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Cultural and Geographic Demographics of Mali

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: International Studies
Wordcount: 2204 words Published: 8th Feb 2020

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Mali: Phase Three

Mali is a landlocked country in West Africa. It is almost twice the size of Texas with very diverse terrain and culture. During the Scramble for Africa, France gained control of the territory and named it French Sudan. It wasn’t until September 1960 that they gained their independence and became The Republic of Mali. They held their first democratic election in 1992. Mali has a semi-presidential form of government, they have a president as well as a prime minister. The president is democratically elected and the prime minister is appointed by the president. Each has a two five year term limit. The chief of state is President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita and the head of government is Prime Minister Soumeylou Boubeye Maiga. The population of Mali is estimated at 18 million, with the south being most heavily populated. The capital of Mali is Bamako, with a population of 3.3 million. The famous Timbuktu is in Mali as well. Although now it’s synonymous with “the middle of nowhere” Timbuktu used to be a major cultural, spiritual, and intellectual center. Timbuktu was a vital trading post in the trans-Saharan route and a legendary city of gold.

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Pre-colonial Mali was a trading center. Mali grew and prospered because of the gold trade and developing agricultural resources. They had also heavily taxed goods both coming and going, and further prospered. Gold, salt, cotton, and cowrie shells were once used as currency (Şaul, M.). A series of Empires ruled Mali including the Empire of Mali. However, the Empire of Mali lost dominance of the gold trade to the Songhai empire. In effect, the Songhai Empire gained control of Mali and made Timbuktu their base. In the 13th century, Moroccans defeat the Songhai, gaining control of Mali and they too made the great city of Timbuktu their capital and rule until the 18th century. And upon their decline came French colonization. By the end of the 18th century France gained control of Mali, named it French Sudan and began imposing their culture.

The geography and climate of Mali varies throughout the country. The Sahara Desert runs through the north of Mali, making it nearly impossible to live. The Sahara is arid with temperatures reaching 140 degrees in the day and as low as 39 degrees at night. The southern, or Sudanic region is the only region suitable for farming. Running through central Mali, the Sahel, which is the region that borders the Sahara, receives between 8 and 20 inches of rain per year and has temperatures averaging between 73 and 97 degrees. The great variances between the geography of Mali has led to great cultural diversity as well. There are numerous ethnic groups with varying ceremonies, languages, and traditions throughout Mali, however, ninety-five percent of the population is Muslim. An interesting Malian tradition is the Bògòlanfini which involves dying a handmade cloth with fermented mud and plant dyes. It has become a symbol of Malian culture and tradition. The major export of Mali is cotton and livestock which makes up about 75-80% of their annual exports. Peanuts, henna, fruits, millet, rice, and vegetables are also grown in Mali. Gold and salt are the major natural resources found in Mali.

Mali is very linguistically complex. The official language of Mali is French which is mostly spoken in cities and in urban centers. There are 68 different languages spoken in Mali, 63 are native, and eight languages are institutional (ethnologue). French is used in government and in education. However, there is a new policy which states that native Malian languages should be used to teach students in their first years of schooling. Afterward, the students transition from native languages to French. French has been forcefully embedded into the culture and rejecting the French language (and possibly the aid that accompanies it) will affect many other areas of development. French language instruction in the schools continues to promote French culture in Mali. France would like to “remain influential on the African content” and is able to do so by maintaining an aid relationship with Mali, thus promising Mali’s dependence on their colonizers (Kone, A’ame).

After independence, Mali found themselves with low literacy rates and a shortage of trained teachers. As part of a reconceptualization of African identity, there has been an upsurge of interest in indigenous language rights. The goal of education planners after independence was to “reverse the perceptions of French colonial repression and dismissal of Malian culture” (Canvin). National languages were introduced into the education system in Mali in 1979. Four schools were involved in the implementation. The results were great, with fewer dropout rates and greater scholastic results. “Pédagogie Convergente appears to deliver a better education for Mali because students pass through the system more quickly, fewer drop out and students receive a better educational experience” (UNICEF.org). During French control, only the elite in Mali were taught in schools. When they gained independence only 10% of the population was literate, and only 12% of school-age children attended school.. “Despite sustained increase in enrollment rates in primary school, the quality of education is unsatisfactory as the achievement rate is as low as 54% for boys, 44.8% for girls. This poor quality of education is further compromised by the high student/teacher ratio, the scarcity of textbooks and the large proportion of unqualified teachers” (UNICEF.org). Add to these issues the fact that qualified teachers are sent to teach in urban schools while unqualified teachers are commonly found in rural and poor areas. This furthers the disparities in education equality. Following the outbreak of the 2012 conflict in Mali, numerous schools in the northern region of Kidal were destroyed or occupied by armed forces, while children were exposed to violence and exploitation. Additional efforts are required from students and educators who have been more disadvantaged because of their experience of violence. A Peace Treaty was signed in 2015 and the government has made serious efforts to help the children affected by these tragic events.

