Mali Country Profile – Social

From the CIA Factbook (Page last updated on October 13, 2020)

Population: 19,553,397 (July 2020 est.)

Nationality: Malian(s)

Ethnic groups: Bambara 33.3%, Fulani (Peuhl) 13.3%, Sarakole/Soninke/Marka 9.8%, Senufo/Manianka 9.6%, Malinke 8.8%, Dogon 8.7%, Sonrai 5.9%, Bobo 2.1%, Tuareg/Bella 1.7%, other Malian 6%, from members of Economic Community of West Africa .4%, other .3% (2018 est.)

Language: French (official), Bambara 46.3%, Peuhl/Foulfoulbe 9.4%, Dogon 7.2%, Maraka/Soninke 6.4%, Malinke 5.6%, Sonrhai/Djerma 5.6%, Minianka 4.3%, Tamacheq 3.5%, Senoufo 2.6%, Bobo 2.1%, unspecified 0.7%, other 6.3% (2009 est.) / note: Mali has 13 national languages in addition to its official language

Religion: Muslim 93.9%, Christian 2.8%, animist .7%, none 2.5% (2018 est.) 

Demographic profile:

Mali’s 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 – the third highest in the world – ensure continued rapid population growth for the foreseeable future. Significant outmigration only marginally tempers this growth. Despite decreases, Mali’s 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.

Mali’s 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 Mali’s 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 Mali’s urban areas, Cote d’Ivoire, other neighboring countries, and in smaller numbers to France, Mali’s former colonial ruler. Since the early 1990s, Mali’s 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.

Cultural Property Protection in Mali – contributed by Ms. Sarah Petrin (PKSOI)

Mali, destruction of cultural property in Timbuktu by violent extremists resulted in the first CPP mandate within MINUSMA and the first precedent-setting ICC conviction for CPP as a war crime.

When northern Mali was occupied by violent extremists in 2012, militants vandalized and destroyed mosques, and burned thousands of ancient manuscripts in Timbuktu, a World Heritage Site. The displacement of hundreds of thousands of people from the north to the south also left these sites unprotected (UNESCO Mali Case Study, pg. 4).

During the occupation, the Malian Ministry of Culture worked with UNESCO to develop a booklet, Passeport pour le patrimoine, which contained descriptions, maps, photographs and geographical coordinates of protected historic structures and sites in northern Mali (UNESCO Military Manual, pg. 24). The passport was an essential tool for familiarizing military, police, customs and border officials in the north with the heritage sites. It was also used as an important public information tool to garner support from local populations for future safeguarding of the sites.  

The town of Timbuktu was occupied until January 2013, when French forces recaptured the area and eventually handed it over to the UN Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA). In April 2013, MINUSMA became the first peacekeeping mission to receive a Cultural Property Protection mandate from the UN Security Council. The mandate stated that the mission was to “assist the transitional authorities of Mali in protecting from attack the cultural and historic sites in Mali, in collaboration with UNESCO” (UNSCRes 2100, April 2013). The mandate further encouraged the mission to operate in the vicinity of cultural and historical sites. Since the initial mandate in 2013, all mandate renewals have included language on CPP (UNESCO Military Manual). 

MINUSMA established an Environment and Culture Unit to operationalize this aspect of the mandate. The unit developed training for UN and Malian military and police forces on preserving heritage sites. The unit also drew up emergency security plans to prevent additional attacks and providing logistical and security support to UNESCO while repairs were made to damaged sites (UNESCO Mali case study, pg. 14). 

In the aftermath of the occupation, UNESCO established an action plan for Mali with three main objectives; 1) rehabilitation of damaged cultural sites 2) implementing measures to protect ancient manuscripts remaining in the region, and 3) training to re-establish conditions for safeguarding heritage. 

In 2015, UNECSCO helped rebuild 14 mausoleums that were destroyed in 2012-2013. Local stone masons helped rebuild the mausoleums that were shrines to the founding fathers of Timbuktu. A book was also written about efforts to save the ancient manuscripts, The Book Smugglers of Timbuktu, telling the story of how librarians smuggled manuscripts from the north to the capitol city of Bamako. However, during the occupation 4,203 ancient Islamic manuscripts were burned or stolen. To increase the likelihood of recovering stolen manuscripts, the International Council of Museums (ICOM) produced a red list of items at risk of being exported from Mali. 

The destruction of cultural property in Mali was referred to the International Criminal Court (ICC), resulting in the conviction of Ahmad Al Faqi Al Mahdi for war crimes in September 2016. Al Mahdi was a member of the Ansar Eddine, a movement associated with Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb that destroyed religious and historic buildings in Timbuktu. He was sentenced to nine years imprisonment and is serving time in the United Kingdom. This was a precedent setting case as the destruction of cultural heritage had not previously, on its own merits, been considered a war crime.

UNESCO has gathered a number of lessons learned from the Mali case study. These include the importance of establishing early warning and crisis response mechanisms when cultural sites are under attack, having agreements in place with key partners in national governments and United Nations missions at the onset of an emergency, early mobilization of resources for cultural recovery, and the importance of continually building capacity and knowledge of cultural heritage protection (UNESCO Case Study, pgs. 17-18). 


UNESCO Military Guide on Cultural Property Protection, 2016,

UNESCO Case Study: Lessons Learned from Mali, April 2017,

International Criminal Court, Al Mahdi Case ICC 01/12-01/15,

UN Security Council Resolution 2100, April 2013,

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