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Mali - People

To this day, along the Niger River, different ethnic groups live in separate villages, each with its own language and culture. Thus a Bambara village is next to a Bozo village, which is next to a Fulani village, and so on. Each ethnic group in Mali has its own special characteristics. Historically, for example, the Bozo were fishers, the Fulani herders, the Tuareg desert nomads, and the Dogon farmers, famous for their intensive agriculture.

The name "Mali" originates in one of the languages of the Western Sudan. "Mali" comes from the name of the ethnic group Malinke. The Malinke organized the resistance movement against rule by the southern Soninke, who were dominant in the Ghana Empire.

The Arabic language was introduced to the Western Sudan as a result of trade. Arab (and Arabized Berber) traders from the north brought their Arabic language with them, and their alphabet, too. With the Arabic alphabet, writing was introduced to the indigenous cultures, and a written history evolved as a companion to the long-established oral history of the region. Because Arabic is the language of the Koran (the holy book of Islam), it is still heard in the mosques of Mali and whenever the Koran is read or recited. Arabic is a member of the Afro-Asiatic language family, and thus completely unrelated to Mali's indigenous languages.

The Bambara language is the most widely understood indigenous language in modern Mali. In modern Mali, about 80 percent of the population speak, or at least understand Bambara. The Bambana ethnic group is the largest in modern Mali, although they make up only 23 percent of Mali's population. The Bambara language is almost identical to Dioula, the market language of neighboring CŰte d'Ivoire, Guinea, and Burkina Faso.

The official language of the Republic of Mali is French. Between 1890 and 1960, Mali was under the control of France. It was during that time that the French language was taught in the schools and became the medium of governmental administration. Even after independence, French remained the official language. All education and government activities are conducted in French. Despite the negative association with colonialism, French is today considered a neutral language among the many ethnolinguistic groups in the country. French is in the Indo-European language family.

Mali's population consists of diverse sub-Saharan ethnic groups, sharing similar historic, cultural, and religious traditions. Exceptions are the Tuaregs and Maurs, desert nomads, related to the North African Berbers. Although each ethnic group speaks a separate language, nearly 80% of Malians communicate in Bambara, the common language of the marketplace. Historically, good interethnic relations throughout much of the country were facilitated by easy mobility on the Niger River and across the country's vast savannahs. Each ethnic group was traditionally tied to a specific occupation, all working within close proximity. The Bambara, Malinke, and Dogon are farmers; the Fulani, Maur, and Tuareg are herders; the Soninkes or Saracoles are traders; while the Bozo are fishers. In recent years, this linkage has shifted as ethnic groups seek diverse, nontraditional sources of income.

The Tuaregs have had a history of struggle since Maliís independence in 1960. A series of rebellions, which were the result of a struggle for greater autonomy, to preserve traditional Tuareg ways of life, and to share in the benefits of a modernizing Malian state, led to clashes with the military from 1963 to 1964 and 1990 to 1996. Peace accords, signed in 1992, aimed to allow greater autonomy in the north and increase government resource allocation to the impoverished region. The peace agreement was celebrated in 1996 in Timbuktu during an official and highly publicized ceremony called Flamme de la Paix--peace flame. Since then, some Tuareg groups have criticized the government for failing to fully implement the terms of the agreement.

Maliís total population is expected to double by 2035; its capital Bamako is one of the fastest-growing cities in Africa. A young age structure, a declining mortality rate, and a sustained high total fertility rate of 6 children per woman Ė the third highest in the world Ė ensure continued rapid population growth for the foreseeable future. Significant outmigration only marginally tempers this growth. Despite decreases, Maliís infant, child, and maternal mortality rates remain among the highest in sub-Saharan Africa because of limited access to and adoption of family planning, early childbearing, short birth intervals, the prevalence of female genital cutting, infrequent use of skilled birth attendants, and a lack of emergency obstetrical and neonatal care.

Maliís high total fertility rate has been virtually unchanged for decades, as a result of the ongoing preference for large families, early childbearing, the lack of female education and empowerment, poverty, and extremely low contraceptive use. Slowing Maliís population growth by lowering its birth rate will be essential for poverty reduction, improving food security, and developing human capital and the economy.

Mali has a long history of seasonal migration and emigration driven by poverty, conflict, demographic pressure, unemployment, food insecurity, and droughts. Many Malians from rural areas migrate during the dry period to nearby villages and towns to do odd jobs or to adjoining countries to work in agriculture or mining. Pastoralists and nomads move seasonally to southern Mali or nearby coastal states. Others migrate long term to Maliís urban areas, Cote díIvoire, other neighboring countries, and in smaller numbers to France, Maliís former colonial ruler. Since the early 1990s, Maliís role has grown as a transit country for regional migration flows and illegal migration to Europe. Human smugglers and traffickers exploit the same regional routes used for moving contraband drugs, arms, and cigarettes.

Between early 2012 and 2013, renewed fighting in northern Mali between government forces and Tuareg secessionists and their Islamist allies, a French-led international military intervention, as well as chronic food shortages, caused the displacement of hundreds of thousands of Malians. Most of those displaced domestically sought shelter in urban areas of southern Mali, except for pastoralist and nomadic groups, who abandoned their traditional routes, gave away or sold their livestock, and dispersed into the deserts of northern Mali or crossed into neighboring countries. Almost all Malians who took refuge abroad (mostly Tuareg and Maure pastoralists) stayed in the region, largely in Mauritania, Niger, and Burkina Faso.

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Page last modified: 06-08-2017 19:18:32 ZULU