BAMAKO – Mali’s president of 10 years, Alpha Oumar Konare, stepped down on Saturday to join a select group of African leaders ready to relinquish power without fuss.
Having won favor from Western donors for making Mali a beacon of democracy and economic reform in troubled West Africa, Konare ignored the temptation of some of his counterparts to change the law to stay in power.
“I will never stop being an activist, become a bystander or retire,” said Konare recently as he vowed that leaving office would not mean leaving politics.
Konare (56) was born the fifth of 14 children of a teacher in Kayes, the main town in a stiflingly hot gold-mining region in western Mali. He qualified as a teacher himself before heading to Poland in the 1970s to study history and archaeology.
Returning home, he worked with the Culture Ministry for several years before devoting himself to research. But he stepped to the forefront of opposition to the military dictatorship in 1989, when he launched a newspaper advocating multi-party politics.
When dictator Moussa Traore was toppled in 1991 and democratic elections were held a year later, Konare was well placed to win as a founding member of the socialist Alliance for Democracy in Mali (Adema).
Re-elected in 1997 in a vote boycotted by the main opposition, which was angry at the poor organization of parliamentary polls, Konare has implemented economic reforms to become the darling of Western donors.
He quickly put down suggestions from some of his supporters that he might try to change the constitution to be able to serve more than two five-year terms.
Having promoted Mali as a bastion of democracy and free-market development – despite the fact that its people survive on an average US$240 each a year – Konare is now tipped for a role on the international stage.
Some commentators have suggested he might land a post with the Organization of African Unity.