Mali Removes French as Official Language

Mali Removes French

Making a significant change in its new constitution, Mali removes French as the official language, which has been in place since gaining independence in 1960. The new constitution, passed with an overwhelming 96.91% vote in a June 18 referendum, designates French as the working language, while granting official language status to 13 other national languages spoken in the country. These include local languages such as Bambara, Bobo, Dogon, and Minianka, which had already received national language status in a 1982 decree.

Fourth Republic in Mali

The move marks the beginning of the Fourth Republic in Mali, initiated by the country’s military junta leader, Col. Assimi Goita, who came to power following an August 2020 coup. The junta has stressed the importance of the new constitution in rebuilding the nation, after experiencing political instability and witnessing two subsequent coups in 2020 and 2021. They have now scheduled the delayed elections for February 2024.

The decision to drop French as the official language comes amid growing anti-France sentiments in West Africa, with accusations of military and political interference from the former colonial power. French, however, will continue to be the primary working language, while the recognition of 13 national languages aims to promote linguistic diversity and inclusivity.

French Relationship with Mali

Mali’s relationship with France has been strained, leading to France’s withdrawal of troops from the country in August, ending a nine-year military operation against armed groups. Additionally, last year, Mali’s military government ordered all NGOs, including French-funded aid groups, to cease operations in response to France’s suspension of development aid over concerns about Mali’s cooperation with the Wagner Russian private military company.

The new constitutional framework signals a turning point for Mali, emphasizing the importance of embracing national languages while retaining a connection to French for administrative purposes. As the country moves towards the Fourth Republic, there are hopes that linguistic inclusivity will foster a sense of unity and empowerment among the diverse population.

The decision by Mali to remove French as the official language reflects a broader sentiment of reclaiming cultural identity and asserting independence from its colonial past. As the nation forges ahead with its new constitutional arrangements, both domestic and international observers will undoubtedly closely observe the impact of this linguistic shift.