Indeed, the boundaries between these groups are highly permeable and context-related, and their meanings are subject to renegotiation. Most Malians speak several languages and live in a truly multilingual context. An educated elite speaks French, and it is the dominant language of the administration, formal education, and the media.
After independence, Bamako's population grew exponentially, from 100,000 in 1960 to approximately 1,000,000 in 1998 (59 percent of Mali's total urban population).
This was partly the outcome of the fall in 1960 of the short-lived Mali Federation (uniting Mali and Senegal) and the subsequent forced return of many Malian citizens living in Senegal.
Nevertheless, this policy of decentralization, however negotiated at the local level, has begun to dramatically transform local geographies of power. Mali is 478,764 square miles (1,241,278 square kilometers).
It is a land-locked country approximately twice the size of Texas.
Indeed, a number of scholars of Mali have noted an imbalance in favor of the numerically dominant Mande (a branch of the Niger-Congo language family) people and their traditions in the formation of a national culture.
For the most part, the process of national construction has been a relatively peaceful one, given the long traditions of coexistence, cultural exchange, and mutual tolerance between the populations living in this area.
For instance, the choice of Mali as the name for this country—harking back to one of the great medieval empires that blossomed in this area—is representative of a wider attempt by Malian politicians to validate a new political order, the postcolonial state, by claiming its derivation from African political formations already in existence prior to colonization.
This reappropriation did not occur in a sociocultural vacuum.
Yet this process of cultural syncretism has not been homogeneous.
If most regional or ethnic cultures have been implicated, not all have contributed in the same measure.
It should be mentioned that the rigidity of such ethnic categories dates back to colonization.