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Last Updated: Friday, 25 July, 2003, 08:41 GMT 09:41 UK
Profile: African Union's new boss
Joan Baxter
By Joan Baxter
Former BBC reporter in Bamako, Mali

It is just 13 months since Malian President Alpha Oumar Konare made his exit from the splendid presidential palace in Bamako, which he had occupied for 10 years.

Captured live on state television, that exit was a classic Konare moment - as the soon-to-be ex-president and his wife walked humbly towards a waiting car, waving and smiling for the cameras, as if really happy to give up the privileges and perks of power.

Another media coup - and something for the history books - by an outgoing president who was, after all, a historian.

Several western diplomats told me they were very sorry to see him go.

Strangely enough, I could find no Malian who echoed those sentiments.


In his decade as president, the once-lean Mr Konare had grown a good deal stouter and lost a good deal of hair. He had also lost the trust of many Malians who had first elected him in 1992.

Bamako street scene
Konare achieved little in the battle against poverty
It was not that President Konare had ever stopped playing the role of the modest intellectual turned head of state - one day appearing in drab brown suits that he might have worn during his student days in Poland, the next looking every inch the Alhaji that he is, in a magnificent flowing gown or "boubou".

Right to the very end of his mandate, he could and would preach for hours about democracy and development and fighting corruption and poverty - all the buzz words and lofty causes that donors and diplomats love to hear from the mouth of a well-behaved African president.

But Malians themselves had grown tired of the rhetoric and Mr Konare's contradictions - the disparity between what he said and what he actually did.

Even many of those close to him told me they had had enough of his showmanship, his manipulative and divisive politicking, and his grand-standing on the international stage as Africa's model democrat.


That is not to say that Malians are not pleased and proud to see their former president now on that stage as chairman of the African Union.

Even his most strident critics agree that Mr Konare, at the age of 57, has the intellect, experience and the pan-Africanist vision needed to chair the African Union.

As chairman of the regional West African body, Ecowas, Mr Konare called for a Federal Republic of West Africa, and he earned worldwide praise for restoring peace to Mali after years of ethnic Tuareg rebellion.

He is also remembered as the man who brought the continent's greatest football tournament, the African Cup of Nations, to Mali in 2002 - even if it was on borrowed money.

But some Malians are simply relieved that that their former president and his wife, fellow historian Adam Ba Konare, will no longer be hanging about idly in the ex-presidential palace built for them by the Chinese in Bamako - unemployed and nursing unfulfilled ambitions - or grudges.

Saying goodbye to Mali
18 Jun 03  |  Africa
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19 May 03  |  Africa
Country profile: Mali
06 Jun 03  |  Country profiles


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