Bonus: An African Rogues Gallery on Stamps, Part One


This connects to my concern about the fate of Africa since independence. My commentary really is about trying to find a worthy leader among the dozens who came to power as French, British and Belgian colonies gained independence more than half-a-century ago. Originally I saw these leaders depicted as handsome statesman on the stamps I collected from nations with exotic names like Ghana, Senegal, Cameroon, Congo. Then I lived in Africa as a teenager and saw things close-up — but from a sheltered perspective, as  my father was a diplomat.  The inspiring portraits and imagery on the post-independence stamps of sub-Saharan Africa caught my eye — and I still admire the delicate engravings and beautiful designs. The more I learned about these “inspiring” leaders, however, the more disillusioned I became. Is there no honest father of his country among them? This bunch of cruel, self-dealing, power-hungry egotists, opportunists and worse gave in to their post-colonial ids during the heady days, months and years after independence. In telling their cautionary tales, illustrated by the stamps they issued in their own honor, I hope at least to move the conversation along    FMF



Take a look at these two stamps from Africa, issued more than half-a-century ago. One is from Ghana, the other from the Central African Republic. Both depict the leaders of fullsizeoutput_144afullsizeoutput_145anewly emerged sovereign states in optimistic, hopeful terms. Ghana’s Prime Minister Kwame Nkrumah looks out from an oval frame — calm, alert, focused— over a map of Africa with Ghana defined as a rectangular dot in the west. In the foreground, a palm-nut vulture  is on the wing. In the Central African stamp, the engraved image of Premier Barthelemy Boganda glows with his joy and enthusiasm. He smiles broadly, as if partly in wonder. His glassy gaze is focused upward toward … a bright future? He poses under the colorful flag of his brand-new nation.

There was some cause for optimism as the former colonial territories of France, Great Britain and others declared and were granted independence, starting with Ghana in 1957 and accelerating through 1960. Standards of living in many sub-Saharan states had risen as economies benefited from the postwar growth and investment in new industry and commerce. Imperial rule was moderating, adopting more inclusive and representative practices. The seemingly limitless potential of Africa’s resources was matched by a burgeoning labor force. Hopes and expectations were high that independence would bring new prosperity to sub-Saharan Africa’s 50-plus nations — prosperity now shared equitably with indigenous populations shortchanged under colonial rule.

Yet other factors were not as auspicious. Imperial rulers had not expected to set their colonies free so soon. Some had devised blueprints that would defer the day of deliverance for years, even decades. When liberation movements and foreign pressure forced their hands, colonial governors abandoned their orderly timetables. It quickly grew apparent that decades of racist policies had left indigenous Africans woefully unprepared for the job ahead. There were few trained civil servants, teachers, doctors, engineers. Kenya’s first African lawyer began practicing only in 1956. In Northern Nigeria there was a single college alumnus. In the entire Congo, there were just 30 black university graduates. Only 136 Congolese students graduated from high school in 1959-60. This was no accident: restricting indigenous access to higher education and the professions was an intentional strategy designed to perpetuate white rule and native subordination. Lovanium University, the first post-secondary school in the Belgian Congo, did not open until 1954. The University of East Africa, serving Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania, opened only in 1963.

Yet even these challenging circumstances could not have foretold the record  of misrule, malfeasance, corruption and violence compiled by one African leader after another, from one end of the continent to the other, year after year, decade after decade. This sorry tale has many sordid chapters,  the latest of which are still being written. It didn’t take long for the frothy days of liberation to be curdled   by the metastasizing greed of rulers intent on self-enrichment, tribal supremacy, patronage and perpetuating their power. Repressive one-party states emerged in Ghana, Niger, Dahomey, Togo, Mauritania, the Central African Republic and Upper Volta (now Burkina Faso), and variations held sway in Kenya, Guinea, Senegal, Ivory Coast, Malawi, and elsewhere. In one stunning and heartbreaking case after another, African leaders betrayed their early promise. They inflicted appalling cruelties on their political enemies and other innocents, and displayed a shocking indifference to the public welfare. They mouthed platitudes while enriching themselves, their families and cronies — and all too often, murdering their rivals.  With dismal consistency, indigenous African leaders failed to live up to their own goals. Men who had demonstrated ambition and promise in their early lives, who had achieved educational, public service and military distinction under colonial rule, proved towering disappointments after they took office. The great potential of the continent to yield its riches for the benefit of its people has been squandered. Today, I would argue, few Africans experience a higher  standard of living than before independence.

