In 2016, Mali’s population was an estimated 18 million. The population is predominantly rural (68 percent in 2002), and 5–10 percent of Malians are nomadic.

More than 90 percent of the population lives in the southern part of the country, especially in Bamako, which has over 1 million residents.

In 2007, about 48 percent of Malians were younger than 12 years old, 49 percent were 15–64 years old, and 3 percent were 65 and older. The median age was 15.9 years.

The birth rate in 2014 is 45.53 births per 1,000, and the total fertility rate (in 2012) was 6.4 children per woman. The death rate in 2007 was 16.5 deaths per 1,000. Life expectancy at birth was 53.06 years total (51.43 for males and 54.73 for females).

Mali has one of the world’s highest rates of infant mortality, with 106 deaths per 1,000 live births in 2007.


Mali’s population encompasses a number of sub-Saharan ethnic groups. The Bambara (Bambara: Bamanankaw) are by far the largest single ethnic group, making up 36.5 percent of the population.

Collectively, the Bambara, Soninké, Khassonké, and Malinké (also called Mandinka), all part of the broader Mandé group, constitute 50 percent of Mali’s population.

Other significant groups are the Fula (French: Peul; Fula: Fulɓe) (17 percent), Voltaic (12 percent), Songhai (6 percent), and Tuareg and Moor (10 percent). In Mali as well as Niger, the Moors are also known as Azawagh Arabs, named after the Azawagh region of the Sahara.

They speak mainly Hassaniya Arabic which is one of the regional varieties of Arabic. Personal names reflect Mali’s complex regional identities.

In the far north, there is a division between Berber-descendent Tuareg nomad populations and the darker-skinned Bella or Tamasheq people, due to the historical spread of slavery in the region.

An estimated 800,000 people in Mali are descended from slaves. Slavery in Mali has persisted for centuries. The Arabic population kept slaves well into the 20th century, until slavery was suppressed by French authorities around the mid-20th century.

There still persist certain hereditary servitude relationships and according to some estimates, even today approximately 200,000 Malians are still enslaved.

Although Mali has enjoyed reasonably good inter-ethnic relationships based on the long history of coexistence, some hereditary servitude and bondage relationship exist, as well as ethnic tension between settled Songhai and nomadic Tuaregs of the north.

Due to a backlash against the northern population after independence, Mali is now in a situation where both groups complain about discrimination on the part of the other group.

This conflict also plays a role in the continuing Northern Mali conflict where there is a tension between both Tuaregs and the Malian government, and the Tuaregs and radical Islamists who are trying to establish sharia law.