Mali ka Fasojamana/République du Mali (The Republic of Mali) is a large country (the size of Texas and California combined) and the homeland of some 12 million persons of diverse ethnic origins. Most work in agriculture, but the country's land potential is poorly realized. Though mineral resources are also thought extensive, they are largely undeveloped, and Mali remains one of the poorest countries on earth, with an average per capita income of $470 and a life expectancy of 47 years. The capital city of Bamako has about one million residents. French is the language of official business, but Bambara is the common social and market tongue of 80% of the population. Islam is the dominant (90%) religious faith.
Despite great economic and political challenges, Mali has enjoyed an unusual degree of multi-ethnic cooperation among Sub-Saharan countries and is well known for its rich cultural traditions. The Niger River is the common commercial and cultural axis for the people of the vast southern savannahs. Each ethnic group was traditionally tied to a specific occupation, all working within close proximity. In recent years, this linkage has shifted as groups seek nontraditional sources of income. The Tuaregs and Maurs, desert nomads of the north, have been more resistant to central government, often clashing with government forces until a peace agreement was reached in 1996.
Mali has long been an important if rugged crossroads, the seat of previous West African empires that controlled trade and were in contact with Mediterranean and Middle Eastern civilizations. The Ghana Empire was a powerful trading state from 700 to about 1100 AD. For the next 500 years a series of kingdoms controlled the vast area from headquarters at Timbuktu, a center of commerce and Islam. In recent years Timbuktu has again made cultural news as the US and others have helped to preserve the historic manuscripts from those earlier eras.
French penetration of the area began around 1880. As a colony of French Soudan, Mali was administered with other colonial territories as the Federation of French West Africa. In 1958, after a French constitutional referendum, the Republique Soudanaise became a member of the French Community and received complete internal autonomy. The next year Soudan joined Senegal to form the Mali Federation, but it collapsed in 1960 when Senegal seceded and Soudan proclaimed itself the Republic of Mali and withdrew from the French Community. The 1960s saw political turbulence and severe drought. Further political experiments followed in the 1970s, sometimes generating violent resistance. The political situation stabilized somewhat in the 1980s, with efforts by the International Monetary Fund to give more structure to the Malian economy. But many felt the government was not genuinely representative, and the 1990s witnessed student demonstrations and military interventions, as Mali struggled to develop stable institutions. Peaceful national elections were held in 1997, 2002, and 2007.
Education flourished at Timbuktu from the 13th to the 16th century, until an invasion from Morocco in 1591 led to the destruction of the learning center. From the 17th century to the colonization of Mali by France in the late 19th century, religious education in Arabic was all that remained.
Primary and Secondary Education
The academic year runs from October to July. The baccalauréat (secondary school leaving certificate) is required for admission into higher education.
During the colonial era higher education was non-existent in Mali. After achieving independence from France in 1960, Mali launched a series of educational reforms that continue to the present. The first government of independent Mali embarked on a massive schooling campaign at all educational levels. Specialized schools of higher education were established: the National School of Engineering (ENI); the École Normale Supérieure (ENSup), for the training of high school teachers and other professionals; the National School of Administration (ENA); the School of Medicine and pharmacy; and the Rural Polytechnic Institute (IPR).
Founded in 1993, the Université du Mali in Bamako (15,000 students) incorporated many of the initial higher education institutions, and now has faculties of medicine, pharmacy, and dentistry; sciences and technology; law and economics; and letters, languages, arts and humanities. Subsequently renamed the University of Bamako (2002), it also has institutes of management, agricultural training and applied research. The Institut supérieur de Formation et de Recherche appliquée (ISFRA) of the University offers postgraduate training.
Higher education is free, and students receive a living allowance. Student subsidies and scholarships represent 60% of the higher education budget, leaving few funds for instructional materials and scientific equipment. Instruction is largely by lecture.
Malian education inherited most of its principles and structure from the French colonial system and French remains the language of instruction. (English is taught in junior and senior high schools.)
The University of Bamako and its constituent institutions have been the only higher educational bodies in Mali since independence, but foreign and private education organizations are making some contributions. The University of Quebec at Montreal offers a master's degree in business administration. Michigan State (agriculture) and the University of Pennsylvania (archeology) have had collaborative programs with the U. of Bamako.