Publish at 21 septembre 2021 Updated 30 octobre 2021

An Oral Social Network to Link Them All!

Networking without Speaking or Writing - A Model Initiative from Mali : Lenali

Can an illiterate use online social networks? Yes! But then, would we make Alfred de Musset (1810-1857), the famous French writer a lier, when he declared that "To succeed in the world, remember well these three maxims: to see is to know; to want is to be able; to dare is to have."

Creating the Lenali social network required a good dose of audacity, willpower, and knowledge. This new media  goes off the beaten track, to be friendly, open, communicative and participatory, and can even be used by individuals who can not read or write!"

Mali and the Francophonie

Welcome to Mali, a French-speaking country located in West Africa! This former French colony of over 20 million people still recognizes French as the official state language. However, Bambara, which is the main mother tongue of the country (46%) is also the most spoken language in Mali, with 82% of speakers.

Twelve other languages, recognized by the state as national languages, cohabit with French and Bambara. Among them are Dogon, Tamashek, Peul, Bozo, and Mandinka. In short, the least we can say is that Mali is a multilingual country!

By its colonial past and, above all, its emancipation, one would have thought that this African country would have tried to cut the bridges with its French roots. Far from it! Indeed, in 1960, 66,000 Malians knew how to read and write in French, in 1985, it was 564,000 and, in 2009, more than 2 million! So French is doing well in Mali.


Speaking one or more languages is fine, but writing them is another story... and that is indeed the problem faced by Mali, with nearly half of its population being illiterate. On the other hand, 30% of that same population owns a smartphone... curious paradox!

How do we then combine these two realities, which is, connecting a virtually connected people, yet socially disconnected? This has been the preoccupation of a young engineer, Mamadou Gouro Sidibé, whose primary goal was to make his social network accessible to "all components of the Malian population".

The Lenali Project

Conceptualized in 2018, Lenali presents itself, on its Facebook page, as "the 1st social network that is VOCAL and SPEAKS Bambara, Soninke, Sonrai, Wolof, Mooré, French, etc.!!!".

Wishing to get as close as possible to the realities of its users, the project is based on five main ideas:

  1. Be able to connect to your network of friends and family without knowing how to write.
  2. Use your mother tongue (one of the twelve national languages of the country).
  3. Make the photos published online speak.
  4. Vocalize the profiles so that you don't have to read them.
  5. Optimize connection time on all mobile devices.

In addition, Lenali offers a dictaphone function to record any voice note which can be saved on the phone.

It should be noted that this project is under development and plans to add many more features in the future. For example, in September 2021, a new feature called "GPS navigation call" allows its user to be guided (verbally, like a GPS) to a specific point only from the phone number of the person they are calling!

This is particularly interesting and practical because, in Mali, many people do not have a postal address! Another new feature for "Lenali users" is the equivalent of Facebook's Marketplace, called Lenamarket, which offers "sales and promotions in local languages."

Tradition and Modernity

In a country where orality is a matter of culture and ancestral traditions, especially with the griots, the equivalent of our European bards, who passed from village to village to declaim historical or ancestral stories. The oral aspect remains crucial, most especially when many languages coexist without being mastered either orally or in writing.

Lenali, therefore, comes to the rescue of Malians by allowing them to reconnect with each other, no matter what language they speak, no matter their educational background, whether they can read and write or not. If you have a smartphone, you might as well use it effectively!

Connecting people, guiding them orally without disturbing them with texts, allowing them to find each other, share photos, videos, addresses, sell and buy online, and this is done in the various local languages. The idea is so innovative and dynamic that it has even gained the support of Mali's Ministry of Digital Economy and Foresight, who are preparing, with the help of its founder, two other applications: Kunko and Gafé... business to follow!

Sources and illustrations

Griot africain, Pixabay,

Facebook page of Lenali,

Official page of Lenali,

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