himself president, has pushed the election that was supposed to restore civilian rule back to 2026 instead of next month, as planned. The nation of 20 million has been cut off from much of West Africa after regional leaders moved last week to close their borders to Mali.

Two coups and no election later, West Africa cuts off Mali

Keïta, known by his initials IBK, won more than 77 percent of the vote in Mali’s 2013 election to revive democracy after his predecessor was ousted by the military. He promised to soothe national tensions.

“Kati,” the military base where predecessor Amadou Toumani Touré was toppled, "will no longer scare Bamako,” he said. Years later, the uprising that would overthrow Keïta would begin there, too.

Keïta enjoyed early support among Malians and from former colonial power France, among other Western allies. He was reelected to a second five-year term in 2018. But security challenges grew, as did Malians’ impatience for solutions.

The government struggled to fight the world’s fastest-growing Islamist insurgency, which expanded significantly into central Mali under Keïta’s leadership. In August 2020, soldiers stormed Bamako and arrested the leader, raising fears about a power vacuum while militants loyal to al-Qaeda and the Islamic State were stepping up attacks.

Keïta’s popularity plummeted as Mali’s conflict intensified. In the weeks leading up to his removal, protests raged. Tens of thousands demanded his resignation amid a coronavirus outbreak, a failing economy and the growing insurgency. Protesters accused him of prioritizing the interests of Paris over the Malian people.

Social media blitzes against France and democracy in Mali, laced with pro-Moscow messages, went viral, leading researchers to infer that disinformation campaigns propelled public discontent.

Hours after he was detained, Keïta resigned on state television. “I wish no blood to be shed to keep me in power,” he said through a surgical mask. “I have decided to step down from office.”

Nine months later, Goïta staged a second coup, sacking the nation’s interim president and prime minister. In May 2021, he assumed the role of president.

Keïta studied in Bamako, the University of Dakar in Senegal and the Sorbonne in Paris before entering politics. He served as ambassador to neighboring nations including the Ivory Coast, as diplomatic adviser to President Alpha Oumar Konaré, as prime minister, and as National Assembly president.

He is survived by his wife, Aminata Maïga Keïta, and their four children.

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