Mali has recently made a significant constitutional change by dropping French as its official language, after giving it that status since independence in 1960.
In a referendum held on June 18, the new constitution was overwhelmingly approved by 96.91% of the voters, ushering in the Fourth Republic for the West African nation. Under this constitution, French will no longer serve as the official language but will remain the working language. Instead, 13 other national languages, including Bambara, Bobo, Dogon, and Minianka, will be granted official language status.
It’s worth noting that Mali already has approximately 70 local languages spoken within its borders, with some of them receiving national language status back in 1982 through a decree.
The new constitution’s implementation was overseen by Mali’s junta leader, Col. Assimi Goita. Since coming to power in an August 2020 coup, Mali’s military has emphasized the importance of the new constitution in rebuilding the nation after experiencing two subsequent coups, one in August 2020 and the other in May 2021.
Africa News reports that the junta had promised to hold elections in February 2022, but the timeline was later adjusted, and the elections are now scheduled for February 2024.
Mali’s decision to elevate its national languages and drop French as the official language coincides with a growing wave of anti-France sentiments across West Africa. France’s perceived military and political interference in the region has led to increased discussions and debates surrounding the role of the French language and its historical ties to former colonies and their development as well as stability.
With this new embrace of Mali’s linguistic heritage, the country is likely to a new level of inclusivity while strengthening its cultural identity. It also signals the country’s determination to forge its path toward a more representative and inclusive governance system and total independence devoid of external controls.