Mali has revised its constitution to revoke French as the nation’s official language, a status it has held since its independence from France six decades ago.
The updated constitution was adopted last Saturday, backed by almost 97% of voters in a June referendum whose results were ratified by the constitutional court on Friday.
The West African nation will continue using French as a working language. Simultaneously, it will officially acknowledge the 13 national languages spoken across the country.
An additional 70 regional languages, such as Bambara, Bobo, Dogon, and Minianka, will also be sustained, many of which were granted national language status by decree in 1982.
Since 2020, Mali has been under the control of a military junta following two coups in August 2020 and May 2021 and an extended period of political upheaval accentuated by escalating jihadist rebellions.
Initially, the military junta pledged to organize elections in February 2022, but this plan was postponed to February 2024.
The junta maintains that the new constitution is key to the country’s reconstruction and intends to transition to civilian government through elections.
Inaugurating the constitutional framework marks the dawn of the Fourth Republic in the ex-French colony, according to Interim President Assimi Goita, who announced the change on Saturday, July 29th.
The relationship between Mali and its former colonizer has been strained recently due to growing anti-French sentiments among France’s ex-West African colonies.
The tension arises from allegations of ineffective military strategies against jihadists and political interference by France. Consequently, France withdrew its final troops from Mali last August, concluding a nine-year military operation.
The Mali military administration ordered a cessation of activities for all NGOs, including those financed by France, in the country in late 2021.
This was in response to France’s decision to stop development aid to Mali due to apparent concerns about Mali’s collaboration with the Russian private military firm Wagner.