If I attempted to tell you why this is so, or how things could be better, I would have to be writing something other than a stamp commentary. Since stamps are my thing, what I will do here is explore, in brief written sketches, the woeful stories of a succession of African leaders whose  images and portraits appeared on stamps.  The arcs of their lives, the patterns established during their tenures in office, more often than not will be cautionary tales, some  with truly disturbing aspects. The end result, I hope, will be illuminating, if not definitive or prescriptive.

I already have described in some detail the troubled history of post-independence leadership of the former Belgian Congo. (see Congo blog posts). It is a sorry tale indeed that unfolded around Patrice Lumumba, Cyrille Adoula, Joseph Kasavubu, Moise Tshombe, Albert Kalonji, Joseph Mobutu and their successors. It needs no retelling here. Instead, let us start with the two leaders mentioned above — Nkrumah and Boganda.

(A note on the stamp illustrations that follow:  Rather than include photographic images of these African leaders, I use only stamps, intentionally. They are authentic, contemporaneous visual records. I believe they are particularly revealing in that they reflect not only their subjects, but the ways they were strategically positioned to appear at the time. Some or most of these stamps were produced abroad, particularly the beautiful engraved portraits crafted by skilled French artist/engravers. The stamps are official issues of their nations. Not all leaders chose to emblazon stamps with their formal portraits, so it’s fair to suggest those who did were fostering a cult of personality. Many of these leaders did succeed in wooing, or at least dazzling, their constituents, in spite of their misrule and misdeeds. They were popular, regardless of rigged or non-existent elections, political repression and worse. Some of these portraits reflect the odd blend of French high culture and African popular culture. The connection between the French and the favored indigenous elites was deep, and continues to be reflected in francophone Africa. To a lesser extent, British culture still influences Nigeria, Ghana, Sierra Leone and Gambia, and a host of countries in east Africa. While these associations may take bizarre forms, I can’t help but think they still could prove useful in the long run …)

Kwame Nkrumah


By the time this souvenir sheet appeared in 1964, complete with a backdrop of sheet music (the national anthem?), the thrill was long gone. Kwame Nkumah would be abruptly deposed two years later.

This west African nation seemed uniquely poised to make the most of its independence, granted in 1957. When Kwame Nkrumah, the handsome, charismatic young leader of Ghana, took the radiant Queen Elizabeth of England into his arms for a dance at State House in Accra in 1961, it seemed like an interracial fairy tale made real. I suspect neither party could have known at the time that the fairy tale would prove a fantasy, and that reality would turn into a nightmare. Humbly born, Nkrumah showed promise as a student. His mentors eventually enabled him to go to the United States, where he studied at Lincoln University and the University of Pennsylvania. He lived and worked in America for 10 years, returning to Ghana just as nationalist sentiment was rising. He weathered the storm of the independence protests, and emerged as a leader. The leader. Amid a surge of popular support, Nkrumah was selected to lead the new nation, whose name he had proposed: Ghana. As a key member of the colonial administration, Nkrumah had played a role in growing the postwar economy of this “model colony” of the Gold Coast. As a nationalist leader, an idealistic socialist who favored pragmatism, Nkrumah seemed suited to play a mediating role between the global interests competing for influence the continent. On his own after independence, Nkrumah continued to talk the talk of freedom and development. But by the mid-1960s, he had neutralized his rivals, sometimes with violence, and consolidated power. He abandoned regional assemblies within two years of taking over. His new constitution in 1960 allowed him to rule by personal decree. He curtailed the media and civil liberties, eventually creating a one-party security state. But though he remained an object of cult worship — at home and abroad — he could not overcome factional differences. Nkrumah grew rich off a system of bribery and corruption that benefited his family and coterie. When he attempted to co-opt the military, in 1966, he was deposed. He withdrew to neighboring Conakry, Guinea, where he lived in restless retirement until his death in 1972, at age 62, from prostate cancer.

