€7.5m plan to recover Mali’s cultural heritage

The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) announced on Tuesday this week a €7.5 million plan to rehabilitate the cultural heritage of northern Mali, West Africa, and protect the ancient manuscripts of Timbuktu which were damaged during the Islamic occupation.

Mali’s Minister of Culture, Bruno Maïga, said: “I return to my country as a man full of hope” after an international meeting of experts organised by UNESCO in Paris.

According to a UNESCO document presented to the press on Tuesday in Paris, the first goal of the plan is to “rehabilitate cultural heritage damaged during the conflict,” such as the cemeteries and mausoleums of Timbuktu and the Tomb of Askia in Gao.

Having fulfilled the first part of the rehabilitation plan, it is now necessary to “find ways to protect the manuscripts” of Timbuktu, through digitisation or by reconstructing the Ahmed Baba Institute of Higher Learning and Islamic Research building which was looted during the Islamic occupation.

In April 2012, Mali’s cultural heritage has been involved in several attacks, after radical Islamics seized control of the northern part of the country. Last month, the Islamists had set fire to a library in the ancient city of Timbuktu which contained thousands of historic manuscripts. Previously, in December, at least three mausoleums were demolished.

Several countries such as South Africa, France, Norway and Luxembourg have announced their support for certain aspects of the action plan.

The National Library of France, for example, will contribute to the preservation of the manuscripts of Timbuktu and the French Heritage Institute will provide training to professionals on site.