Andris Piebalgs, European Commissioner for Development, and the Director of UNESCO’s office in Bamako, Lazare Eloundou Assomo, signed an agreement to fund the restoration of cultural heritage in Timbuktu, in Mali.
“The reconstruction of destroyed cultural heritage that is so dear to Mali will contribute not only to reconciliation among communities, but also to economic revitalization through tourism,” declared Commissioner Piebalgs during the signing, which took place in the presence of Moussa Mara, Prime Minister of Mali, and Bert Koenders, Special Representative of the United Nations’ Secretary-General and Head of the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA), which will lend indispensable logistical support to the project.
UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova welcomed the support extended to Mali by the European Union and other donors: “The agreement signed today shows that we are on track. Two mausoleums have now been rebuilt and this new agreement comes at an opportune moment to speed up work underway and ensure that the people of Mali can reclaim heritage that is essential to their identity and that can contribute to reconciliation. This is vital for Mali and this important for the rest of the world because World Heritage is common to us all” she said.
The purpose of the Malian heritage reconstruction project is to support the government’s work in rehabilitating cultural heritage and safeguarding manuscripts in and around Timbuktu that were severely damaged in the conflict that took place in the country between 2012 and 2013. With 500,000 euros provided by the European Union, UNESCO will coordinate the reconstruction of destroyed mausoleums, the rehabilitation of mosques and private libraries, as well as ancient manuscript conservation projects. Local personnel will also be trained to ensure lasting preservation.
Fourteen of the 16 mausoleums of Timbuktu inscribed on UNESCO’s World Heritage List were destroyed by armed groups during the conflict. The manuscripts of Mali, constitute a unique documentary collection that bears testimony to the history of Africa and of humanity as a whole. Some of them date back to the 13th century.
During the conflict, more than 4,000 of the 40,000 manuscripts kept at the Ahmed Baba Institute were lost. Some were burned or stolen, while more than 10,000 remain in a critical condition. Local communities secretly transferred more than 300,000 manuscripts to Bamako. They are now conserved in conditions that are not optimal for their safeguarding.
The heritage programme will be led in cooperation with the Malian ministry of Culture, Higher Education and Scientific Research. UNESCO will also ensure the involvement of the communities concerned.