Barthelemy Boganda

The story of Barthelemy Boganda is one of promise unfulfilled — which is as much as to say, promises broken. The ambitious native son of the French territory exotically named Ubangi-Shari was the first Ubangi elected to the French parliamentary assembly — under the colonial pretense that all subjects of  foreign territories were full-fledged French citizens. Quickly realizing the sham of this arrangement, Boganda went home to advocate for self-determination, at first as a federated community of equatorial African states, then just for Ubangi-Shari. He did not call for total independence, but for shared rule. In 1958 he got his wish, and successfully pushed through a new, democratic constitution for the Central African Republic. On March 29, 1959, he boarded a plane in rural Berberati to return to the capital city of Bangui. A mid-air explosion killed all aboard. Traces of explosives were found. Rumors swirled of a plot by business  interests, French secret service complicity, and the evil designs of is estranged wife. But the cause was never determined — not surprising, since there was no inquiry. Boganda’s untimely death at age 49 brought to power …


Boganda’s successor

David Dacko

Another promising young man from a rural village, David Dacko became Boganda’s protege and successor. Between 1959 and 1965, his tenure was marked primarily by his consolidation of power, establishment of a one-party state, and a pattern of bribery, corruption and bloated bureaucracy at every level of government that has plagued that nation — and other sub-Saharan African nations — ever since. Although the nation’s diamond industry grew, the benefits did not flow to the people. His popularity had faded by the time he was overthrown by one of his generals. Though he eventually returned to serve the government, and indeed became president again in 1979, he was sacked for good in 1981. Dacko remained active in politics until his death, at 73, in 2003.  The period between his two terms of misrule was filled by the macabre antics of one of Africa’s most bizarre and terrifying dictators:


An early portrait depicts Bokassa with all his military medals — including for service to Gen. Charles de Gaulle in the French army during World War II. 

Jean-Bedel Bokassa

“Central Africans,” declared the rebellious colonel, “a new era of equality between us has begun …”  It was nothing of the sort. Instead, one  predatory leader (Dacko) was replaced by an even more predatory one. Though Jean-Bedel Bokassa was related to both Boganda and Dacko, he made them look positively restrained in contrast to his rapacious and violent years of dictatorship. Self-promoting and self-indulgent, obsessively drawn to the life of luxury, Bokassa would not tolerate dissent or political competition. The French newspaper Le Monde speculated on which grisly technique he used to dispatch one rival: “Did Bokassa tie him to a


Family man? Bokassa had 17 wives and as many as 50 children. Did he really beat schoolchildren to death with his ceremonial cane? 

pillar before personally carving him  with a knife he had previously used for stirring his coffee in a gold-and-midnight-blue Sevres coffee set, or was the murder committed on the cabinet table with the help of other persons?”

Growing increasingly erratic, Bokassa had himself crowned “emperor” in 1976. His coronation cost a


Some might see a statesman. I see a thug. 

reported $20 million —a big chunk of the national budget at the time. Popular dissatisfaction produced food riots — and subsequent massacres. The final outrage was an attack that killed as many as 100 schoolchildren who were protesting an order to buy costly uniforms emblazoned with the emperor’s likeness. After some children threw rocks at his passing motorcade, Bokassa was said to have stepped from his Rolls Royce limousine to  help club some of the children to death with his cane.


