By - Isaac Joseph
Alpha Oumar Konaré, who was the fourth son of a Bambara teacher and a Fula homemaker, was born on February 2, 1946 in Kayes, Mali, where he completed his elementary education. He later attended Bamako’s Lycée Terrasson des Fougères, the Collège de Maristes of Dakar, Senegal, the Collège Moderne of Kayes and the École Normale Secondaire of Katibougou, between 1962 and 1964. He returned to Mali to complete his advanced studies in history at the Écol Normale Supérieure in Bamako (1965–1969) and at the University of Warsaw (Poland), where he bagged a doctorate in History and Archaeology between 1971 and 1975, with a dissertation on agricultural development in the upper basin of the Niger River between the 13th and 17th centuries (a prosperous period for the Mali empire).
The Early Life of Alpha Oumar Konaré
At a young age, Konaré became a political leader and was elected Secretary General of Youth for US-RDA (Sudanese Union-African Democratic Rally), Modibo Keïta´s party of the École Normale Supérieure of Bamako) in 1967. He started his professional career as a tutor in Kayes, then a lycée teacher at Markala and Bamako and later did research at the Institut des Sciences Humaines du Mali in 1974. Konaré returned to Bamako where he was hired by the Ministry of Culture and he worked as a history professor, and was also President of the Museum Council until May 1978. He acted as head of historic patrimony and ethnography at the Ministry of Youth, Sports, Arts, and Culture from 1975 to 1978. He was also named researcher at the Institut Supérieur de Formation en Recherche Appliquée (I.S.F.R.A) and Professor at the History/Geography department at the Ecole Normale Supérieure of Bamako in 1980. During this period, General Moussa Traoré, military government´s leaders appointed him as the Minister of Youth, Sports, Arts and Culture but he resigned from his position in August 1980, in a display of his disagreement with the perpetuation of power in Traoré, who had been named as the constitutional president in single-candidate elections a year before. His tenure was however marked by the establishment of several Malian sports organizations. However, he decided to return to his academic activities and promotion of cultural events.
Later on, Konaré shifted his focus to journalism, and he founded and directed the cultural review “Jamana” in 1983, as well as the cultural cooperative of the same name. He acted as the editor of Jamana magazine and the independent journal titled Les Echos, which he later founded in 1984. Konaré was also a UNESCO consultant in the United Nations Programme for Development (UNPD) and the Agency for Cultural and Technical Cooperation. He was also the President of the West African Archaeological Association.
Konaré’s Political Journey
Konaré returned to his political activities in 1986 and he founded the National Democratic and Popular Front which was coordinated with other opposition organisations, because Traoré´s party, the Democratic Union of the Malian People (UDPN), was the only legal party at the time. He also founded the daily newspaper “Les échos,” in 1989. Later on, he was involved in the creation of the umbrella movement Alliance for Democracy in Mali (Alliance pour la démocratie au Mali, or ADEMA), which united the PMT with a number of other anti-Traoré groups in 1990. When Moussa Traoré fell in 1991, Konaré helped transform ADEMA into ADEMA/PASJ, an official political party, and served as its delegate to the 1991 National Conference of Mali. At this period, he started Mali’s first free radio station, “Radio Bamakan.” At the end of the democratic transition instituted by Amadou Toumani Touré, Konaré was elected as Mali’s first democratically elected president in 1992, having 69.01% of the vote in the second round against US-RDA candidate, Tiéoulé Mamadou Konaté. In the 1997 presidential election, despite a boycott of the ballot in protest of his annulment of legislative elections, he was re-elected for a second term and sworn in on 8 June 1997.
During his tenure, democracy was restored even if corruption remained a significant challenge in his administration. Konaré rendered homage publicly, to Mali’s first president, Modibo Keïta, and created a memorial to him in Bamako. He rescinded the death sentences of Moussa Traoré and his wife to life in prison in 2002 as he was opposed to the death penalty given to them . He is also widely remembered as the man who brought the continent’s most prestigious football tournament, the African Cup of Nations, to Mali in 2002. On the international platform, Konaré sued for peace and integration in the West African region. In 1999, he also served as president of Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), which obtained its first parliament in 2000 (with headquarters in Bamako) and of the West African Monetary Union (UEMOA) in 2000.
Konaré’s Foreign Policy
Konaré played an key role on several occasions in regards to foreign policy. He served as a mediator in the crisis of the Central African Republic and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (then known as Zaire) in 1997. He also ensured Mali troops formed part of the Inter-African Mission to Monitor the Implementation of the Bangui Agreements (MISAB) and the subsequent one in 1998, the United Nations Mission in the Central African Republic (MINURCA), as well as in the peacekeeping forces (Ecomog) of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) in Liberia, Sierra Leone, as well as Guinea-Bissau. He stood against the coup d’état attempts carried out by military officers in Niger in April of 1999 and in the Ivory Coast in December of that same year. Mali was the first country to ratify the African Union Treaty (OUA) held in Lomé in July 2000 with Konaré at the helm of affairs.
Alpha Oumar Konaré’s Exit from Office
During these periods, the economy blossomed and requests were made to international credit organisations to cancel or restructure part of the foreign debt (approximately $3 billion). However, Konaré´s party faced crisis due to the internal rancour between Prime Minister Ibrahima Boubacar and the Minister of Finances, Soumaïla Cissé. Keita ceased his functions in the Government in 2000, and in December, Cissé´s group got the party´s leadership and the presidential nomination to succeed Konaré in the 2002 elections. The elections held from April 28 through May 12, 2002. The former military president, Amadou Toumani Touré, and the governmental candidate, Soumaila Cissé, reached the second ballot but Amadou Toumani Touré won the ballotage with 64.35% of votes. Konaré left office in 2002 and was succeeded by Amadou Toumani Touré. His last action in government was to grant a presidential pardon to the former dictator Traoré, who rejected it and remained imprisoned until completing his sentence.
Alpha Oumar Konaré at the African Union (AU)
On 10 July 2003, he was elected as Chairman of the Commission of the African Union (AU) at a summit in Maputo. According to several news accounts, dominant African countries with South Africa and Nigeria among them, believed that the African Union, created to replace the Organization for African Unity, would benefit more from the leadership of a former head of state like Konare, who could lend credibility to the new organization. He was the only candidate as Amara Essy, who held the post in an interim capacity, withdrew his candidacy prior to the vote. 35 countries voted in favour of Konaré’s while six countries voted against him, with four other countries abstaining. However, on 25 January 2007, Konaré did not seek another term as Chairman of the AU Commission and on 1 February 2008, Jean Ping of Gabon was elected to succeed him and he officially assumed office as Chairperson of the Commission on 28 April 2008.
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