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Mali drops French as an official language

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In a constitutional change, Mali, the eighth-largest country in Africa, has dropped French—its official language since 1960.

The new constitution is reported as having an overwhelming majority vote at 96.91% , in the June 18 referendum, demoting French and removing its official status. French will still remain in use as a working language, but it will be replaced by 13 indigenous languages (Bambara, Bobo, Bozo, Dogon, Fula, Hassaniya, Kassonke, Maninke, Minyanka, Senufo, Songhay, Soninke, and Tamasheq), all of which will receive official language status.

Mali has approximately 80 languages spoken across the country, of which a few including: Bambara, Bobo, Dogon, and Minianka, were granted national language status under a 1982 language bill.

The significant shift in the language policy of Mali was implemented as part of a larger referendum in the country, with the intention of creating the landlocked country’s Fourth Republic. 

Two military coups in 2020 and 2021 led to the dissolution of the government and military rule. Following the forced resignation of President Keïta in August 2022 , political tensions between France and Mali rose, resulting in the Organisation internationale de la Francophonie suspending Mali’s membership.

In 2022, the Malian military junta accused France of espionage and supplying arms to terrorists after their military withdrawal from the country.

The strained relationship between the two countries has ultimately led to a rejection of French language and culture, amid wider anti-French sentiment across West and Central Africa, which has experienced eight coups 2020, dramatically deteriorating ties with France and other western powers.

The military junta had initially promised to hold elections in February 2022 but later announced they were being delayed until 2024.



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