Sorry buddy, the imperial crown doesn’t make you any more attractive …

Finally deposed in a coup assisted by the French in 1979, Bokassa first lived in exile at his chateau near Paris, to the increasing discomfort of his neighbors and hosts. Eventually he returned to the Central African Republic, where he was arrested and tried on numerous capital charges. Although he declared his innocence — “I’m no saint,” he testified. “I’m just a man like everyone else” —  he was convicted and sentenced to death. On one charge, though, he was acquitted: cannibalism. Prosecutors could not establish beyond reasonable doubt that the carcasses seen in his meat locker were human flesh. Nor could they prove that his cook used the meat to prepare occasional meals for Bokassa and his guests, including French President Valery Giscard D’Estaing. Bokassa’s sentence was commuted to life in prison. He was granted amnesty in 1996, and died at home, age 75, in 1993.

Fulbert Youlou

fullsizeoutput_1458This fellow may look like an overgrown Boy Scout or a benign man of the cloth, but do not be deceived. He was just as venal and power-hungry as the next African strong man. Fulbert Youlou was a brilliant student in his village, and rose in the network of the Catholic church to be ordained a priest. Along the way he came briefly into the orbit of Barthelemy Boganda, soon to head the Central African Republic. Trading on his clerical collar and his nationalist connections, Youlou  parlayed himself into the seat of prime minister, then president after the former French Congo became the independent Congo Republic in 1960.  He encouraged a cult of personality, in part by ordering the issuance of stamps bearing his likeness in his religious garb, though by this time he had been defrocked because of adultery and polygamy. His big ego and eccentric ways soon got him in trouble — one story tells of him pulling out a revolver to force members of the National Assembly to withdraw a challenge. Inheriting one of the more robust economies among French territories, he focused on expanding his political control and limiting the opposition as the national debt increased. Accused of corruption and anti-union violence, he was forced out in 1963. At first imprisoned in Fulbert Youlou Military Camp, he was released but remained a target of the pro-Marxist regime. He fled across the Congo river to Leopoldvile, in the by-then-former Belgian Congo, where he was granted asylum. Eventually he resettled in Spain, where he died of hepatitis in 1972, aged 64.


Get a load of this item: An airmail stamp from the Central African Republic celebrates “The Great Reconciliation” — presumably between the CAR, whose leader, Jean-Bedel Bokassa, poses in the middle; the Republic of the Congo, featuring Joseph Mobutu at left; and Chad, whose president, N’garta Tombalbaye, is on the right. What a trio! My first impression was of some costumed dancers doing a cakewalk. Are they in drag? The way Tombalbaye and Bokassa daintily raise their clasped hands is worthy of a minuet in the court of Versailles. I can’t tell whether the stick between Mobutu and Bokassa is being gripped by one or the other — or both. Notice how Mobutu and Tombalbaye are dressed in matching outfits, one lime green and the other turquoise, that somehow signify authenticite, or African authentic-ness. This was a campaign Mobutu developed as a photogenic distraction from his systematic plunder of the Congo. It seems he persuaded his fellow ruler from Chad to play along. The fellow in the middle, meanwhile, looks jaunty in his trim brown suit and porkpie hat. Bokassa could be a Vaudeville song-and-dance man out on the town. One can almost hear the High Life band in the background, belting out a central African cha-cha. The “great reconciliation” this stamp boasts about apparently involved the three leaders agreeing to forget their past differences and resurrect something called the United States of Central Africa. If you never heard of this union of nations before, I’m with you. I’m at a loss to tell you anything more about it, including what if anything it ever accomplished; certainly nothing for the beleaguered and horribly misrepresented populations of Chad, CAR and the Congo. However, I can all too easily conjure many benefits that flowed from the USCA into the pockets and Swiss bank accounts of Mobutu, Bokassa and Tombalbaye. OK, let’s not put the president of Chad just yet into the same venal category as Mobutu, or the near-psychopathic category of Bokassa. At least, not until we look a bit into his background …

