LIASA Statement: Update on Timbuktu Manuscripts

2013

Dear Colleagues

It is indeed a relief to hear that the scale of damage in Timbuktu was not as reported and that the bulk of the manuscripts are in safekeeping as evidenced from the following update posted on the blog site of the Tombouctou Manuscripts Project based at the University of Cape Town (http://www.tombouctoumanuscripts.org/blog/entry/timbuktu_update/):

“Since the start of this week there are reports about the destruction of library buildings and book collections in Timbuktu. It sounds as if the written heritage of the town went up in flames. According to our information this is not the case at all. The custodians of the libraries worked quietly throughout the rebel occupation of Timbuktu to ensure the safety of their materials. A limited number of items have been damaged or stolen, the infrastructure neglected and furnishings in the Ahmad Baba Institute library looted but from all our local sources – all intimately connected with the public and private collections in the town – there was no malicious destruction of any library or collection…….[…]

“By Monday night we finally managed to contact our colleague, Dr Mohamed Diagayeté, senior researcher at the Ahmad Baba Institue, now based in Bamako. He heard much the same reports that we heard. However, he added that the majority of the mss. of the Institute was still stored in the old building – opened in 1974 and on the other side of the town, from the new building.  He told us that the latest news about the new building, as of eight days before the flight of the Ansar Dine, was that the building had not been destroyed. He said that around 10,000 mss had been stored in the new building since there was no more space for the mss in the old building.  They were placed in trunks in the vaults of the new building.  Upstairs, where the restoration was taking place and boxes were made there were only a few mss.  After seeing Sky News footage, he says that the images were of the few mss upstairs waiting to be worked on by the conservators.

However, by Tuesday morning, Dr. Mahmoud Zouber, Mali’s presidential aide on Islamic affairs and founding director of the Ahmad Baba Institute, told Time, that before the rebel take-over the manuscripts: “They were put in a very safe place. I can guarantee you. The manuscripts are in total security.”  [End extract] 

While this may be the case, the protection and preservation of cultural and intellectual heritage remains a priority, especially in politically unstable countries! The following is a statement from Julia Brungs, Policy and Projects Officer, IFLA:

“The news reports from Mali give a worrying picture of the situation for cultural heritage in the northern provinces and especially Timbuktu. IFLA is a founding member of the Blue Shield, whose mission is to work for the protection of the world’s cultural heritage, including in the event of armed conflict, and coordinates preparations to meet and respond to emergency situations. IFLA is working with Blue Shield colleagues on assessing the situation in Mali and will provide information to the library community on the evolving status of the situation as it is officially verified and confirmed. The IFLA PAC Office is assisting in liaising with the Blue Shield secretariat.”

We will keep members informed of developments.

Ujala Satgoor
LIASA President 2012-2014