National Post (Latest Edition)
President of Mali gained and lost power by coup
Mediated conflicts in other African states
Moussa Traore, the former president of Mali who has died aged 83, came to power by the sword and was ousted by the sword. Twice condemned to death, first for the killing of political opponents, second for economic crimes, he was twice pardoned, and died at his home in Bamako, having become something of an elder statesman.
After a courtesy call by members of the junta who seized power last month in Mali’s fourth coup d’etat since independence, he said: “These young colonels are children … I told them about past mistakes and what is to be avoided, and I hope that they understood.”
Traore shot to prominence as a 32- year- old lieutenant in 1968 by deposing Mali’s founding father, Modibo Keita, a Marxist who had nationalized key sections of the economy and formed close ties with Communist states. In 1967 Keita had launched a Maoist- inspired cultural revolution whose ferocity antagonized the population.
Traore, head of the newly formed Comité militaire de libération nationale, promised to rescue an economy ruined by collectivization and restore liberties. On the first count he succeeded in the 1980s in loosening state control through privatization but lost popular support through adopting an austerity program imposed by the International Monetary Fund.
On the second count, the 1974 Constitution ended military rule after a five-year transition period, but put in its place a one- party state that came to be dominated by the Union démocratique du peuple malien and its general secretary, Traore.
Political opposition was stamped on. In 1991 an estimated 200 people were killed in a pro- democracy protest in Bamako.
Traore’s 22 years at the head of what the putschists termed a “bloodthirsty and corrupt regime” were ended by Lieutenant- Colonel Adamou Toumani Toure. He returned Mali to democracy a year later.
Traore was imprisoned, and in 1993 condemned to death for political crimes, above all the massacre of 1991. The sentence was commuted to life imprisonment in 1997 by President Alpha Oumar Konare, who wanted Traore to live long enough to see “the flourishing of democracy in Mali.”
Two years later Traore and his wife, Mariam, were sentenced to death for embezzling the equivalent of US$ 350,000 but were eventually pardoned.
Traore’s reputation was gradually rehabilitated, partly through the Mouvement patriotique pour le renouveau, a party founded in 1995 that considers itself his political heir.
Moussa Traore was born Sept. 25, 1936, in French Sudan. He went to the military academy at Frejus in France. He returned to Mali at the time of independence in 1960 and, as a lieutenant, went to Tanganyika as a military instructor to its liberation movements.
Returning home, he taught at the École militaire interarmes and in November 1968 headed a group of officers who overthrew Keita; a year later he became president.
He promoted himself colonel in 1971 and gener
I TOLD THEM ABOUT PAST MISTAKES (AND I HOPE) THEY UNDERSTOOD.
al seven years later. Under the 1974 constitution he was elected president unopposed in 1979 and 1985.
On the international stage, Traore was close to France and the Communist bloc but in the 1980s, seeking foreign investment, he sought broader relations with Western countries.
Traore presided over the multinational committee for tackling drought in the Sahel between 1980 and 1983 and was president of the Organization of African Unity (now the African Union) in 198889.
He made a name for himself as a mediator in conflicts between Senegal and Mauritania, and Chad and Libya, and between belligerents in Liberia. In 1990 he reached a peace agreement with the Tuareg in Mali which brought to an end an armed rebellion.
Traore is survived by his wife, Mariam Sissoko. They had five children.