N’garta (Francois) Tombalbaye

fullsizeoutput_148fChad has been more or less a basket-case of a nation ever since independence. When it wasn’t drought or civil war, it was encroachment by plotters from surrounding nations, led by Libya’s Moammer Gadhafi. There were some real wrong-os in charge of Chad during those decades, including the fanatic Hissen Habre. Could it be that Chad’s first president, Ngarta Tombalbaye, broke the pattern? Could he have been, like CAR’s Boganda, a well-intentioned, bright young man with good values and leadership skills? I hope so, because then there would be two African leaders I can look up to. On the other hand, I shudder with anticipation as I turn to his life story, for it surely cannot have ended well. If he wasn’t killed under mysterious circumstances, as was Boganda, it is all too likely that his good intentions went awry as he yielded to the temptations of power. At least we might hope things started out well …

OK, our hopes turn out to be unfounded. Tombalbaye’ s thumbnail bio on Wikipedia begins on a promising enough note — a teacher and trade unionist, leader of the Chadian Progressive Party … “Tombalbaye was appointed the nation’s head of government after independence on August 11, 1960.”  The note also said he ruled until his death, in 1975, aged 56. Then came this chilling coda: “He ruled as a dictator until his deposition and assassination by members of the Chadian military …”

Oh dear. Like a latter-day Demosthenes of the sub-Sahara, I continue in vain my search for an honest African leader … who survived …

By the way, do you find it at all unusual that while some African dictators like to adopt costumes of African “authenticity” (Mobutu), others enjoy posing as dark-hued members of a dynastic royal line? Indeed, the doomed Tombalbaye did both. Remember the cakewalk for “reconciliation,” where he was depicted in a kind of Nehru-Dashiki jacket, along with a knock-off of Mobutu’s leopard-skin cap? In contrast, on his formal portrait stamp, above, he appears in a white tie and tails, complete with crisply creased collar tips and a bright yellow-and-green sash. In another incarnation of colonial cross-dressing on the other side of the continent, Uganda’s murderous Idi Amin liked to wear a kilt and fancy himself “the last King of Scotland.” Among the other dandies at the dictators’ debutante ball were Gabon’s Leon Mba, Felix Houphouet-Boigny of the Ivory Coast, Modibo Keita of Mali and Maurice Yameogo of Upper Volta. Oh, and the poet/politician/polymath, Leopold Senghor of Senegal. Did any of these really live up to their images?

fullsizeoutput_1457Leon M’ba

Born into a relatively privileged family, M’ba obtained employment in the civil service, and use his charisma and social talents to line his pockets and further his ambitions, under the banner of African nationalism. One colonial administrator observed dryly: “Leon M’ba not only was the leader who had claimed for personal use the colony’s money; He enjoyed also a considerable amount of prestige … which he got from witchcraft activities he practices. As we was intelligent, he exploited this situation to extort the people he had to administrate, also the cabal which he had formed. But on the other hand, he knew how to flatter the representatives of the authority …”  As Gabon’s first president after independence in 1960, he vowed to establish and lead a democratic government.  Yet he promoted  a cult of personality, and consolidated his power. As the French secret service reported: “He regarded himself as a truly democratic leader … Still, he wasn’t happy until he had the constitution rewritten to give him virtually all power and transforming the parliament into high-priced scenery that could be bypassed as needed.”  Establishing what would be called a “hyperpresidential” regime, M’ba had songs sung in his praise, and stamps and loincloths printed with his likeness. By 1964, conditions had deteriorated to the point that rivals could mount a successful coup. The only trouble came from Paris, where Charles de Gaulle stood by the man who had served France during World War II. (He did the same for Bokassa and others). M’ba was restored to office in Libreville by French troops. He spent his remaining months surrounded by French aides and officers, growing increasingly sick and infirm. In 1967, he was re-elected with 99.9 percent of the vote — a landslide aided by the fact that no one dared to oppose him. Days before he was to take his oath of office, he died of cancer, aged 65. He was succeeded by his vice president, Albert Bernard Bongo.

