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Moussa Traoré

Malian Politician and Military Strongman


Moussa Traoré was the second president of the Republic of Mali. He came to power in a military coup on 19 November 1968, and was removed, in turn, from power by military coup on 26 March 1991.

Date of birth: 25 September 1936, Kayes, Soudan Français (French Sudan)

An Early Life
Moussa Traoré was born in Kayes, Soudan Français (French Sudan), on 25 September 1936. The country was, at that time, a French colony. In his late teens, Traoré joined the army, receiving training, first at the military garrison of Kita, 15 km north-west of the capital Bamako, and then at the Fréjus Military College, France.

When Mali achieved independence in 1960, Traoré returned and joined the newly formed Malian army, quickly rising up through the ranks -- receiving his first commission in 1960, promoted to Second-Lieutenant in 1961, and Lieutenant in 1963. Traoré was sent to Tanganyika (now Tanzania) to train members of the nationalist, liberation movement. On his return to Mali he took up the post of instructor at the inter-services school in Kati.

Military Coup and Head of State
On 19 November 1968 Lieutenant-General Moussa Traoré led a coup d'état against Mali's one-party government, personally arresting the president, Modibo Keïta. Mali under the ruling party, the Union Soudanaise-Rassemblement Démocratique Africain (US-RDA, Sudanese Union-African Democratic Rally), was repressive and suffering economically. Keïta had created a militant youth organization, called the milice populaire, which he used to suppress popular local opposition.

As leader of the Comité Militaire de Libération Nationale (CMLN, Military Committee for National Liberation) Moussa Traoré became head of state. Captain Yoro Diakité became prime minister, and Captain Tiécoro Bagayoko took the post of head of the police and defense. Keïta's socialist policies were immediately dropped, and a police state imposed with political activity banned, and potential opposition groups (especially students and teachers) monitored by the authorities. The CMLN issued vague promises of a return to civilian rule whilst entrenching themselves in power.

Clearing the Deck
In March 1971 Traoré arrested his main rivals, including Captain Yoro Diakité. They were convicted and sentenced in July 1972 to life imprisonment in the Taoudem Salt Mines for an attempted coup. Diakité died in the mines a year later. Moussa Traoré had achieved effective control of Mali and its government.

The mid-70s were a turbulent time for Mali. First in 1973 the country was hit by a serious drought and international aid was diverted by government officials. In 1974 armed conflict erupted in the Agacher Strip, a disputed region on the border of Mali and Upper Volta (now Burkina Faso) believed to contain major valuable mineral deposits. It was not until mediation by the Organization of African Unity (OAU) that a ceasefire was agreed.

In June 1975 Traoré arranged for several of Modibo Keïta political allies to be released from prison. In September that year he announced the creation of a new political party, the Union Démocratique du Peuple Malien (UDPM, Democratic Union of the Malian People), with the hope that it would give political legitimacy to his continued rule in the country. Its centralist policies were, however, a front for a continued military government. In an attempt to quell dissent, he announced a five year transition to civilian rule. The first of a several attempted coups came in 1976. Several junior army offices and enlisted men were sentenced to death for their part in the attempt the next year.

On the 18th of May 1977, ex-president Modibo Keïta died in prison. His well attended funeral was the focus for protests which erupted around the capital. In February 1978 Moussa Traoré accused several of the more powerful members of the CMLN, including the defense minister Tiécoro Bagayoko and the security minister Kissima Doukara, of corruption (the theft of drought aid) and had them arrested on ground of planning a coup d'état. When the country's Foreign Affairs Minister returned to Mali in March, he was also arrested. By the end of the year four had been sentenced -- two to death and two to life imprisonment with hard labor. In May 1978, Traoré reorganized his cabinet, removing several more military members of the CMLN. Civilians were appointed to the government in acknowledgement of Traoré's intention to revert to civilian rule after a five year transition announced back in 1975. The new cabinet included the historian Alpha Oumar Konaré, who took the post of Arts Minister.

