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Mali, a West African nation formerly colonized by France, has removed French as the official language after ratifying a new constitution that also gives the president and armed forces more power.

The vote to approve the new constitution received nearly 97% support, though turnout was only at about 38%, according to the BBC.

Since 2020, a military junta has ruled Mali following decades of instability and internal strife caused by jihadist insurgents. Though French officials had vowed to help eradicate the threat, the people and government of Mali have reportedly grown fed up with its former colonizer.

mali french
Leader of Mali’s ruling junta Lt. Col. Assimi Goita, center, attends an independence day military parade in Bamako, Mali on Sept 22, 2022. (Associated Press)

According to OkayAfrica, “the nation’s 13 national languages will receive formal recognition as official languages. Additionally, 70 local languages, including Bambara, Bobo, Dogon, and Minianka, some of which were granted national language status in 1982, will be retained.”

Some fear the new constitution gives military leaders too much power

Critics of the move, including opposition parties and civil society organizations, fear the new constitution will lead to the military refusing to hand back power to civilian leaders after the Feb. 2024 presidential election. The new constitution gives Interim President Assimi Goita the power to dissolve parliament.

“I am convinced that this referendum will pave the way for a new Mali, a strong and efficient Mali serving the well-being of our people,” Goita said ahead of the results, according to the Associated Press.

In June, Mali kicked out 12,000 UN peacekeepers and the remaining French soldiers after years of failing to remove the threat of violent religious terrorists. For many in the country, the presence of French troops is a reminder of their past ambitions as an empire colonizing West Africa.

Azalai Hotel Bamako, Mali.

Before French Colonialism, Mali was once a major hub for trade, education

The scramble for control can be traced back to the 1850s, when the French empire moved to take power in the region. By 1892, it had claimed Mali as its own, naming it “French Sudan.” While it allowed local leaders to maintain some level of control, France ultimately dictated major decisions for generations.

It wasn’t until 1960, following post-World War II efforts for independence across the continent, that Mali finally gained its independence. For decades up until 2023, France has maintained strong diplomatic, economic and political ties as it continued to hold influence over decisions made in the country.

The decision to remove French influence from the government with the approval of the new constitution, though criticized by some, gives Mali the opportunity to revive its ancient status as a major power and trading hub.

Back in the 14th century, Timbuktu, a city within Mali, was one of the world’s major centers for trade and knowledge. Ultimately, the rise of European powers and their quest for world domination led to the decline in West Africa.

Deon Osborne was born in Minneapolis, MN and raised in Lawton, OK before moving to Norman where he attended the University of Oklahoma. He graduated with a bachelor’s degree in Strategic Media and has...

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