fullsizeoutput_145bFelix Houphouet-Boigny

This elegant Francophile — what a name! — may have been one of the more reluctant African liberationists. Descended from tribal chiefs, he thrived under French colonial mentorship — and developed a distinct taste for French culture. He would have preferred to maintain strong links to france instead of exercising full independence, but when the chance came, he took it, serving as president for 33 years. At his death in 1993, aged 88 (at least), Houphouet-Boigny was the world’s third-longest serving leader, after only Fidel Castro and North Korea’s Kim Il-Sun. His focus on development made Cote d’Ivoire one of Africa’s few early success stories — cocoa production tripled between 1960 and 1980; coffee doubled, spurring an export boom. Meanwhile, the industrial sector was expanding at a welcome rate of 10 percent-plus per year …

Then what happened? The president, affectionately nicknamed “Papa Houphouet” or simple “Le Vieux” (The Old One), had calmly adopted the autocratic ways of his neighbors. There were no meaningful elections in his one-party state for decades. Houphouet-Boigny and his coterie profited handsomely from the “Ivorian miracle” — not so much the ill-served citizens of the Ivory Coast, who didn’t seem to have much choice in the matter. The president bragged openly about the “billions” of francs he had earned from his enterprises and deposited in Swiss bank accounts. “There is even a bank that manages my profits in avocados, of which, I think, I am the main producer in Cote d’Ivoire.”

When commodity prices dropped in the 1980s, the over-leveraged statist economy tanked. In 1987, the regime admitted it was bankrupt.  Still revered in the west as the “Grand Old Man of Africa,” Houphouet-Boigny continued to live in high style at his palace in Yamoussoukro, modeled on Versailles. There he also could worship at his local church, the world’s largest. The Basilica of Our Lady of Peace cost the Ivorian people $300 million to build.

fullsizeoutput_1492Did the average Ivorian family benefit from Houphouet-Boigny’s decades of high-handed rule? If you’re patient, some day I’ll look up the statistics on per capita income in 1990 compared to 1960, adjusted for inflation. Meanwhile, my guess is that things stayed pretty much the same for most of the common folk. There were no coups or civil wars, but not much of a windfall from independence — except for the favored few, to be sure. After President Felix’s death in office in 1993, things such as they were quickly fell apart. The Ivory Coast has been plagued by political instability by coups, economic reverses and civil war practically ever since. Whatever else he may have done, Houphouet-Boigny was not able to build a secure nation-state during his many years on the world stage.

My speculations extend to another elegant West African leader, the poet   and philosopher-statesman Leopold Senghor from Senegal.   Interestingly, I could not find a stamp from Senegal bearing his likeness — though in my searches I did come upon one fullsizeoutput_1494philatelic tribute stamp — from Moldova.

Long-lived like his sometime-friendly neighbor, Houphouet-Boigny, Senghor was born into a rare bourgeois African family — his father was a businessman with six children and access to Catholic boarding school. By the time he was a teenager, Senghor was captivated by French literature. He managed to spend more than a dozen years traveling, studying and living in France, then became one of the future African leaders who would serve with distinction in the French army during World War II. Like Houphouet, Senghor was comfortable in the “French compound,” and was in no hurry to declare independence after the war. He and his sophisticated cohort enthusiastically adopted the pose of black Frenchmen; as he put it, “Our ambition was to become photographic negatives of the colonizers.” Back home, as he rose in the ranks of colonial administrators, he wrestled with nationalism even as he appreciated the colonial domicile.  “We have grown up in it, and it is good to be alive in it, he said. “We simply want to build our own huts.” Mesmerizing with his poetic and analytic abilities, Senghor beguiled all he met, and his political skills propelled him to the presidency at independence in 1960. Would you be surprised to learn that he wrote the new nation’s national anthem?