The country depends heavily on foreign aid and is vulnerable to fluctuations in world prices of cotton, its main export, and gold. “Despite efforts to reduce poverty, Mali is still one of the 25 poorest countries in the world. Half of its population lives below the poverty line of one US dollar per day” (Worldfactbook). Mali is the third largest producer of gold in Africa and its economy is reliant on fishing and agriculture. “The country’s fiscal status fluctuates with gold and agricultural commodity prices and the harvest; cotton and gold exports make up around 80% of export earnings. About 10% of the population is nomadic and about 80% of the labor force is engaged in farming and fishing” (Worldfactbook.org). Industrial activity is concentrated on processing farm commodities. Industries include food processing; construction; phosphate and gold mining.

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Art in Mali varies as greatly as the geography. As stated previously, the Bògòlanfini is a large part of the culture. The variety of ethnic groups and cultures makes it difficult to pinpoint any other specific aspects of “Malian” art. The many ethnic groups of Mali have their own culture and art that accompanies it. Soccer is the most popular sport in Mali. They were even chosen to hold the 2002 African Cup of Nations. Most towns have a professional or semi-professional leagues. Food dishes vary from region to region, although staple goods include rice, millet and sorghum. Literary tradition is largely oral. Griots recited or sang histories and stories from memory. “Amadou Hampâté Bâ, Mali’s best-known historian, spent much of his life recording the oral traditions of his own Fula teachers, as well as those of Bambara and other Mande neighbors” (enacademic.com).

Mali has a very large Muslim population dating back to pre-colonialism. Islam was brought to Mali in the 9th century and spread rapidly. Mansa Musa funded the building of great mosques throughout the country and brought a great interest in Islam to the people with his infamous Hajj. The Constitution of Mali states the country is neutral in religious matters and is referred to as a secular state. Mali supports religious freedom however, more recently there has been severe persecution of Christians in the northern part of the country. This is due to the extremist Islamic groups that had taken control of northern Mali and implemented sharia law, not the government of Mali. A few factors are threatening the Malians livelihood. The most predominate factors are deforestation and desertification, as well as a shortage of safe drinking water. The Sahara is spreading and causing great worry among the farmers in Mali. Another unfortunate aspect is terrorism. Like most countries, Mali is no stranger to conflict. However, President Keita said they are slowly recovering and stabilizing from the effects of their war on terrorism.

There are disparities in gender equality in Mali. There is a push for young girls to learn tasks that would aid them in their future as a mother/wife rather than in conventional education. Other factors prohibit females from attending school as well. “Several studies and researches have highlighted the growing problem of violence – sexual, physical and psychological – in the school environment” (GPE). Another issue is a lack of female latrines and female teachers. Without an education, many woman cannot support themselves and they marry young. Some young women fall into prostitution in the larger cities because it’s the only way they can independently take care of themselves. Virginity is paramount in many groups found in Mali. A woman who has had a child out of wedlock is expected to abandon the child, she is exiled while the child is raised by her parents, or they are exiled together depending on her cultural norms. “A high percentage of men (86.9%) and the majority of women (62%) reported a belief that gender equality is an imported, or externally imposed, concept. In addition, more men (54.5%) than women (39.7%) believe that gender equality has already been achieved in most of the country” (Slegh, Barker, Toliver, Bah, Keita.).


  • Şaul, M. (2004). Money in Colonial Transition: Cowries and Francs in West Africa. American Anthropologist, 106(1), 71-84. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/3567443
  • Mali. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.ethnologue.com/country/ML/status
  • Kone, A’ame (2010). Politics of Language: e Struggle for Power in Schools in Mali and Burkina Faso. International Education, Vol. 39 Issue (2).
    Retrieved from: h p://trace.tennessee.edu/internationaleducation/vol39/iss2/2
  • Canvin, Maggie. Language and Education in Mali. 2015. 10.13140/RG.2.1.3962.9288. Web Accessed. December 2018. Retrieved from https://www.researchgate.net/publication/282123293_Language_and_Education_in_Mali
  • UNICECF. Education and Gender Equality. (n.d.). Web Accessed. November 2018. Retrieved from https://www.unicef.org/mali/3932_4282.html
  • UNICEF. Education and Gender Equality: Issues. Web Accessed. December 2018. Retrieved from https://www.unicef.org/mali/3932.html
  • The World Factbook: MALI. (2018, August 29). Retrieved September 15, 2018, from https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/geos/ml.html
  • “Culture of Mali.” Academic Dictionaries and Encyclopedias. Web Accessed. December 2018. Retrieved from enacademic.com/dic.nsf/enwiki/9523236.
  • Global Partnership for Education (GPE). “Girls’ Education and Gender in Education Sector Plans and GPE-Funded Programs.” Global Partnership for Education, Global Partnership for Education, 1 May 2017. EBSCOhost, libproxy.txstate.edu/login?url=http://search.ebscohost.com.libproxy.txstate.edu/login.aspx?direct=true&db=eric&AN=ED574362&site=eds-live&scope=site.
  • Slegh, Barker, Toliver, Bah, and Keita. Findings from the International Men and Gender Equality Survey. Men, Gender Equality and Gender Relations in Mali. May 2013. Web Accessed. Retrieved December 2018 from https://www.care.org/sites/default/files/documents/CARE-IMAGES-Mali-Summary-Report-FINAL.pdf


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