Jun 202015


On this date in 1960 the Mali Federation (French: Fédération du Mali), a country in West Africa linking the French colonies of Senegal and the Sudanese Republic (or French Sudan), became independent from France. It was founded on 4 April 1959 as a territory with self-rule but within the French Community. On 20 June 1960 the country declared complete independence from France. Two months later, on 19 August 1960, the Sudanese Republic leaders in the Mali Federation mobilized the army and Senegal leaders in the federation retaliated by mobilizing the gendarmerie (national police) resulting in a tense stand-off and the withdrawal from the federation by Senegal the next day. The Sudanese Republic officials resisted this dissolution, cut off diplomatic relations with Senegal, and defiantly changed the name of their country to Mali. Thus, the Mali Federation was one of the shortest lived independent nations in history.


After World War II, the colonies of French West Africa began pushing significantly for increased self-determination and to redefine their colonial relationships with France. Following the May 1958 crisis in France during the Algerian War of Independence, the colonies of French West Africa were given the chance to vote for immediate independence or to join a reorganized French Community (an arrangement which would grant the colonies some self-determination while maintaining ties to France). Only Guinea voted for full independence and the other colonies of French West Africa voted to join the French Community.

In the 1958 election to decide the issue of independence, two major parties split the countries of west Africa: the African Democratic Rally (French: Rassemblement Démocratique Africain, commonly known as the RDA) and the African Regroupment Party (French: Parti du Regroupement Africain, commonly known as the PRA). The two regional groupings of parties struggled against one another on the issue of independence and the extent of ties with France. The RDA was the governing party in the Ivory Coast colony, the French Sudan colony, and Guinea while the PRA was a major governing party in Senegal and had sizable majorities in many countries. The two parties were also part of coalition governments in French Upper Volta, Niger, and French Dahomey. While the two parties struggled with one another to shape the political future of the region, Mauritania often became a neutral party which would break any deadlocks. The vote of 1958 revealed a number of divisions within the parties. The RDA held a congress on 15 November 1958 to discuss the recent election results and the division became clear with Modibo Keïta from French Sudan and Doudou Gueye from Senegal arguing for primary federation (a federation which would include France and the colonies in a unified system) and Félix Houphouët-Boigny of the Ivory Coast dismissing the idea. The resulting deadlock was so severe that the meeting was officially said to have never taken place.

In late November 1958, French Sudan, Senegal, Upper Volta and Dahomey all declared the intention to join the French Community and form a federation linking the four colonies together. French Sudan and Senegal, despite longstanding divisions between their main political parties, were the most enthusiastic supporters of this federation while Dahomey and Upper Volta were more hesitant. French Sudan called representatives of each of the four countries (and Mauritania as an observer) to Bamako on 28 to 30 December to discuss the formation of the federation. French Sudan and Senegal were the leaders at the congress with Modibo Keïta named the President of the meeting and Léopold Sédar Senghor of Senegal being the key leader on many issues, including developing the name Mali Federation for the proposed union. Although Upper Volta and Dahomey declared formal support for the federation, and Upper Volta even approved the Mali Federation Constitution on 28 January 1959, political pressure from France and the Ivory Coast (both of which opposed the federation for very different reasons) resulted in neither ratifying a constitution which would include them within the federation. The result is that only the colonies of French Sudan (by this point called the Sudanese Republic) and Senegal were engaged in the discussions of the formation of the federation by 1959.

Elections in March 1959 in both French Sudan and Senegal cemented the power of the major parties pushing for the formation of a federation. Keïta’s Union Soudanaise-Rassemblement Démocratique Africain (US-RDA) party won 76% of the votes in French Sudan and all of the seats in the territorial assembly and Senghor’s Union Progressiste Sénégalaise (UPS) won 81% of the vote and all of the seats in Senegal’s territorial assembly.


In December 1959, France and the Mali Federation began negotiations regarding independence and sovereignty of the federation. These negotiations were formally started when French President Charles de Gaulle visited Bamako on 13 December 1959, and lasted until March of 1960. Although the French had earlier resisted the Mali Federation, when the two countries showed willingness to remain within the French Community and the Franc zone and keep the French military bases within its territory, the French supported the formation of the federation. The negotiations agreed upon 20 June 1960 for the formal independence day of the Mali Federation.


Tensions quickly arose within the Mali Federation as planning for the implementation of the federation began. Unlike some other areas of French West Africa, French Sudan and Senegal did not have significant intercultural or political ties during the colonial period (although they were linked together in French economic policy and linked by a key railway). More serious than ethnic or linguistic differences though were some of the results of the design of the federation. While the parity principle allowed both countries to join together without fears of losing their sovereignty, it also resulted in political spillover as political disputes moved from one arena to another throughout the organization. Different visions for the colony between the leaders Senghor and Keïta proved very difficult to mediate: Keïta, after the dissolution of the federation, claimed that he pursued socialism while Senghor pushed a more bourgeois agenda.

