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Aoua Keita was a Malian politician and anti-colonialism activist who was one of the earliest women in Mali to be involved in politics at any level. She broke frontiers, fighting to be heard and for the anti-colonial cause. She was one of the most influential figures from Mali and till date, is recognized as one of the African heroines of all time.


She was born in Bamako in the former French Sudan. Her father, Karamogo Kéita, was from Guinea, fought in World War I and was a member of the colonial hygiene service. Her mother, Miriam Coulibaly, was from Ivory Coast.

She attended the first girls’ school in Bamako, in 1923, over the opposition of her mother. In 1928, she graduated from Bamako’s foyer des métisses, a boarding school primarily for mixed-race girls to which a few Africans were allowed to enroll. Three years later, she completed her studies at the École de Médecine de Dakar and became a midwife. She went to work for the colonial government, being posted to Gao for 12 years.

She got married in 1935 to a doctor, Daouda Diawara, who aroused her interest in politics. They joined the political party Rassemblement Démocratique Africain (African Democratic Assembly; RDA) upon its founding in 1946. That year, she assisted at the birth of Alpha Oumar Konaré, a future two-term President of Mali, at Kayes.

Kéita and Diawara got divorced in 1949 as a result of her inability to bear children. The divorce was facilitated by pressure from Diawara’s mother, when it became clear that Kéita could not have children. She was punished for her anti-colonial activism by being assigned to more and more remote locations, including Gao in 1950 and Nara in the mid-1950s.

In 1951, she renounced her French citizenship and campaigned for the RDA in the 1951 French election, the party winning three parliamentary seats. As the RDA gained power, she rose through its ranks. In September 1958, she was elected to the RDA’s executive body, the Bureau Politique National.

In 1959, she was elected to Parliament, representing Sikasso. She was also appointed to the committee charged with drafting the constitution of the Sudanese Republic (an early name for Mali).

Mali gained its independence in 1960. That year, she was the only woman elected to the new National Assembly and the only woman within the party leadership. She also served as secretary-general of the Commission Sociale des Femmes upon its establishment in 1962.

In the 1960s, however, she was pushed out of power in the increasingly radicalized RDA by a longtime rival, Mariam Keïta, the senior wife of the first President of Mali, Modibo Keïta.

In 1966, she gave up her midwife duties. When Modibo Keïta was overthrown in a 1968 coup d’état, she left the country. In the 1970s, she and her second husband, Djimé Diallo, lived in Brazzaville, Republic of the Congo. She published her autobiography in 1975; Femme d’Afrique. La vie d’Aoua Kéita racontée par elle-même recounted her life up to the 1950s.

When conditions improved in Mali and deteriorated in the Congo, they moved to Bamako in 1979, where she died the following year in 1980. She received numerous awards and honors from Mali in her lifetime and she has also been immortalized in Malian literature.

By Oluwamayowa Akinyemi

Oluwamayowa Akinyemi

Oluwamayowa Akinyemi is a digital and web content developer with experience in web content development and management as well as research and writing. He is an avid reader of random subject matters and a sucker for movies and video games. He is also passionate about youth empowerment and is a global affairs analyst and enthusiast.