President of the Republic
In June 1979 Mali held presidential and legislative elections. Moussa Traoré was the only candidate presented for the presidency, and the UDPM was the only permitted political party. (Unsurprisingly Traoré gained 99% of the vote and the UDPM took all 82 seats in the National Assembly.) The remaining members of the Comité Militaire de Libération Nationale resigned from the cabinet and joined the central committee of the UDPM. As part of his new 'democratic' policy, Traoré introduced two compulsory institutions: the Union Nationale des Femmes du Mali (National Union of Women of Mali) and Union Nationale des Jeunes du Mali (National Youth Union of Mali).

'Civilian power sharing' encouraged the development of opposition groups, especially students and teachers, who believed that behind the façade the army was still in control. (Traoré had also made himself a general of the army, and became command-in-chief in 1982.) In November 1979 three hundred demonstrators were arrested during nationwide strikes -- they were given the choice of going to jail or joining the army. In December, fifteen students were killed, student union leaders were arrested and the union disbanded. Abdoul Karim Camara, the head of the student union, died mysteriously in detention. The next two years saw schools and colleges closed by strikes, and members of a teachers union charged with working against the state.

Economic Crisis and Corruption
During the 1980s there were five more attempted coups -- the people were dissatisfied with democratic and economic progress. In 1981, in an attempt to appease its critics, the ruling party, the Union Démocratique du Peuple Malien (UDPM), held a congress on liberalization of Mali's economy. Hoping to stabilize the currency, the Malian Franc, Mali negotiated its re-entry into the Union Monétaire Ouest Africaine (UMOA, Monetary Union of West Africa -- which included Benin, Burkina, Côte d'Ivoire, Guinea Bissau, Niger, Senegal, and Togo). By mid-1984 the Communauté Financière Africaine (CFA, African Financial Community) franc was once again the official Malian currency. Unfortunately the reintroduction of the CFA franc resulted in severe inflation. The deteriorating economic situation was made worse by a severe drought in the north of the country. The government appealed for international aid.

In March 1985, looking to his political future, Traoré arranged for the UDPM to amend the constitution, dropping the two term limit for presidential office, effectively allowing him to remain president for life. In June that year he was 're-elected' unopposed for a second, six-year, term. The government was, however, becoming increasingly corrupt. International media reported that over $1 billion had been secreted in overseas bank accounts. To combat this growing negative reputation, the UDPM signed a charter to combat corruption and set up a investigatory commission to be lead by the president. By the end of the year nine people had been sentenced to death for corruption. Moussa Traoré achieved some vindication, at least in the eyes of Africa, by being appointed chair of the Organization of Africa Unity (OAU) from May 1988 to July 1989.

By 1990 the people were openly criticizing the government. Some concessions to democracy were made -- the establishment of an independent press and the acceptance of independent political association -- but Traoré insisted that Mali was not yet ready for full democracy. As a result four of the new democratic movements formed a coalition, the Alliance pour la Démocratie en Mali (ADEMA, Alliance for Democracy in Mali) led by Abdramane Baba and Alpha Oumar Konaré, to oppose President Moussa Traoré.

Traoré Ousted
Towards the end of March 1991 people were openly demonstrating against Traoré and the UDPM. On the 22nd an estimated 300 demonstrators were killed by security forces in the capital Bamako. On the 26th Mossa Traoré was ousted by military coup and detained. A transitional military-civilian committee took over government, led by the chairman of the Comité de Transition pour le Salut du Peuple (CTSP, Transitional Committee for the Salvation of the People), Amadou Toumani Touré. The CTSP were quick to initiate democratic elections, and Alpha Oumar Konaré for ADEMA became president on 8 June 1992.

In 1994 Traoré was convicted of ordering the 1991 massacre (of the 300 pro-democracy demonstrators) and sentenced to death. It was commuted to life imprisonment a few months later. In 1999 ex-president Mossa Traoré was again sentenced to death, with his wife, over corruption. President Konaré once again commuted the sentence to life imprisonment. On the 29th of May 2002, President Konaré pardoned Mossa Traoré for 'the sake of national reconciliation', and as a final act before retiring. It was approved by the new president of the republic, Amadou Toumani Touré. Since his release, Mossa Traoré has retired from political life.

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