The tensions hit their high point in August 1960 in preparation for the election of the President of the Mali Federation. On 15 August, Senghor, Dia, and other political leaders of Senegal began to work on how to get Senegal out of the Federation. Mamadou Dia, as the vice-Premier and person in charge of national defense, began surveying the readiness of various military units in case the political situation were to become hostile. These questions to the various military units resulted in panic by Keïta and the French Sudan politicians. On 19 August, with reports of Senegalese peasants arming in Dakar, Keïta dismissed Dia as the defense minister, declared a state of emergency, and mobilized the armed forces. Senghor and Dia were able to get a political ally in the military to demobilize the military and then had the national gendarmerie which surrounded Keïta’s house and the government offices. Senegal declared independence from the Mali Federation at a midnight session on the 20th of August. There was little violence and the French Sudan officials were sent on a sealed train back to Bamako on 22 August. The federation may have been salvageable in spite of the crisis but by sending Keïta and the others back on a hot, sealed train during August, rather than a plane, led Keïta to order that the railroad be destroyed at the border after the trip. The independent nations of Senegal and the Republic of Mali were recognized by most countries by mid-September and accepted into the United Nations in late September 1960.

Although the Mali Federation existed in name only in Bamako for another month, France and most other nations recognized the two colonies as separate independent countries on 12 September 1960. The Sudanese Union – African Democratic Rally party in French Sudan adopted the slogan “Le Mali Continue” and at a meeting on 22 September the party decided to rename the country Mali and to sever ties with the French Community.


Senghor and Keïta both ruled their countries at the time of the split from the Mali Federation and for a number of years: Senghor was president of Senegal from 1960 until 1980 and Keïta from 1960 until 1968. Senghor suffered some domestic challenges after the split from the Mali Federation but after an armed fight between his supporters and those of Mamadou Dia’s supporters in 1962, he had largely consolidated his rule. Senghor became very wary of unification efforts after the failed experiment and despite attempts to create other federations in West Africa and with Senegal’s neighbors, Senghor often restrained these efforts and they only progressed after his rule. In addition, as the first failed unification experiment in Africa, the Mali Federation served as a lesson in future attempts at unification throughout the continent. Keïta became more assertive with pushing his ideology after the collapse of the federation and refused diplomatic relations with Senegal for many years.Mali under Keïta though still pursued the goal of West African unity but did so in a variety of different international connections. The railroad was reopened on 22 June 1963 and Senghor and Keïta embraced at the border.

As I have mentioned several times before, the cuisines of the countries of West Africa have an underlying unity. Nowhere is this more obvious than in the dish maafe, also called mafé, maffé, maffe, sauce d’arachide (French), tigadèguèna or tigadenena a stew or sauce (depending on water content) based on peanuts. It originates from the Mandinka and Bambara people of Mali. Variants of the dish appear in the cuisine of nations throughout West Africa and Central Africa. It can be made from lamb, beef, chicken, or without meat with peanut butter/paste, and tomatoes dominating.

Recipes for the stew vary wildly, but commonly include chicken, tomato, onion, garlic, cabbage, and leaf or root vegetables. It may also include okra, corn, carrots, cinnamon, hot peppers, paprika, black pepper, turmeric, and other spices. Maafe is traditionally served with white rice (in Senegal, Mauritania and The Gambia), fonio (species of millet) in Mali, couscous (as West Africa meets the Sahara, in Sahelian coutries), or fufu (boiled cassava flour paste) and sweet potatoes in the more tropical areas, such as the Ivory Coast. Um’bido is a variation using greens, while Ghanaian maafe is cooked with boiled eggs. A variant of the stew, “Virginia peanut soup”, even traveled with enslaved West Africans to North America.

The dish originated with the Mandinka and Bambara people of Mali. The proper name for it in the Mandinka language is domodah or tigadegena (lit. ‘peanut butter sauce,’ where tige is ‘peanut,’ dege is ‘paste,’ and na is ‘sauce’). With the huge expansion of peanut/groundnut cultivation during the colonial period, maafe has become a popular dish across West Africa, even outside West Africa such as in Cameroon and France. Here is a Senegalese version:




2 tbsp peanut oil
1 large onion, minced
2 lbs lamb, beef or chicken cut into bite-sized chunks
½ cup creamy peanut butter
5 tbsp tomato paste
4 large carrots, scraped and cut into 1-in pieces
3 sprigs fresh thyme
2 bay leaves
salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste


Heat the oil over medium-high heat in a heavy pot and sauté the onions until soft. Add the meat and brown lightly on all sides.

Mix the peanut butter with 2 cups of cold water and add it to the meat and onions. Dilute the tomato paste in a cup of hot water and add it to the pot. Stir well and then add the rest of the ingredients.

Simmer gently for about an hour or until the meat is tender and the sauce thickens. Add water if the pot begins to dry.

Serve hot over white rice.

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