Aoua Kéita’s autobiography, a text that spans more than four decades, traces a dual evolution: on the one hand, the opening of political space to the women of Mali as they collectively engage in political and civic associations, and participate in political campaigns and elections; on the other hand, an individual journey into public life. In the process of tracing Mali’s transformation from colony to independent nation, she charts her participation, portraying herself as midwife in the private and public realms, a “founding mother” of the postcolonial nation.
Born into a relatively comfortable polygamous household in Bamako (the capital of the French Soudan) in 1912, Kéita completed primary school in Bamako, then trained in midwifery at the Medical School in Dakar, Senegal. Graduating in 1931, she became the first midwife posted to Gao, a city in northern Mali. In 1935, she married a medical doctor, Daouda Diawara, who introduced her to a life of political activism within the ranks of the Union Soudanaise du Rassemblement Démocratique Africain (USRDA), the Sudanese branch of the anti-colonial RDA party. They worked together to register prospective voters and campaigned for USRDA candidates to the French National Assembly.
Following the couple’s divorce in 1949, she continued to devote her life to medicine and politics. To curtail her political activity, the French colonial administration banished her to distant posts in small towns. Finally, in 1957, she was reassigned to the Bamako region and named director of a maternal and infant health care center. She subsequently co-founded the Union of Salaried Women of Bamako, began a woman’s branch of the USRDA in Bamako, and at independence in 1960, became a deputy in Mali’s national assembly. Although Kéita’s text ends in 1960 with the founding of the Republic of Mali, she lived for two more decades. Following the military of coup of 1968 that ousted Modibo Kéita, she left the government. Accompanying her second husband, Djimé Diallo, to Brazzaville in 1970, she continued to work with women’s groups there. She died in Bamako in 1980.
Mortimer, Mildred. Writing from the Hearth: Public, Domestic, and Imaginative Space in Francophone Women’s Fiction of Africa and the Caribbean. Lanham, MD: Lexington Books, 2007: 35-53.
Turritin, Jane. “Aoua Kéita and the Nascent Women’s in the French Soudan,” African Studies Review, April 1993 (36:1): 59-89.
____________. “Colonial Midwives and Modernizing Childbirth in French West Africa,” Women in African Colonial Histories, ed. Jean Allman, Susan Geiger, and Nakanyike Musisi. Bloomington IN: Indiana University Press, 2002: 71-91.
From Medical School in Dakar to the Maternity Clinic in Gao Upon graduating from the medical school in Dakar in 1931, I found myself in Gao (northern Mali) towards the end of December. As soon as I was notified that I would be posted to this city, considered by Bamako residents to be another world, …