In office, Senghor presided over a growing economy, published his poetry and spread his gospel of “negritude,” even as he maintained close links with the Quai d’Orsay in Paris. He also developed his venal and autocratic skills — spreading the wealth to his coterie and to maintain his power. Dissent was not tolerated. Senghor tried to reinvent himself as a democratic leader several times, then became the first post-independence African head of state to step down voluntarily, in 1980. In 1984 he was elected to membership in the French Academy, that nation’s highest honor for cultural contributions. Senghor died in France in 2001, aged 95.

Whether Senghor loved France more than his native land is something I won’t even speculate on. Once again, however, I am left wondering (lazy scholar that I am) how the average Senegalese family fared during Senghor’s long tenure. Were they sufficiently beguiled by his poetry, his elegant charm, his mantra of “negritude,” to ignore the fact that their standard of living was hardly budging? What good has the French Academy ever done them?

fullsizeoutput_1441Maurice Yameogo

There seems to be very little written about Maurice Yameogo the first president of the Republic of Upper Volta  (now Burkina Faso). He served from 1959 until 1966, and died in 1993, aged 71. During his tenure there were crises that required military intervention. Eventually, Yameogo was ousted in a coup led by Lt. Col. Sangoule Lamizama, whose dictatorial rule would last more than two decades. Yameogo, known popularly as “Monsieur Maurice,” for his elegant manners and wardrobe, was a feeble exemplar of a democratic leader. Soon after he took office he banned all political parties but his own. Popular unrest continued as conditions worsened, until the military finally cracked down. Then things went from bad to worse.

fullsizeoutput_1495Modibo Keita

I have just one more Francophile dandy for you: Modibo Keita, first president of Mali (1960-68). Isn’t that a beautifully engraved portrait of a distinguished statesman?

Alas, he was no such thing.  Claiming kinship with the founders of the Malian empire, Keita grew up in the capital city of Bamako, got an education and became a teacher. His skills as a political leader quickly grew apparent, and he was elected to the National Assembly of France as a favored African delegate. When independence came, he was a natural choice. Unfortunately, his scholarly infatuation with socialism led him into disastrous economic experiments that ended badly. Simultaneously he was jailing his political opponents. Then he suspended the constitution, recruited violent militias, and devalued the Malian franc. In the ensuing popular uprising, Gen. Moussa Traore stepped in, threw Keita out of office and sent him to prison in rural Kidal. He was returned to the capital as a conciliatory gesture in 1977, but died before he could be released. He was 61. Keita was officially rehabilitated in 1992, after the death of Moussa Traore, the guy who led the coup back in 1968.  By 1999, there was a monument in Keita’s honor standing in Bamako. I don’t know if it depicts him in white tie and tails, or if it should.

Bye for now

This seems as good a place as any to end Part One of this African Rogues Gallery on Stamps. Well, it’s a terrible place to stop, actually, if you consider the fate of Upper Volta after the ouster of the dastardly “Monsieur Maurice,”  or poor Mali, now once again wracked and destabilized by a coup. The pioneer of African nationalism, Ghana’s Kwame Nkrumah, turned out to be a mountebank, a martinet and a self-serving hypocrite. Those who followed him in Ghana and beyond also betrayed their responsibilities and their people. I had hoped to find inspiring models of statesmanship in either Felix Houphouet-Boigny or Leopold Senghor. But no. Where, oh where is the leader in sub-Saharan Africa in the post-independence days who acquits himself (or herself) with honor and integrity? Who overcomes tribal divisions, builds coalitions and cleaves to democracy, no matter what? Who maintains efficient administration and integrity in public life, resisting the temptations that come with power? You will not find him in Part One — but perhaps we will find one in Part Two, for there is much more to come. Don’t abandon all hope — yet.









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