In 2019, Mali had a population density of 16 residents
per km2. As a large part of northern Mali is
desert, the majority of the population is in the southern
parts. About 5 percent of the population is said to be
Countryaah data, the country has a low degree of urbanization for the
region; In 2019, 42 percent of the population lived in
cities, of which the capital Bamako (1.8 million residents,
2010) was the dominant.
For information on life expectancy and other demographic
statistics, see Country facts.
There are about ten major ethnic groups in Mali; of
these, the male-speaking bamboo, malink, dyula and sonink
make up nearly half of the population.
The largest group, Bambara (3.1 million), are farmers in
the country's south-west, where they were politically
dominant until the French colonization. They maintained
their traditional religion for a long time and thus profiled
themselves against the Muslim soninke, malinke and dyula.
However, since the beginning of the 20th century, Islam has
grown in importance, and today an estimated 70 percent are
Malinke (2.6 million) was a carrier of the Mali kingdom
(during the 13th-14th centuries), and their communities are
still divided into family groups, which belong to three
layers: free peasants, craftsmen and "slaves". The craftsmen
are divided into three endogamous caste-like occupational
groups, blacksmiths, leatherworkers and troubadours
(griots). The influence of Islam on the Malin culture has
been evident since the time of the Mali kingdom; the
majority of Malinke are Muslims, while the rest have
maintained their traditional religion. They are found in
Mali's western part.
Dyula (76,000) is a Muslim trader in the southern part of
the country. The likewise Muslim soninke (1 million) were
carriers of the Ghanaian kingdom and are found in the
western part of the country towards the border with
Mauritania. They feed on agriculture and trade, the latter
in competition with dyula. In Kayes in the west, khassonke
(170,000) lives as resident farmers.
To the south of the corner of the Niger River are the
Muslim songhai (1 million), who during the 1500s and 1500s
had political power in the country. Groups of
livestock-eating fulani (1.1 million) are living throughout
the Sahel region.
In the Sahara region there are the Berber-speaking
Tuaregs, which traditionally feed on camel care. Their
number in Mali is estimated at around 1.5 million. The
severe drought disaster of 1968–74 dramatically affected
their conditions, and many were forced into permanent
residence and financial poverty.
At the far south, towards the border with Burkina Faso
and Ivory Coast, are a number of voltaic peoples, including
senufo (800,000) and dogon (600,000).
In Mali, there are around thirty native languages, almost
all of which belong to different branches of the Niger-Congo
languages: man languages, gurus and atlantic languages. The
largest are the Mandarin languages Bambara (about 30% of
the population) and Malinke (about 8%) and the Atlantic
fulani (15%). A separate group within the Niger-Congo
languages consists of dogos (about 5%). The Nilo-Saharan
language family is represented by songhai (6%) and the
Afro-Asian by Arabic and the Berber language Tuaregic.
Official language is French, while bamboo is widely used as
an interpersonal language. See further Population.
Islam, which today (2010) encompasses nine out of ten
Mali, the majority of whom are Sunni, came to this part of
Africa in the 8th century with Muslim Berber and Tuareg
rulers who traded in the area, but also the Sufi brothers'
associations contributed to the introduction of Islam.
Cities such as Timbuktu and Gao became early Islamic centers
of knowledge. In the country there are many mosques attached
to the orthodox Islamic movement Dawa al-Tabligh (Tablighi
Jamaat). Together, almost one-twentieth of the population is
said to be Christian, of which two-thirds are Catholics and
one-third are Protestants, among whom the Methodists are
most strongly represented. About the same proportion of
Christians, who are mainly in and around the larger cities,
practice traditional indigenous religion, which is spread
throughout the country but is practiced primarily in the
In the spring of 2012, the government was deposed by a
military coup because of how it handled the situation in
northern Mali. During the summer, Tuareg Grebels occupied
the MNLA (Mouvement National pour la Libération de l'Azawad)
together with Islamist groups in northern Mali, which meant
the introduction of sharia legislation. The new government
quickly proposed a new constitution, but because of the
disapproval of its anti-democratic content by the outside
world, the 1992 constitution was reinstated, according to
which the state should be secular and guarantee freedom of
religion. Prior to the events of 2012, Mali was known to
have a long tradition of tolerance between different
Religious holidays in Mali are Prophet Muhammad's
birthday, Prophet Muhammad's baptism, Easter Sunday, Kority
(West African term at Id al-Fitr) and the Christmas