BAMAKO, Mali (AP) — Mali’s military government paid a final tribute Friday to former President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita, who died less than 18 months after being overthrown in a coup and as the junta that ousted him faces growing international isolation over election delays.
Among those attending Keita’s state-like funeral was Malian Prime Minister Choguel Kokala Maiga, a civilian leader in the government still led by the man behind the August 2020 coup, Col. Assimi Goita.
Some feared that new regional sanctions blocking flights to Mali would limit the number of heads of state who could show up for the funeral. A representative from neighboring Guinea, which is also led by a military junta, was the only foreign official announced at the ceremony.
Keita, who was known to Malians by his initials IBK and died at age 76, was last seen speaking on state television under duress after mutinous soldiers had encircled his home and fired shots in the air. He resigned as president, saying he didn’t want blood to be shed to keep him in power.
Since his resignation, Keita had sought medical treatment abroad, according to aides. Mali’s military government released a statement saying only that his death came after a long illness.
Amadou Koita, who held two ministerial posts during Keita’s 2013-2020 presidency, remembered the late leader Friday as “a generous man who never ran out of ideas.”
“It was IBK who promoted the law on gender, granting 30% of positions in the Malian administration to women,” he said.
Keita, 76, first came to power in the aftermath of a 2012 coup, winning a historic election the following year after the French-led military operation to oust Islamic extremists from control of the major towns in northern Mali.
He was popular with France and other Western allies but faced growing opposition within Mali during his second term in office especially after disputed legislative elections in early 2020. Demonstrations brought tens of thousands of people into the streets in the months leading up to his overthrow.
Keita’s popularity also took a hit from Islamic insurgents, who significantly expanded into central Mali during his years in power, exacerbating regional ethnic tensions. The Malian military suffered a deadly wave of attacks in 2019, prompting the government to close its most vulnerable outposts.
Coup leader Goita staged a second coup last year and made himself president. He created more uncertainty in recent weeks by temporarily blocking all arriving flights, even U.N. peacekeeping plans, after Mali was hit with tough regional economic sanctions for failing to organize new elections by the end of February as once promised.,
Goita has said his government is still open to negotiations. But he insists that the security situation in Mali will not allow for a vote anytime soon and the next presidential election will be in 2024. That effectively would leave the military junta in control for more than six years.
___ Larson reported from Dakar, Senegal contributed.